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Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or members of a group, hoping to make targets question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the target and delegitimize the target's belief.
Instances may range 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 term owes its origin to Gas Light, a 1938 play and 1944 film. It has been used in clinical and research literature.
The term originates in the systematic psychological manipulation of a victim by the main character in the 1938 stage play Gas Light, known as Angel Street in the United States, and the film adaptations released in 1940 and 1944. In the story, a husband attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane by manipulating small elements of their environment and insisting that she is mistaken, remembering things incorrectly, or delusional 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 just imagined a change in the level of illumination.
The term "gaslighting" has been used colloquially since the 1960s, to describe efforts to manipulate someone's sense of reality. In a 1980 book on child sexual abuse, Florence Rush summarized George Cukor's 1944 film version of Gas Light, and wrote, "even today the word [gaslighting] is used to describe an attempt to destroy another's perception of reality."
Sociopaths and narcissists frequently use gaslighting tactics. Sociopaths consistently transgress social mores, break laws, and exploit others, but typically also are convincing liars, sometimes charming ones, who consistently deny wrongdoing. Thus, some who have been victimized by sociopaths may doubt their own perceptions. Some physically abusive spouses may gaslight their partners by flatly denying that they have been violent. Gaslighting may occur in parent–child relationships, with either parent, child, or both, lying to each other and attempting to undermine perceptions.
Gaslighting also occurs in examples of school bullying – when combined with other psychological and physical methods, the result can lead to long-lasting psychological disorders and even progress into illnesses such as depression or avoidant personality disorder.
Gaslighting describes 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 spouse provide a recipe for the so-called 'nervous breakdown' for some women [and] suicide in some of the worst situations."
In clinical psychiatry
Psychotherapy and psychiatry have been described as forms of gaslighting wherein the therapist or psychiatrist is characterized by the patient to be of a more sound, all-knowing mind (i.e. an expert). Potentially, this may create a conflict where patients are unable to trust their immediate sense of their feelings and surroundings in favor of the interpretations offered by the therapist, which come in the form of doubt or skepticism at the patient's appraisals and perceptions of the world. Furthermore, gaslighting has been observed between patients and staff in inpatient psychiatric facilities.
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." Dorpat (1994) describes this as an example of projective identification.
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."
Gaslighting has been used by Russian politicians. British film-maker Adam Curtis suggested in 2014 that "nonlinear" or "asymmetric" war (as described by Vladislav Surkov, political advisor to Vladimir Putin) was a form of gaslighting intended to force political control. Surkov used his influence to finance various political coalitions so none of the Russian citizens could know if an organization was created by the government or a grassroots movement. According to Frida Ghitis of the Miami Herald writing for CNN, this extended into Russia's global relations, when Russian operatives went to Crimea and the Russian officials continually denied their presence and manipulated the distrust of political groups in their favor. 
Journalists at both the New York Times Magazine and Teen Vogue, as well as psychologists Bryant Welch and Robert Feldman, have described some of the actions of Donald Trump during the 2016 US presidential election and his term as president as examples of gaslighting. According to political activist and psychotherapist Leah McElrath, who analyzed Trump's response to the Access Hollywood video, his methods amount to “the reality you just experienced didn’t actually happen.” Ben Yagoda wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education in January 2017, that the term gaslighting had become topical again as the result of Trump's behavior, saying that Trump's "habitual tendency to say 'X,' and then, at some later date, indignantly declare, "I did not say 'X.' In fact, I would never dream of saying 'X.'" had brought new notability to the term.
- "Oxford Dictionary definition of 'gaslighting'". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 20 April 2016.
- Dorpat, Theo. L. (1994). "On the double whammy and gaslighting". Psychoanalysis & Psychotherapy. 11 (1): 91–96. INIST:4017777. (subscription required (. ))
- Dorpat, Theodore L. (1996). 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.
- "gaslight". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.) 1969 S. C. Plog Changing Perspectives in Mental Illness 83 It is also popularly believed to be possible to ‘gaslight’ a perfectly healthy person into psychosis by interpreting his own behavior to him as symptomatic of serious mental illness.
- Rush, Florence (February 1992). The Best-kept Secret: Sexual Abuse of Children. Human Services Institute. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-8306-3907-6.
- 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.
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- "Gaslighting: A Subtle Form of Manipulation". Overcome Bullying.
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- Loftus, Elizabeth F Creating False Memories Scientific American September 1997, vol 277 #3 pages 70-75
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- 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.
- Haines, Tim. "BBC's Adam Curtis On The "Contradictory Vaudeville" Of Post-Modern Politics". Real Clear Politics.
- "An ideologue's exit". The Economist. Retrieved 2017-02-16.
- Ghitis, Frida. "Donald Trump is 'gaslighting' all of us". CNN. Retrieved 2017-02-16.
- Duca, Lauren. "Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America". Teen Vogue. Retrieved 2017-01-23.
- Dominus, Susan (2016-09-27). "The Reverse-Gaslighting of Donald Trump". The New York Times Magazine. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-01-23.
- Fox, Magie (2017-01-25). "Some Experts Say Trump Team's Falsehoods Are Classic 'Gaslighting'". NBC News. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-03-08.
- Gibson, Caitlin (27 January 2017). "What we talk about when we talk about Donald Trump and 'gaslighting'". Washington Post.
- Yagoda, Ben (2017-01-12) How Old Is 'Gaslighting'? The Chronicle of Higher Education
- Calef, Victor; Weinshel, Edward M. (January 1981). "Some Clinical Consequences of Introjection: Gaslighting". Psychoanal Q. 50 (1): 44–66. PMID 7465707. (subscription required)
- 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)
- Gaslighting as a Manipulation Tactic: what it is, who does it, and why by George K. Simon, Ph.D., article on the topic of gaslighting published by Counselling Resource on November 8, 2011
- Sarah Strudwick (November 16, 2010) Dark Souls - Mind Games, Manipulation and Gaslighting based on her book Dark Souls: Healing and Recovering from Toxic Relationships