What Does Gaslighting Really Mean?

The term gaslighting is currently used a lot, but many people do not really understand what it really means. In fact, Gaslighting was the Word of the Year according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Gaslighting is an abusive behavior that can be used to undermine a partner in a toxic or problematic relationship.

Common gaslighting behaviors we may see might look like: 

  • Blaming hard or negative experiences or interactions on someone’s mental health diagnosis and/or accusing someone of not taking their medication being the reason the accuser cannot take responsibility.
  • Questioning and/or denying that something happened the way someone else describes it, often claiming to forget it happened or offering a reason why someone else’s perspective is different than their own (e.g., you were PMS’ing that day).
  • Minimizing someone’s feelings because their feelings are more important, no matter what the situation is.
  • Pretending to not understand and/or refusing to even listen when it is something important to their partner.
  • “I’m sorry that you think I hurt you,” “You don’t know what is best for you,” “You know I would never do anything to intentionally hurt you,” or “It’s because I love you.”

These behaviors, no matter the intention, are extremely manipulative and can be abusive in their extremes. Repetition makes things habitual and normalized, so hearing someone you love and trust say these things repeatedly, we oftentimes more than not begin to believe them and our internal self-talk reflects these toxic seeds. Their voice overpowers our own and we can begin to lose trust in ourselves, resulting in and even intensifying a decline in our emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental wellbeing. The isolation can be deafening and makes it feel impossible to ask and seek help, with many who do try to get help second guessing themselves.

You aren’t alone and help is out there. Learning that there is a word for these experiences, it helps us see that these tactics and behaviors are wrong, harmful, and not your fault.