“Gaslight” is a movie which was released in 1944, the story of the systematic, gradual psychological manipulation of a wife by her husband to cover a murder the husband had committed. One of his many techniques was to dim the gas lights in the house, yet insisting to his wife that the footsteps she heard and dimmed lights were her imagination. The popularity of the film has led to the term “gaslighting” becoming a colloquial term and clinical definition of this sort of psychological abuse.
Gaslighting is recognized as a mind game which, over time, undermines the victim’s self-confidence and self-perception. The abuser intentionally focuses on altering or destroying your perception of reality in order for the abuser to gain power.
The abuser lies and deceives to keep you off-balance so that you no longer know what to believe, what is true. He or she deliberately uses actions and words to convince you that you are losing hold on reality. These techniques have been used by intelligence agencies for decades in psychological warfare and are very effective.
This form of psychological manipulation includes:
- Questioning your memory, denying that what happened really happened.
- Accusing you of fabricating stories.
- Changing the subject in a conversation and invalidating your concerns or ideas.
Gaslighting can take place in any relationship – at work, by a significant other, or by political or religious leaders …The boss who constantly tells you, “that’s not what I told you,” when it is exactly what you were told. The cult leader who convinces devotees that he alone has the answers. The political leader who misdirects and lies. The spouse who uses psychological abuse against you.
We have all heard stories of victims of domestic abuse who were so terrorized by the abuser that they take the blame for every failing or event in the relationship. They withdraw from friends and family, making it very difficult for others to help. The abuser succeeds when the victim is completely dependent, living in fear not only the abuser but also the belief that others will know that the victim is mentally unstable.
Pay attention to the early signs that someone is trying to manipulate you in this way. Early awareness is key to remaining strong and stable, confident in your own abilities. When possible, leave the relationship. When that is not easily done, get help and stay safe.