'Gaslighting' Is the Word of the Year. How to Spot Its Common Signs

A photo of a Wikipedia page of Gaslighting

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Key Takeaways

  • “Gaslighting” is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year, with searches for the word increasing by 1,740% during 2022.
  • Gaslighting can arise in different contexts, but it's common in romantic relationships, family dynamics, and in medical settings.
  • It’s important to learn how to spot the signs of gaslighting so you can feel empowered to speak up and remove yourself from the relationship or situation if necessary.

Nowadays, it’s difficult to go a day without hearing the term “gaslighting” in a conversation, noticing it in a television show, or reading it in an article.

It’s no surprise, then, that “gaslighting” is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2022. Searches for the word on its website increased 1,740% during the year—a phenomenon that was not driven by any one specific event but rather the general times we live in.

Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor at large, told The Associated Press that the word was looked up frequently every day of the year. 

So what exactly is gaslighting? And how can you spot the manipulation tactic in your own life?

According to Stephanie Robilio, LCSW, clinical director at Agape Treatment Center, there are many different types of gaslighting, but it generally refers to a form of manipulation in which someone attempts to create self-doubt and confusion in the other person.

“It’s a way to try and control and gain power over the other person by making them question their own intentions and motives,” Robilio told Verywell.

This type of manipulation can arise in many scenarios and may not be obvious. Here are some examples in romantic relationships, families, and medical settings to help identify if you’re being gaslit.

Gaslighting in Romantic Relationships

There are many ways people use gaslighting to control their partner in romantic relationships, Robilio said. Some of the most common forms include minimizing or making fun of their partner’s feelings, discounting their achievements, withholding important information from them, insisting they said or did something they didn’t do, or calling them “too sensitive.” 

Someone might say “you’re overreacting” or “you can’t take a joke” to invalidate their partner's feelings, Robilio added. They might also twist information in a way that shifts blame away from them and onto the other person.

People engaging in abusive behavior might also deny the abuse when confronted, which Robilio said is another common form of gaslighting and often makes it challenging for survivors of abuse to leave these relationships.

Bertrina Olivia West Al-Mahdi, PhD, a psychologist and licensed professional counselor who goes by Dr. O, said another common example of gaslighting in relationships is when a partner cheats but somehow makes the other person believe they’re to blame for the infidelity.

Ultimately, Dr. O said gaslighting in relationships typically involves one individual making the other question themselves in some way, whether it be their own experiences, thoughts, or feelings. 

Gaslighting in Families

Sometimes, as people get older and begin to process their traumatic experiences from childhood, parents or caregivers might deny or dismiss the person’s experience if confronted. Robilio said this is a common and painful form of gaslighting and a family member might say something like “I never said that.”

“[This] is typically a way to make the other person question their own reality and memory,” Robilio said.

She said gaslighting is also seen in families where one person can blame another member for something they didn’t do.

Dr. O added that family members might also call someone “crazy” or “dramatic” to make “the person feel little or invalidated for standing up for themselves when they feel violated.”

Gaslighting in Medical Settings

The term “medical gaslighting” has become increasingly popular. It refers to when a medical provider dismisses a patient’s concerns about their health or minimizes the symptoms they’re reporting, Robilio explained.

It’s a form of gaslighting if a healthcare provider tells patients that their symptoms are all in their head, refuses to take time to discuss their symptoms and underlying causes, rushes through an appointment, or questions if they’re being truthful about their medical history.

“Some examples of gaslighting from a medical professional would be ignoring or downplaying the person’s concerns,” Dr. O said. “Making the patient feel like they don’t know what they are talking about regarding their health complaints or condition, belittling or ignoring the patient’s complaints.”

Medical gaslighting can also look like blaming someone’s symptoms on their mental health or weight, and it can lead to dangerous misdiagnoses and oversights.

Women, and especially women of color, have spoken out about their experiences with medical gaslighting, and research showed they’re more likely to experience delayed wait times for diagnoses of serious issues such as cancer and heart disease.

Many long COVID patients have also reportedly faced medical gaslighting in their search for care, according to research. Respondents to one survey described encountering medical professionals who dismissed their experiences, leading to lengthy diagnostic journeys and a lack of treatment options.

What Can You Do About Gaslighting?

If you become aware that you’re being gaslit, Robilio said it’s important to find a way to reclaim your power and respond to the person or situation without reacting impulsively.

Some helpful practices include making time for self-care since gaslighting can make you feel exhausted and drained, identifying what boundaries you need to set to protect your inner peace, and doing your best to remain confident in your feelings despite being told you’re wrong.

“Don’t take it personal,” she said. “Understand that gaslighting is a symptom of someone who is not well. This doesn’t excuse their behavior. However, knowing this can be supportive in terms of not taking it personal.”

You should also ask for support from people in your circle, she said, and it’s wise to seek professional help if you’re not able to handle the situation on your own or if you need support processing the distress it has caused you.

“Educate yourself on gaslighting so you can better understand it and recognize the warning signs quickly to avoid any further harm caused to you,” Robilio added.

Dr. O added that sometimes if people aren’t willing to take responsibility for their behavior and work to improve, the best way to protect yourself is to remove yourself from the situation or relationship that is causing you harm.

What This Means For You

It’s important to understand how gaslighting works so you can identify it in your own life and relationships. Knowing the signs can help you protect yourself and decide when to remove yourself from a toxic situation.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Mira Miller
Mira Miller is a freelance writer specializing in mental health, women's health, and culture.