Psychoanalysis as Gaslighting

Julie Reshe

October 26, 2022

‘Gaslighting’ is a psychological term that originated from the 1938 play Gas Light. In its initial definition, gaslighting is a manipulation into doubting one’s perceptions, experiences, or understanding of events.[i] Gaslighters impose their own or fake reality, convincing a victim that they are mentally unfit or delusional. Intentionally or unintentionally, they make victims question their views and progressively make them depend on a gaslighter as a source of reason. As a result, victims adopt and operate within the gaslighter's modified version of reality and develop an inability to conceive a world other than the one the gaslighter imposes on them.

In recent years the term ‘gaslighting’ has been ubiquitously misused, labelling an increasing range of behaviors we simply dislike. One can say that using the term gaslighting has itself turned into a gaslighting practice. Whenever any latent clash in the perception of reality causes slight discomfort or misunderstanding in communication, or whenever someone ventures to question our perception of reality and instead insists on her own perception — viola, a new gaslighter is detected. As fixing this problem seems impossible, the term seems to become entirely detached from the limits of its original definition and now has a life of its own, I would rather further ‘misuse’ it to my advantage (or disadvantage). I will start ‘misusing’ it by first analyzing through its lens the psychotherapeutic industry as a whole, preliminary classifying psychoanalysis as a consistent and unproblematic part of it. And later, I will examine how psychoanalysis can be differentiated from the psychotherapeutic whole.

Well, the very mission of the psychotherapeutic industry — all the psychiatrists, psychologists, and counsellors — is to question their patients' reality and determine whether they are mentally unfit. The framework of a professional setting puts therapists into a position where their own lens of reality (or the lens of their professional knowledge that they act on behalf of) is not questioned. The reality of the therapist is, by default, the ‘real’ reality, while the reality of the patient is the reality in question. It’s not necessarily that psychotherapists are more normal and mentally healthier than other people. It is well known that they suffer from depression and anxiety even more than their patients.[ii] Rather the framework of their profession, so we believe, acts as a safety net against the insanity of the rest of the world, including their own insanity. Furthermore, the term ‘gaslighting’ belongs to psychology. Psychologists are in a privileged position since, in the end, it is up to them to define what is gaslighting and what is not. They are better protected than the rest of us from the danger of this term being used against them.

While structurally gaslighting can be easily detected here, this is not so much to imply that psychotherapists are manipulative villains imposing their interpretation of reality under the pretext of it being professional. Maybe this is true in some ways, but it is also true that psychotherapists are under pressure to act as gaslighters, that is, to pretend to be sane, to know, and to impose their knowledge (maybe this is one of the reasons why they get so depressed). Booking an appointment with a psychotherapist is a demand to be gaslighted, if you are not gaslighted well enough, you qualify for a refund. This is also not to blame the high demand for psychotherapeutic gaslighting. Each one’s head is a mess, any point of even illusionary stability outside of it is a blessing.

Criticism of the psychotherapeutic industry from both conservative and progressive standpoints can roughly be summed up as either an accusation of gaslighting or of ​​the facilitation of gaslighting. In other words, the psychotherapeutic industry is critically considered to be trapping us within its harmful version of reality or is believed to collaborate in a more extensive than itself deception of society.