definition of gaslighting / definition of gaslight

by J. E. Brown

A mind game. A common form of brainwashing in which an abuser tries to falsely convince the victim that the victim is defective, for any purpose whatsoever, such as making the victim more pliable and easily controlled, or making the victim more emotional and therefore more needy and dependent. {You’re reading “Definition of Gaslighting” by J. E. Brown.}

Often done by friends and family members, who claim (and may even believe) that they are trying to be helpful. The gaslighting abuser sees himself or herself as a nurturing parental figure in relation to the victim, and uses gaslighting as a means for keeping the victim in that relationship, perhaps as punishment for the victim’s attempt to break out of the dependent role.

Example 1: If an abusive person says hurtful things and makes you cry, and then, instead of apologizing and taking responsibility, starts recommending treatments for what he or she calls “your depression” or “your mood swings”, you are in the presence of a gaslighter.
Quick Survey: Suppose your partner says “I Need More Space.” What does it mean?

Example 2: If someone insults you or criticizes you, and then pretends it was a joke and asks “Don’t you have a sense of humor?”, that’s gaslighting.

Perception blaming is a common form of gaslighting, and a common technique for evading the consequences of one’s actions.
Example: “I’m sorry you perceived my words that way; it wasn’t my intention.”
Translation: “You are perceptually defective. Everyone else in the world can read my mind; if you can’t, there must be something wrong with you. Or so I’d like you to believe.”
Unspoken Message: “My intention should change your actions (even though it didn’t change mine).” This presupposes the reasoning “Most people are judged for their actions; but *I* want to be judged for my unseen intentions.” For more about this double standard, see conceit.
{Read this comp1ete article at .}
  • Term is named after the film Gaslight (1944), in which the villain used the technique.

  • pathologizing.

Synonyms, nonstandard:
  • gaslight syndrome; gaslighting syndrome. Gaslighting consists of only one type of behavior, and so, is not really a syndrome.

Related Concepts:
  • Gossip means “destroying someone’s reputation in the eyes of others”, while gaslighting means “destroying someone’s reputation in his own eyes”.
  • Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP).
  • delusional; head games; mind games; propaganda; reality distortion field; revisionism; victim blaming.

Red Flags: Words and Phrases Often Used by Gaslighters

Expect offenders to use phrases like:

Excerpt from my book (in progress)

One reader writes:

I hadn’t heard of the term gaslighting before. It reminded me right away of a guy I went out with last year. After he cheated on me, I got upset and reacted... go figure, but after we broke up he suggested I go for counseling. He never apologized for the cheating or lying or admitted to doing anything wrong.

— 1GuyNamedJoe

From the chapter on How to Be an Insensitive Jerk:

The Gaslighting Apology: When you get caught doing people wrong, you should try to wriggle out of the accusation. To make people doubt themselves, insert the words “you feel” and “you think” and “you misunderstood” into an apology.
Example: “I’m sorry you think that what I said was hurtful.”
Then gaslight them by calling them “sensitive”, so they’ll think they’re the problem. So they’ll think they’re abnormal. Not you.
As an additional slap in the face, you can tell them “You need to learn to forgive.”

The Tech Support Tango: If the customer writes you to report that your web site has crashed, insult the customer by suggesting his problems come from his own ignorance: Answer back, “I understand you have questions about how to use our web site. Click here to receive a basic user’s manual.” By frustrating the customer, you discourage him from bothering you in the future, and you can empty your in-box without doing any real work. (I used to get this kind of “support” from AOL all the time, and I kept their replies as evidence.)

How to Deflect Liability by Defending Abusers:

  • If you can convince beaten wives that their depression is chemically based and not a result of the abuse…
  • If you can teach mistreated employees that their anger is not a result of being roughed up by abusive supervisors, but is in fact a result of not taking the company-sponsored stress management class…
  • If you can persuade people that their reaction to present-day mistreatment is in fact a post-traumatic overreaction to some event in their past or their childhoods… {You’re reading “Definition of Gaslighting” by J. E. Brown.}

then the abusers won’t have to change their ways and start treating them right.

— J. E. Brown


Statement Meaning
“I worry about you.”
  • “I’ve been telling everyone who will listen that you’re the defective one.”

— J. E. Brown


If someone tells you: Your correct response is:
“I’m sorry you perceived that I was being offensive.”

“I’m sorry you feel it’s just a perception!”

“I was hoping we could discuss our misunderstanding.”

“Sure. What did you misunderstand?”

What misunderstanding? I don’t think we had a misunderstanding; I think it was a moment of clarity when the truth about you became obvious. I understand you perfectly now.”

“I don’t have time for your mind games.” {You’re reading “Definition of Gaslighting” by J. E. Brown.}

“You misunderstood.”

“No. I did not.”

— J. E. Brown

Random Thoughts.

Gaslighting means giving someone an “anti-placebo”: a metaphorical “pill” or treatment that makes him or her feel artificially unwell.

Gaslighting works for the same reason conceit works: Just as people are able to believe the best about themselves without evidence, they are able to believe the worst about themselves without evidence.

Gaslighting means teaching people to doubt themselves for purposes of exploitation.

Infliction of self-doubt is a technique of psychological warfare.

There’s a kind of logic which people use when they’re being logical, and there’s a kind of logic which people use when they’re guilty of the crime being discussed. All you have to do is catch them misbehaving, and bang, suddenly they start calling you delusional. {You’re reading “Definition of Gaslighting” by J. E. Brown.}

— J. E. Brown

6th edition. 05 Apr 2016
5th edition 22 Dec 2009
4th edition 06 Jul 2007
3rd edition 31 Jan 2007
2nd edition 13 Nov 2005
1st edition 07 Dec 2004

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