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Gaslighting is an emotional manipulation techniques many abusers successfully employ to make their victims believe they lack sound judgment. Could you spot gaslighting, and what can you do about it?

It started the minute my dear friend was laid off from her job: her partner, an intelligent and outwardly charming man, went on a mission to take complete control of her life. The first thing he did was tell her that I and her other friends weren't welcome at their house any more. Then, he started micro-managing her time, being a demanding helicopter parent to a grown woman, a woman who should have been his equal. He didn't stop there, however. In order to really accomplish what he had set out to accomplish, he had to make my friend believe that she was the crazy one.

"No, that never happened," he'd tell her when she brought up things that bothered her. 

"You are being too senstive," he'd say if she was upset by her behavior.

"You are spreading negative energy throughout the house, preventing other people from being productive," he'd yell.

She was accused of starting arguments he instigated. She was called rude for not wanting to get up in the middle of the night to clean the house, and called a bad parent for not cooking during the very same time he ordered her to have lengthy conversations about her failures with him. If she questioned his behavior, he'd tell her she was simply projecting her abusive parents' traits onto him. 

Did those things really not happen, was she really too sensitive, what it all her fault, and was she perhaps truly imagining things simply because she had been raised in an abusive environment? Cut off from her support network, her friends, my friend started to question her own sanity. 

This is called gaslighting, and it's a highly successful manipulation technique employed by many abusers. 

Gaslighting Defined

The term gaslighting was taken from a 1938 stage play that was later released as multiple film adaptations. In the play, an emotionally abusive husband sets out to convince his wife that she is insane by manipulating elements of her environment and then making her think she was remembering things incorrectly. The title is a reference to gas lights the husband used, but convinced his wife she was imagining. 

Gaslighting is a technique in which an abusive person intentionally makes their victim question reality. While this is abusive in itself, gaslighting is frequently used as merely one tool in an abusive person's tool box — if the victim believes they are prone to misintepreting, misremembering, confusion or oversensitivity, they are also much more likely to believe that the abuse isn't happening, is their fault, or isn't so bad after all.

Since gaslighting involves the systematic dismantling of a person's perception of reality, identifying whether it is happening to you can be incredibly difficult. Gaslighting is most effective in situations where the perpetrator has a large degree of control over their victim's life. Hence, while anyone can attempt to use this abusive technique, parents and partners are most likely to be successful at convincing their victims that they are insane. On the next page, we'll deal with signs that your partner is gaslighting you.

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