Imagine being told that what you see and hear is a figment of your imagination, leading you to question your own judgement. That, through a subtle, but effective, method of controlling a person’s perspective, one person overrides reality.
This is gaslighting.
Gaslighting refers to the phenomenon in which someone insists so strenuously on a false version of events that those listening start doubting the reality right in front of their eyes.
The Shift News recently focused a case of gaslighting, as part of its Disinformation Watch articles, in the case of the changing numbers of trees that were going to be uprooted in Rabat Road as part of the Central Link Project.
The government had denied a Times of Malta report, which said that around 200 mature Aleppo trees were going to be uprooted and submitted new project plans to the planning authority, changing the number of trees to removal.
For many years, gaslighting was solely used in the context of personal relationships and is considered to be a form of abuse. Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid, told Sky News that it was very difficult for victims to recognise and was “a form of psychological abuse where the perpetrator manipulates their partner, can make victims doubt themselves, their memories and judgement”.
The term comes from a 1938 play Gas Light where a husband tries to make his wife go crazy by slowly dimming the gas lights in their home. She points it out to him but he denied that there was anything different, leading her to doubt reality.
In recent years, gaslighting started being used during President Donald Trump’s candidacy run. In an article, a Washington Post journalist highlights a number of instances where he was accused of gaslighting.
For example, Trump denied mocking a disabled reporter, even though there was a video doing the rounds that showed him doing exactly that. Trump told the New York Times that it was a “mistake” for him to retweet an unflattering photo – to later say “I didn’t actually say it that way” during a television interview.
One of the most well-known examples is the photo of crowds during his inauguration ceremony, which he claimed was the largest in American history. However, aerial photographs – even of the inauguration of former President Barack Obama – show otherwise. He even described his victory as a landslide – even though he lost the popular vote.
Gaslighting is not just making a person doubt but includes undermining the victim’s perspective, controlling the topic of conversation and forcefully denying the truth i.e. making the person question whether something happened.
The techniques include saying and doing things and then denying it, blaming others for misunderstanding, disparaging their concerns as oversensitivity, claiming outrageous statements were jokes or misunderstandings, and other forms of twilighting the truth