What Is Gaslighting?

What Is Gaslighting?


The term “gaslighting” can often be vague and confusing. Learn more about what gaslighting really is, and explore ways to separate yourself from gaslighters.

The term "gaslighting" derives from a 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton (known as Gaslight in the UK) that was later developed into the 1944 film of the same name directed by George Cukor. In this play and film, a husband manipulates his wife into thinking she's going crazy by using controlling and manipulative tactics, such as subtly changing her environment by slowly but steadily dimming the flame on a gas lamp. As expected, the wife begins to question herself to the point where she can no longer ascertain what is true and what is not.

Most often, the term gaslighting is used in conjunction with narcissistic behavior. Gaslighting is defined as misrepresenting an event to convince the other person they are wrong and cannot trust their senses, memories, and experiences. This is a common tool used by a narcissist to create doubt and uncertainty about perceptions in their victim.

While manipulation is a key part of gaslighting, manipulation is a fairly common tactic, and almost anyone is capable of employing it. However, gaslighting is more complicated. Children try to manipulate parents at an early age, and marketers aim to manipulate consumers, but gaslighting involves a pattern of abusive behaviors with the intent to not only influence someone, but to control them.

7 Signs of Gaslighting


Even when presented with proof of their deceptions, those who engage in gaslighting will present statements like "You're just making this up" or "That didn't happen." As they can be quite convincing, you start to second-guess yourself.


A common gaslighting technique is to discredit you by questioning your credibility. Common statements include "You can't seem to remember what really happened," "You're just imagining things," and asking you repeatedly, “Are you sure about that?” Also, they may use negative stereotypes about your age, gender, and other markers to gaslight you. For example, they may say, “No one would ever believe that a woman of your age and social standing would be an abuse victim.”

Shifting Blame

They will not take any responsibility for their actions by placing the blame on you for whatever happened. “If only you behaved better, I wouldn’t have to treat you like I do” is a common refrain used in gaslighting. Along those lines, whenever you raise concerns about something they said or did, they will change the subject by asking you a question instead of addressing the issue you raised.

Trivializing and Minimizing

When you raise a valid and reasonable concern, they trivialize your comments by telling you you’re too sensitive or overreacting. These comments minimize what you’re thinking and feeling.

Killing With Kindness

When their behavior is questioned, they may use affectionate phrases like “You know how much I care about you. I could never intentionally cause you harm." Should you try to leave, they will often engage in a tactic called hoovering, which takes its name from the vacuum brand. Here they will profess false promises to change and be willing to make the relationship work. However, their actions indicate otherwise.


Someone who gaslights may express concern about your wellbeing by telling others in your social circle that you appear to be "crazy."


This happens when the person either refuses to listen to you or pretends they don't understand what you're talking about. These actions can make you doubt your ability to express yourself correctly.

How to Respond to Gaslighting

If you find yourself encountering someone who displays these traits, here are some ways you can protect yourself from their actions.

Distance Yourself

Take a step back. Develop a meditative practice that works to keep you grounded so you can remain calm and centered in the midst of chaos. If you cannot physically leave the situation, disengage by using a technique like gray rocking that enables you to create an invisible boundary around yourself that deflects and depersonalizes their comments.

Preserve Evidence of Your Experiences

Keep a journal, save text messages and emails, record voice messages, and take photographs. These items can help remind you of what actually happened so you can prove to yourself that you're not crazy.

Establish Boundaries

Make it clear that behaviors such as denying or trivializing your responses are not acceptable.

End the Relationship

If the gaslighting will not stop once you've set forth your clear boundaries, walking away is often the most effective means of separating yourself from the abusive behavior.

Get Outside Help

A trusted friend or family member can be very helpful in confirming that what you're experiencing is not within the normal bounds of human interactions. Also, consider talking to a mental health professional. They can provide an objective perspective that can help you gain awareness and coping strategies for dealing with your particular situation.

Learn how to identify a victim narcissist.

What Is Gaslighting

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