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Gaslighting is a form of intimidation or psychological abuse in which false information is presented to the victim, making them doubt their own memory and perception.



The term derives from the 1938 stage play Gas Light (originally known as Angel Street in the United States), and the 1940 and 1944 film adaptions. The plot concerns a husband who attempts to drive his wife to insanity by manipulating small elements of their environment, and insisting that she is mistaken or misremembering when she points out these changes. The title stems from the husband's subtle dimming of the house's gas lights, which she accurately notices and which the husband insists she's imagining.

"Gaslighting" has been used colloquially, since at least the early 1980s, to describe psychologically upsetting manipulations of the type depicted in the play and film. In her 1980 book The Best Kept Secret: Sexual Abuse of Children[1] Florence Rush summarizes George Cukor's 1944 film version of Gas Light, and writes, "even today the word [gaslight] is used to describe an attempt to destroy another's perception of reality."


The classic example of gaslighting is to change things in a person's environment without their knowledge, and to explain that they "must be imagining things" when they challenge these changes.[2] Similarly, the Manson Family, during their "creepy crawler" burglaries of the late 1960s, would enter homes and steal nothing, but would rearrange furniture to upset and confuse residents.[3]

According to psychologists Gass and Nichols,[4] another relatively frequent form of gaslighting occurs when a husband has cheated on a wife. The husband may strenuously deny the affair and insist "I'm not lying; you're just imagining things." Further "male therapists may contribute to the women's distress through mislabeling the women's reactions. [...] The gaslighting behaviors of the husband provide a recipe for the so-called 'nervous breakdown' for some women [and] suicide in some of the worst situations."

Psychologist Martha Stout[5] explains how sociopaths frequently use gaslighting tactics. Sociopaths are often cruel, manipulative, or conniving, and are often convincing liars who consistently deny wrongdoing. When coupled with the personal charm that can characterize sociopaths, many who have been victimized by sociopaths may doubt their perception.

Jacobson and Gottman[6] report that some physically abusive husbands may gaslight their wives, even flatly denying that they have used violence.

See also


  1. ^ Prentice-Hall, ISBN 0-13-074781-5, p.81.
  2. ^ Santoro, 1994
  3. ^ Bishop, Victor George Witness To Evil Pages 19,146 & 147, Nash Pub., 1972 Accessed via Google Books August 13, 2009
  4. ^ Gass, Gertrude Zemon and William C. Nichols. 1988. Gaslighting: A marital syndrome. Journal of Contemporary Family Therapy, 10(1), 3-16.
  5. ^ Stout, Martha. 2005. The sociopath next door: the ruthless versus the rest of us. NY: Random House, ISBN: 9780767915816, pp. 94-95
  6. ^ Jacobson, Neil S. & John Mordechai Gottman. 1998. When men batter women: new insights into ending abusive relationships. NY: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0684814471, p. 129-132.

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