Chances are that in the last few years you have heard the term “gaslighting” from a variety of places. Often it is conflated with a broad definition of “manipulation”, but this is only part of the meaning. Gaslighting is a particular type of manipulation and one that deals long-lasting psychological and emotional damage to its victims.

A person using gaslighting tactics makes their victims question their reality and even their mental health, a condition often addressed with a Christian Counselor. Only in learning to recognize gaslighting when it appears, can you begin to take steps to avoid being hurt by it, or even to repent from doing it.

The origin of the term.

In the 1938 play ‘Gas Light’ by Patrick Hamilton, set in Victorian London, Bella suspects her husband Jack of infidelity. While she doesn’t have any proof, she does start noticing a strange occurrence in their house. Every night before going to bed, she turns off the paraffin lamps in the living room.

Upon waking, she begins noticing that the lamps are back on. This is odd because she always goes to bed well after Jack, always wakes up before him, and is always certain that she performed her task of switching off the lamps.

After considering this for some days, she decides that Jack must be waking up in the middle of the night and creeping out. Turning on the lamps as he goes, he then forgets to turn them off again when he returns home in the early hours.

She uses this theory to confront him, but he not only denies her accusations but turns them back on her. He questioned her sanity, logic, and reasoning, saying perhaps she only imagined turning off the lights before bed, suggesting she is going insane.

In the play, Jack does many things to get Bella to doubt her sanity and believe that she was never the victim but rather the abuser. This is the origin of the term “gaslighting”. It describes a tactic where an abuser avoids taking responsibility for their actions, even when there is evidence to prove they are in the wrong, and in turn manipulates their accusers into questioning their sanity, memory, logic, or motives.

Why people gaslight.

Behind every gaslighting tactic is a narcissist who refuses to accept any consequences, and (or) an abuser who is afraid to lose control of a narrative. Gaslighting is always linked with power dynamics and dominance, and the one using the gaslighting tactics is the one who believes they have the upper hand. Spouses, parents, employers, and political leaders are the ones who are statistically most likely to gaslight those around them.

It is not uncommon to feel shame and embarrassment when confronted with one’s lies, however, running away from the truth becomes a knee-jack reaction. These responses are defense mechanisms, enabling the accused to escape further scrutiny. By contrast, when a narcissist or abuser is confronted with their actions, they will go into attack mode in the form of gaslighting, intending to undermine and damage those holding them responsible.

Even though gaslighting is an attack maneuver, it is done with extreme subtlety. The gaslighter will imply, insinuate, and undermine any who challenges them. A leader intent on avoiding accountability will gaslight his community into believing his version of events and cause them to doubt their perception.

The abuser wants to be seen as blameless or misunderstood, and they do this by casting everything else into uncertainty. When accused of something, a gaslighter will call their accuser’s sanity into question, or cast doubt around their testimony or motive. This is how they control the narrative and emerge the victor.

At the core of gaslighting tactics is absolutism. This is an underlying belief that people and events are either entirely false and bad or entirely true and good, with no gray areas. Similarly, if you are on the gaslighter’s side, then you are on the winning side. Anything else is the losing side. You are sane if you agree with them, but insane and evil if you disagree.

Gaslighters unmasked.

Gaslighting tactics can often be traced back to childhood. A child who was never held accountable for their actions may end up relying on gaslighting tactics later in life to further avoid facing consequences. Alternately, the parent might have gaslit their child into upholding a saintly image of them as the parent, avoiding blame for any negative influences or direct abuse. This gives way to absolutism in the child’s mind.

Where there is a need for control, there is also fear. Being held accountable will mean losing their footing as their pedestal wobbles, and it can be a long fall from the top. A leader admitting to fault might have to step down from their position. A spouse caught in infidelity may have to face divorce and public shame. A parent admitting fault may be exposed as being imperfect and lose their influence.

Gaslighting is never a once-off event, but rather a pattern of relentless, intentional behavior that is meant to drive its victims into submission and acceptance of a certain perspective or way of thinking.

The long-term effects of gaslighting.

The victims of gaslighting may face decades of emotional distress, mental anguish, and chronic anxiety. Their immune systems will take a serious hit in this case, sometimes triggering underlying medical conditions like asthma, hair loss, eczema, acne, and psoriasis.

Gaslighting, by design, is a near-impossible thing to identify at the moment, and only with the benefit of hindsight can a victim fully comprehend the long-term damage. The after-effects of gaslighting are anger, shame, resentment, depression, and exhaustion.

The victims of long-term gaslighting frequently experience trust issues and may develop a gender bias (“all men are liars”, or “all women manipulate”). Gaslighters have to maintain the upper hand, and the easiest way of doing this is to put down those around them.

Being constantly told things like “you’re crazy,” “you’re overreacting,” “you’re imagining things,” or other reductive or trivializing things, will eventually have the victim believing them. Thus, low self-esteem is something that all victims of gaslighting experience.

On the other hand, a common tactic with gaslighters is love-bombing. To deflect blame or stem suspicion, the abuser will focus a torrent of affection in the form of encouraging messages, gifts, or physical affection. The recipient will feel guilty for ever having doubted or suspected their partner of wrongdoing, and over time the debilitating and crippling effects of “love-bombing” ensure the partner’s silence and submission.

How to break free from gaslighting.

For the sake of your wellbeing, you must gather what energy you have and formulate a way out of the situation in which you are being gaslit. Gaslighters are liars by nature, and so any kind of confrontation you have with them might prove to be tricky. However, there are a few options you might consider.

Using your phone to gather evidence.

Having anything that can help you to perform a fact check will help you convince yourself that you are not imagining things when a gaslighter tries to manipulate you.


Keeping a journal is a solid way to record details like dates, times, and events. Remember to keep it safe and private, lest the information be made known to the gaslighter. It could be a cathartic exercise to journal about events and conversations and may even be the start of gaining perspective on the situation.

Talking to a friend.

Talking to a trusted friend or loved one will also help you gain perspective on the situation. After hearing all the lies of the gaslighter, it will be important for you to hear the affirming voice of someone who knows you well and has no motive other than to help you.

Education is power.

The hope is that with all this information one would be in a position to recognize when they are being gaslighted and address the issue accordingly. This article also serves to help those that have been gaslighting others unaware to be educated about the devastating effects it has on others and therefore seek help.

Counselors and therapists have experience in talking through these issues and provide a confidential, private space in which you can unpack your burdens. In a counselor’s office, you will be seen, heard, and understood. Together with the Christian Counselor, you may be able to find your next step out of whatever web the gaslighting has caught you in.

If there is no immediate solution, you will be able to get an outside perspective from a compassionate listener. Please do not hesitate to call our offices and book a session with a therapist if you feel you need help in this area.

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