Gaslighting is a long-term strategy abusers use to discredit those they are abusing. Most often seen in abusive families and long term relationships, the goal of gaslighting is to convince the abused, or those around the abused, that they are either going crazy, or imagining the abuse.
The term comes from a play (later turned into a movie) called Gas Light in which a husband goes through intentional efforts to convince his wife she’s going crazy: by continually lowering the level of light coming from their gas lights, and then claiming to her that he sees no difference, and that she must be imagining things.
Many long-term abusers do this. An example would be: you talk to a controlling partner about their jealousy, and they claim you’re imagining that it’s horrible, you’re being overdramatic about the extent, or that it’s done out of love, and you’re mis-perceiving the abuse. Another example would be a parent, in private, giving you permission to attend an event, and then when you go to the event, claiming you “ran away” or that you never received permission. The most common phrase I hear in relation to gaslighting is “he/she’s always had a very active imagination; I think he/she’s made it all up, because he/she’s upset.” It’s easier for an abuser to continue abusing if the survivor, or the survivor’s support network, doesn’t believe that person is being abused.
Done over a long enough period of time, many survivors can be partially, or completely, convinced that the abuse “isn’t that bad,” or be made to feel their feelings are invalid. Abusers who gaslight their victims often do this over years, and it can be monumentally difficult for a survivor to identify it for what it is, and to break free from it.
It’s most insidious because gaslighters are so convincing. Sometimes, they genuinely believe you’re in the wrong, and anyone who has convinced themselves is more likely to make you question yourself. The key to breaking free of that pattern is self-confidence, which can be monumentally tough to muster when you’re being abused. But a careful practice of believing in yourself, knowing what you experience, and believing that you are worthy of love and support can help immensely in breaking free.
1. Have you experienced gaslighting?
2. In which ways did your abuser try to convince you that you were crazy, misinterpreting things, or to convince others you were being untruthful?
3. How did you recognize or realize that you were not imagining it? In which ways did you find validation?
4. For those who were able to leave their abuser or confront their abuser, how did you go about doing so?