“Gaslighting” is the Merriam-Webster word of the year: Here’s why

“Please stop gaslighting me right now,” Harper tells her husband during the newest White Lotus episode. I’m not surprised to hear this since I have heard “gaslight” so many times already throughout 2022. But ever since Merriam-Webster declared it the word of the year I’ve been thinking about it differently. What exactly is gaslighting defined as? Merriam-Webster defines the noun as, “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage” and the company saw a 1740% increase in lookups this year. This is just one way it’s been embedded in our culture this year. Where did it come from? More importantly, how do you spot it? And when you do, what do you do about it?

The word dates back to a 1938 play, Gas Light, which later was adapted into an Oscar-winning 1944 film, Gaslight. Both the play and film’s plot follows a husband trying to convince his wife she has gone crazy. Sound familiar?

In 2022, gaslighting is not only referred to in relationships, but also in marginalized communities, politics, media and entertainment. However, sometimes it gets confused with someone trying to influence you or change your thoughts. But really, gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which someone attempts to spread self-doubt and confusion in another’s mind. Hence, why gaslighting in relationships can really affect someone’s mental health. 

It’s important to know some signs and what to do when you are in this situation. Typically, gaslighters are seeking to gain power and control over another by distorting reality and forcing them to question their own judgment and intuition. Gaslighting in a relationship may look like someone shifting blame by twisting what really occurred to minimize their abusive behavior. 

Gaslighting can leave you feeling continually self-conscious, as well as stressed, confused, and insecure about your abilities and about your own choices. If you’re feeling this way, remind yourself you’re not at fault for what’s going on. Talk to others about what’s going on to validate your experience. Building trust within yourself is another way to fend off a gaslighter.

“When someone is trying to gaslight you, I perceive that as more of a reflection of them, and not you,” Brittany King, LPC says. “If/when you feel this is happening it’s important, but difficult to remember your boundaries, your coping skills and your personal growth rather than what the other person is trying to project onto you.”

While we hear gaslighting all the time, in trendy TV shows, through the media and in other parts of our lives, it’s important to understand its true definition and how this word can be affecting you and your relationships with others.


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