What Is Gaslighting? A Type Of Emotional Abuse

Updated November 23, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn

Gaslighting: Do you know someone who constantly makes you feel anxious, makes you question your own sanity, or leaves you feeling like you constantly need to apologize? If this sounds familiar, you may be a victim of gaslighting. This article will cover the origins and signs of gaslighting, gaslighting behavior, how to respond and navigate these gaslighting situations, and options of professional help that you can seek out for additional support.

The term "gaslighting" comes from a stage play that eventually became a film. The 1944 movie Gaslight tells the story of a woman with a manipulative and controlling husband. In his attempts to control her, he began to manipulate her environment in ways that made her question her sanity. The husband would dim the gas lights in their home and make them flicker, then would deny that anything was happening when she mentioned it (hence how the term gaslighting came to be). He would tell her she was crazy and that nothing was wrong with them. The emotional trauma she experienced was severe. In the end, the woman found someone who helped her proves that she was not losing her mind and that the events were happening and not her imagination, and she left the marriage.

This abuse is not easy to detect. In fact, victims are often so overwhelmed by the abuser’s behavior and the self-doubt that it causes that it may take a long time to realize what is happening and to get help.

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What Is Gaslighting Abuse?

Gaslighting is the act of manipulating someone using psychological efforts to make them question their own sanity. It's a severe form of emotional abuse that often leads the person being gaslit to question their own memories, thoughts, or events that have happened. If the behavior is not stopped, it can result in a victim doubting and losing their own sense of identity and self-worth.

Being gaslit can occur in any type of relationship, whether personal or professional. Being a gaslighter is a common technique used by abusive spouses or intimate partners, narcissists, and people who try to control large groups of people such as cult leaders. The effects of this form of abuse can often be devastating.

Signs And Symptoms

Gaslighting may take on different forms and often happens in stages. Some of the most common signs of abuse from a gaslighter include:

Denial - The abuser denies they said something, even if there is proof of their lie. 

Lying - Abusers tell lies and act shocked if you confront them with the truth.

Fake praise - Abusers will often use fake praise or acts of appreciation leaving you wondering if they are truly abusive or if you misunderstood. 

Projection - This is the act of accusing someone else of your own shortcomings or faults. 

Manipulation - Abusers are typically master manipulators. One way people try to manipulate through is they attempt to turn friends or loved ones against them. This often leads the victim to isolate from others who may be helpful or supportive. This gives the abuser even more control over a victim’s life.

Personality Of Abusers

What makes a person think that it’s okay to manipulate or gaslight someone else and how can you identify them? There are personality traits that can signal to you that a person is gaslighting. 

It is not uncommon for gaslighting abusers to suffer from their own personality and mental health issues. Gaslighting will likely include manipulating any situation they can to make it benefit them in some way and thus ease their own emotional pain. 

What Leads to Gaslighting Behavior?

People who gaslight are often fueled by a person’s desire to have control or gain things they want without having to work for those benefits or taking responsibility for their actions. These kinds of individuals may convince themselves that what they are doing to you (being a gaslighter) is for your good and that you should appreciate them. Although their behavior may suggest otherwise, they often feel intense anxiety about the thought of losing you, and can be unaware that they are a gaslighter. 

Whether the abuser understands what they're doing or not, being gaslit can be damaging to you if you don’t get help. These individuals don’t want their victims to think for themselves, make decisions or have their own friends or personal life. 

In Relationships

The kind of gaslighting individual who is unfaithful in a relationship may try to convince their partner that they are crazy or imagining things, even if the partner is sure they saw an inappropriate text message or heard a conversation to suggest otherwise. When victims try to confront the person demonstrating this kind of gaslighting abuse, the abusing partner may employ tactics to make the victim second-guess what they saw or heard, as will gaslit them into doubting themselves.

At Work

These kinds of individuals at work can cause disruptions in your work performance and hurt your emotional and physical health when you're being gaslit. Experiencing this form of gaslight abuse at work may cause you to lose focus and have trouble performing your duties. The intense stress can affect your ability to work, as being gaslit is a form of emotional abuse.

Signs of Being Gaslit And A Gaslighter

- they tell you they told you to do a job, but you know they never did.
- they move things in the work environment and then tries to convince you that you moved it yourself or imagined where it originally was.
- they report you for not doing your job correctly when you know you didn't make the reported mistakes.


Gaslighting people tend to use specific techniques.

These can include:

- Countering: Telling you that you remember something incorrectly.
- Trivializing: Making you feel like your thoughts and feelings don't matter.
- Withholding: Keeping money or affection from you.
- Stonewalling: Refusing to listen or engage with you in conversation.
- Blocking: Changing the subject.
- Diverting: Questioning the validity of your thoughts.
- Forgetting: Pretending to forget things that happened.
- Denying: Telling you something never happened.
- Faking compassion: Telling you they're doing something harmful for your good.

Gaslighting Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors

When experiencing this kind of abuse - your thoughts, feelings, and actions may change dramatically. While you once may have felt confident or self-assured, you may now feel like you can't trust your mind. Take some time to upon how your thoughts toward yourself or others may have changed since being in a relationship with this kind of individual.

How to Handle Gaslighting And Abuse

If you have been gaslit, it’s important to understand that this is abuse. It is an emotional abuse tactic that can leave you feeling unsure about yourself, others, and life in general. If those experiencing this kind of abuse do not get help, it can have a long-lasting effect on both mental and physical well-being.

If you are in a relationship with someone who is manipulating or abusing you, it is best to end the relationship and seek counseling to help you deal with the emotional trauma. While the option that may seem obvious to others is to leave the relationship immediately, if you are married to or live with this kind of individual, you may not feel like you can leave right away.

Keep a journal of things that happen. Write down your thoughts and feelings. If possible, find a trusted friend or family member that you can confide in to discuss your concerns. Online therapy has also been proven to reduce symptoms caused by trauma.

BetterHelp online therapy study - A therapist-assisted cognitive behavior therapy internet intervention for posttraumatic stress disorder: Pre-, post- and 3-month follow-up results from an open trial.

Read the study here:

A therapist-assisted cognitive behavior therapy internet intervention for posttraumatic stress disorder: Pre-, post- and 3-month follow-up results from an open trial.

Navigating Work Abuse

Working with someone who uses gaslighting can make you feel like you don’t even want to go to work. What seems like their constant insults or questions regarding your work performance or abilities can make a day at work feel like a year. Remember, many of these types of individuals use tactics of manipulation to make you question yourself which makes them appear the “better person” in their own minds.

As with a personal relationship with this kind of individual, you should set boundaries and if the individual crosses those boundaries, it’s okay to ask for help from a supervisor or other authority figure.

Get Help

At first, it may be difficult to understand what gaslighting can do to you emotionally or to your relationships. When a relationship is just beginning, you may not realize that you are being manipulated or abused.

Establishing relationships with friends or family members who can encourage you as you learn to deal with and overcome this form of abuse is important. Talking to a counselor or mental health professional can also be very helpful as it allows you to express your thoughts and feelings with someone who has an objective view. They can help you learn ways to cope with your emotions and to begin rebuilding your self-confidence and esteem.
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"Sharon Valentino has helped me through so much! Since we started working together, just a few months ago, I already feel like I have more power and control over my life. I have let go of some very painful things, I have moved away from abusive relationships and gaining the skills and tools I need to keep myself safe and happy. She has taught me that I have the power to control my thoughts, my anxiety, and most of all my company. I like how direct she is; it helps me get grounded and connect to myself. I can't wait to see where I am after working with her for a year!!!"

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Conclusion On Gaslighting

Gaslighting can be one of the most painful abusive behaviors to be subject to. The good news is, if you are willing to reach out, you can make yourself a better life beyond being gaslit. With the counselor's support, you can regain the self-confidence that the individual took away from you. You can learn to love who you are, trust your sanity, and set your sights on a happier life - take the first step away from a gaslighter today.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the origin of the term?

This term comes from the 1938 play Gas Light, which has two film adaptations (1940 and 1944). The films were both called Gaslight. In the film, this type of abuse takes place over a long period. The story is about a woman whose husband manipulates and is gaslighting her to the point where she believes she is losing her mind. The effect from this kind of abuse is real and her husband (and abuser) removes her power. Those that experience this form of abuse have a hard time getting their control back, but it's possible with the right mental health treatment.

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