You may have seen the term 'gaslighting' being thrown around lately, perhaps attached to an article that warns of the dangers of this phenomenon. This term has it's origins in a play from 1938 called "Gas Light". Since we are going to examine what gaslighting isn't, you could click here and get a decent enough explanation for what it is. Gas-lighting as a specific phenomenon of long-term manipulation among romantic partners is being interpreted more broadly to be something that occurs even in short-term social interactions. The purpose of this article is to make sure we understand what gaslighting isn't and to put to rest many of the biased and skewed interpretations of it.
If you read enough gaslighting articles or scroll through the search results of a simple google search for gaslighting, you quickly begin to see a trend. If we are to trust the majority of perspectives in these articles, women seem to be the primary victims of gaslighting, with narcissistic men being the victimizer. Part of this is because studies have shown that narcissism tends to show up in men more than women, and narcissism is the primary trait that fuels gaslighting and other manipulative behaviors. However, men clearly do not have a monopoly on narcissism or rewriting reality to suit our selfish needs. Women indeed have their own subjective realities just as men do, and women can indeed be narcissistic. However, there's a difference between pathological manipulation and honest disagreement between two human beings.
Almost all arguments between human beings are because someone has a different point of view about something, it's the clashing of two subjective interpretations of an event. The fact is, everyone has a subjective truth they want to convince others to believe. This is why religious people go out and minister to non-believers. This is why debates are important in understanding societal issues. Varying subjective realities are the truth of human interactions. Persuading others to understand and believe our subjective truths is an unspoken fact of every social interaction. It is one of the primary reasons why we communicate with one another. Having a genuine, different opinion about an issue or an event is not gaslighting, even though many articles have begun to argue just that. Disagreeing about social justice issues does not necessarily mean that you are pathologically invalidating someone's subjective experience in order to make them doubt their own experience. Labeling disagreement in this context as gaslighting seems to be another method of shutting down conversation and smearing social justice skeptics as pathological social deviants.
Gaslighting is a type of long-term manipulation that seems to mostly be talked about as a pop-psychology topic. I think if I were to give my own quick, and concise definition for gaslighting, I would say it is the conscious manipulation and control of another person's perspective for unethical reasons over a long period of time. However, manipulation itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. Manipulation has a negative connotation but education, therapy, and parenting are all forms of manipulation. Manipulation becomes a bad thing if your reasons are ignoble, this is the most important distinction. If you suspect your partner is gaslighting you, then you have already "won". Gaslighting that is recognized isn't gaslighting at all. Since gaslighting is a conscious manipulation designed to warp your perspective of reality, if it's recognized, then it is unsuccessful. This is assuming that you are actually correct in your assessment. With the broadening definition for what gaslighting is, I suspect the false positive rate has increased exponentially. People forget that they themselves are often the ones that are wrong.
Do you want to avoid gaslighting? Be skeptical, and hold true to what you believe. Consider other people's perspectives if they offer clear and convincing evidence and a persuasive argument. If you shape your understanding of reality on anything other than these standards, then you are probably going to be a target for manipulation one day by someone. Accomplished liars always take into consideration how you think, and will exploit that. They take notice of the things that you have a soft spot for and will no doubt use that against you. However, it should probably make you feel better that most people aren't smart enough or motivated enough to really pull off gaslighting with any real success, because it is such a long-term process. True narcissistic personality disorder is also quite rare, with probably no more than 1% of the general population fitting the actual diagnostic criteria. Having said all this, however, victims of abuse are a more delicate matter. I recommend seeking professional help in actual traumatic cases such as an abusive relationship where such manipulation occurred. Don't go to the internet for help, please seek a professional with a specialty in abuse and trauma.