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Recognizing and responding to gaslighting

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

Gaslighting, a psychological manipulation tactic that involves the deliberate distortion of another's perception of reality, has become a widely recognized phenomenon in psychological discourse. The origin of the term is from a film that depicts a woman whose husband manipulates her into believing that she is becoming insane. One manipulation tactic employed by the woman’s husband was dimming the gas lights in their home and then denying that the lights were changing. In doing so, he deliberately distorted and denied her reality, leading to her questioning and doubting her own perceptions, memories, sanity, and overall sense of self.

Why might someone gaslight someone else? Some common reasons one might gaslight another include wanting to exert power or control over another, feeling insecure or having poor self-esteem, having experienced this themselves and normalizing this as an interpersonal style, or lacking empathy or interpersonal awareness. Whatever the reason, gaslighting is an abusive behavior that can have a significant impact on the recipient.

Gaslighting can occur in various relationship contexts, such as romantic partnerships, friendships, family dynamics, and even in professional settings. Gaslighting is usually difficult to detect early on, as it typically begins subtly and progresses gradually. The following are common mechanisms of gaslighting:

  • Denial: denying that particular events or conversations took place, despite contrary evidence.

  • Dismissal/discrediting: criticizing, mocking, or dismissing another person’s concerns and emotional experiences, leaving the victim feeling invalidated, unheard, and insignificant.

  • Distortion of reality/contradiction: distorting facts, withholding information, or contradicting oneself by presenting conflicting information, leading to the victim questioning their own memory, perception, and understanding of reality.

  • Shifting blame: deflecting responsibility for one’s actions and behaviors onto another, making them believe they are at fault for problems.

The experience of gaslighting can have profound psychological and emotional effects. Frequently being faced with denial and dismissal can cause one to question their reality and judgment. This diminished sense of self-confidence in one’s perceptions can lead one to abandon their own beliefs and values to meet the needs of the gaslighter. Furthermore, experiencing gaslighting can contribute to feelings of confusion, self-doubt, worthlessness, anxiety, and depression.

So what can you do to break free from the cycle of gaslighting? Below are some tips to keep in mind to promote your emotional and psychological well-being if you are experiencing gaslighting.

  • Be in tune with your thoughts and emotions: Allowing yourself to notice the kinds of thoughts or feeling that arise when interacting with someone can be an early sign that something it awry.

  • Trusting your instincts: If something doesn't feel quite right, it might be a good idea to examine what's going on more closely.

  • Self-validation: Given the fact that gaslighting can override one’s internal guides, it can be valuable to validate your experiences and treat yourself with self-compassion.

  • Establish clear and firm boundaries.

  • Prioritize your well-being, and maintain a commitment to self-care activities.

  • Surround yourself with a strong support system: If gaslighting has been going on for a long time, the recipient of the gaslighting may feel it difficult to trust their observations or decisions. Having this strong support system can allow for the navigation of difficult decisions or times.

It’s important to be able to recognize the presence of gaslighting so that it can be addressed accordingly. If you suspect that you or someone you know are being gaslit, it is important to seek support from trusted friends, family, or a professional, such as a therapist who can provide guidance and support.


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