- Brendan Stec
BEWARE! The Gaslight.
Ingrid Bergman as Paula in Gaslight (1944), the film where gaslighting got its name.
I got gaslighted by a SEPTA ticket attendant on the train today.
I fastened my ticket on top of the seat and then dove my head back into a book. When the attendant got to my seat, the ticket vanished. "That'll be $5 for zone 2 and $7 for zone 3." Although I saw him grab the ticket out of the corner of my eye, now he was telling me there was never such a ticket and it was time to buy a new one. After responding with very kind words and showing him my receipt with the 10:45:53 timestamp, he left me off the hook. "Don't worry about it, buddy."
Gaslighting is when someone manipulates you by making you question or second-guess reality. The gaslighter refuses to admit that something you know or saw is true. He refuses and refuses until you actually start to believe him. Maybe I didn't really put that ticket on the seat? The gaslighter's goal is to confuse the target, sow seeds of doubt in the target's mind, and ultimately crush the target's self-esteem and independent thought so the target can be controlled.
A common example is the calculating boss who asks for a report "she told you to do." The key is that she never told you about it. Or it was assigned to someone else. But she'll push the lie and may get your co-workers to rally behind her because they don't like you. Now you're questioning your memory and your ability to stay on top of your work. Now you feel powerless at work and less-confident in yourself. Now your less of a threat to replace your boss.
Chances are we've all been gaslighted at some point or another in our personal or professional relationships. Because we trust many of the people we associate with, we never thought they'd be capable of manipulating us. Because we like these people or want to impress them, we're afraid to call them out on their bluff. Victims of gaslighting will frequently apologize for things they didn't do or say to appease the gaslighter, all while questioning themselves and thinking "why?"
How to burn out the gaslight? Be confident in your memory and trust your instincts. Dig up proof - like old emails or texts - to prove the gaslighter wrong and confirm your beliefs. Be critical of what a person says about what you did and be aware of what incentives that person may have to manipulate you. These incentives often include financial or material gain or an overall feeling of personal superiority over the victim. Most importantly, cut ties with a person or group that constantly gaslights you. If you don't, the abuser will only continue to push your boundaries until you are completely sucked in and unable to find the power to question them.
Here are two other gaslighting examples:
- In custody the police tell you they found "clear evidence" of you committing the accused crime. They nag you and refuse to acknowledge what you actually did or saw until you have no choice but to confess.
- A caregiver for an elderly person intentionally misplaces belongings. The caregiver convinces the victim that he must be losing his memory and leaving things in the wrong place or forgetting them. Eventually, the caregiver can steal items while the victim blames himself and not the caregiver.
"I am mad. I'm always losing things and hiding things and I can never find them, I don't know where I've put them." - Gaslight (1944)