What is “Gaslighting" (DW# 783)
Jun 24, 2020
Yesterday we started talking about a situation where you experience a major break of trust, hurt or betrayal from a trusted loved one or colleague and instead of apologizing, they actually deny any wrong doing on their part. And then they turn the blame on you by suggesting that the problem is in your head and not in their behaviour.
The psychological term for this is "Gaslighting".
The word Gaslighting comes from Gaslight, the 1944 Oscar winning film starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. In the story, a husband (Boyer) tries to convince his new wife (Bergman) that she’s imagining things, in particular the occasional dimming of their home’s gas lights. (He was dimming the gaslights as part of his plan to rob her of some very valuable jewelry.) Over time, the wife, who trusts that her husband loves her and would never hurt her, believes his lies and starts to question her own perception of reality. What is so disturbing about this story is that there was clear and premeditated intent here to drive her over the edge.
Although the plot, setting and story of the movie may seem quite outdated in the 21st century, the concept of "Gaslighting" itself is well accepted by psychology experts today.
Gaslighting happens when a person who has betrayed or lied to you insists that the problem is your perception of reality. That you are imagining things. Because the perpetrator tends to be a trusted loved one, victims of gaslighting begin to question their own perceptions, reality and sense of self.
At its worst, gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse. And it can be a tactic used by abusers to control their partner by making the other person question and doubt their own sanity and look crazy. When the victim begins to look and in time feel, crazy, the gaslighter manipulates the partner for their own personal benefit. Gaslighting in such a situation is one of the tools used by the abuser to intentionally control, manipulate and coerce the victim.
Not all forms of dismissing or discounting of the hurt person’s reality have such malignant intent, however. Rather than focusing on getting the victim to question their own sanity, it could well be that the person who has betrayed is simply focused on saving themselves from getting caught or facing accountability for their actions.
Having said that, it is still essential for the victim of gaslighting to recognize it and take immediate steps to preserve their own sanity.
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