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Gaslighting — Have you heard that term before?

It has been around for decades but has gained steam in the past handful of years.

‘Gaslighting’ describes a form of emotional abuse and psychological manipulation where the abuser confuses the victim to the point that they do not trust their own thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and sense of reality.

For me, ‘gaslighting’ doesn’t clearly imply it’s meaning, so to remember what it is, I have created a visual story to remind me:

Imagine a person is in a room filled with gas. Not only would the room be hazy and disorienting, but the gas would also start to have detrimental affects on your mind, causing an unstable perception and a sense of insanity. The victim of gaslighting techniques by a perpetrator is made to feel crazy

The actual term “gaslight” refers to a play from 1938 of the same name. Gaslight (also known as Angel Street in the U.S.) by Patrick Hamilton, and the following film adaptations, are about a couple where the husband attempts to convince his wife that she is insane. He makes many small changes in their environment and when his wife notices, he belittles her, makes fun, tells her she’s imagining it or remembering wrong. He wants her to feel delusional.

So what does gaslighting look like? What are the red flags and warning signs to look out for?

A person who is gaslighting their partner may:
– falsely retell the facts and discount the victim’s perception
– deny any wrongdoing 
– misdirect and tell lies 
– withhold information
– express being misunderstood
– contradict themself 
– act controlling under a guise of care
– trivialize the victim’s concerns

Experiencing gaslighting is bizarre. To understand, at least somewhat, you need to enter the haze.

If you’re ready:

You and your partner are disagreeing about something. You have a defined stance, you know exactly what happened, and you are sure that your partner is the one in the wrong. 

That is until your partner turns your words around.

They lead the conversation away from the topic at hand, all while putting you on the defensive. They double talk. They use circular reasoning. They intimidate — sometimes threaten. And then quickly, they may take bits of their behavior back. They’re sorry you are emotional. They tell you it wasn’t a big deal and that you’re taking it all wrong. You need to learn to let things slide. It was just a joke. If you didn’t act like this, then you wouldn’t have to be having this argument in the first place. You need to chill out. You owe them an apology. You have them all wrong.

Somehow when you know you were in the right when the conversation began, you are left wondering what happened, and you feel guilty for something. You may not even realize perception undermining and gaslighting happened at all. This is just how arguments go with your partner. You’re used to this pattern.

This is a person you know and love, and trust, so if they think you’re at fault, then you probably did something wrong. They didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. You shouldn’t have spoken up over nothing. You should just do things how they like them.

…This is what you tell yourself. 

Gaslighting is something that can be quite hard to recognize if it is happening to you. You have been conditioned in your relationship to mistrust yourself, your reality, your truth; acknowledging that your partner is mistreating you is not easy or clear or clean cut.

If you think your relationship is unhealthy or that your partner is making you feel crazy, talk to someone, anyone, that you do trust. Maybe even talk to that one friend who isn’t a big fan of your partner. They will hear you and, most likely will believe you. 

Below is the Power and Control Wheel. In my work in a domestic violence center, and in my therapy work with families, we have used this model a lot. 

The center or hub of the wheel is where one person is commanding power and control over the other without their consent. The spokes are the various ways this power imbalance presents itself. This sort of relationship may, but not always, have physical violence as well.

Note, just because there is not physical violence in a relationship does not mean it isn’t abusive. 

Look the power and control wheel over. Honestly assess your relationship.

If your partner acts towards you in these ways, your relationship is not ideal. And it may be unhealthy. 

What should a relationship look like then?

Check out the Equality Wheel. This shows a healthy balance of power and healthy interactions. This is what we should aim for. 

Again, if you are concerned that your relationship is not healthy, please speak to a trusted friend or family member, or as always, you can reach out to me. I will do my best to help you find support in your area.

If you are still unsure what gaslighting can look like, I’d recommend to watch some of this season’s The Bachelorette on ABC. A particular gentleman, Luke, is portrayed in such a way that it appears he demonstrates characteristics consistent with an emotional abuser and gaslighter.

I hope all of your relationships are healthy, fulfilling, and rich with love. If not, it may be time to make a change. But no such change should ever be handled on your own. Reach out. You are not alone.

Christina Furnival

Christina is a mom to two wild and wonderful kiddos, a licensed psychotherapist (LPCC), the founder of her website and therapeutic motherhood blog Real Life Mama, and a children's book author of a social/emotional wellbeing series, Capable Kiddos! She and her Scottish husband are raising their family in San Diego, where they love to hike, play soccer, cook, walk around the lake, and go to the beach.

51 thoughts on “Gaslight / Gaslighting / To Have Been Gaslit — What it Means and Why it Should Matter to You”

  1. thank you for sharing such important information. I must have missed it I had heard that term before but have never fully understand it to meanIng

  2. thank you for sharing such important information. I must have missed it I had heard that term before but have never fully understand it to meanIng

  3. Great post! Unfortunately I have a good friend whose boyfriend does this all the time. he is the true definition of a narcissist! It is such a horrible thing to watch but she truly believes he only has her best intentions. And these aren’t young adults – they are in their 50’s. we have all tried to get through to her and point this out when she is depressed and unreachable but she never stays away from him. it really is sad!

    1. Hi Nikki. I am sorry that your friend’s boyfriend is mistreating her. It may be worth showing her this post, and especially the power and control, and equality wheels! Unfortunately individuals may try to end a relationship over and over again, but they often end up going back. The average is 7 break up attempts. I hope she finds the strength to break free.

  4. Ive Never heard this term before but it is such good INFORMATION. Thankfully I am not in a situation like this but I am sure there will be many people who will benefit from your post!

  5. Very interesting and informative! I always wondered where the term came from because it never made sense to me but your visual aid helped!

  6. Thanks for sharing. I wrote an article about this from a non-therapist’s perspective after having it happen to me. I was in a relationship where my partner would get angry at me and I didn’t understand what I’d done wrong. THen he’d recollect events completely different than I remembered them. He’d tell me I was trying to manipulate him by making up lies to make myself look better. He’d make excuses for why I believed different such as I drank too much (even when I wasn’t drinking). I really questioned myself and thought I was crazy.

    1. Adrienne I am so sorry you went through that! It is so disorienting and confusing. Thank you for writing about your experience so that others can learn and advocate for themselves!

  7. Wow!!! This is such an interesting concept. Thank you For sharing. I was dying to read about it after your MENTION from the bachlor.

  8. This is SO pertinent in my life right now. My son-in-law has been gaslighting my duaghter for years and she is in prison because of it. Gaslighting +severe postpartum depression and a psychotic break. He controlled the whole episode. My work now is “letting him” gaslight me to some extent (actually, just letting him get away with some of the behavior) so that I can have a significant hand in raising my granddaughters.

    1. Oh gosh, Karla!! I hate that you are witnessed this happen to your own daughter and that she is in prison because of him. How terrible. I am so sorry! You and your daughter are so strong. Your granddaughters are lucky to have you in their lives.

  9. I love the wheels. I’ve been a victim of gaslighting, but not from my husband, from my abusers at work. It leads to so many other problems when it comes to mental health. Thanks for writing about it.

    1. You’re so right that gaslighting can happen in any type of a relationship, romantic, platontic, professional, etc. I hope your superiors are doing their job to shut the gaslighting down.

  10. I hadn’t heard this term used in this manner, however, all i can say is, that when you wake up from the nightmare, pack you bags and leave, asap!

    1. Thanks Maria. I feel you! I wish it was that easy though; unfortunately emotional abuse is hard to recognize and relationships are so much more complex than we realize!

  11. Within the last year, I first heard this term, “gas lighting” and had to look it up. I was surprised to find I was a victim of gas lighting in my first marriage. Now in my second marriage and reading your post, it looks like it’s happening again. No wonder I’ve been struggling with anxiety and memories of my past have been coming back. The good news is I’m stronger and more determined to not let the things he says get into my head to the point I believe them again. I don’t think both men realized they do it. I think they both are trying to make themselves feel better and not feel guilty for the things they are doing which results in my hurt feelings. I have been reaching out to others but I’m still not sure what to do about my current situation…

    1. Wow, Ruth! I am sorry you are going through this is your marriages. You are right that you are so strong. Please talk to some trusted friends and professionals (see if there is a domestic violence center in your area that you can call or meet with staff), and legal advisors to create a plan. You’ll want to be set up financially, have a place to stay ready, and have the legal issues prepared for. Let me know if you’d like help from me as well.


    1. Hi, Lynn! I am so glad that you found this article. I hope it provides some clarity for you, and reminds you that you are not crazy, it is not your fault, and that you are much better without that person. You absolutely can print this article out to share. I would appreciate you attribute it to me and my site, but otherwise, use as you wish! 🙂

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