Gaslighting originated from a 1938 psychological thriller written by British playwright Patrick Hamilton called Gas Light. The film adaptation Gaslight was released in 1940 and 1944, starring Oscar nominated actress Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer.
In the movie, husband Gregory, psychologically manipulates his wife Paula into believing she can no longer trust her own perceptions of reality. As the movie unfolds, it is clear that Paula is torn between believing her husband and her own experiences. She becomes increasingly isolated, scared and lonely.
Gregory consistently leaves Paula alone in the house every evening while he pretends to go for walks. However, he hides in the attic flickering the gaslights. When Paula tells Gregory that she often sees the gaslights flicker, he insists that she is imagining things and is starting to lose her mind. He further isolates her by insinuating she is an embarrassment and unwell: “now, perhaps you will understand why I cannot let you meet people.”
This is how the term “gaslighting” was born. It has since made its way into popular psychology and is used in self-help books to describe toxic interpersonal relationship power dynamics.
This movie was ahead of its time, and to this day, remains the main point of reference when it comes to gaining a clear insight of highlighting this form of psychological oppression and Domestic Violence.
Gaslighting can happen to any person in any kind of relationship and is not isolated to ‘romantic relationships’ only. A friend, neighbour, boss, colleague, sibling or parent can gaslight you.
Just a few examples of what it could look like:
- Lying: “You did not lock the door” (when you did)
- Hiding information: “The Doctor never rang” (when they did)
- Denying: “I never said I wanted Pizza” (when they did)
- Countering: “You have such a bad memory” (when you don’t)
- Diverting: “You’re just paranoid again” (when you’re being factual)
Victims who experience gaslighting may:
- feel confused, second-guess everything
- struggle to make simple decisions
- question themselves “am I too sensitive?”
- isolate, withdraw
- constantly apologise to the abuser
- defend the abuser’s behaviour
- make excuses for the abuser, even lie for them
- feel hopeless, joyless, worthless, or incompetent
The persistent undermining of your thoughts and feelings can be extremely difficult to cope with. It is important that you seek professional help right away. Please remember, this is not your fault, you did not ask for it, you do not deserve it.
If you are suffering from Domestic abuse or know anyone who is, please get help
If you are worried that someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, you can call Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free, confidential support, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247. Visit the helpline website to access information on how to support a friend.
If you are in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police. If you are in danger and unable to talk on the phone, call 999 and listen to the questions from the operator and, if you can, respond by coughing or tapping on the handset.
If you are deaf or can’t verbally communicate. You can register with the emergencySMS service. Text REGISTER to 999. You will get a text which tells you what to do next. Do this when it is safe so you can text when you are in danger.