Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Gaslighting, beyond “word of the year” December 1, 2022

Words like strong, beautiful, hopeful and more are incorporated into “Love Remains,” a memorial mosaic honoring Barb Larson. The Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism employee was shot to death by her ex-husband on December 23, 2016, at her workplace. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

IN MY FOURTH EDITION hard cover copy of Webster’s New World College Dictionary published in 2000 and shelved on my office desk, you won’t find the word gaslighting. But today, gaslighting has been chosen as the 2022 word of the year by Merriam-Webster, America’s oldest dictionary publisher.

In many ways, I’m not surprised by the choice given the widespread manipulative use of language in today’s world. Gaslighting is exactly that, “the art or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for one’s own advantage.”

Merriam-Webster reports a 1,740 percent spike in searches for the word gaslighting in 2022. Again, this doesn’t surprise me in today’s political climate, especially.

Yet, the term gaslighting is nothing new in the context of domestic abuse and violence. That tactic is often used by abusers to manipulate and control. The word traces to the 1944 film, “Gaslight,” (or the 1938 play, “Gas Light”) a psychological thriller in which the husband convinces his wife that the noises she hears, the dimming of gaslights and more are in her head and not real. His gaslighting is full-blown emotional and psychological abuse.

Information shared at a public forum following Barb Larson’s murder. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

The reality is that abusers use gaslighting to effectively flame doubt in their partners, who begin to question themselves, their thoughts, actions and feelings. Confusion, anxiety, self-doubt, isolation, depression, hopelessness and so much more can flare. And in the end, the abuser gets exactly what he/she planned—power and control.

So, when I hear or read the word gaslighting, I think of domestic abuse and violence, of all those individuals being emotionally and psychologically abused by partners. I think of the put downs, the false narratives, the twisting of reality, the lies, the excuses…

Reasons she stays, from page 18 of the book, “She Stays” by HOPE Center (Faribault) Director Erica Staab. Advocates like Staab bring hope and help. (Text copyright of Erica Staab)

My 20-year-old dictionary may not include gaslighting. But it does include the word advocate, defined in 2000 as “a person who pleads another’s cause.” For those gaslighted and otherwise abused, advocates are available to listen, to support, to help. To advocate. That singular word brings hope. Gaslighting may be the 2022 word of the year. But hope remains. Always.

FYI: If you are in an abusive relationship, please seek help. A good starting place is the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which provides information and resources. Or, if your community has a center focused on domestic abuse and violence, reach out locally. If you know someone in an abusive relationship, listen, support, encourage and advocate. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


7 Responses to “Gaslighting, beyond “word of the year””

  1. “She Stays” is such a powerful piece. This subject is a real danger. Thank you for posting. More Awareness is needed.

  2. Valerie Says:

    I like how you brought hope into this post on the word gaslighting.

  3. Again, I am so encouraged to see that you are not shy to address these very hard issues, Audrey. The Chicks released their song “Gaslighter” and I think it resonated with so many of us who have suffered from abusing partners. It gives me hope that these issues are now talked about openly, adding words to our language to describe how we actually feel or communicate the feelings of isolation helps all of us to better understand these situations, relate, and reach out with understanding and hope!
    Audrey- thanks for your journalistic talent!

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