When it comes to domestic violence, “gaslighting” has become increasingly popular term in California. Gaslighting is one form of emotional abuse recognized in the state, but understanding what it means requires a short primer in the performing arts. 

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the concept of gaslighting comes from the 1938 play “Gaslight,” by Patrick Hamilton, in which a husband slowly convinces his wife of her insanity by consistently undermining her concept of reality. While the wife is indeed sane, the husband causes her to doubt her senses by refusing to acknowledge the dimming lights or pattering footsteps in the apartment. Over time, she comes to believe that she must be hallucinating. 

Gaslighting as abuse 

Today we recognize gaslighting as emotional abuse. An offender — be it a spouse, family member, neighbor or acquaintance — causes a victim to doubt his or her concept of reality by consistently denying the facts. For example, a wife may deny memory of prior conversations or insist that she came home early last night when her spouse knows otherwise. Over time, the consistent denial of reality can cause anyone to doubt his or her own sanity. 

Techniques of gaslighting 

There are several ways that apartner can gaslight. The most common strategies are questioning your memory of events or conversations, pretending to misunderstand what you are saying and insisting that your ideas are crazy or sensitive without addressing them. Just like the classic frog-in-water anecdote, gaslighting is uniquely effective because it builds gradually over time. If you believe someone is gaslighting you, you may want to contact a third party for perspective. 

This is a form of emotional abuse, and you have the right to take legal action. In some cases, mediation or counseling can help resolve the problem. If not, you may be able to obtain a restraining order, file for domestic violence charges or initiate proceedings to separate.