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Were You Born Under the Gaslight?

Of the endless number of psychological factors that can plague a person throughout his life, I think there’s none more powerful than The Gaslight.

The term “gaslight treatment” was coined by a classic 1944 movie starring Ingrid Bergman.

25 thoughts on “Were You Born Under the Gaslight?

  • August 16, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    Thank you for writing about this subject. This is the first time I’ve seen this topic covered despite searching for it periodically over the past few years, and am very intrigued. Especially because I was looking for a very basic type of invalidation – namely the experience of the child who is told they’re, “making things up (again),” or something similar whenever that child experiences an emotion caused by parental neglects which the parent/s refuse to be accountable for – it’s so interesting to discover the variety of ways gaslighting is used, intentionally or not, against children. Ideally kids would lose respect for their parents, although that won’t do much to shield them from the abandonment betrayal (at least it didn’t spare me) and certainly comes with its own set of problems but I do think it’s what helped me survive those otherwise indescribably terrorizing moments.

    • August 19, 2015 at 10:53 am

      Lisa, thank you for sharing your gaslight experience. You inspired the story I’m using as an example in next week’s blog, Born Under the Gaslight: Five Steps to Heal.

  • August 19, 2015 at 12:16 am

    3 and 4 is why I am in therapy!

    • December 18, 2017 at 10:25 am

      I grew up with 1. and 4. most of the time I feel nothing or sadness, I feel worthless and like if I died or vanished nobody would care. Once I attempted suicide and my mother told me that I was just being dramatic and doing it for attention. I bottle up my feelings until it all comes out as self-harm or just breaking down.

  • August 19, 2015 at 10:47 am

    Thank you for putting such a descriptive and thorough framework around this.

  • August 19, 2015 at 11:10 am

    I grew up in just such a situation. My mom was Borderline/Narcissistic and my dad was bi-polar/sexual deviant. Nothing was *ever* anything close to normal in my life. If I hadn’t spent most of my childhood in the household of my grandparents, who were thankfully plain, simple and loving people, I would have been completely alone. As it was, I always felt that it was me who was wrong, bad or abnormal, not my parents.

    Unfortunately, this “Gaslighting” phenomenon can often be multi-generational, and my children have had to deal with a less intense version, since I was still dealing with the fallout and was sometimes pretty unstable emotionally during their early years. While they have all become amazing women, we all had years of therapy to get here.

    • August 19, 2015 at 12:21 pm

      Hello cat,

      Your comment about gas lighting being multigenerational applies to me and my daughters. I struggled for years not to be the parent my mother was, nor to gloss over problems like my father did, but their influence came through to my children often. Then I had to work to rebuild their trust and provide them with the emotional support and stability I never experienced. It is strangely affirming to know I’m not the only one. Like you, we all had lots of therapy, and we broke the spell, and we’re all doing well.

      For other parents out there who grew up with all the mixed messages, get help and don’t give up. Learn to apologize appropriately to your children when you’ve done or said something that your oarents would have done. Balance the importance being honest about your weaknesses with your need to be the parent, the one who deserves respect as provider, teacher, and manager. Your honest efforts to own and improve your behavior will become a role model to your children. They too will learn to be honest with themselves and others, and sensitive to others’ feelings. You too can break the spell.

  • August 19, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    Thank you so much, AMAZING article!
    This applies to me exactly. I often find myself continuing to invalidate my own pain, reinforcing my “perfect family” message that I was the one who wasn’t getting with the program.
    By the way, the 1944 Hollywood version of Gaslight is a good movie but the 1940 British original is more on point with the psychology of the toxic home, how the heroine suffers and how it all appears to outsiders.

  • August 21, 2015 at 4:14 am

    it’s all applies in me…i keep asking my self what have i done wrong to deserved loneliness,why everyone always makes me feel like i’m a failure that i never been good enough…that all i do is wrong….it’s really hard to live in a life that has nothing seems real…

    thank you soo much for this very helpful information…soo happy to read this…
    more power to the author….

  • August 21, 2015 at 9:24 am

    Ha 1,2,4 describes it then and now it describes what I watched be done to the niece and nephews and even that parents pets. That behavior coupled with pushy, ignorant, closed minded tyrannical behavior … Lol…… I observe Nice stable pets become neurotic under that parents care. That parent creates problems so that parent has something to scream, complain and be miserable about. Created drama to have an excuse to flake out! Needs the addictive hormonal dump I suppose!

  • August 22, 2015 at 7:42 am

    Thank you for shedding much needed light on this topic! I have long thought that what I grew up with was actually the result of cultural influences in my childhood home. Now I am beginning to realize that this was CEN.
    I had a loving mother from a Finnish background who seemed to disappear when my equally loving father from a volatile English background erupted in rage. He was not physically abusive but he was emotionally abusive and unpredictable. According to them, children should be nurtured, provided for, seen, and not heard. Successes were considered good, but never enough that anyone other than them would appreciate them. Illness of any kind was “all in my head” unless I was completely incapacitated by it. Thanks to this article, I am beginning to realize that none of this was my fault. I hope to learn to accept this in my heart as well as my thinking.

  • August 24, 2015 at 10:54 pm

    This was a very interesting perspective, however arn’t we just blaiming our parents and/or our upbringing again??

    • May 12, 2018 at 6:43 pm

      This is such an interesting response. It’s the same one that I was gaslit with anytime I tried to talk to one of my immediate family members about my experience or feelings. Naming a behavior and it’s consequences isn’t the same as blame. Where does this idea come from? Where is the blame in “I don’t know how to regard my own feelings and I live in a chronic state of confusion because of it.” My family made it seem like everything was normal and rosy and the constant refrain was ” you’re over sensitive and dramatic”. When, in fact, my mother and I had lived through my father’s psychosis, gun violence and eventual murder. I grew up visiting him once a year in prison. And that’s just one thing out of many that happened that I was not allowed to speak about or process. Ever! So, no, it’s not blaming, it’s healing to finally unravel a psychological process that was emotionally abusive so that I can actually understand what the problem is and heal from it. I grew up not understanding why I felt so different and anxious all the time and I was instructed to not feel what I felt from real experiences that were objectively difficult. It was crazy making and I am relieved that it’s been named and analyzed and validated. I can actually feel a shift

    • May 12, 2018 at 7:25 pm

      But also, because I am hyper vigilant about making an attempt to understand other people, I think this was unconscious behavior on my family’s part and not done to intentionally wound me. It doesn’t alter the impact on me, however, and I will hold my family accountable for their choices. My motivation is to heal, my allegiance is to Truth, not for revenge or special privileges owed to me because of the harm and suffering imposed on me. I thought that I was failing because at 46, I’m still struggling to be a functional, successful adult. But when I’m really honest and look at my son. I passed none of this on to him. He is having a completely different childhood from mine. We have a close, healthy relationship and I am teaching him (as I teach myself) how to respect his own feelings without neglecting others’ feelings. My hard work to recover and become self-responsible has led to a no-regrets motherhood. ( I’m not perfect and I make mistakes! But I hold myself accountable and work to not repeat errors.)

  • September 1, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    I found this article extremely interesting. While I don’t feel that I was born “under the gaslight”, I do feel that I have been under the gaslight in my marriage. I am well aware that there are other terms for the situation, but none of them have “fit” like this has. Thank you for the insights.

  • September 4, 2015 at 1:42 am

    A very good and waking article. Though I feel it would benefit some more to make it clear this doesn’t just happen between parents and child, but this can happen as well in any controlling or abusive relationship even between couples, most often towards women, though sometimes towards men as well(abuse can happen both ways).

  • October 7, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    This is the missing piece in a puzzle I feel like I have been struggling with forever. Thank you for writing about it. Can you point me in the direction of info on how to parent in a healthier way? Maybe something I can give all the professionals we work with? Anything that helps explain this.

    While I’m not too unpredictable, my extremely low threshold for irritation makes me more (consistently) aggravated than a parent should be, so I yell a lot. I’m often detached (depression), yet still very affectionate, so I think I am a gas lighter. I knew something was wrong, but it never had a name.
    I think that gas lighting may be so common that people do not recognize that it’s a problem, because even the most honest of people- friends, family, neighbors, even my kids therapist- don’t seem to see a problem with my parenting. They don’t read me as abusive, or even a bad parent, just loud. This is because my behaviors are not outside the norm, which is scary.

    But I desperately want to be a good parent. And I know something is wrong.
    I have a psychiatrist (meds for bipolar), therapist (coping skills, etc), and a substance abuse councilor (12 years sober, but still struggle w using other things to detach). I have taken every parenting class available in this area. My kids have their own therapist, and go to/went to a special therapeutic preschool for high risk families, and one has done play therapy.
    So I’m trying.
    But I never could make sense of it, until now, so all the efforts to parent in a better way have been less than successful.

    My mom was a 1,2 and dad was the last one- she was always yelling, but very loving, and dad was dedicated but stoic. And I’m just like them, an odd combo of repressed feelings and angry yelling, plus lots of affection. (even though I was adopted as a baby, and my bipolar bio mom isn’t like this.)

  • October 13, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    Very accurate article! Perhaps you could do some research about.. “Single Child vs Single Parent”. Ever since being enlightened on my childhood: was raised since 8 months old by a single-father who was a “MN”-malignant narcissist, Gaslighter, possessed both types of Narc Supply, etc….. I have been searching information, non-stop, to find a study/research on the effects of being a single child being raised by a single father under these awful conditions. Any articles or info please respond. Thank you

  • November 18, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    As an autistic who has been through the special ed system, I think that it is important to point out that I suffered a lot of gaslights 3 and 4, and a little bit of 1, from many people in the special ed schools I went to. I also believe that it should be noted that gaslight 1 seems to be very common in Early Intensive Behavioral Interventions (also known as ABA therapy) for autism. In fact, this program involves telling kids matter-of-factly to do things, like refraining from stimming and making eye contact, which are extremely difficult and emotionally or physically painful for them. Gaslight 1 (double-bind) is evident in the adult’s response of ignoring any emotional outbursts they have (meltdowns, which can only be “ridden out” and mitigated, never truly controlled) in the hopes of driving these “behaviors” to “extinction”, and, when the kid does what the adult wants, heaping tons of praise and hugs on them. This kind of love is by definition conditional and can be revoked at any time during a meltdown. ABA, particularly “modern” ABA, also uses a lot of gaslight 2 by teaching kids, among other things, to hide all signs of stress (there is a little bit of gaslight 3 as well).
    For more information on this topic, check out

    Again, ABA is not the only thing that does this, and I know because I was never in official ABA, only the special ed system (which uses some ABA principles, incidentally). Nevertheless, I experienced a lot of gas lighting there as well.

  • January 23, 2016 at 9:35 pm

    1 is the unfortunate number for me. As a result, I tend to be everyone’s doormat. Managed to marry a great man thankfully. It would have been so easy to take advantage of me, but he is well grounded and confident, something I wish to be. My question is…now that the issue has been identified, what do we do to “recover”? I am now a wife and mother who still struggles as a result of this. I pray I do not, am not, doing the same thing to my kids 🙁

  • February 7, 2016 at 1:40 am

    Where is a consideration of the influence of society and our “times” in this piece? Too narrowly focused, in my estimation.

  • October 1, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    As a child I experienced all of these forms of Gaslighting from various close family members. My father and step father were the most dominant figures in displaying these behaviours. My dad being the typical “Keeping up with the Jones'” type, he always lived outside of his means which meant we often went without basic needs. My step father was an alcoholic who monopolized my mom’s time and taught me to suppress and emotional or physical reactions or manifestations to common life situations. I swore I wouldn’t repeat the same patterns as those who stunted my natural growth as a child, yet somehow found myself to an abuser… In all aspects. Now, after almost a year-long campaign of terror mtg soon-to-be ex husband has won sole custody of our daughter by accusing me of the same actions that robbed me of a healthy and happy childhood. The gas has been turned up on my daughter under his “care” and the fight to retain what little innocence she has left is in full force.

    • October 19, 2016 at 11:48 am

      I am so sorry for what you are going through! But with knowing the level of impact that you both have on your daughter… never give up. Make sure she knows her worth and that you support her. Give her reassurance and validation.

  • June 24, 2018 at 3:51 am

    i know this is an older article, but i found it today and realize this is what was done to me constantly as a child. emotions were punished, perfection was somewhat praised, fear was prevalent always waiting for something bad to happen. but the worst was when i went to my parents and told them an uncle was raping me – a family meeting of all the uncles and aunts was called and i repeated what he was doing in front of all of them (about 14 adults, including father’s parents) and was told i was a liar and grounded for three months with the abuser to be my “babysitter”. but that still wasn’t the end, i went to a school counselor and told him what was going on and he told me that my parents would go to jail and my siblings would be separated and put in foster homes unless i went to bed with him (i went to his house but ran away before any actual physical contact thankfully) i was 14 at that time.

  • May 24, 2019 at 3:09 am

    Has any research been done with regards to CORPORATE GASLIGHTING?
    Just wondered 😇


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