What is Gaslighting? Definition, warning signs and how to deal with it

What is Gaslighting?  Definition, warning signs and how to deal with it

The American online dictionary Merriam-Webster has declared “gaslighting” as the word of the year in 2022, ahead of “oligarch” and “omicron”. The word has been trending throughout 2022 and was searched daily in Webster’s online dictionary.

Whether it’s on Twitter, Hollywood movies, or the infamous “trial of the century” involving Amber Heard and Johnny Depp, gaslighting has been popping up everywhere in the past year. An American television show, Gaslit, based on the Watergate scandal and starring Julia Roberts and Sean Penn, also aired in 2022.

But what does gaslighting mean? The word has frequently changed its meaning and often confuses people. However, gaslighting is a critical issue that everyone should be aware of. In that sense, we bring you this explanatory article on gaslighting, its definition, warning signs and steps to treat it.

How does Merriam-Webster choose the word of the year?

Merriam-Webster is the world’s leading online dictionary, recording millions of page views each month. After removing commonly used words, the site analyzes the data to determine which words are experiencing a significant increase in searches compared to previous years.

The vaccine has been in use for two centuries, but was chosen word of the year in 2021 due to increased searches due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, “pandemic” was the word of the year in 2020. Gaslighting has skyrocketed in media and political usage of late, but even more so in 2022.

Also read: The Oxford word of the year 2021 is Vax

Runner-up Words of 2022

  • Oligarch
  • omicron
  • Encode
  • Queen consort
  • Raid
  • Sensitive
  • Cancel Culture
  • LGBTQIA
  • clayey

Gaslighting Origin and definition

Gaslighting is a verb originating from Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play Gaslight and its film adaptations. The 1944 American psychological noir film Gaslight, starring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten, and Angela Lansbury, gave the word mainstream appeal.

The film centers on a woman who experiences strange occurrences in her home and is gradually manipulated by her husband into doubting her own sanity. This is how the word “gaslighting” originated. The traditional definition of gaslighting reads:

“The psychological manipulation of a person, usually over a prolonged period of time, that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories, and usually leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.”

However, the definition of gaslighting has evolved to encompass broader meanings in terms of relationships, politics, media, and office usage. Merriam-Webster defines gaslighting as:

“The act or practice of seriously misleading someone, especially for personal advantage.”

Gaslighting is similar to manipulation or deception, but a bit more modern.

Examples and Warning Signs of Gaslighting

It is one thing to know what gaslighting is and quite another to identify it. Gaslighting has become so common today that people don’t even know they are on the receiving end or unintentionally participating.

A doctor who downplays your concerns, your partner who insists that nothing is wrong and that you are “imagining” things, and your boss who dismisses your opinions as unfounded and makes you doubt yourself at every turn are all examples of gaslighting. A politician who lies openly and presents an image of the facts that is different from reality is also deceiving his followers.

Every cynical horror movie husband who refuses to believe his wife is seeing ghosts is a gaslighter. Most people would do the same in that fictional situation but not in real life unless they are gaslighters.

How to identify Gaslighters?

It can be difficult to distinguish between gaslighters and genuine people because both exhibit similar behavior, with the exception that one has malicious intent.

Here are some common phrases used by gaslighters:

  • “I never said that.”
  • “I did that because I love you.”
  • “What did I do wrong?”
  • “I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal out of this.”
  • “Don’t be so sensitive.”
  • “You’re being dramatic.”
  • “You are the problem, not me.”
  • “If you loved me, you would…”
  • “Re crazy.”
  • “You are too emotional”

Most of these phrases also have a genuine use. But the difference between using them for gaslighting and sincerity is that gaslighters have malicious intent. When they ask what they did wrong, they already know the answer, but they say it to make you mad and then deny it.

Or if a gaslighter says, “I’m sorry you think I hurt you,” it means they’re sorry for you and your behavior. Imagine being so inconsiderate that you apologize, still do everything yourself, and end up hurting the other person even more. That’s a classic gaslighter, and if you’re with one, try to leave as soon as possible.

Another trait of gaslighters is that they never accept their lies and deceit, even when they are caught red-handed. Politicians are probably the first people you think of in such a scenario. Listed below are some common traits of gaslighters.

  • deflect blame
  • denying responsibility
  • Minimize serious problems
  • chronic lie
  • Creating false narratives
  • Pretending to be the real victim
  • constant discrediting
  • always passive aggressive

What are the signs of being gaslighted?

Gaslighting can take a heavy toll on the mental health of victims. Below are some signs that you are suffering from the effects of gaslighting.

  • you doubt and you question
  • You constantly wonder if you are too sensitive or emotional.
  • You apologize frequently and for no reason
  • You have trouble making decisions.
  • In general, you feel unhappy, confused and different from your usual state.
  • You avoid your loved ones for fear of being judged

Steps to deal with Gaslighting

It’s always hard to outrun a gaslighter as they make it hard to do so. But it is essential, since gaslighting can cause irreversible damage to your mental health.

Make sure it’s gaslight

It is possible that your partner, boss or whoever has genuine concern for you and you are simply overreacting. Gaslighting behaviors appear minor at first, but gradually evolve into sinister manipulative tactics. Make sure you are convinced of yourself.

take some time off

Taking a break from work or home can be beneficial to anyone. It makes you introspect and find out what is wrong with your life.

collect evidence

If you think you are being cheated, collect evidence such as recordings, screenshots, photos, dates, research papers, etc. However, be careful not to confront the deceiver alone.

Seek professional help

Try talking to a loved one or a mental health professional. Talking can help you safely navigate the truth of events and realize your true self. Support also makes a person stronger.

Also read: Myth or reality: the 10-second rule of dropped food

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