What is “Gaslighting”?

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse used by narcissists in order to instill in their victim’s an extreme sense of anxiety and confusion to the point where they no longer trust their own memory, perception or judgment. The techniques used in “Gaslighting” by the narcissist are similar to those used in brainwashing, interrogation, and torture that have been used in psychological warfare by intelligence operative, law enforcement and other forces for decades.

The intention is to, in a systematic way, target the victim’s mental equilibrium, self confidence, and self esteem so that they are no longer able to function in an independent way. Gaslighting involves the abuser to frequently and systematically withhold factual information from the victim, and replacing it with false information. Because of it’s subtly, this cunning Machiavellian behaviour is a deeply insidious set of manipulations that is difficult for anybody to work out, and with time it finally undermines the mental stability of the victim. That is why it is such a dangerous form of abuse. The emotional damage of Gaslighting is huge on the narcissistic victim. When they are exposed to it for long enough, they begin to lose their sense of their own self. Unable to trust their own judgments, they start to question the reality of everything in their life. They begin to find themselves second-guessing themselves, and this makes them become very insecure around their decision making, even around the smallest of choices. The victim becomes depressed and withdrawn, they become totally dependent on the abuser for their sense of reality. In effect the gaslighting turns the victim’s reality on its head.

Where does the term “Gaslighting” come from?

The term “Gaslighting” comes from the 1944 Hollywood classic movie called Gaslight.  The film starts with the murder of the famous opera singer Alice Alquist in London. The perpetrator was after the stars jewels, but before he could get them, he was interrupted by her young niece Paula (played by Ingrid Bergman); a child that Alice had reared after the death of her own mother. To help her get over the trauma of Alice’s death, Paula is sent to live in Italy, where she studies opera with her aunty Alice’s old teacher for several years. While in Italy, she meets a charismatic older man named Gregory Anton (played by Charles Boyer), they have a whirl-wind romance and very soon she marries him. He persuades her that they should return to London to live in the house bequeathed to her by her aunt. When they arrive, hidden in a book, Paula finds a letter addressed to her aunt Alice, it was from a man called Sergius Bauer. The letter was dated two days before the murder. Gregory reacts violently to the letter, but recovers his composure quickly, and justifies his outburst as vexation at seeing his lovely bride relive bad memories. Once Alice’s things are removed into the attic, Gregory’s diabolical psychopathic behaviour becomes very bizarre indeed. Almost immediately he sets out, systematically and methodically, to deliberately drive Paula insane by psychologically manipulating their environment covertly; for example, when a picture is missing from the wall, Gregory tells her that she took it, but Paula cannot recall having done so.

Secretly, Gregory gains entry into the attic and begins to tamper with the gas-light there, causing the rest of the lamps in the house to become dim. When Paula mentions hearing footsteps coming from the attic, and seeing the lights dimming for no apparent reason, he tells her it’s all in her imagination, and that he does not see any change in the brightness of the lights. He does not stop there; he resorts to other means of deception to further confuse his wife. For example, he fires his wife’s trusted elderly maid, replacing her with a younger one (Nancy) that he can seductively control. When Paula complains of feeling hurt and humiliated by his behaviour with Nancy, he tell her he is only being friendly. He states that in Europe no woman would feel humilliated for such a trivial act. Convinced that the wife is insane, Nancy begins to treat her with contempt, and Paula can feel her loathing, which further distresses her. He then takes command of all outside influences so that he has complete control over Paula, making it easier to manipulate her sense of reality. Of course, he pretends to have genuine concern for Paula, but the bottom-line is that he is only concerned about isolating her. Having isolated her from those within the house, he then precedes to take command of all outside influences so that he has complete control over her. He stops all visitors, and he does not allow her to leave the house. He implies that he is doing this for her own good, because her “kleptomania and imaginings” are due to her nervous disposition. On the rare occasion when they do go to a gathering at a friend’s house, he shows her his watch chain, from which his watch was missing. When he searches her handbag he mysteriously finds it there. Horrified, she becomes so hysterical that Gregory has to take her home immediately. She is convinced that there is something very wrong with her, and that it is best that she no longer goes out in public. Gregory’s overall goal is to drive Paula out of her mind so that he can have her certified insane and institutionalized. He continually tells her that she is ill and fragile, until confused and scared, Paula begins to act more erratically, and she starts to internalize that she is becoming the fragile person that he says she is.  He even begins to rearrange items in the house, and then he accuses her of “always losing things”. Cruelly, he tells her that she is losing her memory. Knowing that her mother had died insane, to demoralize her further by viciously convincing her that she has inherited her mother’s bad genes. The more she doubts herself, the more desperate she is for her husband’s approval and love, but he rejects her, insisting that she is insane. With a combination of seduction, deception, isolation, bullying and rejection, reluctantly Paula starts to accept that she is losing her mind, and she becomes totally dependent on him for her sense of reality.

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