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Gaslighting - Ambient Psychological Abuse

Updated on August 27, 2012

Doubting the Integrity of Your Own Thoughts

The term "Gaslighting" comes from the 1944 movie Gaslight starting Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. In it a husband slowly drives his wife to insanity, by secretly adjusting the intensity of the light in their home and denying he was doing so. Her reaction to this he used as the basis to convince her and the world she is insane.

If you are being gaslighted, your gut view of truth will be negated. History as you know it will be rewritten. You will not trust yourself anymore. Then when your confidence is completely eroded, your abuser will find you easier to manipulate. It is a form of mind control that is implemented through ambient abuse.

Narcissistic Abuse

Though Gaslighting is not only used by narcissists, it is one of the main weapons in their arsenals. Someone with Narcissistic personality disorder needs to preserve an image of themselves as perfect. Do to the fact that they are completely self-centered, they often do things that upset people or are seen by society as amoral. In order to preserve the image of perfection, to themselves, the people in their lives and the ones they are actively abusing, they use gaslighting as a way of rewriting past and present history.

Here is a hypothetical example. A narcissistic mother resents her child because she is convinced she would be a famous Hollywood star, if she had not become pregnant. She deliberately breaks her child's toy, in what appears to be a random accident while vacuuming. She then tells the child to replace it with their own allowance. When the new toy is in the house, she would say, "You have two toys now, if your father was alive he would never be so lenient." This has several uses, it denies her abuse in the first place, it makes the child wonder if the other toy really exists somewhere in order to cover it up, and depresses them by reference to their dead father, so traumatized the child is easier to mentally control. She is also saying look what a wonderful mother I am, while at the same time as being an abusive one.

An example in a marriage is a man who justifies his infidelities, by telling himself someone as successful as he is, should be able to have his pick of attractive women. His wife complains about his affairs and he convinces her that it is because she is unattractive and overweight, when she clearly is not. When she cries over his insults he slaps her and says, "Look what you made me do!" He tells his friends she is a nag and is driving him away. The friends tell their wives, who advise her to get a makeover and change her behavior or she will rightly lose her husband. When she turns a blind eye to his next affair and books an appointment at the beauty parlor, she has been effectively gaslighted.

If You Are Being Gaslighted - Beware of Projective Identification

It may take you a long time to realize it is happening. You will have the nagging feeling that something is wrong, but the alternative, accepting that someone important to you is willing to destroy you emotionally and mentally is unbearable. Your mind may try to protect you with selective amnesia. Start paying clear attention to everything they say and look for proof of its veracity. If possible try to get some space and a new perspective. Seek qualified professional help where possible.

Be very careful that projective identification is not happening. This is where your abuser is treating you in such a way, that a negative part of their personality is projected on you, in a self-fulfilling prophesy, where you act it out for them. This can be combined with gaslighting. For an example, a parent who is a closet drunk, encourages their child to be "young and party' and then insists that they start attending AA meetings, while at the same time gathering the whole family for an intervention.

The bottom line is to trust your gut instincts, believe in yourself and the sovereignty of your own thoughts and soul. Gaslighting is a serious attack on both. It is a destructive form of abuse that should be understood and never tolerated.


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      Peace2013 4 years ago

      @someone9876: hello someone9876! You are right! You are SOMEONE and you are awesome and perfect!!!! I just divorced someone after 25 years who sounds exactly like your so called dad. He treated one child as Golden and the other just like you! Broken toys, lies and same exact story! Both sons and my self were totally abused by this crazy worthless NOBODY. I have been healing for 2.5 years and come a very long way. My son who suffered what you suffered is 19 and is in college and has recenty been suffering tremendously with social issues, the voices and all that you have written. He now has chosen to end his relationship with his father just 4 months ago and the so called dad is on an all out attack on me and my son. While he takes the other son who is 24 off to Florida for fun in the sun. We know better tho as we know that son is being used and abused and will be tossed aside when he can no longer use him and for now my other son and I are free!!! I want you to know tho that my youngest is healing and you can too! It takes a total wholeistic approach. Part of our healing is reading posts like yours who help us see and better understand that we too are not alone. We know it is 100% his issue and not ours. We are workng to have a bright future and not let him steal our future. We also are doing all of these things and they are helping us tremendously 1) go to health store and buy Natures Sunshine DHA, Focus Attention and Nerve Eight. If you can't afford all try at last DHA. 2) learn meditation to learn mind control and how to stop you brain from talking all the time 3) pray to God and learn to love your wholeselve and 4) exercise regularly. 5) Read positive thinking informaiton like "The Secret" and "wishes Fullfilled". Feed positive things into your brain and tell yourself that you are fine and beautiful inside and out. I will pray for you and wish you the very best! Overcome this and break the NOBODY's bondage off of yourself. You are WAY to GOOD for that! Best wishes!

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      @someone9876: Hey dude, I believe you. I met a narc and once I fully understood them I was sick for over a week. The horrendous mind shit they do and leave anyone lying in a pit just for kicks. That is sick. Dude, you are not alone, and I am so very sorry you had to live this way growing up. Nobody deserves that. The fact your are intact as much as you are is a miracle! I have suffered a different trauma, but same effects. I do EMDR therapy and it is helping me tremendously. I am also studying Psychology, it has always been an interest of mine. I believe God put me here to help you get on the road to recovery. Its not too late for you! You have a lot of wonderful years ahead. For awhile I had to stay away from my family, so maybe you need to do that too until you are in a stronger place. Its okay to take care of yourself! Hang in there and please reach out anytime! Praying for you.

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      someone9876 5 years ago

      Narcissistic abuse is probably the most horrible shit you'll ever experience. My father is a (closet) narcissist. As a child he would wait until people were not around and do all kinds of cruel things to me like wrap me up in 2 sleeping bags end to end and roll me under the couch (he knew I was claustrophobic) and just leave me there to scream and panic. When I told my mother about this he demonstrated what he had done, but in a way that made it seem as if it was harmless then when she was gone go right back to leaving me wrapped up for extended periods of time. He called this "facing your fears". I had to learn to swim on my own, whenever he got in the water with me he would deliberately grab my legs and pull me underwater just until I coughed and choked, because no one could actually see what he was doing underwater it always seemed as if he was "helping" me and that I was too stupid to do things right, but my brother on the other hand (golden child) he would play in the pool and have a great ol' time, further making it seem as if I was lying or exaggerating.

      When I got older and became interested in females, he would go out of his way to humiliate me. There was a girl that lived behind us I was deffinately into. I once invited her over so we could cruise around the streets on my moped (lol) and he tried his damnest to prevent that. He actually went into my room (and later admitted this just to piss me off more) took a pair of my underwear and smeared chocolate in them to make it seem as if I shit my pants and threw them on the table that this girl and I were sitting at. He waited until after she left to tell me that "he was just joking, it was chocolate" letting her go back to school thinking I shit myself.

      He was always setting me up to fall, like telling me to do things I knew weren't right and being very forceful about it and then later claiming that he never said those things, leading everyone to believe that I was always "getting it wrong". With these little gaslighting manuevers over the years he was able to ostracize me to the extent that his family, my mother's family, his new wife and her family have nothing to do with us unless he's involved. In the off chance that I do see them out and about in the grocery store or something they start off the conversation saying things like "hey I didn't know you were out of rehab yet" (never had a drug problem) and I'll spend the entire conversation trying to explain to them that it's an elaborate lie and still not get believed.

      When I was about 12 we had a fight in the basement where he busted my mouth open with a pair of these ugly ass snakeskin boots. I called my mother at work (who, although comforting was a disbeliever) and told her that if something wasn't done I would funnel drain cleaner in his mouth while he slept. She said I needed a therapist and promptly made an appt. The therapist, just like everyone else, was very dismissive saying things like "I'm sure he cares about you, why would he only do you this way and not the other siblings?". That's when things took a turn and I went to the store and bought a tape recorder. He had this stupid little game he would play with me, telling family members and friends lies about me right in front of me, then as we drove off in the car he would laugh and brag about how stupid he made me look, how he could sell ice to an eskimo etc. just to piss me off more, he had done this for years as a child but this time I had taped him and that was eventually his undoing. My mother and my therapist heard these tapes and it was an ah ha moment, but because of the sneakiness in him it was agreed that he should not be notified (he'd certainly retaliate if he knew) about the tapes as my mother wanted to try to work things out and it was suggested that I just stay away from home during the day. That was another ah ha moment as I was not there for him to vent his anger on, he immediately turned it on my brother who was the golden child at the time and now he was the one who could do no right. My mother ended up changing her work hours as to be home during the day so she could keep an eye on us (he didn't work, was a stay at home dad) and suggested that he get a damn job since he hadn't worked in over a decade. So my grandpa put in a good word for him at delphi and what do ya know, after having refused to work for less than $20/hour for most of our lives he got his dream job. Another eye opener, having a good job made him feel entitled and I guess he didn't feel the need to hide it anymore so he started beating on all of us overtly, even mom. She planned her exits and filed for divorce. I thought it was over, that the shit he had done to us was wrong in so many ways, but it had only really just begun. In an attempt to discredit mom and I during the divorce case he told the magistrate handling the case that I "have always had a problem telling lies" and that he "was trying to get me the mental help I needed" and claimed that my mother was actually having an affair, and that she was using me and my "lies about him" as an excuse to leave him for another man. This is where things got very bad for us, the laws in this state on tape recordings were that as long as one party knows about the recordings (me) they could be used in court, however, the courts determined that they were not to be heard because they wanted the case to be "open and honest"! As a result, dad's power reigned again and not only did they believe his fabrications, they court ordered my mother and I to attend therapy sessions twice a week until the divorce was over (and he dragged it out for over 3 years fighting on everything). It sucked, but the therapist we saw heard our tape recordings and was immediately brought up to speed on the situation. The fact that the courts refused to hear our tapes even though they were legal felt a lot like blackmail. The social workers actually laughed at our claims that dad had done this stuff over the years not having any proof of shit. We started taping our phone convos, where he would try to bully my brother and I into doing things to hurt her case saying he would actually kill us if we didn't. He became so pissed off that I wouldn't do this stuff to her, that he bullied my younger brother into taking one of my baseball bats to her computer and into claiming that he "saw me do it". He actually called my mother to tell her that "I admitted the day before that I was going to do it" a bullshit lie just to make it more legit sounding, saying he'd be willing to testify against me for "my heinous crimes" and whatnot. My mother actually believed it, kicked me out of the house at 17, filed a police report and a warrant for my arrest was issued. The next day the police showed up at school to arrest me bright and early, I ran from them, it was a dramatic scene for everyone to see me running through the halls and out to my truck in the parking lot. I ended up getting withdrawn from school on this account. I spent the next few weeks sleeping in a tent in the woods on some dude's property about 2 blocks away from home. My brother ended up admitting what happened, and it was later found (although too late) on our landline tape recorder that he had actually collaborated the whole thing and it was clear and recorded.

      The whole situation is difficult to believe even for me and telling people a story that will get dismissed as lies, or paranoia I think is why I struggle now as an adult. How can you tell people something you know they won't believe, or something there is no proof of, and something he'll just deny and in the contrast leave everyone to believe that your the bizarre one. Another concept that is often difficult for people to grasp is that there are no laws against this type of abuse. Gaslighting, projective identification and all that crap are all perfectly legal because it's nothing more than just lying. People often say "well if he did that why didn't you just call the police, friend, family member etc. or "why didn't you just do this or that" further making it seem as if I just handled the situation the wrong way. The real problem with these types

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Narcissists are bullies who target good people who have high levels of integrity and admirable moral compasses - becos you have what they want and they see the way the world looks at you and want a piece of it and they set about becoming a part of your world and becos you don't know the behaviour become frightened and allow them to continue while you try to figure it out - esp if children are involved. If you know the traits & have managed them for years - seek out people to provide you with a network of support - for all you have to do is say No to them once and then manage the fallout - they will hang around trying to get to you from the sidelines just say no and manage it like a tantrum.....Good Luck - You only know there is something wrong becos your internal moral compass = YOU -has remained strong and you have had enough - ps the fallout is better than what happens while you are trapped......

    • JJNW profile image

      JJNW 5 years ago from USA

      @JJNW: I came back: *** Blessed by a SquidAngel *** for helping others.

    • JJNW profile image

      JJNW 5 years ago from USA

      My kids and I have been severely damaged by hidden psychological abuse, including gaslighting. It it very hard to explain and prove to even close friends. My (older) kids and I feel betrayed, beat up and confused.

      Narcissistic Abuse is a very serious problem and people need to keep speaking up. I hope you will look for my Squidoo pages on our emotional abuse & struggle.

      Thank you for spreading awareness!

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 5 years ago

      We watched "Gaslight" just last week. Charles Boyer portrays a very convincing villain -- one of his best roles.

    • tylerabernethy22 profile image

      tylerabernethy22 5 years ago

      This is a really good lens! In response to your membership request for the Squidoo Publishers club, please email me at and I will set you up with a homepage backlink from one of my blogs

    • LouisaDembul profile image

      LouisaDembul 5 years ago

      Very important subject, not always easy to detect.

    • Karli McClane profile image

      Psycho Free Zone 5 years ago from USA

      This is spot on. Great information.

    • JJNW profile image

      JJNW 6 years ago from USA

      I think you are very right about awareness being very important to seeing subtle things controllers do. Journaling (in a safe place) can also help as rereading will help in noticing patterns of behavior. I have given you a SquidAngel Blessing Boost for a very thoughtful page.

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      SandyPeaks 6 years ago

      I haven't seen the later Charles Boyer version, but in the Anton Walbrook version, the gaslight dims because unknown to his wife, he is in another part of the house which is now boarded up. He turns on the gas to hunt for rubies which he had failed to find years earlier when he murdered his Aunt who used to live in the other part of the house. The strain on the gas supply is one of the reasons the detective believes her story.

    • Willj profile image

      Willj 6 years ago

      this is a very good lens for those being abused emotionally you have shared a powerful truth

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Very interesting idea. I saw the film Gaslight fairly recently but had never heard the expression before. Well done for bringing it to light

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 6 years ago

      Very well said, I am featuring this on The Bully Victim

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      That's a lot of truth you are speaking here...may many become free!

    • profile image

      Ruthi 6 years ago

      Excellent and informative lens! I had no idea of the term "gaslighting" but sure know a bit about the narcissistic demon.

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      I am impressed with your indepth knowledge of the subject matter. I am a survivor of NPD abuse. Thank you for doing your part to inform the masses. I think that the APA is doing a disservice to society by sweeping this under the rug. Even IF they decide to place NPD under the umbrella of Psychopath - that will only increase the Cognitive Dissonance in the general population as the "image" they have of a psychopath are the Ted Bundy's and Jeffrey Dahmer's of society...I believe we will be re-victimized even more by those who don't get it...

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      yourgoldenfuture 6 years ago

      interesting things on here...

    • RuthCoffee profile image

      RuthCoffee 6 years ago

      I wasn't familiar with this term. Very interesting subject.