Gaslighting: Abuse That Makes You Question Reality

Gaslighting: Abuse That Makes You Question Reality

[INTRO ♪] It’s no big deal. Don’t be so sensitive. I didn’t say that. This is all in your head. Has anyone ever said these things to you,
and, like, made you second-guess yourself? Or maybe your friend has heard this kind of
stuff from their partner, or even their boss. Maybe you have said this kind of thing to
somebody else. In any case, these are potential signs of
gaslighting. Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse. It’s when one person manipulates another
into questioning their sanity and their sense of reality. You might have seen the term online lately, and it was voted the American Dialect Society’s
Most Useful Word of 2016. But “to gaslight” has been used as a verb
since at least the 1960s, when an anthropologist defined it in a book
on culture and personality. The word itself refers to a popular 1944 film
and the 1938 stage play it was based on called Gaslight. It feels like it should probably be fair game
to spoil a movie from the 1940s, but just in case, spoiler alert! A guy who says his name is Gregory is trying
to find and steal his wife Paula’s heirloom jewels. So he tries to drive her insane so that she’ll
be institutionalized and out of his way. He hides objects, flirts with the maid, and
accidentally flickers the gas-powered lights in the house as he’s
looking for jewels in the attic. But when she asks him what’s going on, he
tells her it’s all in her head. He even goes as far as accusing her of stealing
the lost objects herself. Paula really does begin to doubt her own sanity,
and is only saved when a police officer visits while Gregory is in
the attic and tells her that he also sees the flickering gaslights—so
she’s not just imagining things. And even though this is an extreme example, it’s pretty much what gaslighting looks like. In a paper from 1988, two clinical psychologists
described cases of gaslighting that they had seen in
their practices. In these cases, men cheated on their wives
and then denied it, even in the face of solid evidence. We’ve heard this song before. It wasn’t me! In one example, a wife picked up the phone
in her house and heard her husband planning a rendezvous
with his girlfriend, and he told her she had just imagined
everything. But it’s not just a marital phenomenon,
and women aren’t always the victims. A supervisor can deny that an employee is
being left out of meetings. A friend can convince you that you misheard
those hurtful things they said. A lawyer can try to tell Taylor Swift that
she wasn’t actually groped. But the trouble with gaslighting is that there’s
just not a lot of peer-reviewed research on it. It’s not the kind of thing you can ethically
run an experiment on. Still, it’s something that a lot of clinicians
have seen in their clients. And there are plenty of case studies, blog
posts, articles, and books published by clinical psychologists
that talk about what it looks like, why it happens, and what can be done to stop it. So experts have a few ideas about what’s
going on in the mind of a gaslighter. A 1981 review in the journal The Psychoanalytic
Quarterly suggested that gaslighting might be a way people project conflicts or emotions like anxiety onto another person. This could explain why cheaters often accuse
their spouses of cheating— to make what they did seem less bad, by believing that their partner has felt or behaved the same way. But it doesn’t paint a full picture of what’s
happening with the victims. A more recent hypothesis is that gaslighting
is about power and control, like other forms of abuse. A 1994 study published in Psychoanalysis and
Psychotherapy suggests that a gaslighter is trying to regulate their own
emotions by controlling interactions with other people, and other
clinicians and academics agree. By undermining their victim’s ability to
make sense of what’s really going on, a gaslighter can gain control over the relationship
and resist any challenges to their worldview, which might
make them feel uncomfortable. Still, that’s not to say that people always
recognize when they’re gaslighting or why it’s a problem. A gaslighter might question somebody else’s
memory or forcefully express their opinions until
the other person just concedes. And, to be fair, most of us have probably
done something like that in a heated argument. But the real problem is when these behaviors
become a pattern, because that’s when they become psychologically
harmful. Over time, gaslighting can cause a victim
to lose confidence, become clinically depressed, or feel unsure
of what is real and what is not. But the truth is, we still don’t fully understand
why gaslighting happens or why it gets as psychologically damaging
as it does. And as we’re learning more, other researchers
like sociologists are exploring how gaslighting might influence
phenomena in their fields, like the historical marginalization of certain
groups of people. So, even though we don’t know a whole lot
about it yet, is there anything we can do? There’s definitely no easy fix. And since gaslighters and their victims often
have personal relationships, walking away doesn’t always feel like an
option. But some general advice from clinical psychologists
to victims of gaslighting is to find someone to double-check reality,
whether it’s a trusted friend or a therapist. This can help victims work to stop this kind of abuse, and it’s something all of us can help with. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
Psych. If you would like to watch other episodes about
complicated topics in psychology, we have them! You can go to and
subscribe. [OUTRO ♪]

100 thoughts on “Gaslighting: Abuse That Makes You Question Reality”

  1. Everyone is gaslighting everyone. A reality without gaslighting would mean there is a objective and unchanging perspective of reality that everyone and everything adheres to and that just doesn't seem to be the case.

  2. Thank you for this. The best part about gaslighting is that they can just say you have a victim complex when you call them out, everyone that you reality check with is lying to protect you, and you're so delusional you can't see it. Great stuff.

  3. This is my roommate to a T.
    He has ADD and can't follow a train of thought to save his life but he spent months telling me that I had a memory disorder because our conversations always went off on such bizarre tangents that neither of us could remember the original points. Months of my being told that I had a problem with my memory and conversation abilities…
    And then one time while he was trying to prove to me that I had a problem he forgot what he was doing and went off on a tangent and I just sat there waiting for him to realize he had no idea what he was talking about. When he did I had actually been paying very close attention to his meanderings and was able to completely retrace the route he took and explain to him that what he was trying to prove I was doing he had actually just done.
    He now occasionally accepts that it's him but still tries to deny it and tell me it's me whenever he is feeling particularly full of himself when he is in a good mood. I'm assuming it's because he doesn't remember that we've proved multiple times now that he is the one who has a memory issue.

  4. I lived with a person for a year that did this to me. Even in that short amount of time, it affected me greatly. Eventually I just exploded.

  5. Ah emotional abuse, it's like a warm blanket of my childhood… if that blanket was made of razor blades and the warmth was actually your self worth and confidence leaving your body and being replaced by neuroses and anxiety

  6. A few months ago, my former animation teacher gaslighted me. As someone with autism I struggle to understand the technicalities of the program. Every time I ask for help he insists I wasn’t paying attention or just watch this unhelpful video he made, which I did. But I still struggled, and when my classmate helped me understand it better, my teacher told her “ you don’t need to educate him.” Needless to say I had enough. Instead of helping me, he belittled and talked down to me, even blamed an inability to help the other students on me. I reported him to the dean of students and I dropped the class. I may have trouble pick up on social ques, but I know emotional abuse When I see it.

  7. As an aspiring lawyer, this new zeitgeist of "gaslighting" has been a gaslight. People often default to accusing me of gaslighting them when I point out their flaws of logic and inconsistencies. It has become a fall-back defense for people who feel like their opinions are being attacked, like a reverse kafka trap. Popular use of "gaslighting" is gaslighting.

  8. "Find someone to double-check reality" is useful, but as important is find someone to validate you emotionally because it's not just a breaking-down of what's real, it's a breaking down of one's self.

  9. Ya don't fully understand it?

    I DO!

    I've been gaslit so long, I get a bill from the gas company!!!!!!!!!!!! I dunno who I hocked off, but damn. They are pretty much unlimited in resources and time.

  10. You know when you hear people use a term, and you think their description, they need to use a different term.

  11. Oh, you mean the world according to Fox News

    Barr’s interpretation of the Mueller Report

    A PERFECT definition of Trump.

  12. Just look at the KGB and STASI and you will understand gaslighting.
    It’s a political tactic used by the left, it’s when people seek to manipulate instead of lead.

  13. Gaslighting just sounds like someone reducing or denying something they did. Bart Simpson going "I didn't do it". No need to add over-complicated psychoanalysis like projecting anxieties, etc.

  14. Ignore it. If you’re being concurrently psychoanalyzed realize most profilers draw conclusions based on outcome biases and a lovely book known as the DSM so don’t be reactive. Realize the real nut jobs are the ones perpetrating such acts. Realize group gaslighting is a form of social predation. The lack of trust you develop IS healthy. You are quite literally being hunted.

    Exercise, read and trust your instinct. Remember all research/psyops cost money and pockets only run so deep. The clock is always ticking, everyone grows old. Consider the experience a gift. A test of will.

    And… If you made it this far, remember that it took a coordinated team of people to essentially accomplish nothing. You are an army.


  15. Since I was a kid I've always felt like I'm always wrong. Like I'm always doing something wrong. Like I'm always at fault. I'm 24 now and unfortunately, I can't help it. It's like a muscle in my brain now. And hey, speaking out about it isn't going to be my best option "right now" because I'm surely going to look like I'm the crazy person.

  16. scishow psych is really neat because it not only helps those not dealing with mental illness learn about it, but those who are mentally ill learn more about their own brains too.

  17. I can personally say that gaslighting is psychologically damaging because it makes the victim question their own instincts. You start to question everything you feel and think because you start to think…" Would they approve of this??" It's highly dangerous for someone to stay in a situation like this long-term because being gaslighted teaches you to let go of your independence. It becomes easier and easier to look to the gaslighter for approval instead of fight them every step of the way.

  18. I’m autistic and people have learned that I have difficulty telling when others are lying, so I’ve been gaslighted by quite a few different people, ever since I was little, and especially by adults. It doesn’t help that I have some psychological issues… Gaslighting is a major trigger for me, and I’ve been brought to tears just from someone joking around and pretending a party didn’t exist. Even in regular conversations, I’ll be doubting stuff I said, even things I KNOW are true. I can’t even talk about the things I love and I know a lot about without secretly wondering if I’m completely wrong…. I hate what they’ve done to me

  19. Hey, they truly believe they don't pay taxes, entitle to every thing from the taxpayers and yet they're not even poor.

  20. T
    Dont tney do it jist to hide thier disfuntion its damaging because the person knows they are sane so they know someone is trying to take them oit

  21. My ex gaslighted. And once I realized what he was doing I broke up with him and I am so happy I left when I did.

  22. Jesus Christ I am so sick of the terms "gaslighting" and "dogwhistle." They are over used, misused expressions that are thrown around now just like "racism" and all of the "-phobias." These words have no meaning any more.

  23. That happened to me when I was inside of a abusive relationship, he makes me really question my sanity, was terrible 🙁

  24. My sister gaslights me on a daily basis even on the simplest of things and worst thing is, she's swayed my parents into believing whatever gaslighting she's doing is actual fact despite how I have physical evidence to suggest otherwise. I've tried talking to them about it but then i'm being "unsupportive" of her and that I don't "care enough" about her. I'm at my wits end.

  25. MyBrainEatsEverything

    Gaslight is one of my favorite films of all time. Ingrid Bergman is fantastic. And the final scene is priceless.

    On a serious note, my younger sister was gaslighted by her 2nd husband, who basically spent 6 years being the poster child for the perfect gaslighter. He was reeeeaaaalllly good at it, like scary good. Of course none of us knew, and my sis didn't even realize it herself until she kicked him out (for other reasons – he's just a slime). Suddenly, all the "weird" stuff that always seemed to happen, just disappeared. Imagine that.

  26. Lesbian Amazon Sister

    They call this nasty form of abuse "gaslighting" because the kind of people who do it should be lit on fire and burned alive.
    (Edit) Also thank you for actually explaining where the term comes from. I appreciate this bit of history.

  27. My father would literally torture us and then gaslight me my siblings believed the gaslight for decades I was isolated. Thank you for bringing attention to this.

  28. Now that I know what gaslighting means, I know I've seen it action.
    I've always called it, 'trying to run game on me'.

  29. Oliver’s Bullshit

    I always thought this was normal. Isn’t this how everyone grew up? Isn’t this how all parents are? Isn’t this common in relationships? Nothing seemed out of the ordinary when I talked about this with other people, they said this happened to them too.

  30. your emotional sister

    Or your mom can tell you you did things you never actually did 🙁 it worked too. started thinking I was crazy

  31. As someone who has experienced gaslighting I definitely think more people need to be aware of it. Since we generally trust people is can be disorienting when someone close to us begins to make us question ourselves. We have to devote so much energy to working through someone's facade that we become exhausted and the gaslighter may push harder and harder against us until we concede. Once we have become emotionally drained over time we just become drained in general and the feeling of confusion can make you depressed and anxious. Honestly if I hadn't trusted my gut feeling of something being wrong I don't know how long I would have stayed in the relationship because your partner may gaslight and then be really loving and when you are depressed or anxious you seek out that security from them. Really a vicious and dangerous cycle of abuse.

  32. I thought this was normal until my therapist told me to look it up. My mom and dad and everyone else always does this to me

  33. Its a trust issue, like telling secrets.
    Trying to send encoded messages while denying it, is also gas-lighting.
    Encoded, as in, not obvious ways of communication. Similar to how a joke transfers information without being upfront.

    The encodes messages can be on a taboo topic like selling drugs or preferences on age of consent.
    Here is a lighthearted example of gaslighting.
    He has an object with five grooves on the left side of his head and a
    nail, so its +1 for a total of 6. So there is a pattern of 6 on his left
    side. In general, the left is usually bad and the right is
    The number six rhymes with the word sex and sex creates dopamine. Drugs
    also create dopamine. So this could be a political statement about a
    person who doesnt like drugs and how "funny" this theoretical person is.
    He is pretending to be a person who doesnt like drugs and being
    sarcastic about how funny he is.

  34. I have a terrible memory because of medical reasons, the problem is that when there are disagreements about how events occurred, I’m ALWAYS in the wrong in the eyes of my family. Being wrong 100% of the time is no more possible than being right 100% but everyone I might use to “fact check reality” is someone who will automatically assume I’m wrong

  35. Just realised this is the term for what happened with both of the two relationships I had. Them trying to project whatever they did onto me – finding anything they could blame me for to make their actions feel more right. Not gonna lie, it really did make me question myself at times."Maybe I am just as bad as they say? Maybe it is my fault." It became very tough at times.

  36. I have hyperrealistic dreams about saying something important to someone, like telling my mom I'm going out, but I don't tell her in real life, because I have this hyperrealistic memory/dream. Now I'm questioning if my mom just wants to statr arguments and is in fact gaslighting. but it happens with other people, I don't know whether anything is real at all.

  37. dude… cut the hair on the side of your head where youre hair is parted… its triggering my ocd badly.. i cant even concentrate on what youre saying! 🙂

  38. My father did this constantly. As an adult it became a neurosis.

    Any time someone behaved like this I would second guess myself building up unbearable anxiety as I obsessively tried to confirm what was real or not real.

    But this growing awareness has helped me realize that the entire US population is constantly gaslighted by media advertising and politicians.

    So the entire population is building up these anxieties. Gaslighting is now a cultural norm.

  39. There are a lot of ways to gaslight. While the movie's namesake is particularly vicious, there are much more subtle ways to gaslight.

    Here's a very sneaky one.

    Guy:See I think what happens is the conscious mind goes down into the subconscious and brings back up all these thoughts, images, desires and fantasies, and you may think those thoughts are above me, but really I think they're blow me….

    Girl: .. what did you say?

    Guy: …really i think they're below me.

    sometime the woman doesn't even bother asking, because the guy didn't have a sexual tone when he said it. but if they do, out comes the gaslight. Unless you actually recorded the conversation, there is no way to prove it wasn't all in your head, you cannot confront him on this.

    In case you can't figure it out, the aim of this one is to convince the woman that she wants to blow you. If she accepts that you didn't really say it, then she must have only thought you did, and she must have a dirty mind.

    there are a lot of other words and phrases this can be done with. (mind/mine, happiness/ha-penis, etc.) done with a straight face, it's surprisingly effective.

  40. Lately, I've been wondering how exaggerated an instance needs to be to fit in the gaslighting category, or even if it needs to be intentional. For instance, my parents have full confidence in their perspective on life and discount anything that deviates. I'm in my late 20s and just starting to unravel all the confusion that childhood gave me. I approached reasoning differently and was told I wasn't using common sense–but anything they didn't accurately reason was blown over as if it didn't count or they didn't believe the information was true. Things they value are practical, things I value that doesn't fit them don't exist or are foolish. I now know that many of the times I was told to "suck it up" wasn't about sucking it up at all, but they simply weren't interested in listening–but I didn't know that, so I went on getting hurt and confused over what I did wrong. If I bring it up, it adds to the cycle because sensible people let things go or know what people actually mean. All this side to side jerking made me a very confused adult. Even if I believed something to be true and turned out to be true, I didn't think it "counted" because by then I was conditioned to think values and logic had to be validated by the next person.

    Yet, we otherwise have good relations with each other–so there's no real problem. Or so they would see it that way.

    I had crippling anxiety until I started piecing all of this together.

  41. Gaslighting is most damaging when it is THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES who is attempting to do this to the entire country, and indeed, to the entire world!! He is obviously a psycopath, and his followers are his enablers. If you want to know WHY gasliighting occurs and why it can be effective, give me a "click" and watch my video "WHY DO PEOPLE BELIEVE LIES?"

  42. I dont know how to get out of my abusive relationship. I now have no license and its 5 grand to get it back. I have no vehicle. I dont live near public transit. So i cant get a job. I have no family. Im stuck. Im in the exact position he wanted me to be in. Im about to be 26 and i feel like im in my 40s and run down and worthless. I go over the same things in my head every day. Why didnt i notice the red flags? The throwing my wardrobe away, no wearing make up, no hanging out with people. Why cant there be a fly on the wall hearing this?someone to affirm im not crazy. Atleast i can still youtube.

  43. Welcome to an explanation of my first marriage.
    I wasted my 20s on that jackass. Dear people who are in relationships: It is NOT NORMAL for your partner to put your entire paycheck in their account and make you beg for grocery money in front of their friends. And in case you need to hear it, you're not actually that forgetful, they really are hiding everything you own.

  44. One of the problems with the gaslighting hypothesis is that some people think they are being deceived when in fact they are making faulty inferences and may have a distorted perception because of inadequate knowledge and judgement in a given circumstance. Every time they don't understand something because of nuance or complexity that is above their heads, they get paranoid and suspicious that they're being manipulated.

  45. The most scary part is that this happens all the time and people don't notice it. But the worst thing is growing up with two parents who gaslight all the time.

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