Why the word ‘gaslighting’ has become so mainstream

Jordan Reid is the founding editor of Ramshackle Glam.
Liberal Opinion

Jordan Reid

Author; Founding Editor, Ramshackle Glam
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Former President Donald Trump was often described as “gaslighting” when rejecting certain realities and creating his own narratives. Will Smith is now being accused of the practice while promoting his new movie, “Emancipation.” Straight Arrow News contributor Jordan Reid points to a conversation in the TV show “Bachelor in Paradise” where a partner’s gaslighting caused the demise of his relationship. Reid breaks down the word and describes how the practice is often used by abusers of power.

It’s official: “Gaslighting” is Merriam-Webster’s official Word of 2022. The word originated from the 1944 film “Gaslight”, but only entered the modern lexicon in the mid-2010s, so I thought it was worth taking a moment to explain what gaslighting is, what it’s not and why people are so irritated by the word.

According to Merriam-Webster, gaslighting is psychological manipulation that “causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.”

In short, it’s when someone makes you feel like your understanding of reality is false, with detrimental consequences. Which is more than just a lie – it’s not saying “It’s raining” when it’s sunny; it’s saying “you may think it’s sunny, but that’s only because you have such terrible eyesight you can’t even see the raindrops,” despite the fact that you know you can see perfectly well. 

Some ways that gaslighting can be employed by abusers:

  • Withholding: When the abuser pretends not to understand the victim.
  • Trivializing: When the abuser makes the victim feel that his or her needs or thoughts aren’t important.
  • Mislabeling : Telling the victim that, say, what reads to them as ‘abuse’ is merely ‘protection.’
  • Countering: Calling into question a victim’s distinct memories.
  • Forgetting: When the abuser pretends to forget incidents – a promise, say – that have factually occurred.

More examples: A parent telling a child repeatedly that they are “too sensitive” to get them to stop expressing difficult emotions, stereotyping the goals of an entire group as “crazy,” or even a medical professional telling a patient experiencing pain that it’s all “in their head.” 

It’s official “gaslighting” is Merriam-Webster’s official Word of 2022. The word originated from the 1944 film Gaslight, but only entered the modern lexicon in the mid-2010s, so I thought it was worth taking a moment to explain what gaslighting is, what it’s not, and why people are so g-d irritated by the word.

According to Merriam-Webster, gaslighting is psychological manipulation that “causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.”

In short, it’s when someone makes you feel like your understanding of reality is false, with detrimental consequences. Which is more than just a lie – it’s not saying “It’s raining” when it’s sunny; it’s saying “you may think it’s sunny, but that’s only because you have such terrible eyesight you can’t even see the raindrops,” despite the fact that you know you can see perfectly well. 

Some ways that gaslighting can be employed by abusers:

  • Withholding – when the abuser pretends not to understand the victim
  • Trivilalizing – when the abuser makes the victim feel that his or her needs or thoughts aren’t important
  • Mislabeling – telling the victim that, say, what reads to them as ‘abuse’ is merely ‘protection’
  • Countering – calling into question a victim’s distinct memories
  • Forgetting – when the abuser pretends to forget incidents – a promise, say – that have factually occurred. 

 

More examples: a parent telling a child repeatedly that they are “too sensitive” to get them to stop expressing difficult emotions, stereotyping the goals of an entire group as “crazy,” or even a medical professional telling a patient experiencing pain that it’s all “in their head.” 

 

Generally speaking, gaslighting occurs within unequal power dynamics – but is, notably, not just simple disagreement, in that one party is actively manipulating the other, and usually over an extended period of time. 

 

When somebody is trying to convince you of their beliefs, or even influence you, this is not gaslighting – but if they are trying to skew your perception of reality to suit their own ends – for example, repeatedly telling you that you are reacting irrationally to their problematic actions, to the point where you are beginning to wonder if you are, despite evidence to the contrary – it very well might be. 

 

Detractors of the term argue that it is used too broadly – thereby diluting the word’s power and the practice’s very real impact on victims. Which, yes. On the most recent season of Bachelor in Paradise I saw an entire relationship break down due to a disagreement about whether itching and pain are the same thing, during one of the parties cried “gaslighting,” and…just…no.

 

Gaslighting is real, and it is insidious, and it is one of the most common ways for abusers to perpetuate harm. I do personally think that the term is overused in a social context, but, like “emotional labor” – another of my personal faves – I also believe that giving victims greater access to a word they can use to finally understand their situation can have incalculable benefits. 

 

Oh, one of Merriam-Webster’s other top words was “loamy,” thanks to – apparently – a wrong Wordle answer. Loamy means “full of rich soil.” Now you know. You’re welcome.


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