Understanding Gaslighting: The movie, the abuse, the identification, and more
Coming to terms with abuse and speaking about it, is always difficult for survivors. More so if someone has been gaslit. In the last year or so, the term 'gaslighting' has taken over a lot of space in media, and yet the awareness about it seems minimum. So what exactly is gaslighting and why should you be worried about it? We explain.
A dangerous form of manipulation, gaslighting plays with victim's mind
Gaslighting is the term psychologists give to abuse which is more than physical. The gaslighter makes the victim question their own sanity, reality or perception. The victim ends up questioning themselves, and voila, the abuser wins. Though more common in relationships having power dynamics, it isn't restricted to them. Your friends could also gaslight you. Confused? Let us explain the beginning of this phenomenon.
Decades ago, a play released and we got the term
The term gaslighting comes from the 1944 movie 'Gaslight' starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and Joseph Cotten. The movie, directed by George Cukor, won Bergman an Oscar for leading actress. Notably, the movie is based on a play by Patrick Hamilton, which received accolades when it released in 1938.
In movie, Paula is naive, her husband the abuser
Bergman plays the role of a naive Paula, whose aunt is murdered at their residence in a posh London locality. Hoping to start afresh, Paula moves to Italy, meets Gregory (Boyer), falls in love with his charm and marries him. Gregory convinces Paula to move back to the same house her aunt was murdered in, and eventually, the abuse starts. Till Brian Cameron (Cotten) intervenes.
Gregory's manipulative shenanigans drive Paula insane
Intending to steal Paula's aunt's jewels, Gregory begins his cycle of abuse. He starts hiding objects only for his wife to question her memory. Rarely does he allow Paula to leave the house, and once when she gathers the courage to attend a function, he repeats his tactics. A distraught Paula leaves the ceremony but is sure something is wrong with her.
A wavering flame becomes Paula's light in darkness
Paula's doubts about herself amplify in the suspicious atmosphere of her home. Her maid doesn't hear things she does, and Gregory makes Paula believe she is jealous of another house help. She clings on a single piece of evidence, a gaslight which dims at night when Gregory leaves home. When Cameron tells her he sees the dimming lights too, Paula learns the truth.
Victim doubts self, cycle of abuse begins
The movie's relevance and the term it gave birth to hasn't diminished even after decades of release. Gaslighting begins with the abuser placing the seed of doubt in the victim's mind. For example, if after a fight rather than feeling angry or upset you feel you have been abandoned, insulted, or assume it was your fault, you could have been gaslit. Seek help.
Signs: You are not going crazy, you are being gaslit
If you keep doubting yourself, start identifying yourself with one flaw, are reluctant to take even small decisions, and apologize constantly, chances are you have been gaslit. Another sign of this abuse is feeling an argument wasn't supposed to go the way it's going.
Looking at the techniques the abusers use
According to the United States' National Domestic Violence Hotline, there are few techniques the gaslighter uses. The gaslighter refuses to listen or says he/she doesn't understand what you are implying. Gaslighters also counter the victim's memory of the event, divert the topic or make them realize their issues aren't important. Denying what happened when the victim is certain of it, is another technique.
Here're few things you can do if you're a victim
Author of 'The Gaslight Effect' Robin Stern believes the first step is identifying the problem. Once that is done, you need to allow yourself to feel things you are feeling. Stern told a daily seeking a second opinion and taking smaller decisions help in the long run. He added having compassion for yourself is paramount. There's always light at the end of the tunnel.