" They're out to take away your sanity"
The term “gaslighting” has become increasingly ubiquitous in popular media, from self-help literature to political analysis (Carpenter, 2018; Sarkis, 2018; Stern, 2018). It is also beginning to gain traction in the medical and mental health establishment. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now includes gaslighting under its definition of psychological aggression (Breiding, Basile, Smith, Black, & Mahendra, 2015). However, empirical research on this topic lags behind popular discourse. There is desperate need for definition clarity and empirical evidence of this uniquely epistemic form of harm, otherwise the term gaslighting runs the risk of becoming vague, diffuse, and almost meaninglessness. Gaslighting in intimate partner violence (IPV) is the original and paradigmatic case of gaslighting (Cukor, 1944; Hamilton, 2015). A small handful of recent studies have investigated gaslighting in this context, and more general psychological abuse literature has hinted at it by other names (e.g. Bhatti et al., 2021; Ferraro, 2006; Sweet, 2019; Tolman, 1992). However, the present study represents the first systematic, empirical, psychological investigation of gaslighting in IPV. Study aims were to illuminate the tactics, effects, and long-term implications of gaslighting in IPV, as well as ecological factors that may influence survivor experiences. Fifteen IPV survivors were interviewed about their gaslighting experiences, and data were analyzed using qualitative descriptive methods. Three clusters of findings emerged: Survivors described (1) the gaslighting process, (2) their long-term responses to gaslighting, and (3) the influence of ecological factors on self-trust. This study represents a substantial advancement in the literature on gaslighting in IPV, demonstrating the validity of a new two-part model of gaslighting, describing survivors’ subjective experiences of self-doubt, and illuminating how gaslighting fits into broader patterns of power and control in IPV. It also provides the first account of what survivor resistance to gaslighting might look like, and how other factors in survivors’ lives may hinder or promote resistance. Implications for research and practice are discussed in the context of study limitations.