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What Gaslighting Means and How to Recognise It

Jonathan Riley

“The ultimate measure of a person’s character is how they treat their partner behind closed doors.” – Maya Angelou

At some point in our lives, many of us have heard the term “gaslighting”. It’s not about lighting a stove or a romantic candlelit evening. It’s a much more disturbing phenomenon that can shake one’s belief in themselves and reality. Gaslighting is a form of emotional manipulation where one person tries to make another doubt their perceptions, memories, and even sanity. Recognising it early is crucial to maintaining a healthy self-concept and emotional well-being.

Where did the term come from? Gaslighting originated from the 1938 play “Gas Light” (and later the 1944 film adaptation “Gaslight”), where a husband manipulates his wife to make her believe she is losing her sanity. He dims the gas lights in their home but denies that they’ve changed when she notices, making her question her reality.

So, what exactly is Gaslighting? Imagine you’re confident about something you’ve seen or felt, but someone insists you’re wrong. Not just once, but repeatedly, in different situations. They challenge your memory or dismiss your feelings. Over time, you start to doubt yourself. That’s gaslighting.

Some common forms of gaslighting include:

  1. Trivialising: “Why are you making a big deal out of this?”
  2. Denying: “That never happened!” or “I never said that.”
  3. Shifting blame: “You’re too sensitive” or “You’re overreacting.”
  4. Withholding information: “You’re just imagining things.”
  5. Countering: “You remember it wrong.”

It’s vital to understand that gaslighting is not about occasional disagreements or misunderstandings. It’s a persistent pattern meant to make the victim question their perception and, eventually, depend on the gaslighter for their version of reality.

Why is it crucial to recognise gaslighting? Gaslighting can erode one’s confidence and self-worth. Over time, the person being gaslit may:

  • Start doubting their memories.
  • Find it hard to make decisions.
  • Constantly second-guess themselves.
  • Feel vulnerable, anxious, or paranoid.
  • Withdraw from friends and family.

If left unaddressed, these feelings can intensify, leading to significant distress and even mental health challenges.

Signs you might be experiencing gaslighting include:

  • Feeling constantly confused or “crazy” in a relationship.
  • Frequently apologising when you believe you haven’t done anything wrong.
  • Struggling to understand why you’re unhappy or feel disconnected from reality.
  • Often questioning if you’re too sensitive or overreacting.
  • Feeling isolated and hesitant to share your experiences with others for fear of sounding irrational.

Gaslighting isn’t always obvious. It can be subtle, coming from someone you deeply care for, making it harder to recognise. The gaslighter might occasionally sprinkle in compliments or act lovingly, further confusing the victim and making them question if they’re misinterpreting the situation.

One of the most challenging aspects of gaslighting is that the gaslighter often seems confident about their version of events. This unwavering certainty can be disorienting, leading you to wonder, “Am I the one in the wrong?”

If you find yourself often feeling disoriented, questioning your memories, or feeling isolated due to your relationship with someone, it’s essential to consider the possibility of gaslighting. Recognising it is the first step toward reclaiming your truth and self-worth.

Facing gaslighting or any emotional manipulation can be daunting. If you resonate with what you’ve read and feel the need for support, please remember – you’re not alone. My Practice Counselling Melbourne is here to help.