Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group.
It makes them question their own memory, perception and sanity.
The tactic relies on persistent denial, contradiction and lying in an attempt to delegitimize the victim’s belief.
Origin of “Gaslighting”
The term comes from a 1938 play, and subsequent 1944 film adaptation, in which a murdering husband manipulates and confuses his wife by dimming the gas lights in their home and then denying it’s happening.
From Psychology Today:
It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders.
It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed.
“Gaslighting” in politics
In a political context, gaslighting can take many forms but often involves politicians or political groups presenting false information as true or denying factual information, with the intent of making people doubt their own understanding of reality.
This can be done through various means, including spreading disinformation, denying previous statements or actions, blaming others for one’s own mistakes, or dismissing criticism as fake news or conspiracy theories.
It can be a powerful tool for manipulation in politics.
By creating confusion and doubt, those who engage in gaslighting can control the narrative, deflect blame, and maintain power.
It can also contribute to a polarized and distrustful political climate, where different groups have vastly different perceptions of reality.
Psychologist Bryant Welch, who wrote a 2008 book entitled State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind, told NBC News that President Donald Trump used the tactic regularly with the American people.
Said Welch: “The very state of confusion they are creating is a political weapon in and of itself. If you make people confused, they are vulnerable. By definition they don’t know what to do.”
He added: “You come in and undercut their trust in the established sources of information. It tells them to go ahead and hate this person who is delivering bad news. Then you begin to substitute your own news, your own version of reality. If Donald Trump can undercut America’s trust in all media, he then starts to own them and can start to literally implant his own version of reality.”
A related term from the Trump era is “alternative facts.”
Use of “Gaslighting” in a sentence
- Many critics accused the politician of gaslighting the public by repeatedly denying his previous statements, even when confronted with video evidence.
- The campaign’s strategy seemed to involve gaslighting voters by spreading disinformation and then dismissing any challenges as fake news.
- Accusations of gaslighting were made when the official insisted that the policy had always been popular, despite widespread protests and negative polling data.
Taegan Goddard is the creator of the Political Dictionary.
Goddard spent more than a decade on Wall Street as managing director and chief operating officer of a prominent investment firm in New York City. Previously, he also served as a policy adviser to a U.S. Senator and Governor.
Goddard is also co-author of You Won – Now What?: How Americans Can Make Democracy Work from City Hall to the White House, a political management book hailed by prominent journalists and politicians from both parties.
His essays on politics and public policy have appeared in dozens of newspapers and magazines across the country.
Goddard earned degrees from Vassar College and Harvard University.
He lives in New York with his wife and three sons.