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Gaslighting: Is it you who is gaslighting others? Perhaps…

Steven Losardo, MFT

You may have heard of gaslighting before- the term originated from a 1938 theater production called Gaslight. Wilkinson (2017), highlights the play is based on a young woman whose husband repeatedly tells her she’s forgetful, acting unusual, and he even tells her she’s imagining things. She begins to doubt herself over time and feels like she is going insane. This is essentially what happens to someone who is being gaslighted. The play is an example of malicious gaslighting that is motivated by an intent to harm someone (Wilkinson, 2017). However, gaslighting can also be subtle, and can even happen unconsciously (Ringland, 2017).  

What is gaslighting? Gaslighting is a form of manipulation in which a person lies or stretches the truth to make someone else question themselves, their actions, or believe an event happened differently than it did (Ringland, 2017; Sarkis, 2017). A gaslighter often lies with finesse, which results in the victim questioning their own judgment, experiencing self-doubt and low self-esteem, and feeling confused, even to the point of thinking they are losing their mind (Jack, 2017).  Gaslighting can range from behavior that is deliberately malicious to that which is unconsciously. Is it possible that you could gaslight others without knowing it? Absolutely. 

Some signs that you are gaslighting others: 

  •       It’s in your speech: Some telltale signs that you are gaslighting someone can be found in your speech. For example, you may say things to your spouse such as: “Don’t you remember?” or “If you were paying any attention, you would have known.” These phrases can be used to attempt to alter someone else’s memory of what happened. 
  •       Guilt-tripping others: If you have been accused in the past of guilt-tripping others and making them feel bad about things that happened, you might also be gaslighting. Making up stories of events that never happened, or twisting other people’s words, are gaslighting tactics often used when guilt-tripping others. 
  •       You frequently invalidate others: Brockway (2017) notes gaslighting can be invalidating to someone else to tell them things like: “You’re overreacting,” or “Calm down!” or “You’re being too emotional!” These phrases can be manipulation tools used to invalidate others’ experiences. A gaslighter may employ these tactics to deflect their own lies or to invalidate the other person’s feelings. 
  •       You often lie to others: Jack (2017), highlights that when you gaslight someone, you are lying to someone directly or indirectly. Gaslighting can also happen when you are caught in a lie. For example, if you were having an extramarital affair and your spouse was asking you questions about your whereabouts, you would be gaslighting them if you said: “How do you not remember I had a work meeting (Jack, 2017)?”  It would also be gaslighting if you were to say: “I think you have a jealousy problem; you’re being ridiculous or delusional (Jack, 2017)?”  When words like these are spoken, it causes the person who has been gaslit to doubt themselves and be afraid to speak their feelings in the future. 
  •       You put words into other people’s mouths: If you make up things that other people never actually said, you are gaslighting: this behavior automatically makes someone else feel defensive and question whether they said something or not (Jack, 2017). 

Why is gaslighting a problem? And is it fixable? 

Ringland (2017) reviews that gaslighting is a problem because not only is it dishonest, it undermines human relationships. At its worst, it is consciously abusive behavior, but even when it is unintentional, it still causes harm to relationships and to others. To stop gaslighting other people, you need to become aware of what you say and try to avoid speech or actions that are manipulative. Gaslighting can be especially hard to change when it comes to narcissistic personality traits; but awareness of your own behavior and other people’s feelings are key. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes (Sarkis, 2017). You would not want to be lied to or be told that you are crazy or making things up. Gaslighting can be detrimental to relationships and the self-esteem of others, but it can be worked on with conscious effort to change (Sarkis, 2017). 


Brockway, L. H. (2020). 24 phrases ‘gaslighters’ use against you. Retrieved from on June 3, 2021.

Jack, C, (2020). 3 Signs You Might Be Gaslighting People. Retrieved from

signs-you-might-be-gaslighting-people on June 3, 2021.

Ringland, J., (2017). Unconscious gaslighting: A hidden epidemic of psychological abuse.

Retrieved from

dd8e4f29673d on June 3, 2021.

Sarkis, A. (2017). Are Gaslighters Aware of What They Do? Retrieved from

gaslighters-aware-what-they-do on May 11, 2021.

Wilkinson, A. (2017). What is gaslighting? The 1944 film Gaslight is the best explainer.

Retrieved from

gaslight-movie-ingrid-bergman on June 3, 2021.

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