The meaning of gaslighting

Merriam-Webster, America’s oldest dictionary publisher, has just chosen gaslighting as its word of the year for 2022. They based this on the number of searches on their website for the word which spiked by 1,740% in 2022.

They stated that “In this age of misinformation—of ‘fake news’, conspiracy theories, Twitter trolls, and deepfakes—gaslighting has emerged as a word for our time.”

Merriam-Webster, has beaten me to the punch. I had a blogpost started already to go with my flying monkeys post. I have been fascinated by the focus on narcissism since it seemed that nearly all the worlds leaders were suffering from narcissistic personality disorder.

What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a common term we hear for how some people try to control their partners, friends, family or sometimes work colleagues. It means manipulating someone by psychological means into doubting their own sanity.

Why do people use gaslighting?

The Mirriam Webster dictionary has a longer definition for gaslighting:

… as psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.

12 common gaslighting tactics

People who use gaslighting are often people with a narcissistic, antisocial, or borderline personality disorder and will often be habitual liars.

Gaslighting may start out with small insignificant instances of you being made to question your own judgment or reality but with deliberate intent it can snowball. There are quite a lot of strategies used by the narcissist to gaslight you.

1. Lying and distorting

Telling you lies to undermine your confidence in yourself—e.g. “that never happened”

2. Dismissing your perspective

Dismissing your contrary perception as invalid or even pathological, e.g. “you’re making things up”

3. Discrediting you

Telling your friends lies to undermine you e.g. you are “emotionally unstable”

4. Diverting you

Diverting you verbally if you challenge them

5. Trivialising your emotions

Trying to undermine your legitimate feelings e.g. “why are you so emotional”

6. Shifting blame

Convincing you that you are the one that caused the problem

7. Denying wrongdoing

Shifting responsibility for their bad behaviour to you and denying any fault

8. Faking compassion

Pretending to be empathetic to smooth over being confronted e.g. “you know how much I love you”

9. Rewriting history

Retelling stories to discredit you and favour themselves

10. Isolating from other people

Gradually isolating you from independent sources of information and other people

11. Creating fantasies

Convincing you of the truth of something outrageous by forcefully insisting on it or by creating superficial evidence

12. White-anting opposition

Questioning the knowledge or motives of persons who contradict their viewpoint

Mainstream use

The meaning of gaslighting has become a bit simpler and broader. It now can be seen as

the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for a personal advantage.

Origin of the term gaslighting

Using gaslighting to mean the psychological manipulation of someone originated from the 1938 play, Gaslight, where the protagonist’s husband slowly manipulated her into believing she’s going mad. The play was produced as a film in Britain (1940) and the US (1944).

The term gaslighting comes from scenes in the film where the husband is using the gas lights in an upstairs flat, causing them to dim downstairs. When his wife mentions it he convinces her that she’s imagining it.