The word or term 'gaslighting' first came into being as a result of the 1938 Patrick Hamilton play Gaslight, which was followed by film adaptations in the 1940s.
For those who have not seen or are aware of the storyline, a man dims the gas lights in his home and then persuades his wife that she is imagining the change to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind.
Dr Theo Dorpat, who wrote an article in 1996 in the journal of Psychoanalysis & Psychotherapy, stated that this form of psychological manipulation targets individuals or groups in making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity.
Gaslighting uses persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying as it attempts to destabilise the victim and delegitimise the victim's belief.
The term took hold in the 1960s and was a targeted subject in much psychoanalytic literature in the 1970s. Currently, gaslighting is the word most commonly used, in clinical psychology, in describing the attempt to destroy another person's perception of reality.
A person who is a gaslighter will have specific traits they follow or apply such as; they will tell blatant lies or deny they ever said something even though the other person or people may have proof to say otherwise.
A gaslighter will use personal information that may be near or dear to the other person as ammunition against them. They may use a gradual approach of wearing a person down over time and they will contradict themselves as their actions and words may not align.
Gaslighters will throw in a positive comment here and there among the negatives to keep the person off track as to what is really going on.
The more confused a person becomes the more that person may go to the gaslighter for support. Gaslighters are good at projecting the spotlight onto others taking the focus off themselves. A gaslighter will try and get others to go against the other person thereby making it difficult for that person to know who they can trust. They will tell others that the person they are manipulating is 'crazy' therefore, others may not believe what that person is saying especially if it is against the gaslighter. Finally, gaslighters will lead a person to believe that everyone else is lying to them again, this causes the person to doubt who to trust.
Gaslighting can be found in most social and professional environments, for example, in the play and movie the setting is a romantic relationship.
The Domestic Violence Resource Centre of Victoria, when outlining gaslighting, specifically in relation to abusive relationships, states: "This type of behaviour can be seen in abusers telling their victims that she 'imagined' previous incidences of violence, or claiming that she is irrational, overly-emotional or simply 'crazy'."
Whereas, "instances of stalking by a current or ex-partner, can have the effect of undermining a victim's own sense that something is wrong (and therefore, her ability to recognise and protect herself from the stalker), as well as impact on her credibility when reporting the stalking to police or another service."
This form of manipulation can result in the victims questioning themselves. Dr Robin Stern who is the Associate Director at Yale University's Centre for Emotional Intelligence who also penned the book, The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life, provides some signs that you may be a victim of being gaslighted.
- You are constantly second-guessing yourself.
- You feel as though you can't do anything right.
- You ask yourself, "Am I too sensitive?" several times a day.
- You often feel confused.
- You are always apologising to others.
- You cannot understand why, with many good things in your life, you aren't happier.
- You frequently make excuses for your partner's behaviour to others.
- You find yourself withholding information from others so you don't have to explain or make excuses.
- You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is.
- You start lying to avoid the put-downs.
- You sense you used to be a very different person, more confident, fun-loving, relaxed.
- You feel hopeless and joyless.
- You wonder if you are good enough.
For support contact Domestic Violence Resource Centre of Victoria (03) 8346 5200, National Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Counselling Service 1800 737 732 or the Women's Centre for Health & Wellbeing AW (02) 6041 1977.
Dr Anthony Perrone is a college counsellor at Trinity Anglican College. The views expressed in this column are Dr Perrone's and not necessarily those of Trinity Anglican College.