The first time I heard the term “gaslighting” was late last year, when I read   The Current Conscience article “A Message to Women From a Man: You Are Not ‘Crazy.'” The title alone sparked a sigh of relief, but upon finishing the article, I really felt validated.

In short, gaslighting is “manipulative behavior used to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they’re crazy.” The term is derived from the 1944 film,  Gaslight, where Ingrid Bergman plays a wife whose husband tries to get her committed so he can steal her jewelry. He does this by setting the lights to flicker and convincing her, over time, that she’s imagining it.

Today, the term gaslighting has come to encompass any behavior where someone either consciously or unconsciously attempts to minimize a woman’s legitimate emotional or intellectual response by asserting that she’s overreacting or imagining an offense where there was none. According to “A Message to Women From a Man,” gaslighting is so effective because “women bare the brunt of our neurosis. It is much easier for us to place our emotional burdens on the shoulders of our wives, our female friends, our girlfriends, our female employees, our female colleagues, than for us to impose them on the shoulders of men. It’s a whole lot easier to emotionally manipulate someone who has been conditioned by our society to accept it.”

Sound familiar? It certainly does to me. I’ve always had a difficult time articulating an offense in the first place, so it’s been fairly easy for others to convince me I’ve misread an offensive situation. I can attest that too many comments like: “I was just playin’! You need to learn how to take a joke” and “Wooow. I was just tryna keep it real with you, but since you can’t take it without getting your feelings hurt, I’ll fall back” will make anyone second guess herself.

Even now, I’m quick to run my first emotional response through a battery of self-assessments:  Am I being too sensitive? Did he mean anything by it? Does it matter whether or not he “meant” anything by it if it still offended me? Am I imagining that eye-roll when I express myself? Am I the one in the wrong here? More often than not, these questions have simple yes or no answers.

Some misunderstandings strike the wrong chord because of the mood I was in before the encounter. When that happens, I’m willing to own it. In those cases, I usually am overreacting. Other exchanges are obviously offensive. Someone’s clearly insulting or undermining me and absolutely owes me an apology. Those are also fairly easy to resolve. Either the person apologizes when he’s called on it, or I cut him off. But in the cases where a comment is subtle and the speaker insists he was just joking or that I’m being “too sensitive” or, worse, that I’m hurting his feelings by insinuating that he’d ever intentionally set out to offend me, it’s gaslighting — and my response to it can range from dismissive to outraged, but neither response seems to resolve much. The more furious I am, the more evidence I’m providing for the argument that I’m overreacting. The quicker I am to shrug it off, the likelier it is that I’ll experience it with this person again.

Have you ever been gaslighted? How did you handle it?

Tags: ,
Like Us On Facebook Follow Us On Twitter
  • Zars

    Amen. More people need to know about this phenomenon, because it can be a particularly insidious one. I should just note that, although men often do it to women, anyone (or, more likely, any coordinated group of people) can do it to someone else.

    This is one reason why it’s important to refine your intuition. Also, note that if you don’t feel like you can say what’s plainly on your mind, others probably feel that way too and that creates a fertile atmosphere for gaslighting. Don’t make any hasty decisions in those scenarios, because the facts are being filtered through three levels of bull and it’s hard enough to make decisions when you have things clear.

    • Elle Michelle

      “note that if you don’t feel like you can say what’s plainly on your mind, others probably feel that way too and that creates a fertile atmosphere for gaslighting.”

      You summed it up, Zars!

    • Me

      You hit the nail on the head. I had to learn on more than one occasion that my intuition is better than what someone else is trying to convince me of–worse is when you learn your consortium of objective thinkers are easier gaslighted than you. Unlike the author, I’ve been told often that I’m argumentative for argument’s sake, and that’s been used against me when I try to call B/S. Stick to your guns. If something smells foul, don’t check your nose, look for the source.

  • Paul

    simplyme

    In the film Gaslighting, the gaslighter is the white husband assisted by the white female housekeeper.

    As I said – not a black man in sight.

    Indeed, according to Wikipedia, the film, originally a play – was written by a white English male. Guess they know their own behaviour well.

    Furthermore I am simply defending black men (because I am one) from what I know will turn into yet another anti-black man witchhunt, which most discussions on this site seem to turn into.

    Hardly a case of gaslighting when you are the subject of the abuse, simply trying to defend yourself.

    You see, I couldn’t care less if some unbalanced loon thinks she’s being gaslighted just because somebody made an offhand joke at her expense or because they told her the unvarnished truth about herself. That aint gaslighting somebody, that’s telling em about themselves.

    The woman in the film was subject to all kinds of psychological mind games, devised by her WHITE husband to make her believe she was insane.

    A bit like how the Corporate media devise all kinds propaganda to make the poor masses see each other as enemies, to keep them divided and fighting each other instead of fighting for their rights. The mentally weakest people – white people and women fall for it every time.

    smh!

    I believe that is the subtext to the film. How it’s possible to distort people perceptions so thoroughly that you can make em believe anything. But then I’m brainy, not BRAINWASHED. Well inforned and mentally and physically STRONG – not dumb, emotional and weak.

    I’m not easily MAN-ipulated to hate other people, especially those who look like ME –

    and my ego is not so fragile that I’m crushed by anything short of total adoration.

    Try suttin else this one aint gonna fly.

    • Right as Rain

      Precisely. Film is written by a White male, acted out by a White male, therefore, Black men do not gaslight.

    • simplyme

      I’m not a fan of the hate sessions either, but Black men definitely do “gaslight” based on the definition presented in the article.. just like every other race and gender group is capable of. I won’t even get into the “mentally weak” stuff…

    • Manipulation is not a white person thing. Get serious. If you honestly think you have never been manipulative, then you don’t know yourself too well. Every single human being has been manipulative at some point or another. It’s just that some forms of manipulation are more benign than others.

      I have seen people of both genders and different races gaslighting their significant others. I’m not sure why the author made it a gender thing. This is the sort of subject that should get people to think, not just about how they’ve been treated, but also about how they treat other people. This applies, not just to the ladies, Paul, but also to you. Everybody could do with a bit of self-reflection.

    • Gina

      Dude, reading comprehension!!!! I mean, seriously, step up your game. That movie was the origin of the term. Anyone can gaslight. Stop being so defensive.

  • Rap

    I agree that a woman of color has the ability to gaslight a man of color– it’s just that she does not have the added privilege of drawing on a pre-constructed culture of men being thought of as inherently crazy and emotionally unstable to back her up in her manipulation. It’s a male privilege. It’s easier for a man to gaslight a pre-gaslit woman– in general. Of course, everyone has been affected by society’s messages differently, but it seems to me that black women, specifically, must somehow respond to the stereotypes of aggression and instability. In the moment of a disagreement, whether we chose to become overly submissive (for example, agreeing not to use a condom) or continue voicing our opinion, we each are faced with and must respond to that stereotype (and the pre-gaslit conditons of women, generally).

    I hope those who really care about the condition of our communities will not try to undermine the voices of other community members, but give respect regardless of how much social currency the speaker has.

  • Maria

    I was gaslighted by a woman. I was made aware of the name for this phenonmon by a book called “sociopath next door.”