The term ‘gaslighting’ has become popular in recent years, but this behaviour has been common among abusers for centuries.

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation and control that can be so subtle the victim might not even realise it’s happening. But as sneaky as it can be, gaslighting can be just as damaging as physical abuse.

Learn more about this toxic tactic and how to spot it in your relationships.

 

What does ‘gaslighting’ mean?

The term ‘gaslighting’ comes from the 1938 play Gas Light, and the 1944 film adaptation of the play, Gaslight. In this story, a husband tricks his wife into thinking she’s losing her mind so he can commit her to a mental institution and steal her inheritance.

He does this by making her think she’s hearing things that aren’t there, and dimming and brightening their gas-fuelled lights and telling her she’s hallucinating.

Today, we recognise gaslighting as a form of emotional or psychological abuse that involves manipulation, lies, denial and blame to make someone question their perception of reality or their memory. It’s almost like a type of brainwashing that makes the victim feel confused and start to second-guess their own judgement.

 

Examples of Gaslighting

Gaslighting can be hard to pick up on, especially if you’ve been experiencing it for a long time. In an intimate relationship, the gaslighter generally uses these tactics to control their partner and/or to get away with certain behaviours.

Here are some common examples of gaslighting:

  • Your partner tells you they’ll be home by 6pm. When they get home at 10pm, you ask why they’re late as you were expecting them at 6pm. They deny having ever told you they’d be home at 6pm, saying you made it up or questioning your memory: “You never remember things correctly!”
  • Your partner makes a nasty comment about your weight. When you get upset, they say you’re being too sensitive or overreacting, or you can’t take a joke. They might even counter by saying something like: “You know I love your body.”
  • Your partner leaves the room to answer their phone. You overhear them flirting and making plans with someone. When you confront them about it, they lie and say it was just their mum, and you’re jealous and crazy.

These are just some examples of how a partner might use gaslighting to make someone doubt themselves and get what they want.

If you’re experiencing or using manipulative or controlling behaviours in your relationship, it might help to speak to a professional counsellor. RAQ’s tertiary qualified counsellors can help you explore your concerns and consider your options in a supportive and non-judgemental environment.

Call 1300 364 277 to book an appointment in person, over the phone or via Zoom videocall.