Emotional Abuse : Gaslighting

Sep 1, 2021

Gaslight was a movie, made in 1944 in which a husband manipulates his wife into believing she is loosing her grip on reality. Gaslighting refers to a kind of emotional abuse whereby the abuser has their target doubt all five senses and  their sanity.

The abused person can wonder ....

  • Is that what I really saw ?
  • Is that was I really heard him (her) say ?
  • Should I really be feeling this way ?
  • Who am I really ?

The gaslighter will deny many of your perceptions in order to gain power, control, dominate and create confusion.

The gaslighting victim / target begins to lose trust in their feelings, perceptions, decisions and even their identity.

The gaslighter feels high on the control and the smokescreen created by the confusion allows him or her to lie, cheat, manipulate with increasing impunity.

Gaslighting is also a common tactic in workplace bullying. For example a manager might give a verbal instructions to do a job. The job is done and later the manager says "I never told you to do that, why did you do it ?"  Gaslighting behaviours include ...

  • Telling blatant lies
  • Denying saying things
  • Trying to turn others against you
  • Accusing you of the very thing they are doing
  • Wearing you down with all the confusion
  • Their  actions will not match their words
  • Telling you that you are crazy or too sensitive, too emotional.
  • Evading responsibility

How to deal with Gaslighting

Record statements (including time and date and what was said). The more often the better. Notice the inconsistencies.

This is called a  contemporaneous memo and the purpose is for you to build up trust in your perceptions, observations, feelings and the patterns of the abuse.

Name to yourself what you are experiencing i.e. " I think that I am being gaslighted here " (see bullet points above)

If you are being abused as an employee take your  list of contemporaneous memos to a trusted senior member of staff or whoever deals with bullying in your organisation. Keep a paper trail of all interactions with the bully . Clarify verbal instructions with an email.

If you are being abused by a partner or a family member or someone else your memos will provide evidence, to yourself,  that your perceptions, observations, feelings fit together to show an ongoing pattern of the abusers manipulations.

You now have collected the data, information is power. Power to make decisions with less confusion and much more confidence. Power to move on with confidence from the abuser or power to stand your ground, confidently calling out the gaslighting.

Long term effects of gaslighting in years past can get in the way your life going forward especially when dating or in new relationships.  Doubting includes ....

  • Is that what I am really seeing ?
  • Is that was I really heard him (her) say ?
  • Should I really be feeling this way ?
  • Who am I  ? really ?
  • What do I really want ? Do I deserve it ?
  • Who can I trust ?

Keeping a diary can really help in building trust in your  your perceptions, observations, feelings. From self trust will come more confidence to date and in all your other relationships. Trust to appreciate trustworthy people, ability to "smell the B.S" and make wise choices.

*Your abuser may not be ready for change now or perhaps never. Some abusers are narcissistic and often move on to manipulate an easier target.  

You can also talk to your counsellor to help you move past current or historical gaslighting or other kinds of emotional abuse.

Martin Fraser, B.A. (Hons) Psyc. Dip Counselling.

Particular interest in enhancing resilience in my community against Depression, Anxiety, Isolation and Addictions. Member of NZ Assoc Counsellors.

Great! You've successfully subscribed.
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.