The term gaslighting comes from the 1938 play by Patrick Hamiltion, known in America as “Angel Street.” It was later developed into the film “Gas Light” by Alfred Hitchcock.
In the suspense film, a manipulative husband tries to make his wife think she is losing her mind by making subtle changes in her environment, including slowly and steadily dimming the flame on a gas lamp. Not only does he disrupt her environment and make her believe she is insane, but he also abuses and controls her, cutting her off from family and friends. Because this film was an accurate portrayal of the controlling and toxic actions that manipulative people use, psychologists began to label this type of emotionally abusive behavior “gaslighting.”
Over the years I would hear this word, but never thought much about how it would work in my own life. Or maybe I just didn’t want to understand how it would work in my own life. I’ve seen it happen to loved ones and recently, two people tried to gaslight me. One, from someone I fully expect it from and the other caught me totally off guard.
People who gaslight, are habitual and pathological liars – there is no “truth.” They will blatantly lie to your face and never back down or change their stories. They find a way to claim (and sometimes convince you) that you’re wrong. You start apologizing just to keep the peace. It’s a horrible way to interact. These people minimize your thoughts, they blame, they discredit you and interestingly enough … they often use compassionate words as weapons.
I have no idea who is reading my blog posts. But if you are being gaslighted or if this resonates for you, remember that you are not to blame for what you’re experiencing. The person gaslighting you is making a choice to behave this way. Nothing you did caused them to make this choice and you won’t be able to change what they’re doing. This is key. It almost never stops until you pull yourself away from the situation or relationship.
In Gas Light, the wife, realized that her husband has been manipulating her and turns the tables on him. In the final scene, he has been tied to a chair by police. When she enters the room, he instructs her to get a knife and cut him loose. But she turns the tables on him and gaslights him back by pretending that she is too mentally ill — a reality that he has constructed for her — to carry out his instructions. Love this vindication!
To the most recent person who is gaslighting me: I don’t care. As I’ve gotten a bit wiser (bit is the operative word here!), I realize that healthy interactions are literally the most important part of life (other than food, water, a long outdoor swim and chocolate). So, I’m not stepping in (she says with a smile 🙂 ). I’m too busy walking my dog, being a mom and friend, and practicing law.