Psychological abuse: it’s behind the term “gaslighting” – health

– “Gaslighting” is a form of psychological violence and abuse. This can distort the victim’s perception of reality and gradually destroy self-confidence. We explain what it is.

“Was it really the case or was I imagining it?” Such questions are typical for victims of gaslighting. Gaslighting means that one person deliberately and deliberately manipulates another person’s self-perception – through lies, distortions and innuendos. This can be very upsetting and psychologically stressful for the victim.



Over time, this form of violence can even trigger mental illnesses, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or delusional states.

Gas lighting – the definition

The scientific term for gaslighting is “invalid communication”. The word “invalidate” means to devalue. “Anyone who invalidates another person makes it clear to him that his feelings, thoughts and perceptions are unimportant or wrong,” defines the Bavarian Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Affairs.

In psychology, it is called “a form of psychological violence or abuse”. Victims are deliberately manipulated and deeply disturbed. As a result, the victim increasingly questions their own perception of reality and loses self-confidence.

Where does the term come from?

The name “Gaslighting” originates from Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play “Gas Light”. The action takes place in the foggy London of 1880 in the home of Jack Manningham and his wife Bella. The husband manipulates Bella and denies seeing the things she sees – including a flickering gas lantern. Bella begins to question her sanity and faces institutionalization. In the end, however, it is possible to discover the manipulation. The perpetrators are called “Gaslighters”, the victims “Gaslightee”.

Which people are gaslighters?

There is no specific profile. Men and women can also become gaslighters and victims. However, they often have a narcissistic personality. Gaslighting can be aimed at increasing one’s own self-esteem. Confirmation from others and emotional dependence on the other person are also possible motivators.

How does gas lighting work?

There are a few techniques used by gas lighters. For example, they claim that their victim did or said something that they don’t remember doing. “You keep flirting with the neighbor!” could be an accusation. Writers also often claim to have said or done something specific themselves, although this is not true: “Of course I was home all night last night!” They deny that an event took place, create a mess, or accuse the victim of inappropriate behavior or appearance. Sometimes they also show so-called caring: “If you’re feeling fat, stay home, other people won’t laugh at you.”

Gaslighting only works if the victim trusts the attacker. Cases arise, for example, in the family, within the framework of a marriage or partnership, in a friendly or professional relationship. Because of the relationship of trust, the victim does not question the statements and does not contact third parties. Instead, those affected doubt themselves – and often only realize after years that they have been manipulated.

Here’s how you can defend yourself against gaslighting

Gas lighters fly when passers-by side with the victim. This is why the perpetrators often ensure that no witness can unmask their manipulations. If a person is concerned about being affected by gaslighting, they should contact others and talk about their concerns. “Above all, trust yourself. Believe in what you see, what you remember,” advises the Bavarian Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Affairs. In order to be able to better orient oneself on one’s own memory, it is also recommended to keep a diary. If in doubt, you can check to see if something happened as the author claims.

It is also advisable to give the gas lighter a clear stop signal and keep your distance. Professional help – for example by talking to a psychotherapist – can also give you security.

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