Gaslighting. What It Is — What To Do About It.

Individual Counseling Insights brought to you by California Psychotherapeutic Resources, Inc.

It’s a term that’s been in the news more and more lately — gaslighting. Have you heard of it? Younger people in particular have picked up on the term and the concept. Gaslighting is when a person manipulates another person through subtle psychological means in order to gain power and control. It’s typically referred to in the context of a relationship, often a romantic relationship.

If you’re interested in the origin of words, trace the origin of gaslighting back to a play, later made into a Hitchcock movie, where a husband works to convince his wife she’s going insane. Not exactly the foundation for a loving relationship.

You can find advice and stories about gaslighting with a quick search online. The Newport Institute, an organization dedicated to young adult mental health, identifies 10 signs of gaslighting an any kind of relationship.

  1. “Lying about or denying something and refusing to admit the lie even when you show them proof”
  2. “Insisting that an event or behavior you witnessed never happened and that you’re remembering it wrong”
  3. “Spreading rumors and gossip about you, or telling you that other people are gossiping about you”
  4. “Changing the subject or refusing to listen when confronted about a lie or other gaslighting behavior”
  5. “Telling you that you’re overreacting when you call them out”
  6. “Blame shifting in relationships—saying that if you acted differently, they wouldn’t treat you like this, so it’s really your fault”
  7. “Trying to smooth things over with loving words that don’t match their actions”
  8. “Twisting a story to minimize their abusive behavior”
  9. “Minimizing their hurtful behaviors or words by saying something like, ‘It was just a joke’ or ‘You’re way too sensitive’ “
  10. “Separating you from friends and family who might recognize your gaslighting abuse symptoms.”

Gaslighting In The Workplace

While gaslighting in a romantic relationship has gotten a lot of attention, it’s worthwhile being aware of the tendency in the workplace. There may be a variety of motives for a colleague or even a supervisor to try to gaslight someone at work. According to the Newport Institute, “Someone might use gaslighting as a tactic to avoid owning up to a mistake at work, or to unfairly take credit for a task well done.” Perhaps even more insidiously, it might also apply to “a situation in which an employee who reports misconduct at work, such as a toxic environment or sexual harassment, is made to feel that they are overreacting, remembering wrong, or misinterpreting.” To add a bit more complexity to gaslighting in the workplace, it seems to be more prevalent among disempowered groups. The Newport Institute, for example, points to research involving women of color that reveals all participants in the study had had negative workplace experiences, including gaslighting.

Fortunately, there are ways to deal with someone you believe is gaslighting you. The Newport Institute lists five:

  1. “Talk to others about what’s happening.”
  2. “Focus on actions, not words.”
  3. “Remind yourself that you are not the reason for the gaslighter’s abuse.”
  4. “Don’t try to argue with a gaslighter.”
  5. “Practice trusting yourself again.”

Read the full Newport Institute article here, including a list of signs that gaslighting has begun to erode your mental health.