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What is gaslighting? Here's what it is and how to respond to the behavior.

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 1/6/2023 Evan Hecht, USA TODAY
A young couple sitting on couch after a fight. © Ridofranz, Getty Images/iStockphoto A young couple sitting on couch after a fight.

Merriam-Webster has announced "gaslighting" as the 2022 word of the year. Searches for the word increased 1,740% this year, the dictionary publisher says.

Other top words and terms from 2022 include "cancel culture," "Omicron," "LGBTQIA" and "Queen Consort." Last year's word of the year was "vaccine."

"Gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss" is the popular meme you may have seen circulating the internet for a bit. Knowyourmeme.com states the meme’s origin comes from a 2021 Tumblr post that was making fun of “live, laugh, love.”

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But the term has been also been misused, and some may not actually know when it is happening. What is gaslighting exactly?

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What is gaslighting?

According to the Newport Institute, gaslighting is a form of manipulation where the manipulator attempts to make their victim believe what’s happening to them isn’t actually happening and their reality is untrue.

The Newport Institute offers a few examples of what gaslighting is

  • Lying about or denying something and refusing to admit the lie even when you show them proof
  • Insisting that an event or behavior you witnessed never happened and that you’re remembering it wrong
  • Spreading rumors and gossip about you, or telling you that other people are gossiping about you
  • Changing the subject or refusing to listen when confronted about a lie or other gaslighting behavior
  • Telling you that you’re overreacting when you call them out
  • More examples from the Newport Institute

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Where did the term gaslighting come from?

The Newport Institute says the origin of the word gaslighting comes from the 1938 play "Angel Street." Alfred Hitchcock eventually turned the play into the 1944 film "Gaslight." The story follows a man convincing his wife she is going crazy so he can steal from her. When he turns on the lights in the attic to look for his wife’s jewels, the gas light downstairs starts to dim. He tells his wife it’s all in her imagination, gaslighting her into believing the lights were not dimming. 

Signs of gaslighting

Verywellmind.com says there are many signs of gaslighting that include but are not limited to: 

  1. You doubt your feelings of reality 
  2. You question your judgement and perceptions 
  3. You feel vulnerable and insecure
  4. You feel alone and powerless
  5. You wonder if you are what they say you are 
  6. You are disappointed in yourself and who you have become 
  7. You feel confused 
  8. You worry that you are too sensitive 
  9. You have a sense of impending doom 
  10. You spend a lot of time apologizing 
  11. You feel inadequate 
  12. You second-guess yourself 
  13. You assume others are disappointed in you 
  14. You wonder what’s wrong with you 
  15. You struggle to make decisions because you distrust yourself  

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How to address and respond to gaslighting

Responding to gaslighting can be difficult, but Healthline offers eight ways to properly respond

  1. Make sure it’s actually gaslighting 
  2. Take some space from the situation 
  3. Collect evidence 
  4. Speak up about the behavior 
  5. Remain confident in your version of the events
  6. Focus on self-care 
  7. Involve others 
  8. Seek professional support

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is gaslighting? Here's what it is and how to respond to the behavior.

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