Ted Talk: How to deal with gaslighting | Ariel Leve

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If someone is intentionally distorting reality to make you feel like what you’re seeing or feeling isn’t real, you could be a victim of gaslighting. Gaslighting can come from a romantic partner, a boss, a family member, a doctor or anyone else in a position of power. If you’re being gaslit, there are clear steps you can take to deal with your abuser and get help.

What Is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that hinges on creating self-doubt. “I think of gaslighting as trying to associate someone with the label ‘crazy,’” says Paige Sweet, Ph.D., an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Michigan who studies gaslighting in relationships and in the workplace. “It’s making someone seem or feel unstable, irrational and not credible, making them feel like what they’re seeing or experiencing isn’t real, that they’re making it up, that no one else will believe them.” 

Gaslighting involves an imbalance of power between the abuser and the person they’re gaslighting. Abusers often exploit stereotypes or vulnerabilities related to gender, sexuality, race, nationality and/or class.

“The most distinctive feature of gaslighting is that it’s not enough for the gaslighter simply to control his victim or have things go his way: It’s essential to him that the victim herself actually come to agree with him,” writes Andrew D. Spear, an associate professor of philosophy at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, in a 2019 paper on gaslighting in Inquiry

The term “gaslighting” comes from a 1938 play titled Gas Light, which was adapted into the 1940 film Gas Light, followed by the better-known 1944 film Gaslight, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. In each work, a male protagonist convinces his wife she’s imagining things that are actually happening—including the dimming of the house’s gas lights—with the result of making her believe she’s gone insane. 

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