What Is Gaslighting?

What is gaslighting, and how do we respond to people who gaslight us?

The word “gaslighting” was coined after Patrick Hamilton wrote a hit 1938 play called “Gas Light.” The play depicts a marriage in which the husband psychologically abuses his wife by lying and bullying. Psychological abuse is always insidious, like mental and emotional stalking. In the play, the wife begins to doubt her own experience because her “concerned” husband tells her she must be crazy or is imagining things. His lying and manipulating seeks to replace their shared reality with an alternate reality. The wife slowly discovers his treacherous plans for personal gain and begins to fight back.

“Gaslighting” has since come to denote psychologically abusive tactics from one person or group toward another that can occur in many settings besides a marriage, including the workplace, the schoolyard, a sports team, or a friend group.

So how does one counteract being gaslighted? This is a complex question. Every situation is unique and depends on many personal, interpersonal, and social circumstances. However, an effective response begins by noticing that someone who appears to be charming, but also bullies and lies, is gaslighting for personal power. Others might be blind to a gaslighter's attempts to sow falsehoods. Recognize that some will only 'see' the behaviors that fit with their love and/or admiration for the gaslighter.

Most often, the only defense against a gaslighter is to name the truth in the face of lies and then to remove yourself from the gaslighter’s orbit. Remember, too, that Satan, the father of lies, enslaves, but that Jesus’ truth sets us free. Psychological warfare might require spiritual warfare.

About the Author

Judy Cook is a family therapist and a member of Meadowlands Fellowship CRC in Ancaster, Ontario.
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