The other night, the movie, “Gaslight” was on television, so we settled in to watch it. The term, “Gaslighting” got its name from this 1944 movie that starred Ingrid Bergman. (Actually, it was first a play performed in 1938.) In the movie, the husband of the main character begins to dim the gaslights and when the wife notices and speaks about it, he tells her that he doesn’t see this happening. In the movie, the wife becomes increasingly anxious, insecure, and starts to have problems with her memory. Over time, the husband methodically manipulates her into thinking she is going insane. He does this to distract her away from his crimes.
Gaslighting isn’t just an advertising strategy, or a harmless attempt to persuade others to change their opinions about something. It is emotional abuse, and it has become commonplace in today’s society. This behavior is used so often by politicians, employers, advertisers, that this form of emotional abuse is beginning to become the norm.
Definition of Gaslighting: When someone tries to convince you that what you are experiencing isn’t real or true; to manipulate someone by systemic psychological means into questioning their own sanity. It involves seduction, deception, isolation, bullying and rejecting
The characteristics of Gaslighting:
- The manipulation usually starts in stages and it’s not easy to pick up at first.
For example, an employee begins getting the wrong times, days, places for meetings from the gaslighter, or is left out on group emails, memos, etc.. At first, the person may chalk this up to her own negligence, a fluke, an odd occurrence.
2. If you start to question what is happening, talk about how you are feeling, or ask for feedback, then you will likely be criticized. Any show of self determination from the victim will be devalued.
Some of the criticisms are likely to be: “You’re so sensitive, paranoid, stressed out, angry, you have difficulty making decisions, etc..”
3. If the victim talks about having a problem, the perpetrator will often use her “having a problem” as evidence of her “being a problem”.
At this point, the victim will sometimes try harder at making the relationship, the job, etc.. work.
The victim’s focus begins to narrow and tighten, so even if they weren’t stressed out before, they become increasingly so.
4. The Gaslighter continues to systematically criticize, and implement more and more obstacles, to increase the victim’s distress. The victim experiences a level of unpredictability, uncertainty, and an increasing feeling of hypervigilence.
The victim begins to second guess herself,
5. The victim becomes increasingly isolated as she begins to doubt herself, and continues to focus on trying to be better, more punctual, nurturing, etc.. She will use all her energy to defend against what is happening, and feel as though she is continually “walking on eggshells”.
By now, the “gaslighter” frequently points out, often in front of others, their “concern” for the victim. Gaslighting can occur in such a way as to convince others to think negative, false information about a person who is being targeted.
6. The gaslighter begins to talk openly about how they have become worried about your health, stress level, weakness, and begin to share this concern with others.
7. The victim often becomes depressed as a result of the continued gaslighting which includes the isolation, self doubt, continued striving to do better. She will realize that anything she says or does now can and will be used against her.
The victim often feels alone in their opinions, and will feel that they can’t rely on others and can’t trust their own instincts anymore.
Gaslighting decreases and can destroy your self esteem.
Why would someone do this to another person?
Actually, there are varied reasons. One reason is feeling threatened by the victim in some way. Perhaps she is better at her job. Maybe she has information or knowledge that the gaslighter fears others will learn. Sometimes the perpetrator seeks to gain dominance, control or may seek to distract her and others from some of their own behaviors (an example would be having an affair or committing a crime). The gaslighter needs for the victim to believe they are right.
The gaslighter is often initially very charming and seductive. They can be fun, have great energy, and show great interest in the relationship with the victim. However, this is a honeymoon stage and it is really just a lot of smoke and mirrors. Behind this attention, the gaslighter is sizing up the victim’s strengths and weaknesses. The perpetrator may be doing this consciously at this point, or may not even be aware of their own pattern of seduction and devaluation.
Who are the victims?
According to Hilde Lindemann (philosophy professor and bioethicisit), “The victim’s ability to resist the manipulation depends on “her ability to trust her own judgments”.
This is in no way to say that if you are experiencing this type of emotional abuse that it is due to something you are lacking. In fact, you may have been targeted as a result of your doing a better job than others, or having gotten information that someone doesn’t want others to find out about themselves. You may be the target because of the threat you pose to the perpetrator. The threat may just be that your knowledge, job performance, relationship with them forces them to look at a part of themselves that they will do anything to avoid dealing with.
The first thing to do is to begin to recognize and name the abuse. Many people begin to keep track of incidents, responses, etc.. first as a way to try and figure out what is going on for themselves, and then to keep notes – names, dates, who said what, in order to begin to take back their own power.
You can begin to feel more confident and end this type of abuse. Often, you will need some type of outside assistance; a trusted friend(s), counselor, support group, who can help you discover what is really going on. Educate yourself about narcissistic abuse. The fact that you have come out of this system of abuse is a testament to your strength.
People can be really resilient. Your spirit can be renewed. The tremendous strength you used to survive is free to be used toward creating a new fulfilling life for yourself.