Gas Lighting: A Feminist’s Perspective

What is Gaslighting? A feminist perspective on psychological abuse focused on making a victim doubt her own perception of reality

Guest Blogger Rinzu Rajan describes herself as a single woman, struggling to shrug social compulsions and religious rigidity, who writes poetry and is a published poet. Helps women the society has loathed at, and is making an effort to put her wile and wrath on paper to untie the blindfolds of people who consider women a weaker sex. She writes at

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubts his or her own memory and perception. It may simply be the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, or it could be the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.

The term “gaslighting” comes from the play Gas Light and its film adaptations. In those works a man uses a variety of tricks to convince his wife that she is crazy, so that she won’t be believed when she reports strange things that are genuinely occurring, including the dimming of the gas lights in the house (which happens when her husband turns on the normally unused gas lamps in the attic to conduct clandestine activities there). The term is now also used in clinical and research literature.

(As sourced From Wikipedia)

Gas lighting in the modern times is a practice that is designed to confuse a person into accepting someone else’s perception, or judgement or thoughts. For a woman, gas lighting is a doing she often encounters in her everyday life thrown by her spouse, partner, boss, colleagues, friends or relatives as humiliation and unwanted criticism aimed to twist her thoughts,  so that in all finality she  gives a nod to what they think is right for her.

I haven’t been in a relationship for half a decade and longer, and that might be the reason I do not need to give in details about how it can be for a man and woman in an emotional partnership and in what ways could the man end up emotionally tricking the unassuming woman.

But for me as a woman, who has been fearless in opinion, the journey was a wobbling path, where often I saw myself wasting away in patience, energy and often in happiness. When people tried endlessly to convince me that I was going mad and often it was expected of me to laugh at the stupid sexist jokes men had to throw at me. When I was often told I belonged to the kitchen with the sexual selection at birth not entailing me to be expressive or retort to insensitivity men showed towards me as a woman.

And while taking all these brickbats and being called a ferocious fearless feminist unmindful of the Indian culture, I wondered, did all this make sense to me?

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I don’t think I was going mad. I was not frustrated and neither was I trolling to dementia.  I was only being responsive to what was given to me, which didn’t taste sweet and obviously I had to spit it out. The lesser of the mortals said that I loved to over react to the silliest of situations and maybe there was something wrong with my personality; since in our country with patriarchy being worshipped at every street corner, women are often referred to as crazy, irrational, overly sensitive, unhinged.

Unimaginably, if a woman openly declares about her being a feminist, these adjectives can be laced with more apathy. That’s exactly what happened, at times when I shared a post from Women’s Web on my facebook page or commented in favour of the victim on a misdoing that we call rape. In person, people often picked a joke about my blog posts or tried to tell me how I was leading to doom by standing up for myself in arrogant stubbornness.

She said I being a woman, wasn’t entitled to annoyance and my actions in public a cross I needed to bear for the rest of my life. While gas lighting had often led to break ups and divorces, it saw me deviating from my sane sensibilities and blurting out at the tiniest of trivialities in my life. I decided to talk to a psycho-therapist and find a solution to this problem before it could have created any kinds of handicaps in relationships, friendships and for me as a person.

She told me that gas lighting had made me doubt my own self and my capabilities and I was caught somewhere in between adjusting to a shock of why people were behaving weirdly with me and defending my intellectual instincts. I was showing signs of slipping into depression, the third stage of gas lighting, if I didn’t recognize it immediately and rectify it as a mistake that others were committing against me. It took a long time, and a lot of reflection and analysis, reality testing and self-management, for me to reclaim my reality.

Here are the signs of Gaslighting being directed at you:

1. You are constantly second-guessing yourself

2. You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” a dozen times a day.

3. You often feel confused and even crazy at work.

4. You’re always apologizing to your mother, father, boyfriend,, boss.

5. You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier.

6. You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.

7. You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.

8. You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.

9. You have trouble making simple decisions.

10. You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.

11. You feel hopeless and joyless.

12. You feel as though you can’t do anything right.

13. You wonder if you are a “good enough” girlfriend/ wife/employee/ friend; daughter.

(From Psychology Today, May 19th 2009)

We women bear the brunt of every emotional feeling that is put on us as wives, female friends, girlfriends, female employees, female colleagues, daughters and mothers.

That is why somewhere it gets easy for men to emotionally manipulate us women who have been socially conditioned,  to take with a pinch of salt everything that is thrown to them. It gets them more acceptances for their school of thought, whether right or wrong, which has been the most established of institutions in a typically patriarchal society.

Whether gaslighting happens deliberately or not, with intentions that might point to a joke or emotional manipulation , the results it produces in some women is dangerous, it makes them emotionally mute for a lifetime.


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