What Is Gaslighting?


In the 1944 psychological thriller Gaslight, a husband manipulates his emotionally fragile wife into believing she is losing her grip on reality by repeatedly dimming their home’s lights. This powerful film has left its mark on our language in the term “gaslighting,” which is any form of psychological abuse that can leave you questioning your sanity, memories or perception of reality. What are some warning signs of gaslighting, and how can you recognize it in your relationships?

How Can You Tell If Someone Is Gaslighting You?

Gaslighting primarily occurs in romantic relationships, but it can happen in any lopsided relationship where one person tries to dominate or control another. Toxic people may use this technique as a way to exert their influence on family members, co-workers and friends. 

If you have been a victim of gaslighting, interactions with your tormentor may be confusing, causing you to second-guess yourself at every turn. Eventually, you may become so disoriented by the psychological onslaught that you wonder if something is wrong with you. Learning more about gaslighting and the techniques a gaslighter uses can help you recognize the warning signs and raise your awareness of what is going on around you. 

1. Lying 

Dishonesty is at the heart of every gaslighter’s destructive behavior. Even when you know they are misleading you, they can be convincing enough to open the door to self-doubt. If you call them out on their behavior, a pathological liar will never admit to it. Instead, they might say something like, “I never said that. Why are you putting words in my mouth?”

2. Discrediting You

Gaslighters may also go behind your back to tell your friends or family that you seem emotionally unstable. Unfortunately, this tactic can be very successful, and many people may sympathize with the abuser without knowing both sides of the story. Another part of discrediting you may involve your gaslighter telling you that other people are judging you and think you are behaving irrationally. 

3. Trivializing Your Concerns

This phenomenon occurs when someone belittles you or accuses you of overreacting to various circumstances. They might say things like “Calm down; you’re being irrational.” When someone who supposedly cares about you never validates your thoughts, feelings or emotions, you might start questioning them yourself. What’s more, you may begin feeling misunderstood and isolated, which can cause the belief that you are worthless.

4. Diverting

A gaslighter might use this technique to distract you when you point out something they said or did, changing the subject instead of responding appropriately to the situation. The goal of diverting your attention is to derail your train of thought and redirect the spotlight away from the abusive behavior.

Where to Get Help for Gaslighting

Often, victims of gaslighting do not realize they are experiencing abuse and toxicity. They may become so overwhelmed that they believe they deserve what is happening to them, or even defend their abuser’s tactics. Gaslighting can cause or worsen illnesses like substance misuse, depression, anxiety or trauma, especially when these arise from ongoing patterns of abuse. 

If you need help healing from an emotionally abusive relationship and recovering from a substance use disorder, contact us at Canyon Crossing. We provide a supportive, women’s-only treatment environment where you can learn to lead a healthy lifestyle away from the influence of alcohol and drugs. Contact us for more information about our treatment options. 

Benefits of Residential AddictionTreatment

You cannot heal in the same environment that made you sick. This is the philosophy behind our residential addiction treatment program. At Canyon Crossing, women learn to live life on life’s terms while staying in a safe, substance-free setting. This gives our clients the space and peace needed for lasting recovery.
Our residential program combines high-accountability sober living arrangements with first-rate clinical care. While staying in our homes, clients participate in process groups, one-on-one counseling sessions, and hands-on learning opportunities. They also receive ongoing training; in these meetings, life skills like financial management and conflict resolution are imparted. All of this happens with 24/7 encouragement, guidance, and supervision from our clinical team.
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