Gaslighting as a From of Psychological Abuse

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Emotional abuse is any action that intends to cause mental trauma, and is aimed at humiliating one’s dignity and reducing self-esteem (according to the McGraw-Hill Medical Dictionary). Emotional abuse can manifest itself in shouting, public humiliation, isolation, using offensive nicknames, devaluation of one’s knowledge and actions, insults about appearance and so on.

What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is one of the aggressor’s ‘tools’, trying to control and manipulate feelings, thoughts, or words of another individual. It is a form of psychological abuse, the main purpose of which is to make the victims doubt themselves, their actions, and their adequacy. A manipulator who uses this form of psychological violence acts slowly and gradually. 

Gaslighting begins when there is a deliberate distortion of reality, deliberate devaluation of one’s feelings, deliberate deception. So, the main mechanism of the gaslighter is to deny the truth and replace it with a lie.

The victim of gaslighting most often goes through 3 stages.

  1. The first stage is denial, when the victim begins to notice the first signs of manipulations, but does not attach much importance to it. 
  2. Second stage is protection. A person is more and more often criticized and begins to doubt themselves and their actions. The victim begins to get into an open argument with the gaslighter, desperately trying to defend himself.
  3. The third stage is depression: the victim is completely exhausted and can no longer resist aggressor. Victim begins to accept all his criticism and agrees with all the claims. At this stage, a person may develop clinical depression and neurosis..

The actions of the gaslighter are convincing the victim of one’s inadequacy, devaluing one’s emotions, denying what was said or done. Gaslighting is a fairly popular element of violence in toxic relationships. Having done something bad, offending, humiliating, to the victim, devaluing one’s feelings, the aggressor can say: “You are overreacting”, “Relax”, “It was just a joke”, etc.

Why does gaslighting happen?

Behavior is the process of interaction of an individual with the environment. In addition, it is known that a person begins to act or behave in a certain way only when he has a corresponding need. So, if a person behaves in one way or another, it means that this behavior brings a person some benefit. Therefore, the following questions arise: what benefit does a person receive by engaging in a violent behavior? What exactly are the needs that force a person to commit violence? What needs does a person satisfy while abusing others?

As James Gilligan points out, violence gives very real advantages to many people who resort to it. Violence is a type of human social relation, during which some individuals or groups of people subjugate others, usurping their free will. Thus, violence being an external influence on a person, the imposition of the will of some people on other people, it can be interpreted as a kind of relationship of domination or power. 

Gaslighting is an emotional violence, the key idea of which is a world in which the victim must strictly follow the rules in order not to suffer. 

How to identify gaslighting

Gaslighter employs many tactics to manipulate his victims. As a result, after some time, the victim becomes emotionally dependent on the aggressor, his mood, opinion, behavior. 

There are several most common gaslighting strategies:

  • Excessive edification. Gaslighter convinces others in his own authority and competences: “I told you this would happen”.
  • Offensive humorous criticism. Usage of humiliating jokes: “You act like crazy”, “It’s okay, you always say dumb things”.
  • Objections of facts, distraction of attention, assurance of inadequacy. Gaslighter convinces in the absence of evidence of his manipulations, refuses his own previous acts or words: “I never said this”, “You are making up stuff again”, “I don’t know what you are talking about”, “You are lying, I never said this”.
  • Substitution of concepts. Trying to convince in acts of selfless sacrification and that he is the one suffering from it: “You behave as a victim, but I am the one who suffers the most here”.
  • Twisting said words, reframing. Confidently and constantly changing what was said or done in his favor: “I didn’t say that, I said …”, “If you remember correctly, I actually tried to help you”.
  • Discreditation of victim in society. Gaslighter makes others question in victim’s adequacy, competency, and psychological stability: “Did you notice too that recently she has been saying nonsense?”.
  • Impairment of one’s dignity. Highlighting that victim’s needs and feelings are insignificant and not worthy of any attention: “You are over dramatic”, “You are too sensitive”, “You are too emotional”.

In addition, gaslighter tends to belittle successes and achievements of his victim: “At your age, I already accomplished that”, “Nothing special”, “Everyone can do it”, “You could do better”. His task is to make the victim feel inferior. The victim does not believe that close or loved ones are capable of causing harm, therefore, they do not notice manipulations.

How to behave with a gaslighter

The best way to handle gaslighting is to stop interacting with a gaslighter. Changing one’s environment. If it is not possible, then a person needs to develop a strategy of behavior during communication with the gaslighter: lessening the amount of interaction time, unfolding conversation in one’s benefit , clearly indicating position and one’s point of view, defending one’s opinion and rights in the argument, being confident in one’s own words, being restrained, not allowing oneself being driven by emotions since this is exactly what the manipulator seeks.

In conclusion, it is important not to endure psychological violence and, at the slightest opportunity, to cut off all ties and relationships with the manipulator if possible. With psychological manipulation, mental health often suffers severely. It is essential to build a stronger confidence in order not to succumb to the power of the manipulator.

By Iryna Falkivska


Abramson K. Turning up the lights on gaslighting. Philosophical Perspectives. 2014. Vol. 28. 

Sweet P. L. The Sociology of Gaslighting. American Sociological Review 2019, Vol. 84(5).

Catapang Podosky, P., 2021. Gaslighting, First- and Second-Order. Hypathia 36.


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