Gas lighting is a destructive pattern of emotional abuse that can have negative effects on an individual’s self-esteem and well-being. Gas lighting is a manipulative tactic that causes an individual to doubt their sense of reality and their interpretation of events. The term is derived from the play Gaslight, written in 1938 and turned into a film starring Ingrid Bergman in 1944. The tactic is often used to assert power over a significant other, employee, friend or any other significant relationship. The effects of this type of manipulation often lead to depression, defensiveness, self-doubt, isolation and anxiety. While gas lighting is not an official diagnosis or psychological term, it is often used in clinical research and in popular psychology publications.
Examples of Gas lighting
In the play Gaslight, a husband tries to drive his wife insane by manipulating her environment. He subtly dims the gas lights in their home and when the wife notices that the lights have been dimmed, the husband tells her that she must be imagining it. This is one form that the tactic may take.
The following are further examples of how gas lighting may occur:
- Blatant lying, or lying about inconsequential things. For example, a co-worker may lie about responding to your email, even though you know for a fact that you never received a response.
- Denying that an event or conversation happened.For example, a parent may deny that a childhood argument ever happened, or may claim that they just don’t remember.
- Minimizing your feelings. For example, a partner may tell you that you’re being too sensitive when you tell them that you are upset with them during an argument.
- Withholding, or refusing to engage. For example, a partner may refuse to have a conversation about something that is important to you, using excuses such as, “I’m too tired to deal with that right now,” or, “We can talk about this once you’ve calmed down.”
It is important to note that gas lighting refers to a long-term pattern of behavior in a relationship, so if the instances above only happen once or twice, it doesn’t necessarily mean that this abuse is occurring.
How To Tell if You’re Being Gas lighted
If you think you may be suffering from gas lighting, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you constantly second guessing yourself?
- Do you question the validity of your feelings?
- Do you find yourself constantly apologizing to others even when apologies may not be warranted?
- Do you have to make excuses for your partner’s behavior to your family and friends?
- Do you feel like something is wrong with your relationship but are having a difficult time determining the issue?
- Do you constantly feel like you cannot do anything right?
- Do you feel like you used to be a more confident person before this relationship?
If you answered “yes” to many of these questions, you may be a victim of this form of psychological abuse.
As you move forward in breaking the cycle of abuse, remember the following:
- You do not deserve to be abused, intimidated or controlled.
- You have the right to be safe.
- You have the right to make your own choices.
- You have the right to receive respect, help and support.
- You have the right to leave the abuser.
- You are not responsible for making the abuser change. The abuser must accept full responsibility for their abusive behavior and seek professional help to learn effective ways to control these behaviors.
Your needs are unique. Consider seeking the advice of a counselor in order to determine how best to proceed.
- Gaslighting.org: www.gaslighting.org
- American Psychological Association: www.apa.org
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: www.thehotline.org