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How Gaslighting Keeps Victims From Knowing Reality: An Exploration of Abuse Tactic

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that seeks to tear away the victim’s trust in themselves and their surroundings. It usually begins subtly, with gaslighters telling blatant lies about you or others.

Still, it can escalate to gaslighters trying to convince victims that they’re going insane and making up things. Gaslighting examples are found throughout the whole world–look for them and try not to be gaslighted!

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What is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of abuse in which false information is presented to the victim, making them doubt their memory, perception, and sanity. Dictators used gaslighting throughout history to maintain power, but it remains prevalent in our society, with an estimated 1 in 25 Americans affected every year.

The term “gaslighting” comes from the 1938 stage play “Gaslight,” in which a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy using various tricks and deceptions. A new movie adaptation of “Gaslight,” starring Academy Award winner Michelle Williams, is currently in theaters.

Psychology professor and author Dr. Robin Stern coined the term “gaslighting” in her book The Gaslight Effect, also inspired by “Gaslight.” Stern writes that gaslighting often happens with emotionally abusive partners but can exist within other relationships, such as parents and children or even friends. She says most people are susceptible to gaslighting at one time or another during their lives.

It’s important to realize that not everyone who lies is intentionally trying to gaslight you, and not all cases of gaslighting involve a deliberate intent to deceive. Instead, the goal is often to take advantage—to gain power or evade responsibility, for example.

While we all tell small lies and exaggerate on occasion, gaslighters intentionally try to undermine their victims’ sense of reality to gain power over them.

How Do Gaslighters Operate?

Emotional abusers might do this because they are angry at the other person or want to hurt them. It’s like trying to make someone feel bad on purpose. Emotional abusers might say things like:

I feel like you are being very sensitive towards me. I don’t think anything I’ve said was meant to be hurtful.

A Gaslighter

If someone constantly tells you how sexy or beautiful or intelligent or good-looking they find certain parts of your body, face, etc., they are probably just buttressing their fragile self-image.

The same goes for commenting on your body size or telling you, “You could do so much better than him/her.”

They may not realize they’re doing it because they have become so accustomed to beating themselves up that they now feel compelled to pass those feelings onto you as a way of managing their own emotions.

Why Do Abusers Gaslight Others?

Abusers try to make themselves feel stronger. Maybe they think it’s the only way to have power over someone else, or perhaps it makes them feel better about themselves to put down other people. But however the abuser thinks about their actions, emotional abuse is always wrong.

  • They know how to make themselves look good, and as such, they actually believe their own lies (or some part of them does anyway).
  • This means that even if they are caught in a lie, there’s a high probability that they will find a way to twist the truth around to make it your fault.
  • The abuser knows that most people rarely see behind the mask, so it’s easy for him to abuse someone when no one is aware of what’s going on.

They may do things behind your back, call you names, or spread rumors about you, making it hard for anyone else to defend you because nobody can see these actions taking place (which is why victims of gaslighters must depend solely on themselves).

What are Movies with Examples of Gaslighting

Of course, there’s “Gaslight” (1944), where a husband tries very hard to convince his wife she is insane. Another great example would be “The Girl On The Train,” which has so many layers of hidden realities based on unreliable narrators at play.

There’s a show on Freeform about this called “The Bold Type.” One of the characters gaslights her best friend, and we see some of the impacts it has on her, including an episode where she feels like she’s going crazy while trying to remember what happened so she doesn’t fall apart and can keep working at Scarlet Magazine.

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Who Does Gaslighting Affect?

Anyone could be affected by it, but no single type or group gets targeted more than others do. It also affects everyone based on various factors like past experiences; gaslighting examples are found throughout literature and film.

The effects of gaslighting are different for everyone. Some people may notice feeling more anxious, depressed, or isolated. Others may not notice any changes at all. It can take one incident to make the person feel like they are losing their sense of reality, but it’s also possible to go years without realizing you’re being gaslighted.

What Are The Signs of Gaslighting in Relationships?

There are probably some telltale signs, but if you feel like someone is trying to convince you that something didn’t happen or say things so often it has no basis, then chances are they’re using gaslighting techniques.

Gaslighting happens in relationships where there is an imbalance of power (of any kind). When one person has more power than the other, it allows them to control the relationship dynamic and, therefore, the outcome of said relationship (it doesn’t matter if it’s platonic or romantic).

This does not mean that someone in a relationship with someone more powerful than them is automatically a victim of gaslighting. Each relationship is different, and each partner has different levels of power within said relationships.

The abuser often has the upper hand in these relationships because they know how to play their cards right. What do I mean by this? Well, abusers know how to look good on paper which they usually do by putting on their best behavior until they can use it against you later (for example, they tell you that everybody loves them and they’re trendy).

If you aren’t aware that your new boyfriend can be two-faced, then chances are you will become confused when the fake mask slips and they let their true colors show before your eyes. This is where the actual abuse starts because you are left wondering why they act this way.

Who Benefits From “Gaslighting” Tactics?

Sometimes it seems like everyone does–whether through ignorance or malice–but ultimately, anyone who tries very hard to convince others something didn’t happen (or make them question reality) stands to benefit.

It might seem like a way out at first, but usually, things get worse before they get better.

What Tools Help Vs Gaslighting?

Some ways to combat emotional abuse:

  • Learn about the different forms of abuse and what they look like.
  • Become aware of your own actions and emotions; be attentive to how these change due to a traumatic event.
  • Practice positive self-talk, for example, by repeating positive affirmations or taking a time out for yourself.
  • Share your story with someone you trust.
  • Write down what happened and the effect it had on you.
  • Try to forgive people who have hurt you, even if you can’t do so right away.
  • If necessary, seek out therapy.
  • Join a support group with others who have had similar experiences, such as No Shame On U or Redeeming Love


Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that makes someone question their sanity. It can be used to make someone doubt themselves and the reality around them. This can be done intentionally or unintentionally by friends, family members, and even romantic partners.

Signs of gaslighting include being accused of overreacting too often, forgetting things they know happened or feeling like they’re going crazy when there’s no evidence to support it.

If you think this might be happening to you, talk with a friend about what’s been happening in your relationship and how you feel about it – if anything seems off, consider getting outside help from a therapist.

In some cases, the victim may not realize that they’re being gaslighted until it’s too late.

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