Many people struggle with the holidays for a variety of reasons.  One is that they go into a visit with their family certain of who they are, what their place is in the world, and how the world works only to come home feeling as if they have just come back from a trip to Alice’s Wonderland. Everything they know seems to have been shaken loose and has to be re-anchored.  Their memories of what happened are dismissed as made up. Their boundaries around issues are made to seem like dysfunction. Their needs are made to seem selfish and even an affront to everyone else. Their opinions are made to seem wrong and outlandish.  This is because instead of candles and twinkling holiday lights the visit was filled with gaslight.

Gaslight 1944“Gaslighting is a term that traces its origins to a 1938 play titled Gas Light (which was also adapted to film twice), a tale of a husband who uses subtle tricks and denials to convince his wife that she is losing her mind. It became a psychological term in the 1960s, the definition being ‘a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.’ It is a devastatingly effective tactic, allowing an abuser to more easily manipulate the subject of their choice.” – Emily Asher-Perrin

While the majority of families are good, healthy, and well meaning (no one is perfect) there are some or just some members who are abusive.  Gaslighting is an insidious type of abuse because it is not blatant. It’s like a magician’s trick making you look one way while the action is happen in the other direction.  It’s hard to see how it’s done, although the effects can be seen and felt afterwards.  Many people who have suffered from gaslighting choose to avoid those who practice it.  However, that’s not always possible.  The first thing to do when you detect gaslighting is to choose whether to remove yourself from the situation or confront it. Confronting a gaslighter requires that you stand in your own integrity, refuse to let memories, actions or motivations be redefined, and question every action and statement made by the gaslighter. Because when you shine the light of day on the situation, gaslight no longer has any power or any use.