Seeing Gaslighting Clearly

by Evan on 2015/03/31


“Gaslighting” is the attempt to convince someone they are crazy by making small changes to the environment and then insisting this wasn’t done. That the person, they are attempting to drive crazy, has misremembered. The intention is to get the victim to doubt their memory and/or perception and/or sanity.

The term is the title of a play “Gas Light”. There is a good wikipedia article about how the term came about and how it is now used.


Perhaps the most common form of gaslighting is the attempt by an abuser to convince the person they abused that the incident of abuse didn’t happen, or that it didn’t happen as they remembered it. This can have long-lasting negative consequences for the abused person.

Other more elaborate attempts, as portrayed in the play and subsequent films: like moving objects and saying they haven’t been; an ongoing, planned campaign to convince the victim that they are crazy, are probably less common.


Why It’s Tricky

  • We all get things wrong.
  • We do misremember.
  • We do sometimes remember things we had forgotten.

Few of us have photographic memory, or complete recall – under normal waking conditions. (Whether these are possible under hypnosis or by electrical stimulation of brain regions is an open question I think.)


What To Do

1. Say “maybe”
Not to undermine your certainty, but to opt out of the argument. And to give yourself the space to see what the other person is doing. If you don’t cling absolutely to every detail of what you remember then you may observe that this is what the other person is doing.

They may point out that you don’t know everything, could be wrong, aren’t perfect, forget things; but don’t admit these possibilities for themselves. At the same time they may be insisting that they do remember things exactly, and claim to know everything important about the past incidents.

2. Observe the process
People do insist that they just want the truth. This usually isn’t consistent with: talking over others, claiming to already know everything, insisting that any and all who disagree are wrong, attempting to intimidate others emotionally or with threats.

If the process is about gaining compliance the major concern isn’t truth. If the aim of the process is to get you agree with them, the goal is not truth nor accuracy.

3. Know that if there is a scar there was a wound
If your thoughts, feelings or behaviour changed there was a reason. And it was unlikely to be that you decided you wanted to be more fearful and/or depressed.


I realise that gaslighting can be a very difficult thing to deal with. I think these three suggestions are sensible and practical ways to begin to deal with it.

Once you have seen clearly that someone is trying to gaslight you, my advice is to have nothing more to do with them. If they are a big part of your life, find a way to leave without then knowing where you are going.

Any and all thoughts and contributions are most welcome in the comments.


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