It’s 8:30 in the evening, you’re at a friend’s house and she’s trying to convince you that you’d rather have pizza than Chinese food. “Stop gaslighting me!” you yell and everyone in the room laughs. Anyone who has ever tried to be funny on the internet knows this joke. The exaggeration of the term gaslighting – a term in psychology defined by therapist Laurie Singer as the behavior by which one person tries to make another person doubt their perception of reality – has become a joke.
The jokes about this serious topic came about after many people misused the term online and mememed this type of behavior which is usually intentional and part of a cycle of abuse. Several medical terms have been misused online over time (for example, influencers have been too easily called narcissists), and this creates a lot of confusion.
So I wanted to shed some light on the subject, find out what gaslighting is and isn’t, and understand how best to react when it happens to us.
Ce e gaslighting-ul?
The term originates from a play called Gas Light , which premiered in 1938 and was screened twice. The most famous adaptation is the 1944 remake of Gaslight , starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. In each of the versions, the husband convinces his wife that she has gone mad. How does it do that? He tells her that he is imagining things, especially about the lights in the house.
As Singer said, gaslighting is a form of manipulation that tries to influence how another person sees the world. It is done through verbal communication – the gaslighter makes the victim doubt themselves and their memory.
Psychologist and relationship expert John Kenny explained to me over email that gaslighting is about gaining control. “Gaslighting is a form of emotional or mental abuse and occurs when someone tries to make you doubt your thoughts, actions, and emotions in order to gain control over you and the relationship . He wants you to doubt yourself and believe that the person is always right, so he can act however he wants around you,” he said.
Singer gave an example of gaslighting on a smaller scale: A parent thinks his child eats too much and wants to make him eat less. When the child says he is hungry, the parent replies, “You can’t be hungry, you just ate,” even though he ate three hours ago.
Maybe the parent does this unconsciously, but it’s still gaslighting. In this situation, it not only controls the food the child eats, but also the way he perceives hunger, thus influencing the child’s relationship with food.
What is not gaslighting
Although gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse, not all emotional abuse is gaslighting. Because gaslighting is a specific behavior used by one person against another, it is a bit simplistic to call any form of control gaslighting. And when we make jokes about it, we don’t help the victims of abuse at all, because we confuse them even more about the meaning of the term.
“Invalidating someone’s opinion, attacking the person like name-calling, physical abuse, that’s not gaslighting,” Singer told VICE. “Gaslighting is a systematic, long-term strategy by which someone tries to change someone else’s perspective and emotions in order to make that person more malleable and dependent. The gaslighter plays with one’s perception of self-worth.”
Kenny added: “People sometimes confuse gaslighting with situations where a person tries to get them to see things from their point of view or pressure them to be a certain way. However, it’s not gaslighting unless the person does it all the time, long-term.” He stressed that it’s important to recognize whether this behavior happens occasionally or regularly – that’s the crucial difference between overpersuasion and gaslighting.
short: Gaslighting doesn’t happen occasionally, it’s an ongoing denial of one’s reality.
Five signs someone is gaslighting you
Kenny has a list of five signs a person is gaslighting you:
- He never listens to your opinion
- He always tells you that you are wrong
- You’re always apologizing
- You always doubt yourself
- You always rely on that person to make decisions
If you tick all these things, it means you are being gaslighted.
If someone—a partner, a friend, a family member—makes you feel unsure about your memories, that’s a major clue to gaslighting. The purpose of the gaslighter is to change your perception of yourself, and the way it does this is to alter the way you perceive your own thoughts and memories. He can do it in many ways: for example, he tells you that you got drunk and made a fool of yourself last night, although you only remember that you were a little dizzy and had a good time, or he accuses you of throwing some insults you didn’t say.
Another tactic to watch out for is when a person invalidates your emotions or reduces them to next to nothing. He’s either telling you that you’re too sensitive, or he’s telling you to relax, that it’s not a big deal. That’s how it controls your perception of the emotion, makes you think you’re exaggerating.
After convincing you that you’re exaggerating, the gaslighter can usually accuse you of being toxic.