Manipulation by Gaslight
The term ‘gaslight’ can refer to psychological manipulation. The concept was derived from a play in 1938 and later a British film titled ‘Gaslight’ in 1940. In 1944 there was also an American movie version of the same name.
In the 1940 film, a husband tries to persuade his wife she is going mad by challenging her sense of reality and keeping her in a state of confusion, stress and high anxiety. The film opens in 1865 with a haunting musical score and a strange event in a cosy London townhouse. I won’t reveal the plot details.
The 1940 British thriller directed by Thorold Dickinson adheres closely to the original 1938 play ‘Gaslight’. The husband surreptitiously lights the gas lamps upstairs. Then when his wife comments on the gaslights dimming, he informs her she’s imagining things. He then escalates by manipulating and distorting her sense of self.
In 1944 an American movie ‘Gaslight’ was released, directed by George Cukor. It retells the story in a melodramatic fashion accompanied by a powerful but sinister soundtrack. The very charming French actor Charles Boyer plays husband to Ingrid Bergman.
Many pschologists have written about gaslighting. Dr Stephanie Sarkis PhD is a clinical therapist who specializes in gaslighting, ADHD, anxiety, chronic pain and depression. She sees firsthand the damage that ‘gaslighters’ do to family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues.
Sarkis has written extensively about gaslighting and provides ways to deal with a gaslighter should you have the misfortune to come into contact with them.
A few years ago I was targeted by a gaslighter. Initially I was perplexed by her seemingly bizarre behaviour which involved an avalanche of emails and legal threats. So how does one recognize a gaslighter in action?
Gaslighters lie to your face, scheme to bring you down, lie compulsively and try to overpower you with their assumed power. They may also attempt to turn your friends or family against you. Gaslighters often attempt to gain control over your emotions in order to make you dependent on them.
In short they are a piece of work and will do their damndest to bring you undone. Gaslighters are devoid of empathy and distort the truth by lying, manipulating, withholding, providing ‘false facts’ and using triangulation (getting a third party involved).
Gaslighters are often found in the ranks of politicians and presidents – a former American president immediately comes to mind. But gaslighters can be found in all levels of society and in every culture.
‘Gaslighting’ has characteristics in common with other personality disorders. Sarkis identifies various Cluster B Personality Disorders such as: Borderline Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Histrionic Personality Disorder.
Sarkis explains what happens to the gaslighter’s victims and how you can defend yourself from them. Frankly, I find it difficult to understand how the hell these people can knowingly engage in such ugly, cruel and bizarre behaviour.
I found Sarkis’s 2019 book ‘Gaslighting’ most useful. It’s an engaging read. Sarkis explained gaslighters actions that I’d only understood intuitively. Her anonymous case examples bore a strong resemblance to other gaslighters I’ve had the misfortune to come across.
The last chapter was particularly helpful. The author provides practical advice on how to arm yourself against the gaslighters in your life.
As Sarkis puts it, ‘The more you educate yourself about gaslighting, the better you can protect yourself from it.’