Real Life Examples of Gaslighting & What To Do

by | Updated Jan 29, 2023

Examples of gaslighting

Photo by Alex Wolowiecki

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that aims to distort the victim’s sense of reality. It involves the perpetrator constantly denying and undermining the victim’s perceptions and memories, causing the victim to doubt their own sanity. The term “gaslighting” comes from the 1938 play and 1944 film “Gas Light,” in which a husband manipulates his wife into thinking she is going insane by dimming the gas lights in their home and denying that the light changed when she notices. Today, the term is used to describe this type of manipulative behavior in any relationship. Gaslighting can have severe mental and emotional effects on the victim and is often used as a tactic in abusive relationships. It’s important to be able to recognize the signs of gaslighting and to know how to handle and seek help for this type of manipulation.

Types of Gaslighting

There are several different types of gaslighting that can occur, depending on the context and the specific tactics used by the perpetrator. These types include:

Emotional Gaslighting

Emotional gaslighting involves manipulating the victim’s emotions and causing them to doubt their own feelings. This can take the form of the perpetrator denying the victim’s emotions, belittling their feelings, or manipulating them into feeling guilty or responsible for the perpetrator’s actions or emotions. This type of gaslighting can be especially harmful because it causes the victim to question their own emotions and to feel like they are “crazy” or “overreacting.”

Sexual Gaslighting

Sexual gaslighting occurs when the perpetrator denies or minimizes the victim’s boundaries, consent, or agency in a sexual relationship. This can include coercing the victim into unwanted sexual activity, denying that certain actions were nonconsensual, or manipulating the victim into believing that they “wanted” or “enjoyed” the perpetrator’s actions. Sexual gaslighting can be particularly traumatic and can have long-term effects on the victim’s mental and physical health.

Financial Gaslighting

Financial gaslighting involves manipulating the victim’s financial situation and decision-making. This can take the form of the perpetrator denying or hiding financial information, manipulating the victim into giving them money or financial control, or making the victim feel responsible for the perpetrator’s financial mistakes or problems. Financial gaslighting can have serious practical consequences for the victim and can make it difficult for them to gain financial independence and stability.

Spiritual Gaslighting

Spiritual gaslighting occurs when the perpetrator manipulates the victim’s spiritual or religious beliefs in order to control them. This can include denying the victim’s beliefs, manipulating their interpretation of spiritual texts or teachings, or using their spiritual beliefs to justify abusive or manipulative behavior. Spiritual gaslighting can be especially harmful because it can cause the victim to question their own values and beliefs and to feel like they are “going against” their faith.

Prevalence of Gaslighting

Gaslighting can occur in any type of relationship, including romantic, familial, platonic, and professional relationships. Some common settings in which gaslighting may occur include:

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  • Romantic relationships: Gaslighting is often a tactic used in abusive relationships. The abuser may use gaslighting to manipulate and control their victim, causing them to doubt their own perceptions and memories and making it harder for them to leave the relationship.
  • Friendships: Gaslighting can also occur in friendships, particularly if one person is manipulative or controlling. The perpetrator may use gaslighting to manipulate the victim’s thoughts, feelings, or actions, causing them to question their own judgment and to feel uncertain or unsure of themselves.
  • Family relationships: Gaslighting can occur within a family dynamic, particularly if one family member is manipulative or abusive. A parent may use gaslighting to manipulate and control their child, causing the child to doubt their own memories and perceptions and making it harder for them to assert their autonomy and boundaries.
  • Workplace relationships: Gaslighting can also happen in the workplace, where a boss or colleague may use manipulation to undermine an employee’s confidence and sense of reality in order to advance their own interests or maintain control.

The Mental and Emotional Effects of Gaslighting

The mental and emotional effects of gaslighting can be severe and long-lasting. Some common effects include:

  • Doubt and confusion: Gaslighting can cause the victim to doubt their own memories, perceptions, and judgment, leading to confusion and uncertainty about what is real and what is not.
  • Anxiety and depression: The constant manipulation and undermining of the victim’s reality can lead to anxiety and depression, as the victim may feel like they are “going crazy” or that there is something wrong with them.
  • Loss of trust: Gaslighting can cause the victim to lose trust in themselves and in others, making it harder for them to form healthy relationships in the future.
  • Isolation: The victim may feel isolated and alone, as the perpetrator may try to cut them off from friends, family, and other sources of support.
  • Trauma: Gaslighting can be a traumatic experience, particularly if it occurs in the context of an abusive relationship. The victim may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the manipulation and abuse.

Case Study: Rachel’s Experience with Gaslighting

Rachel, a 28-year-old marketing professional, experienced gaslighting in a past romantic relationship. Her partner would constantly deny saying or doing things that she knew happened, causing her to doubt her own memories and perceptions. He would also play mind games, such as pretending to forget important events or lying about her behavior. Rachel says that this manipulation made her feel confused and unsure of herself, and she struggled to trust her own judgment. She says that the gaslighting made her feel like she was “going crazy” and that she wasn’t sure what was real anymore. Rachel’s experience is not uncommon and illustrates the severe effects that gaslighting can have on a victim’s mental health and well-being.

Handling Gaslighting and Seeking Help

If you suspect that you or someone you know is being gaslighted, it’s important to seek help and support. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Identify the signs: Familiarize yourself with the signs of gaslighting so you can recognize it if it occurs. Some common signs include the perpetrator denying or minimizing their own actions or words, causing the victim to doubt their own memories and perceptions, and manipulating the victim into feeling guilty or responsible for the perpetrator’s behavior.
  • Seek support: It’s important to have a support system to turn to if you are being gaslighted. This may include friends, family, a therapist, or a domestic violence hotline. Having someone to talk to and confide in can help you process your experiences and feel less alone.
  • Set boundaries: Setting boundaries is crucial in any relationship, but it’s especially important if you are being gaslighted. Communicate your needs and boundaries clearly and assertively, and don’t let the perpetrator manipulate you into compromising them.
  • Consider leaving the relationship: If you are in an abusive relationship that involves gaslighting, it may be necessary to leave the relationship in order to protect your mental and emotional well-being. This can be a difficult and potentially dangerous decision, so it’s important to have a plan in place and to seek support from trusted friends and resources such as a domestic violence hotline.
  • Seek therapy: Therapy can be a helpful resource for recovering from the effects of gaslighting. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and trauma-focused therapies such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) can be particularly effective in helping someone process and heal from the trauma of gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a harmful and insidious form of psychological manipulation that involves the perpetrator constantly denying and undermining the victim’s perceptions and memories, causing the victim to doubt their own sanity. It can occur in any type of relationship and can have severe mental and emotional effects on the victim. It’s important to recognize the signs of gaslighting and to seek help and support if you or someone you know is being gaslighted. Setting boundaries, seeking therapy, and possibly leaving the relationship can all be necessary steps in recovering from the effects of gaslighting.  

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