Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of psychological abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting their own memory, perception and sanity. 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 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, 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 writes, "even today the word [gaslighting] is used to describe an attempt to destroy another's perception of reality."
Psychotherapy and psychiatry are thought, by many, to be forms of gaslighting wherein the therapist or psychiatrist is characterized, by the patient, to be of a more sound, all-knowing mind (ie. an expert). This can often create a conflict where the patient is unable to trust their immediate sense of their feelings and surroundings in favor of the interpretations offered by the therapist. Those interpretations will often come in the form of doubt or skepticism at the patient's appraisals and perceptions of their world. Furthermore, gaslighting has been observed between patients and staff in inpatient psychiatric facilities.
Sociopaths and narcissists 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.
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."
Gaslighting may also occur in parent–child relationships, with either parent, child, or both, lying to each other and attempting to undermine perceptions.
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."
In the media
British film-maker Adam Curtis has suggested that "nonlinear" or "asymmetric" war (as described by Vladislav Surkov, political advisor to Vladimir Putin) is a form of gaslighting intended for political control.
- Asch conformity experiments
- Denial#Denial of fact
- Denial and deception
- Guilt trip
- Martha Mitchell effect
- Mind control
- Mind games
- Münchausen syndrome by proxy
- Plausible deniability
- Power and control in abusive relationships
- Psychological torture
- Psychological warfare
- Setting up to fail
- Victim blaming
- "Oxford Dictionary definition of 'gaslighting'". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 20 April 2016.
- Dorpat, T.L. (1994). "On the double whammy and gaslighting". Psychoanalysis & Psychotherapy. 11 (1): 91–96. (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.
- Loftus, Elizabeth F Creating False Memories Scientific American September 1997, vol 277 #3 pages 70-75
- Lund, C.A.; Gardiner, A.Q. (1977). "The Gaslight Phenomenon: An Institutional Variant". British Journal of Psychiatry. 131 (5): 533–534. doi:10.1192/bjp.131.5.533. PMID 588872.
- 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 (4): 553–556. doi:10.1192/bjp.150.4.553. PMID 3664141.
- 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.
- "Oh dear"-ism II - Non-Linear War, Charlie Brooker's 2014 Wipe, 30 December 2014
- 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)
- 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