Gaslighting – An emotional abuse to burn your sanity

Gaslighting or Gaslighters… this term is being used more than ever before in clinical and research literature as well as in political commentary. The term Gaslighting is now commonly used to describe behavior that is inherently manipulative. Gaslighting is a powerful form of emotional abuse. This sophisticated emotional abuse tactic makes victims question their own sanity.

Gaslighters use this mind game to gain control over the victim. Like other types of abuse, gaslighting can turn out in all sorts of relationships, including personal, romantic, social and professional. You may find gaslighters everywhere; political leaders, social media influencer, news anchors, celebrities, neighbors, a close friend, boss, subordinates, colleagues, siblings, parents or other close relations – anyone of these people surrounding you is in the position to gaslight you.

Gaslighting definition

Many people have heard the term gaslighting but not aware about – What is gaslighting? Let’s first understand the gaslighting meaning. Gaslighting is a form of psychological and emotional abuse used to eradicate or alter another human being’s perception of reality to gain influence, power, and control.

Gaslighters deliberately play subtle mind games and psychological manipulations; which are carried out gradually in stages. To undermine the mental stability of its victim gaslighter repeats such manipulation time after time. These cause another individual (victim) to doubt his/her own judgments and perceptions. Gaslighters make victims doubt their own thoughts and feelings.

The origin of the term Gaslighting

I know a question must be bugging you; from where did this term come from? The trendy phrase “Gaslighting” is originated from a 1938 mystery thriller play written by British playwright Patrick Hamilton called “Gas light” . It was adapted into a popular movie in 1944 ; starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer and directed by George Cukor. In this gaslighting movie, husband Gregory manipulates his innocent, loving and trusting wife Paula into believing she can no longer believe her own perceptions of reality.

Gregory tries to convince Paula through manipulating situations that she is going crazy. In one pivotal scene of this popular movie, Gregory causes the gaslights in the house to flicker by turning them on in the attic of the house. Paula notices this change asks her husband why the gaslights are flickering. Gregory convinces Paula that it’s not really happening and that it’s all in her mind, causing her to doubt her self-perception. Hence the term Gaslighting was born.

While the term Gaslighting never vanished, over seven decades later, gaslighting has fully resurfaced in personal relationships. The word gaslighting has become more popular everywhere since Donald Trump’s inauguration, so much so that the Oxford Dictionaries included it in one of the most popular words of 2018.

Effects of gaslighting

Galighting can have catastrophic effects on your mental health. The process is often gradual and may lead a person to develop mental health concerns. Gaslighting can impact your life in following manner

signs of gaslighting

Also Read: Narcissist quotes to help you deal with Emotional Abuse

Gaslighting Examples in a Relationship

Here are the examples of gaslighting in a relationships you must be watchful for. Narcissist or gaslighthers use these words or phrases very frequently to gaslit the victims.

  • “You are upset over nothing.”
  • “You need help.”
  • “Don’t be so sensitive.”
  • “Why are you making things up?!”
  • “You are so jealous!”
  • “Are you sure? You tend to have a bad memory.”
  • “I was just joking.”
  • “You are imagining things.”
  • “There is always drama with you.”
  • “It’s all in your head.”
  • “Its always something with you.”
  • “They are lying.”
  • “I don’t have time for this.”
  • “You are too sensitive/you are overreacting”

Gaslighting Techniques used by Gaslighters

Gaslighting can take place in various forms. Sometimes; it involves manipulating a person’s environment behind her/his back. On some other occasions the form of psychological abuse is entirely verbal and emotional. Common techniques used by gaslighters include following manipulative actions. These are most common warning signs of gaslighting

Lie and deny

A gaslighter is a constant liar. Gaslighters lie, lie and lie. Lie and deny these are the biggest weapons of gaslighters. They set up abusive pattern using them. The target/victim begins to question everything and become uncertain of the simplest matters. This self doubt and confusion in victim’s mind is what all gaslighters want. The constant self doubt and confusion that the abuser has instilled leads the victim to become desperate for clarity. In most of the cases the victim tries to seek clarity from abuser only. It becomes cycle and victim become more vulnerable.


Projection is gaslighter’s signature technique. They are liar, cheater, manipulator and have negative mindset. Whatever the gaslighter/narcissist is or whatever he/she is doing, he/she will assign those characteristics or behaviors to you. Gaslighters uses this technique projection so often that target/victim starts trying to defend him/her; and is distracted from the gaslighter’s own behavior.

Gaslighting - an Emotional Abuse

Missing Congruence

The congruence is missing in what gaslighters say and what they do. One can notice the mismatch in their words and actions. They will make promises and commitments but their words mean nothing. When it comes to action, their behavior is altogether different. They will also use compassionate words as a weapon at times to smooth over the particular situation. Then questioned for any incident, they may use words like, ” Honey, you know how much I love you. I can’t even think to hurt you like this.” These are the apologies and words which victim want to hear, but those are not authentic. When dealing with gaslighters always pay attention to their actions and not on the words.

Listening refusal

The gaslighters refuse to listen any concerns of gaslightee or pretend not to understand them. They try to make the victim feel bitter and question own sanity.

Example: “I don’t have time to listen to all this nonsense. You’re talking senseless and irrelevant things.”


Denial to the events and conversations that have happened to further discredit the victim’s memory. They literally deny about the promises and commitments made by them. In fact typical abusers may even deny making any promises to avoid the responsibility.

Example: “What are you talking about? I never promised you that.”

Challenge memory

The gaslighter try to convince the target that their memories are wrong. They have forgotten the things and that’s why they are overreacting to an event. They challenge and question the victim’s memory. Gaslighters deny the incidents and events occurred in the way the gaslithtee remembers. They may even deny and pretend to forget incidents or events that have happened actually, this manipulation helps further question the victim’s memory. They may also create false details of the incident or event that did not occur.

Example: “You have started forgetting things. I still remember word to word conversation of that day. You never remember our conversations right.”


Change the subject/ Diversion

Gaslighters change the subject and try to divert the target’s attention from a topic. They divert the topic by asking another question, or making a statement typically directed to challenge your thoughts. They may also twist and redirect the conversation into an argument about the person’s credibility. This way they try to touch the topic on which victim is sensitive. It leads to arguments and hot discussions.

Example:  “Did you talk to your mother again last night? She’s always putting stupid ideas in your head.”


Gasligter declare that you are crazy. They know that victim is questioning his/her sanity. As I mentioned earlier, unfortunately in most of cases the victim search for clarity in the person who is purposefully causing the confusion. Here they call victim crazy and make them to believe it. They also spread it to other people, relatives and friends that “you’re crazy”. Gaslighter spreads rumors and gossips about you to relatives, friends and other surrounding people to you. They will pretend to be worried about you and “your behavior” while subtly telling others that you seems to have mental health issues like emotionally unstable or crazy. When victim approach them (friends and relatives) for help, they does not believe him/her. They don’t take the victim seriously. This way gaslighter isolates the victim from getting help.

gaslighting tactics used by gaslighters

Signs of Gaslighting

I have already mentioned the harmful and bad effects of gaslighting on receiver or victim. Long exposure to gaslighting triggers many mental health issues. Therefore, it becomes extremely important to recognize when you are being gaslighted. Check the following signs of gaslighting and ask yourself if any of the symptom or statements is true for your life:

  • You start doubting your own feelings or your sense of reality, and try to convince yourself that the gaslighter’s behaviour is not that bad or that you are being too sensitive on the issues.
  • Decision making becomes tough and you distrust yourself. You look towards your friends, partner or relatives for taking decisions for you.
  • There is no congruence in words and actions of your spouse, family member or friends. Their behaviour confuses you.
  • You will be told repeatedly that you’re exaggerating.
  • You feel like you are having low self-esteem. The thoughts like you are not “good enough” always prevails in your mind.
  • You always keep apologizing for what you do or who you are, assuming people are disappointed with you.
  • You try to live up to the  ingenuine, unrealistic and unreasonable expectations and demands of others.
  • Sense of insecurity and vulnerability, you feel like your behavior and actions will be questioned and you will look like fool in front of others.
  • You feel like something worst or terrible is about to happen whenever friends, spouse or relatives surrounds you.
  • A strong feeling that you are good for nothing.
  • You feel lonely, powerless and trapped.

How to deal with Gaslighting?

Here are the ways to deal with gaslighting

Recognize gaslighting

The first and foremost thing is to recognize that gaslighting is happening. We have shared enough examples of narcissist’s behavior above. We have also shared signs of gaslighting in above section. you may check the mentioned signs of gaslighting and ask yourself if any of the symptom or statements is true for your life.  During the conversation notice the words and phrases used by abuser. These all will help you to recognize that gaslighting is happening or not.

Share and discuss with People

Always remember you are not alone. There are people around you, who care for you and will help out you to come out of this situation. You will find it extremely helpful to talk about your experiences with others. Your close friends and family members may offer emotional support and validation. Talk to multiple people to whom you can trust in your social network. They will back you up and verify your experience of reality.

Be more social

Gaslighters always try to isolate you. Try to be more social. It is of utmost importance to keep in touch with your friends and family members. Isolation and loneliness makes you more vulnerable to self-doubt.  Narcissist try to convince you that in world no one other cares for your except him/her. The abuser may manipulate you to feel unlovable and not worthy resulting into cutting ties with friends and family.

Be aware of your truth

Be aware and stand firm in your truth. Believe in yourself, your perceptions and self-identity. Trust on what you see, hear and feel. Gasligter can not define who you are and your reality.  The main goal of gaslighter is to put in question your truth and reality. When you defuse that tactic and trust on your own opinions, thoughts and perception the abuser fails to burn your sanity.

The more you are aware of these gaslighting techniques, the earlier you can identify them and avoid falling into the gaslighter’s trap.  Are you experiencing gaslighting?  Or, do you know someone else; who is?  Do you have any recommendations that would help others?  Please feel free to share in the comment section.

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  1. Hello, I really liked this article.. I have a question, what is it called when the person’s subconscious mind acts like a gaslighter? The inner critical self at constant war with the conscious mind and that inner critical self acts like the gaslighter.. ? The person wants to be rational but his inner critical self wins mostly..? I would be grateful for the reply. Thanks.

    1. Thanks Avanti Srivastav for visiting InvajyC and appreciating the article on Gaslighting.

      You are right, gaslighting is not always pathological gaslighting, sometimes it happens unconsciously or subconsciously also. People having antisocial personality disorder, authoritarian personality, and ego-syntonic personality also gaslight. These Narcissists and Gaslighters are not aware about their behavior towards victim and their unconscious mind rule over conscious one . The inner critical self you have mentioned is called a subpersonality – “inner critic” or “critical inner voice”.It is a well-integrated pattern of destructive thoughts toward self and others. They know it’s wrong but disliking or past experience with victim overrules the conscious mind. The another term “Shadow gaslighting” is also used when gaslighting happens subconsciously.

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