Gaslighting 101: How to Turn People's Own Thoughts Against Them

How to Turn People's Own Thoughts Against Them

This is evil and it destroys people. Let's just get that out of the way. Nonetheless, suppose you need to make someone distrust their own memory and perception of reality. Suppose you want someone to believe in you more than they believe in themselves.

Regardless of your malicious motive, the tool you're looking for is an insidious form of deception known as "gaslighting."

So, What Is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is basically "crazy making." It's most often used by sociopaths, cult leaders, lawyers, and bad boyfriends. The goal is to convince a person that they're insane and that none of their memories or beliefs are reliable. By destroying their trust in themselves, you make them totally dependent on you and essentially design their understanding of what's real.

I told you this was evil.

The psychological term originated with the play Angel Street and its subsequent Gaslight films, in which a husband attempts to convince his wife she is crazy by manipulating small elements of her environment.

Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman in the 1944 adaption of Gaslight. Image via MGM

And this was all just so he could get the jewels he failed to steal the first time. I won't spoil it for you, but you should really watch one of the film versions.

Step 1: Create an Addict

Calling people crazy will only leave you lonely, that is, unless those people are literally addicted to you.

When we excite someone we alter the chemical makeup of their brain by triggering the release of endorphins and dopamine. Using the same chemicals that provide heroin users with their high, a gaslighter hooks their victim before the manipulation phase. This is one reason why gaslighting is commonly used in romantic relationships.

Personally, when I think of a charming manipulator, I think of Hannibal Lecter. He's a terrible person, but from the minute he starts talking you're rooting for him. His charm, his intellect, his poise, everything about his personality is addictive.

Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Image via Orion Pictures

Step 2: Remember Every Mistake

We all misunderstand things, but that doesn't mean we misunderstand everything. A gaslighter, however, is sure to remember every mistake and misinterpretation their victim makes in order to later delegitimize their victim's ability to make a decision.

"Remember the last time you tried to do this..."

Eventually, the victim begins to see how often they are wrong and will turn to the gaslighter for solutions to their problems.

The biggest gaslighted victim of them all, Mia Farrow, in Rosemary's Baby (1968). Image via Paramount Pictures

Step 3: Act Like You Don't Understand

The gaslighter is the master logician and everyone else is wrong. When a victim makes an argument, the gaslighter will either dismiss it as illogical, unreasonable, blown out of proportion, or flat-out unreal.

Spock, the ultimate gaslighter. Image via Paramount Television

The gaslighter later reveals the "correct" answer and presents it as "simple reasoning." Over time, this slowly dismantles the victim's trust in their own ability to reason.

Step 4: Selective Forgetting

Try telling someone that they didn't do something that they actually did. "I don't remember you doing that." If you're insistent enough and the event is small enough, like flushing the toilet or turning off the lights, you will see how easy it is to manipulate someone's memory. After repeated exposure, they'll begin to question the reliability of their own memory.

Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island (2010). Image via Paramount Pictures

Remember how weird you felt at the end of Shutter Island? Well, before Leo's character lost his mind, Martin Scorsese sprinkled subtle events into scenes that left us unsure of our own recollection of events. He gaslighted us.

You could also go the other way with this technique, by telling someone that they did do something that they actually didn't.

Step 5: Trivialize Their Concerns

Gaslighting drains its victims, leaving them depressed and insecure. They will begin to voice their concerns, at which time the gaslighter dismisses them as overly emotional and, of course, illogical.

Michael Douglas defeated in The Game (1997). Image via PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

Gaslighters convince their victims not to trust their feelings and instincts, and instead rely on the gaslighter as a source of reason.

There you have it. While this isn't a comprehensive guide (you won't believe how many techniques there are), it's enough to get you started. And while most of these tips use verbal communication against them, there are trickier ways to gaslight (think Amelie and the grocer).

While you probably won't be able to gaslight correctly on your first try, practice makes perfect. Mindfucking ain't easy, but it's definitely not impossible (nor entirely recommended).

Cover image via Paramount Pictures

12 Comments

Jeez...that's scary...But its still cool! I'll try to do this to someone someday when she/he doesn't believes on me...And them I will get an entry card to the Decepticons. Ha!

A day after a man goes on a misogynist fueled murder spree Wonder How To posts an article on how to abuse someone in one of the most sinister and damaging ways possible? This is fucking outrageous.

.... Kind of completely unrelated.

Gaslighting can be perpetrated by anyone from kids to elderly not forgetting women. Also, the best way to protect yourself against it is to be aware of it. Only stupid and vulnerable people think like you just argued.

"Know yourself and Know your enemies, 100 battles 100 victories" by Sun Tsu

Super curious,

what about it makes it one of the most sinister and damaging ways possible to abuse someone? Is there a source you can cite to back up that claim, cause off the top of my head I'd be inclined to rattle off

1, the abuse of a child, sexually or physically
2, having to fight in a war and watching people get killed in front of you everyday like its a job

  1. being forced to take part in or to survive genocide

Those are just 3 quick ones that get my vote in far surpassing gas lighting as sinister and damaging.

And if by chance there is some correlation of this article in regards to the situation you referenced I would likely guess it because perhaps the topic of gas lighting was relevant to that situation and not everyone instantly understands what the term actually means. wonderhowto simply explained it in a way that is relevant to what the sites about. How to do something...actually a clever and poignant way to touch on a subject recently in the news . fucking outrageous? Not so much... fucking well played? no doubt!

Ive seen first hand since i was born what gaslighting is and can do. My dad being the victim and my mom the Black Widow (My term). However, none of this hit me completely until about 6 months ago when I became the target and everything just clicked and ill tell you this, My dad was a wealthy hard working man all my youth. He owned a few homes and my mom had nothing, anyways now if you look at my dad you would think hes been through hell. Believe me, the last 6 months of my life i would trade to survive a war anyday. My dad owns not a damn thing now since she took it all in her divorce...however the nice house we have she had no choice but to get me as a cosigner on a refianace a while back and thats why my dad is still here and thats why im a target now cuz the black widow can suck this can of fucking RAID. Last edit but i really wanted to answer your question. My sister is also her minion shes pretty much taken one of my shitty cars and idk where she is or where it is and my dads be gaslighted to the point he thinks the divorce he deserved and the 2 bitches can do no wrong. cops called on me 6 or 7 times at my own house all kinds of shit. HELL my friend. HELL

Shit, i just discovered that i actually i'm a psycopath.

I have been using most of these advices and i can think of more of these tricks. I used them mostly to get out of trouble with my parents, but damn what a hard way to learn about yourself.

Ha! My thoughts exactly. I'm pretty sure I used to do this to my younger brother, unintentionally, of course. Step # 3 is still something I do all the time, but that's just because I like arguing.

First of all no, little kids and the elderly do not gaslight! They are pure of heart. Second of all, don't be so nieve, know your surrounding, know who your dealing with and if you have the slightest inkling that you are being "gaslighted" do it back! People who are too busy on the offense don't feel that they need to be on the defense. Beat at them at their own game and that right there will take care of that problem.

Oh then once you've taken care of this... Leave them! They are only insecure crazy people who can't take care of themselves, you are better off without that bullshit!!!

Do you let your gaslighter know that you know they are doing it

I know my partner is gaslighting me and I know it's attentional and I know he knows what hes doing but he doesn't know what gaslighting is and he doesn't realize that it all comes together like it does

want him to see it all on paper in front of him

So he knows what I'm talking about that I understand because if I ever tried to talk to him about it he would shut me down

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