Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or members of a group, hoping to make targets question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the target and delegitimize the target’s belief.
Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim. The term owes its origin to a 1938 play Gas Light and its 1944 film adaptation. The term has been used in clinical and research literature, as well as in political commentary.
Sociopaths and narcissists frequently use gaslighting tactics. Sociopaths consistently transgress social mores, break laws, and exploit others, but typically also are convincing liars, sometimes charming ones, who consistently deny wrongdoing. Thus, some who have been victimized by sociopaths may doubt their own perceptions. Some physically abusive spouses may gaslight their partners by flatly denying that they have been violent.
Gaslighting has been used by Russian politicians. In 2014, British film-maker Adam Curtis describes the “nonlinear” or asymmetric warfare utilized by Vladislav Surkov, political advisor to Vladimir Putin, as a form of manipulation intended to assert political control. Surkov used his influence to finance various political coalitions so none of the Russian citizens could know if an organization was created by the government or a grassroots movement. Frida Ghitis associates the technique with a form of gaslighting that extended into Russia’s global relations. Russian operatives went to Crimea, while Russian officials continually denied their presence and manipulated the distrust of political groups in their favor.
Recognize there will never be accountability
The person who is gaslighting you will never be able to see your point of view or take responsibility for their actions. They will never get it. They will never say, “Oh, you’re right – you have a point.”
Let go of the wish for things to be different.
Develop healthy detachment.