Do You Know What Gas – Lighting Is?


Angelica Capote, Staff Writer

Trigger Warning- This article is meant to inform and contains some sensitive material about emotional abuse.


Gas-lighting is a term used to describe a form of emotional abuse used to manipulate a victim into warping their sense of reality, confusing the victim into questioning their own memory, perception, and sanity. According to Wikipedia, it is “a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted/spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented.” The online article also goes on to say “Instances may range simply from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.”

The term Gas-lighting originated in the 1938 stage play Gas Light, also known as Angel Street in the United States. There were also film adaptations in 1940 and 1944, which motivated the origin of the term even more due to the obvious psychological manipulation used by the main character on the victim.

The plot consists of a husband who convinces his wife and others that she is insane by manipulating and changing small elements of their environment. When she points out these changes, he insists that she is mistaken or her memory is incorrect. The title comes from the famous scene when the husband is up in the attic looking for hidden treasure and is using the gaslights to do so. He dims the lights and when the wife points out the change he insists she is just imagining it all and it is just in her head.

This term has been used since the 1960’s and even appeared in a 1980 book on child sex abuse written by Florence Rush. The author summarized George Cukor’s 1944 film version of Gas Light and writes “even today the word [gaslighting] is used to describe an attempt to destroy another’s perception of reality.”

With that all being said, how can you tell if you or someone you know is being emotionally abused in this manor? Web article TheHotLine gives helpful tips and even a number to call for help: 1-800-799-7233. Some of their tips include quotes like “You’re crazy – that never happened”, “Are you sure? You tend to have a bad memory”, and “It’s all in your head”.

The article also goes on to list a variety of techniques an abusive person might use, some being:

  • Withholding: the abusive partner pretends not to understand or refuses to listen Ex. “I don’t want to hear this again,” or “You’re trying to confuse me.”
  • Countering: the abusive partner questions the victim’s memory of events, even when the victim remembers them accurately. Ex. “You’re wrong, you never remember things correctly.”
  • Blocking/Diverting: the abusive partner changes the subject and/or questions the victim’s thoughts. Ex. “Is that another crazy idea you got from [friend/family member]?” or “You’re imagining things.”
  • Trivializing: the abusive partner makes the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant. Ex. “You’re going to get angry over a little thing like that?” or “You’re too sensitive.”
  • Forgetting/Denial: the abusive partner pretends to have forgotten what actually occurred or denies things like promises made to the victim. Ex. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” or “You’re just making stuff up.”

It’s important to remember that not only partners in romantic relationship are capable of this kind, or any kind, of emotional abuse; friends, family and people in the workplace are very much capable of committing different kind of emotional abuse, especially gas-lighting. The signs of being a victim of gas-lighting, according to author and psychoanalyst Robin Stern and listed on TheHotLine website, include:

  • You constantly second-guess yourself.
  • You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” multiple times a day.
  • You often feel confused and even crazy.
  • You’re always apologizing to your partner.
  • You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t feeling happier.
  • You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.
  • You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
  • You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
  • You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.
  • You have trouble making simple decisions.
  • You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
  • You feel hopeless and joyless.
  • You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
  • You wonder if you are a “good enough” partner.

Emotional abuse is a very serious matter and should be dealt with as such. If you or someone you know has experienced any of these things, talk to someone you can trust and don’t be afraid to cut the abuse out of your life.