“Gaslighting” Is Merriam-Webster’s Word Of The Year 2022

Last Updated: December 12, 2022, 15:09 IST

Disregarding the victim’s feelings and perceptions that run opposite the gaslighter’s as invalid. (Image: Shutterstock)

With more people recognising that there is a term for what they are going through, they can be empowered to call out such behaviour.

Following Collins’ “permacrisis” and Oxford’s “goblin mode”, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary has released its Word of the Year for 2022. The US-based company’s pick, “gaslighting”, saw a 1,740% increase in searches. The term, popularised by a 20th-century play, is used to describe misleading and manipulative behaviour in multiple scenarios, from personal relationships to politics to medical practice. Public interest in the meaning of the word remained high throughout the year, making a break from the previous trend of lookups of a term increasing due to some seismic event.

Merriam-Webster, in a statement on its website, said that the term was defined as “psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories.” However, over the years, the purview of the term has been broadened to “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for one’s own advantage.” The word is derived from the title of a 1938 British stage play, Gas Light, subsequently produced as a film in both the UK and the US.

These works of art depicted a few fundamental techniques that comprise gaslighting someone. According to Britannica Encyclopaedia, these included:

  • Persuading the victim that something absurd and intuitively false is true by presenting superficial evidence for it and forcefully insisting on it.
  • Openly denying saying or doing something that one has clearly said or done.
  • Disregarding the victim’s feelings and perceptions that run opposite the gaslighter’s as invalid.
  • Creating doubts about the knowledge and challenging the motives of persons who dispute the viewpoint of the abuser.
    Slowly isolating the victim from independent sources of information and validation.
  • Influencing the physical environment such that the victim doubts the truth of their memories or perception.
  • According to Vogue, research suggests that gaslighting is most commonly used as a form of emotional abuse by men in heterosexual towards women. Being gaslighted can have severe mental health impacts, such as lowered self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and disorientation.

People undergoing gaslighting can gain some reassurance that their experience is common and not their fault. It can offer women, the most common group victimised by gaslighting, a chance to understand their situation and nuances of the power dynamics in their relationships better.

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