What is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic in which a person, to gain power and control, plants seeds of uncertainty in the victim. The self-doubt and constant skepticism slowly and meticulously cause the individual to question their reality.

Definition of Gaslighting

Perhaps the best way to examine this inherently abusive behaviour is to go straight to the source, the 1944 film “Gaslight.” The film tells a story of a husband systematically brainwashing his wife to the point that she legitimately thinks she is going insane. The wife fights to protect her identity all while her husband viciously tries to take it away.


Who is at risk?

One of the most troubling aspects of gaslighting is that everyone is at risk. In fact, it is a method commonly used by cult leaders and dictators. While many of us have the good sense to not join a cult, we can experience gaslighting in our personal relationships without even realizing it.

Unfortunately, gaslighting is also used by abusers and narcissists, and it can be difficult realizing you may have those people in your life. Furthermore, gaslighting happens in a deliberately slow, precise way to ensure that the victim doesn’t realize it’s even happening.

Examples of Gaslighting

So, are you a victim of gaslighting manipulation? Take a look at the following tell-tale signs of gaslighting behaviour:

1. Blatant lying

First, people who gaslight tell obvious lies. You know that they are lying. The issue is how they are lying with such ease. The gaslighter is setting up an abusive pattern. You begin to question everything and become uncertain of the simplest matters. This self-doubt is exactly what the gaslighter wants.

2. Deny, Deny, Deny

Again, you know they said what they said. However, they completely deny ever saying it. The gaslighter may push the point and ask you to ‘prove it,’ knowing that you only have your memory of the conversation that they are denying happened. It starts to make you question your memory and your reality. You begin to wonder if the gaslighter is right, maybe they didn’t really ever say what you remember. Consequently, more and more often, you question your reality and accept theirs.

3. Using what you love against you

Additionally, people who gaslight use what is closest to you against you. If you love your job, they will find issues with it. If you have children, the gaslighter may force you to believe you should never have had them. This abusive manipulation tactic causes the victim to question the foundation of themselves as well as what they hold close.

4. The slow death of self

One of the terrifying parts of gaslighting is the methodical timeline that the abuser uses. The manipulation happens gradually and over time the victim morphs into someone entirely different. The most confident human being can become a shell of a person without being aware of it in the process. The victim’s individual reality diminishes and becomes that of the abuser.

5. Words vs. Actions

Notably, a person who gaslights talks and talks. However, their words mean nothing. Therefore, it is important to look at what they are doing. The issues lie in their abusive actions towards the victim.

6. Love and flattery

A common technique of a person who gaslights is to tear you down and then build you back up, only to tear you down again. However, the uneasiness comes from the love and flattery. Whether you realize it or not, you are becoming used to being torn down. However, the praise may lead you to think that the abuser isn’t all that bad.

7. Confusion

Without a doubt, people crave stability, and the gaslighter knows this. The constant confusion that the abuser has instilled leads the victim to become desperate for clarity. More often than not, the victim searches for this clarity in the abuser, thus continuing the cycle and increasing the power that the abuser has.

8. Projecting

If the gaslighter is a liar and a cheater, they are now accusing you of being a liar and a cheater. You constantly feel like you need to defend yourself for things you haven’t done.

9. “You’re crazy”

The gaslighter knows you are already questioning your sanity. The gaslighter also knows that you search for clarity in the person who is purposefully causing the confusion. Therefore, when they call you crazy, you believe it.

Furthermore, the gaslighter may also tell other people that you’re crazy. This way if you were ever to approach them for help with your abuser, they wouldn’t believe you. The gaslighter has given them a heads up that this would happen. You’re too “crazy” to be taken seriously.

10. Everyone else is a liar

The abuser may also tell you that everyone else is against you and that they are all liars. Again, believing that everyone else is lying to you forces your sense of reality to be further blurred. People who gaslight want their victims to turn to them for everything so that they can continue the abuse.

Ultimately, the quicker you can pick up on these gaslighting techniques, the better luck you will have to avoid a gaslighter’s abuse and maintain the distinct reality of your circumstances.

Gaslighting Abuse

Gaslighting is a form of mental and emotional abuse. It promotes anxiety, depression, and can trigger mental breakdowns.

Culturally, women are depicted as overly emotional, fragile things who cry at the drop of a hat. Furthermore, the label “crazy” is eagerly placed on any individual who expresses their feelings in a passionate way. You don’t like certain behaviours – you’re crazy. You have your own opinions – you’re crazy. As a result, crazy has become a term that others use to get off the hook for their own behaviour.


Article by Diane Pulley

Diane Pulley is a BACP accredited and UKRC psychotherapist and Life Coach having graduated from Warwick university. She has worked in private practise for many years with clients presenting various issues, from trauma, depression, anxiety and self confidence. Diane works with both individuals and couples. Her experience has lead her to work with corporate clients delivering stress management training for both staff and management. Aspire You has been born from a personal journey, of Diane's own marriage breaking down after 28 years, when she identified there is a need to support women through this process and help them rebuild their lives. "everyone has the potential to lead fulfilling lives and i am committed to helping individuals achieve that desire"