Gaslighting in the spotlight: the popularity of gaslighting, and how to distinguish it from invalidation and healthy disagreement

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This is our second piece in our series on gaslighting. If you haven’t read our first piece yet, we recommend you start there. In this post, we help you to tell the difference between gaslighting, invalidation, and healthy disagreement, and give a brief overview of the popularity of gaslighting in the public consciousness.

How can I tell the difference between gaslighting, invalidation, and healthy disagreements?

Gaslighting is different from “merely” invalidating your feelings, and both these concepts are very different from having a healthy disagreement with someone. [1] Here are just some of the differences:

Gaslighting versus healthy disagreements

Someone who is gaslighting you often… Someone who is invalidating you without gaslighting you… Someone who is healthily expressing disagreement with you often…
🚩…wants to make you think that you don’t have a firm grip on reality.
...wants to express their disagreement and will negate your point of view (p.o.v.) to do so.
✅…wants to express their honest disagreement.
🚩…disregards, disrespects, or questions the validity of what you say or think.
...wants to listen to you but gets caught up in defending their own p.o.v.
✅…respects your point of view and listens actively to what you have to say.
🚩…links the disagreement with flaws or inadequacies that they claim to see in you.
...may use abusive tactics like generalising and name-calling in the argument.
✅…does not make generalisations about your character based on your disagreement.
🚩…wants you to see them as the only trustworthy source of information in the conversation.
✅…wants to use accurate information to discuss the disagreement together.
✅…wants to use accurate information to discuss the disagreement together.
🚩…lies to you.
✅…remains honest.
✅…remains honest.
🚩…may have more power in the conversation than you have (or will try to gain power if they don’t have it).
✅…may or may not have more power than you have, but they won’t actively abuse it.
✅…may or may not have more power than you have, but they won’t actively abuse it.
🚩…purposely upsets you (as long as it helps them to manipulate you).
✅…might sometimes unintentionally upset you.
✅…might sometimes unintentionally upset you.
🚩…see you as fundamentally flawed (or at least make you think that they see you in that way).
...may generalise or use name-calling in an argument, even though they wouldn’t do so usually.
✅…does not make unfounded assumptions about you.
🚩…does not have your best interest in mind.
...has your best interest in mind, but may lose sight of this in an argument.
✅…has your best interest in mind.

Gaslighting in the spotlight: from movies to psychiatry papers, how did society become aware of gaslighting?

The original Gas Light play inspired some films in the 1940s (one of which became pretty famous). But it was not until the 1960s, starting with a 1961 book by Anthony Wallace, the term began to be used as a verb. It later appeared in the psychiatric literature: two psychiatrists published a case series called “The Gas-Light Phenomenon” in The Lancet in 1969.


But it’s only been relatively recently that the term has skyrocketed in popularity. Donald Trump’s rise to prominence is often credited with increasing public awareness of the phenomenon. Gaslighting was named the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year in the “Most Useful/Likely to Succeed” category in 2016. Later, Merriam-Webster named it as their “Word of the Year” for 2022. 


Recently, the YouTube channel Cinema Therapy has deconstructed the behaviours of the mother character in the 2010 Disney blockbuster, Tangled. There are numerous examples of “Mother Gothel” gaslighting Rapunzel. She repeatedly tells blatant lies to Rapunzel, prevents Rapunzel from getting access to information that would allow her to see those lies, and consistently belittles her, thereby encouraging Rapunzel to see her mother as her only reliable source of information about the world (i.e., encouraging her not to trust her own judgement). In this way, she presents a clear example of a gaslighter.

You are not alone.

With time and support, you can regain control of your reality and free yourself of the harmful effects of gaslighting. And our therapists at are here to help you every step of the way. Find a licensed professional who is a perfect fit and book your next appointment with us.

Resources Box

Stern, R. (2022.) When It’s Gaslighting, and When It Really Isn’t. 18 June, 2022, available from: <>.