Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity. Instances may range simply from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.
The 1938 stage play Gas Light, known as Angel Street in the United States, and the film adaptations released in 1940 and 1944 motivated the origin of the term because of the systematic psychological manipulation used by the main character on a victim. The plot concerns a husband who attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane by manipulating small elements of their environment, and subsequently, insisting that she is mistaken or remembering things incorrectly when she points out these changes. The original title stems from the dimming of the gas lights in the house that happened when the husband was using the gas lights in the attic while searching for hidden treasure. The wife accurately notices the dimming lights and discusses the phenomenon, but the husband insists she is imagining a change in the level of illumination.
The term "gaslighting" has been used colloquially since the 1970s to describe efforts to manipulate someone's sense of reality. In a 1980 book on child sex abuse, Florence Rush summarized George Cukor's 1944 film version of Gas Light, and writes, "even today the word [gaslighting] is used to describe an attempt to destroy another's perception of reality." The term was further popularized in Victor Santoro's 1994 book Gaslighting: How to Drive Your Enemies Crazy, which ostensibly outlines legal tactics the reader might use to annoy others.
The 2000 Steely Dan album Two Against Nature includes a song entitled "Gaslighting Abbie". Musicians Walter Becker and Donald Fagen explained in an interview that the title refers to the concept of gaslighting as mental abuse. They went on to discuss how the term relates to the 1944 Gas Light film.
Psychologist Martha Stout states that sociopaths frequently use gaslighting tactics. Sociopaths consistently transgress social mores, break laws, and exploit others, but typically, are also charming and convincing liars who consistently deny wrongdoing. Thus, some who have been victimized by sociopaths may doubt their perceptions. Jacobson and Gottman report that some physically abusive spouses may gaslight their partners, even flatly denying that they have been violent.
Psychologists Gertrude Gass and William C. Nichols use the term gaslighting to describe a dynamic observed in some cases of marital infidelity: "Therapists may contribute to the victim's distress through mislabeling the woman's reactions. [...] The gaslighting behaviors of the husband provide a recipe for the so-called 'nervous breakdown' for some women [and] suicide in some of the worst situations."
Gaslighting may also occur in parent–child relationships, with either parent, child, or both, lying to each other and attempting to undermine perceptions. Furthermore, gaslighting has been observed between patients and staff in inpatient psychiatric facilities.
Some of Sigmund Freud's conduct has been characterized as gaslighting. Regarding the case of Sergei Pankejeff, nicknamed the "Wolf Man" due to his dream featuring wolves that he discussed extensively with Freud, Dorpat wrote, "Freud brought relentless pressure on the Wolfman to accept and to confirm Freud's reconstructions and formulations."
In an influential 1981 article "Some Clinical Consequences of Introjection: Gaslighting", Calef and Weinshel argue that gaslighting involves the projection and introjection of psychic conflicts from the perpetrator to the victim: "this imposition is based on a very special kind of 'transfer'... of painful and potentially painful mental conflicts."
The authors explore a variety of reasons why the victims may have "a tendency to incorporate and assimilate what others externalize and project onto them," and conclude that gaslighting may be "a very complex highly structured configuration which encompasses contributions from many elements of the psychic apparatus."
With respect to women in particular, Hilde Lindemann argued emphatically that in such cases the victim's ability to resist the manipulation depends on "her ability to trust her own judgments". Establishment of "counterstories" may help the victim reacquire "ordinary levels of free agency."
- "Gas-lighting - Definition and More from the Free Merrian-Webster Dictionary". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
- Dorpat, T.L. (1994). "On the double whammy and gaslighting". Psychoanalysis & Psychotherapy 11 (1): 91–96. (subscription required (. ))
- Dorpat, Theodore L. (1996-10-28). Gaslighting, the Double Whammy, Interrogation, and Other Methods of Covert Control in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. Jason Aronson. ISBN 978-1-56821-828-1. Retrieved 2014-01-06.
- Jacobson, Neil S.; Gottman, John M. (1998-03-10). When Men Batter Women: New Insights into Ending Abusive Relationships. Simon and Schuster. pp. 129–132. ISBN 978-0-684-81447-6. Retrieved 2014-01-06.
- Rush, Florence (February 1992). The Best-kept Secret: Sexual Abuse of Children. Human Services Institute. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-8306-3907-6.
- Donald Fagen; Walter Becker (2000-02-29). The Steely Dan Q&A. Interview with John Sakamoto. Jam!. New York. Archived from the original on 2003-04-06. Retrieved 2014-01-06. "JAM!: What does the title of the first track, "Gaslighting Abbie," mean?
FAGEN: ... the term "to gaslight" comes from the film "Gaslight," with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman, in which Charles Boyer tries to convince Ingrid Bergman that she's going mad so he can get her money, I think. So it's really a certain kind of mind f---ing, or messing with somebody's head by ...
BECKER: ... specifically by manipulating the external reality to make them think they're deluded. ..."
- Stout, Martha (2006-03-14). The Sociopath Next Door. Random House Digital. pp. 94–95. ISBN 978-0-7679-1582-3. Retrieved 2014-01-06.
- Gass, G.Z.; Nichols, W.C. (1988). "Gaslighting: A Marital Syndrome". Journal of Contemporary Family Therapy 10 (1): 3–16. doi:10.1007/BF00922429.
- Cawthra, R.; O'Brian, G.; Hassanyeh, F. (April 1987). "'Imposed Psychosis': A Case Variant of the Gaslight Phenomenon". British Journal of Psychiatry 150: 553–556. doi:10.1192/bjp.150.4.553. PMID 3664141.
- Lund, C.A.; Gardiner, A.Q. (1977). "The Gaslight Phenomenon: An Institutional Variant". British Journal of Psychiatry 131: 533–534. doi:10.1192/bjp.131.5.533. PMID 588872.
- Weinshel, Edward M. (January 2003). Wallerstein, Robert S., ed. Commitment and Compassion in Psychoanalysis: Selected Papers of Edward M. Weinshel. Analytic Press. p. 83. ISBN 978-0-88163-379-5.
- Nelson, Hilde L. (March 2001). Damaged identities, narrative repair. Cornell University Press. pp. 31–32. ISBN 978-0-8014-8740-8. Retrieved 2014-01-06.
- Portnow, Kathryn (1996). Dialogues of Doubt: The Psychology of Self-Doubt and Emotional Gaslighting in Adult Women and Men. Harvard Graduate School of Education. OCLC 36674740. (thesis/dissertation) (offline resource)
- Santoro, Victor (1994-06-30). Gaslighting: How to Drive Your Enemies Crazy. Loompanics Unlimited. ISBN 978-1-55950-113-2. OCLC 35172282. (offline resource)
- Stern, Robin (2007-05-01). The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life. Random House Digital. ISBN 978-0-7679-2445-0. Retrieved 2014-01-06. (limited preview available online)
- Calef, V.; Weinshel, E.M. (January 1981). "Some Clinical Consequences of Introjection: Gaslighting". Psychoanal Q 50 (1): 44–66. ISSN 0033-2828. OCLC 865290402. PMID 7465707. (subscription required)
- Gaslighting as a Manipulation Tactic: what it is, who does it, and why by George K. Simon, Ph.D. -- a link to an article on the topic of gaslighting published by Counselling Resource on November 8, 2011
- Gaslighting Revisited: a Closer Look at this Manipulation Tactic by George K. Simon, Ph.D. -- a link to a follow-up article on the topic of gaslighting published by Counselling Resource on March 25, 2014
- Antisocial personality disorder
- Asch conformity experiments
- Martha Mitchell effect
- Mind control
- Mind games
- Münchausen syndrome by proxy
- Narcissistic personality disorder
- Plausible deniability
- Psychological manipulation
- Psychological torture
- Psychological warfare
- Setting up to fail
- The Twits