Gaslighting: What Is It And How Do We Fight Back?

Author: News Bureau
Posted: Monday, April 17, 2023 12:00 AM
Categories: Pressroom | Students | Faculty/Staff | School of Education and Behavioral Sciences

Macon, GA


In the U.S., social media, the #MeToo movement, the political climate, and, in general, increased awareness have led to more conversations about gaslighting and its effects. But what exactly is gaslighting and why is it so harmful? We asked Dr. Amanda L. Chase Avera, MGA assistant professor of psychology, for her perspective:

In 1944, a film starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman was released to worldwide fame.  This film was a remake of a 1940 version and tells the story of a man who tries to convince his wife that she is clinically insane by doing strange things around their house while trying to persuade her that nothing is out of the ordinary.  For example, he will move pictures, make strange footstep sounds, and most famously dim the gaslights in their home but act as if it is bright inside.  When she asks why these things are happening, he behaves as if life is normal and brings her sanity into question.  This film is titled Gaslight and is where we get the term “gaslighting.”

The modern definition of gaslighting is a psychological manipulation technique in which a person tries to convince someone that their reality is untrue.  It is a tactic often used by narcissists to gain control of their intended target.  Gaslighting tries to create bewilderment, embarrassment, and misconceptions in the victim’s mind.  The person performing the gaslighting is attempting to confuse a person into questioning their own beliefs, values, thoughts, and behaviors.  Much like the film, a person who is subjected to repeated attempts of gaslighting can doubt their thoughts, memories, and behaviors which in turn can cause them to become dependent on the abuser and emotionally frazzled.  In many cases, gaslighting is considered psychological and emotional abuse.

There are many phrases that narcissists and gaslighters use to confuse their targets.  For example, they might say some of the following phrases:

  • “I don’t know what you heard but I never said that. You must be hearing things or something because you are wrong and I didn’t say that.”
  • “I am completely confused as to what you are saying. It does not make sense and you are imagining things.”
  • “Stop trying to confuse me. It did not happen that way and you know it.”
  • “Wow, you are way too sensitive. There is no need to overreact.”
  • “I cannot believe you are questioning me about this again! You are the one lying, not me.”
  • “You told me that I could borrow your computer. Now you are lying to me and saying that I cannot.” (Lobel, 2022)

Other techniques gaslighters might use include lying by hiding or changing information, projecting their own negative actions, faults, and/or shortcomings onto the victim, accusing the victim of being mentally ill or crazy, constantly bringing attention to and belittling a victim for their weaknesses, and sidetracking and distracting their victims by blaming them for negative outcomes, changing the subject to focus on the victim’s shortcomings, or accusing the victim of being angry and overly emotional (Greenberg, 2021). 

Unfortunately, gaslighting is all too common and often occurs more than people may realize which could be a contributing factor as to the reason a vast number of people find this topic so fascinating and helpful.  In 2022, “gaslighting” was named Merriam-Webster’s word of the year (Italie, 2022) and has become much more commonplace in the English language than in previous years.  A simple search in YouTube using the term “gaslighting” reveals a myriad of videos focused on the definition of gaslighting, techniques used by gaslighters, how to cope and combat it, and more. Top videos from channels such as Psych2Go, MedCircle, BrainCraft, and DoctorRamani have hundreds of thousands of views and some even over one million views.  People are interested in this topic and are seeking out resources.  My opinion to the reason for this is because these viewers are experiencing or have experienced gaslighting and want to know how to deal with it.  Gaslighting does not only occur in isolated settings but can occur anywhere such as in a marriage, family, friendships, among coworkers, bosses or supervisors, and more. 

The statistics for gaslighting are nearly non-existent but a few studies reveal some interesting findings.  A survey administered by the National Domestic Violence Hotline indicated that 74% of female victims of domestic violence experienced gaslighting by their partner (Conrad, 2023).  In broadening the scope of research to study narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), which includes both men and women, the pool of literature expands concerning gaslighting.  Cleveland Clinic (2020) reports that as high as 5% of the US population has NPD which is an increase from a 2005 study that suggested only 0.5% of the US population had NPD (Torgersen, 2002).  In 2011, research indicated that 6.2% of the population had NPD (Cambell & Miller, 2011).

The effects of gaslighting range from mild to severe and can cause lasting effects in all aspects of a person’s life from work and school to family and romantic relationships.  Anxiety, isolation, depression, and psychological trauma (Nall, 2020); difficulty trusting others; decrease in self-confidence, self-worth, and self-esteem; confusion (Lancer, 2018); and codependency, feelings of hopelessness, PTSD, self-blame, and submissiveness (Good Therapy, 2018) are all noted in persons who have been subject to gaslighting.  It is a serious issue with serious consequences.  The frustrating and unfair truth for many victims is that other people around them often do not see the signs unless they are being attacked as well.  When a victim tries to confide in friends or family, they are sometimes not believed and can be unintentionally gaslighted with comments such as:

  • “But she seems so nice and caring. You should give her another change.”
  • “Are you sure? I have never seen that before and he does not seem like the type of guy to lie about that.”
  • “Yeah, not really sure where you go that from but she is a hard worker and you should cut her some slack.”

Any and all of these comments can cause the victim to question their own thoughts and memories which can make the wound of gaslighting go even deeper.

Fortunately, there are many resources available that can help combat against gaslighters and their frustrating tactics.  Several are listed below.

  1. If at all possible, minimize the contact and conversation. It is better to give as little as information as possible as the information you share with them will likely be used as ammunition against you later.  If this means leaving a relationship, job, or minimizing contact with a family member, it may be the better option for you rather than dealing with constant pain and doubt.
  2. Rather than getting angry, frustrated, and defending yourself again the gaslighter’s accusations, it is better to remain calm and indifferent. Not engaging with them or revealing emotion shows that you have self-confidence and self-control.  Gaslighters want you to get upset as this helps them undermine you even more.
  3. If the gaslighter is attempting to question you or make it appear as though you are confused, ask them to clarify what they are saying and question them: “I remember saying ___ but you are saying that it never happened. Can you give me more detail as to what you mean?  I clearly remember saying ___.”  Remain calm and stand your ground.  If they refuse to back down, then just agree to disagree and show indifference.
  4. Surround yourself with healthy friends, family, and coworkers who you know you can trust. Also, consider seeking therapy as this can be an excellent outlet to talk about frustrations and explore coping skills.
  5. Trust yourself and think of your strengths and positive qualities often. This will help to remind you that you are strong and capable.  No one can control your thoughts and behaviors unless you let them.
  6. Consider keeping a journal and reviewing it to reassure yourself that what you heard, saw, and experienced is true. (Greenberg, 2021)

All in all, gaslighting is a frustration and pain process to experience.  It is unfair and cruel but there are ways you can show strength and fight back.  You ultimately have the power to control your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and it is that control and fortitude that will get you through the tough times of dealing with a gaslighter.

Dr. Amanda L. Chase Avera is driven by both professional and personal experiences to treat individuals suffering from mental illness and educate students on the exciting world of psychology and how they can make a difference in this fascinating and ever changing field. Chase’s professional background includes mental health, counseling and therapy, professional speaking, and higher education. She enjoys interacting with students and seeing them grow as professionals. She holds a Doctorate in Psychology from California Southern University, a Master of Social Work from Southern Adventist University, and a Bachelor of Social Work from Southern Adventist University.




Campbell, W. K., & Miller, J. D. (Eds.). (2011). The handbook of narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder: Theoretical approaches, empirical findings, and treatments. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Conrad, M.  (2023, April 6) What is gaslighting?  Meaning and examples. 20conducted%20by,their%20partner%20or%20ex%2Dpartner.

Cleveland Clinic (2020, June 19).  Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Good Therapy. (2018, June 13) Gaslighting.,ties%20with%20friends%20and%20family.

Greenberg, M. (2021, June 30). 5 go-to tactics of gaslighters, and how to resist them.

Italie, L. (2022, November 28).  ‘Gaslighting’ is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year of 2022.

Lancer, D. (2018, January 13). How to know if you’re a victim of gaslighting.

Lobel, D. S.  (2022, October 9). 4 ways to protect yourself from gaslighting.

Nall, R. (2020, June 29). What are the long-term effects of gaslighting?

Torgersen, S., Oldham, J. M., Skodol, A. E., & Bender, D. S. (2005), The American psychiatric publishing textbook of personality disorders. American Psychiatric Publishing, 129-141.