Gaslighting is a term that has gained prominence in recent years and refers to a form of psychological abuse. The portrayal in popular culture and social media has allowed the phrase to become more well known. This blog examines gaslighting, the warning signs and the best ways for teachers to help educate students. 

What is Gaslighting?

Psychology Today defines Gaslights as an “insidious form of manipulation and psychological control”

With gaslighting victims are deliberately and systematically fed false information that leads them to question what they know to be true, often about themselves. Victims often end up doubting themselves, their memory and even their sanity. Like most forms of abuse gaslighting starts subtle and overtime the manipulation can grow more complex and potent, making it increasingly difficult for the victim to see the truth.

Gaslighting also goes hand in hand with love bombing, where abusers gaslight their victims before love bombing them with affection to further unsettle them and make them doubt themselves. You can read more about love bombing in our blog Educating Young People on Love Bombing.

Gaslighting doesn’t just happen in romantic relationships; it can also happen within families, between friends and even at work. Perpetrators of gaslighting feed off of social vulnerabilities and stereotypes, entrenching power imbalances.

How Gaslighting Works

Most abusers start by love bombing their targets and showering them with affection and attention. This is so abusers can cement themselves into their victims’ lives. Gaslighting begins initially with lies about simple things but soon accelerates to larger lies. Gaslighters may accuse their victims of lying if they question the gaslighters’ story, or make the victim question their own sanity. 

Gaslights will use positive reinforcement such as love bombing, to make their victim dependant on them, and continue to manipulate them to have total control over them and the situation. Skilled gaslighters can even turn family and friends against the victim through their lies. 

Gaslighting in Popular Culture

The first recorded use of the word gaslighting came in the 1944 film “Gaslight”. In this film a young opera singer traumatised by her aunt’s death, is manipulated by her husband into believing she is losing her mind.

In more recent years, gaslighting has appeared in shows such as HBO’s “Big Little Lies” examining how gaslighting behaviours link with other forms of abuse such as domestic abuse and sexual assault. Social media has also helped to ingrain gaslighting into our culture both to examine the negative effects but also to further victimise people.

True Crime podcasts and documentaries have also examined gaslighting and the effect it has on victims. The popular podcast “Something Was Wrong” interviews survivors to hear their lived experiences of gaslighting and other forms of abuse.

Examples of Gaslighting

It is important to remember that gaslighting occurs in many different situations such as in romantic relationships, between family members of friends, at work, in the classroom and even at places like your doctors. 

Here are the categories types of gaslighting usually separate into, followed by some examples:

  • Lying
  • Discrediting
  • Trivialising
  • Withholding
  • Diverting
  • Stereotyping
  • Shifting Blame

“That never happened” – gaslighters try to get victims to doubt themselves to shift blame away from their actions. This makes victims second guess themselves and moves the attention away from the gaslighter. 

“I’m sorry you feel that way.” – This statement may seem like an apology but it is not. Rather, the gaslighter is making the victim feel like it is their fault that they are upset by the gaslighters actions. 

“Stop getting emotional” – This happens to a lot of female victims, where the gaslighter will blame their emotions and make them seem like their reactions are unfounded. 

“I did that because I love you.” – in romantic relationships many gaslighters use the I love you card to attempt to justify their actions, when in reality this is a massive manipulation. 

“You family/friends don’t want us to be happy.” – this statement is often used to isolate the victim from their family and friends of other people in their support network. 

“Other people have it much worse.” – This tactic is used to make people feel like their responses to the gaslighters actions are unreasonable because other people have it worse. 

“You are too sensitive” – once again, another way of gaslighting people into thinking their reactions are over the top and to move the focus away from the thing the gaslighter has done. 

“The stress is getting to you.” – This is used in the workplace a lot and is a way of making someone feel that they cannot handle the stress of their job. 

These are just a few of the examples of gaslighting. The main thing to remember is a gaslighter will manipulate their victim by making them doubt themselves. 

Recognising Warning Signs

Gaslighting occurs gradually over time so often the effects of the abusers’ behaviour are not immediately apparent. Some common signs include:

  • Frequent self-doubt or second guessing yourself
  • Someone making you feel crazy or overly sensitive
  • You are made to feel like your emotions and requests are unreasonable
  • Feelings of confusion and isolation
  • Apologising for your behaviour or your partners’ behaviour 
  • Feeling like something is not right

Recognising these warning signs is important to understand if you are being gaslit by someone. 

Ways to Educate about Gaslighting in Schools 

Here are some practical tips to educate young people about gaslighting: 

Foster open communication

Create a safe and non-judgmental space where young people feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and concerns.

Understanding health boundaries 

It is important to educate students on healthy boundaries in romantic and non-romantic relationships. Empower students with the knowledge of how to assert their needs and feelings confidently while respecting others boundaries. 

Promote critical thinking skills

Teach students to question information and evaluate their sources critically. This will allow them to discern between facts and manipulation tactics commonly used in gaslighting. 

Raise awareness of the signs of gaslighting

Use age-appropriate resources such as videos, articles, or guest speakers to deepen students’ understanding. Use popular films and tv shows to allow them to identify these signs in relationships. 

By implementing these strategies, educators can play a pivotal role in preventing gaslighting and fostering resilience among young people.