Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse where the abuser manipulates situations repeatedly to trick the victim into distrusting his or her own memory and perceptions. Gaslighting is an insidious form of abuse. It makes victims question the very instincts that they have counted on their whole lives, making them unsure of anything. Gaslighting makes it very likely that victims will believe whatever their abusers tell them regardless as to their own experience of the situation. Gaslighting often precedes other types of emotional and physical abuse because the victim of gaslighting is more likely to remain in other abusive situations as well.
The term “gaslighting” comes from the 1938 British play “Gas Light” wherein a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy using a variety of tricks causing her to question her own perceptions and sanity. Gas Light was made into a movie both in 1940 and 1944.
Gaslighting Techniques and Examples
There are numerous gaslighting techniques which can make gaslighting more difficult to identify. Gaslighting techniques are used to hide truths that the abuser doesn’t want the victim to realize. Gaslighting abuse can be perpetrated by either women or men.
“Withholding” is one gaslighting technique where the abuser feigns a lack of understanding, refuses to listen and declines sharing his emotions. Gaslighting examples of this would be:1
- “I’m not listening to that crap again tonight.”
- “You’re just trying to confuse me.”
Another gaslighting technique is “countering,” where an abuser will vehemently call into question a victim’s memory in spite of the victim having remembered things correctly.
- “Think about when you didn’t remember things correctly last time.”
- “You thought that last time and you were wrong.”
These techniques throw the victim off the intended subject matter and make them question their own motivations and perceptions rather than the issue at hand.
It is then that the abuser will start to question the experiences, thoughts and opinions more globally through statements said in anger like:
- “You see everything in the most negative way.”
- “Well you obviously never believed in me then.”
- “You have an overactive imagination.”
“Blocking” and “diverting” are gaslighting techniques whereby the abuser again changes the conversation from the subject matter to questioning the victim’s thoughts and controlling the conversation. Gaslighting examples of this include:
- “I’m not going through that again.”
- “Where did you get a crazy idea like that?”
- “Quit bitching.”
- “You’re hurting me on purpose.”
“Trivializing” is another way of gaslighting. It involves making the victim believe his or her thoughts or needs aren’t important, such as:
- “You’re going to let something like that come between us?”
Abusive “forgetting” and “denial” can also be forms of gaslighting. In this technique, the abuser pretends to forget things that have really occurred; the abuser may also deny things like promises that have been made that are important to the victim. An abuser might say,
- “What are you talking about?”
- “I don’t have to take this.”
- “You’re making that up.”
Some gaslighters will then mock the victim for their “wrongdoings” and “misperceptions.”
The gaslighting techniques are used in conjunction to try to make the victim doubt their own thoughts, memories and actions. Soon the victim is scared to bring up any topic at all for fear they are “wrong” about it or don’t remember the situation correctly.
The worst gaslighters will even create situations that allow for the usage of gaslighting techniques. An example of this is taking the victim’s keys from the place where they are always left, making the victim think she has misplaced them. Then “helping” the victim with her “bad memory” find the keys.