Individual Counseling, Couples Counseling and Sex Therapy


I hear the term “gaslighting” constantly and like many other terms (“narcissism”, anyone?) it’s used incorrectly.

To gaslight someone is to intentionally make them question their sense of reality, ultimately for the purpose of controlling them. The term originates from the 1944 movie, Gaslight, in which the male character purposely turns down the gas lamp but denies doing so when the female asks about it. His intention is for her to question her sense of reality so he can ultimately control her. Do you really feel like your partner is intentionally driving you crazy? If so, then you probably need to ask yourself why you are still in that relationship.

Let’s distinguish this from lying, which can also have the side effect of making someone question their version of events, but the liar’s intention is all about getting their own way without consequences as opposed to an attempt to unbalance someone psychologically. Both are wrong, but gaslighting is much more serious and difficult to change because its roots are evil as opposed to selfish.

The other reason people think they are gaslit is simply that their partner has a different perspective on an event. As humans, we all have a tendency to remember things in a way that either helps us feel better about ourselves, or confirms what we already believe. The unreliable nature of memory makes this phenomena possible. Therefore, people can tell the story of an event in two different ways. This is very, very common and isn’t an issue unless the two versions of the events are too different. (In that case, couples counseling may be in order).

I think it’s important to use these terms properly so that behavior can be more accurately described. Repeatedly using the term “gaslighting” wrongly will serve to diminish its power over time, and could hurt someone who is truly being gaslit. It’s also very hurtful for a romantic partner to hear that term applied to them when it isn’t true.

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