What is gaslighting?

You’ve probably seen the term ‘gaslighting’ bandied about on the internet. This is what it means.

By Erin Cook


Unfortunately, it's a word we've been seeing more and more on our travels through the internet. Recently, a contestant on Love Island UK was accused of gaslighting by Women's Aid, following an argument with his former partner. News sites periodically publish first person stories of women being gaslighted by their partners. Just last week, The Washington Post accused Donald Trump of gaslighting the world on North Korea.

Reading these stories, it's obvious that gaslighting is a lot more serious than other new-gen dating terms, such as 'ghosting' or 'haunting'. But have you ever wondered where the term came from? Or what it means, exactly? Here, we explain.

What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of emotional and psychological abuse, usually occurring within a romantic relationship. Speaking to Business Insider, clinical psychologist Joshua Klapow explains the term:

"Gaslighting is a psychological tactic used to make another person believe they are losing their mind. It is literally a manipulative attempt at making another person think they are losing their ability to think, remember, and be rational."

What does gaslighting look like in practical terms? Your partner saying, 'I told you on Monday that I would be going out with the boys this weekend,' making you feel like you forgot an entire conversation, when in reality, he didn't tell you at all. It could mean hiding your medication from you and then telling you that you already took them. Or anything that makes you question your memory or actions.

Where did the term ‘gaslighting’ come from?

In this context, the term 'gaslighting' became popular following the 1944 movie, Gaslight. This psychological thriller follows a woman, Paula, who is driven to doubt her sanity by a manipulative and predatory partner. In Gaslight, Paula's husband, Gregory, has plenty of tricks up his sleeve — he sets the gas lights in the house to flicker, knocks on the walls, disappears — all while denying that anything is happening, telling her that she's imagining things. Gregory flat-out lies to Paula and then watches on calmly as she falls to pieces.

If you need someone to talk to about domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT or visit White Ribbon Australia's website for more information.