This is the first of three blogs on gaslighting. In this series we will answer the questions: Where does the term gaslighting come from and what does it mean? How does someone become a gaslighter? How can you spot when it happens to you? And once you identify it, how do you deal with it?
Gaslighting is a freely used term that has become a popular term since President Trump came into office. Often the term is used with little understanding of what it really means. The popular interpretation of the phrase is to undermine another person’s reality. This is done by manipulating or denying facts, their environment, and/or their feelings. The process of gaslighting causes the “gaslightee” to doubt their own beliefs, feelings, and perceptions.
“Gaslighting” as a phrase has its roots in the movie Gas Light (based on a 1938 thriller. In Gas Light, Gregory convinces his wife Paula that her perception that the gas lights are flickering (which he causes directly) is not actually happening. Paula begins to believe she can no longer trust her perceptions and is losing her mind.
In our interpersonal relationships, gaslighting emerges out of power dynamics in the relationship in which one person is struggling to manipulate the other through denying their perceptions similar to Gregory and Paula. It may not be about the lights flickering, it may be about perceived inconsistencies that gaslighter is hiding. It might be that the gaslighter simply has a massive need to feel in control. So much so that they do it consciously and/or unconsciously by keeping the “gaslightee” off balance. Narcissists almost always use gaslighting to maintain their reality.
Gaslighting can and does happen in any and all relationships. It occurs in marriage, with parents and children and between siblings. They occur at work with a belligerent and controlling boss and perhaps even in politics. Gaslighting happens in relationships where there is an unequal power dynamic. The target has given the gaslighter power, and often their respect.
Gaslighting Starts With A Lie
In it’s most basic form gaslighting is lying. A good liar convinces everyone that they are honest and right. That those around them are misinterpreting or plain old not seeing the facts. A good liar and a good gaslighter use the truth as a thread in their stories. Con artists are basically gaslighters. Where is the line between being a liar, a con, and a gaslighter? When the “gaslightee” begins to doubt their own perceptions and beliefs, that line is crossed.
In the next blog post, we are going to dig a little deeper into what makes a gaslighter? Is every liar a potential gaslighter? Or are gaslighters just super talented liars?