Gaslighting – A Little Known Form of Abuse
By Sierra Koester
Imagine that one day your spouse whom you grown to love and trust begins telling you things that never really happened. For instance, he says that last week he told you he was going to go to the bar with his buddies this Monday night, but you never remember him telling you that. Or perhaps he gets angry because you didn’t pay the electric bill. Now you’ve incurred a late charge. When you remind him that he takes care of the bills, he snaps that he told you to take care of the electric bill a few days ago because he was too busy. However, you know he never asked you to do so.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse or brainwashing where one individual attempts to get another individual to believe she is “crazy”. This is most often done through the denial of facts, events, or what one did or did not say. The gaslighter might also directly or indirectly imply that the individual is defective, crazy, or suffers from a mental illness.
For instance, a husband who tells his wife that she suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder when she becomes frustrated because she is consistently being told that things that were said or done didn’t happen, is gaslighting his wife. Likewise, when a wife tells her husband that he is paranoid because he confronts her about spending large sums of money without telling him where the money is going would be a case in which a wife is gaslighting her husband.
The term gaslighting was coined in the 1940 and 1944 remake of the movie Gaslight. In this movie the main character is made to believe she is crazy and imagining things by her husband so that he could gain access to her finances. He repeatedly lights a gas lamp in one part of the house, causing the other lamps in the house to become dimmer. When the main character in the movie confronts her husband about this, he repeatedly tells her that she is imagining things and that the lamps are not, in fact, dimmer.
When this technique is used on someone, he or she may initially become frustrated that one is being told his or her memory or perceptions do not match reality. However, after a while, the individual beings to believe the gaslighter. He or she may start to believe that he or she is imagining things, has some kind of mental illness, or has a faulty memory. When one doubts his or her perceptions of reality, the gaslighter is able to control that person; he or she becomes completely dependent on the gaslighter for the “truth”.
Gaslighting can be found in more recent media portrayals as well. Soap operas may contain portrayals of this type of emotional abuse. In the movie, Amelie released in 2001 one of the characters takes on gaslighting her local grocer because he mistreated a mentally retarded assistant.
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that gets one to doubt his or her perceptions of reality. If you think you are the victim of gaslighting please seek professional assistance.
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