You may have seen the term "gaslighting" being used on social media, but what does it actually mean?
Gaslighting is a type of manipulation that involves making someone question their reality which in turn lowers their self-esteem. This allows toxic people to trick others into thinking they're the problem. Most people don’t even know they’re being gaslighted.
It often goes unnoticed because the process starts out small. The manipulative comments have a snowball effect, and what starts as someone saying you’re “too insecure” after they’ve hurt you will eventually turn into you wondering whether your feelings are even valid at all. This warping of reality is dangerous and very harmful to your mental health.
The term originates from Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play “Gas Light,” which helped define a psychological tactic that’s been around practically forever.
The play tells the story of a marriage filled with built-up anger. In it, the husband hides his wife’s things and blames her for losing them and plays other tricks on her to keep her second-guessing herself. He eventually convinces her she's losing her mind. A police officer later helps the wife regain her sense of reality and expose her husband's lies.
Power dynamics influence gaslighting. The manipulator in a relationship wants you to fall in line with the dominant role they’ve assumed. This imbalance may be because of something concrete like economic status or gender, but could also be due to something less obvious, like social ranking.
In these instances, the manipulation might not even be intentional or malicious. Examples include the relationships between parents and their children, romantic partners, and bosses and their employees.
One relationship really defined by gaslighting is the one we have with our government, and specifically with the Trump administration.
In 2016, Laura Duca wrote an editorial for Teen Vogue accusing Trump of using manipulation to get into The White House and "gaslighting America." Her article became really popular and marked the beginning of widespread use of the term.
In 2015, the president tweeted claiming he’d been asked by John Oliver, host of HBO's "Last Week Tonight," to appear on his “very boring and low rated show.” Oliver later revealed he'd never invited Trump to the show; Trump then alleged the staff asked for his appearance repeatedly despite there being no proof of this claim.
There have been numerous instances when what Trump says does not align with the factual evidence, whether it be in a press conference or on Twitter. He uses his own version of the facts to manipulate others into believing his sense of reality instead of the one proven by fact.
Trump’s famous campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” was designed to trick Americans into believing that an America of the past, where people were enslaved or denied of their rights, was better.
So gaslighting is real. There are many layers to this powerful form of manipulation; how can you know if it's happening to you?
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, there are different techniques manipulators use to gaslight. Some will pretend to not understand the victim's feelings. Others will use the "countering" method, which involves continuously questioning a person’s beliefs until they start to question themselves. Either way, gaslighting involves a lot of diverting blame and denying or “forgetting” the truth.
If you are constantly second-guessing yourself, feeling confused and out of touch, always apologizing, making excuses for their actions, have trouble making small decisions and never feel good enough, you might be in a relationship where you’re being gaslighted.
And if your political leaders are constantly pointing out how amazing things are in the country despite you never experiencing the opportunities they speak of, they might be gaslighting you too.
Olivia James is a 20-year-old political science junior from Baton Rouge.