Are You Being Gaslighted?
This classic 1944 film is the story of Paula, a young, vulnerable singer (played by Ingrid Bergman) who marries Gregory, a charismatic, mysterious older man (played by Charles Boyer). Unbeknownst to Paula, her beloved husband is trying to drive her insane in order to take over her inheritance. He continually tells her she is ill and fragile, rearranges household items and then accuses her of doing so, and most deviously of all, manipulates the gas so that she sees the lights dim for no apparent reason. Under the spell of her husband's diabolical scheme, Paula starts to believe that she is going mad. Confused and scared, she begins to act hysterical, actually becoming the fragile, disoriented person that he keeps telling her she is. In a vicious downward spiral, the more she doubts herself, the more confused and hysterical she becomes. She is desperate for her husband to approve of her and to tell her he loves her, but he keeps refusing to do so, insisting that she is insane. Her return to sanity and self-assertion comes only when a police inspector reassures her that he, too, sees the dimming of the light.
As Gaslight makes clear, a gaslighting relationship always involves two people. Gregory needs to seduce Paula to make himself feel powerful and in control. But Paula is also eager to be seduced. She has idealized this strong, handsome man, and she desperately wants to believe that he'll cherish and protect her. When he starts behaving badly, she's reluctant to blame him for it or to see him differently; she'd rather preserve her romantic image of the perfect husband. Her insecurity about herself and her idealization of him offer the perfect opening for his manipulation.
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Articles by Patricia Jones, M.A.
The term derives from the 1938 stage play Gas Light (originally known as Angel Street in the United States), and the 1940 and 1944 film adaptions. The plot concerns a husband who attempts to drive his wife to insanity by manipulating small elements of their environment, and insisting that she is mistaken or misremembering when she points out these changes. The title stems from the husband's subtle dimming of the house's gas lights, which she accurately notices and which the husband insists she's imagining.
"Gaslighting" has been used colloquially, since at least the early 1980s, to describe an attempt to destroy another's perception of reality. The classic example of gaslighting is to change things in a person's environment without their knowledge, and to explain that they "must be imagining things" when they challenge these changes.
According to psychologists Gass and Nichols, another relatively frequent form of gaslighting occurs when a husband has cheated on a wife. The husband may strenuously deny the affair and insist "I'm not lying; you're just imagining things."
Psychologist Martha Stout explains how sociopaths frequently use gaslighting tactics. Sociopaths are often cruel, manipulative, or conniving, and are often convincing liars who consistently deny wrongdoing. When coupled with the personal charm that can characterize sociopaths, many who have been victimized by sociopaths may doubt their perception.
Jacobson and Gottman report that some physically abusive husbands may gaslight their wives, even flatly denying that they have used violence. In fact, abusers of all kinds of abuse will deny their abuse of the victim and attempt to make the victim sound "crazy."
You may be a very confident and powerful woman, strong, smart, and successful in your career. But in your personal relationships you find yourself feel anything but confident and you have gotten to the point where you do not trust your own abilities or your perception of the world. While successful with your friends and colleagues you are forever involved in destructive and demoralizing personal relationships that could be your spouse, your boyfriend, your boss, or some other family member or relative.
When you are around these people you feel almost ill, because they are constantly putting you down, questioning what you say, and attempting to make you think that you perception of reality is not correct. This is turn can cause you to feel anxious, confused and very depressed. Eventually they accuse you of being "insane" or "mentally ill" if you do not agree with their perception of reality.
If you are dealing with a spouse or family member who is constantly defining your perception of reality for you, and who is attempting to make you belive things that are not true, please do not hesitate to contact me for validation of what you are experiencing and counseling for how to handle the situation you are in.
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