the term ‘gaslighting’ is one which has actually been in use since the 1960s, but has become more prominent in recent years - as women have started to address the ways in which they are kept down by men and, in a wider sense, a patriarchal society.
the term ‘gaslighting’ comes from a 1939 play by patrick hamilton, called ‘gaslight’. without giving too much away (it’s a really great thriller that i thoroughly recommend), mr manningham sets out to convince his wife - and those around them - that she is insane. he does so by manipulating small, subtle aspects of their environment - and then denying that he can perceive any change. he convinces her that she is misremembering things, she is suffering from delusions, or that she’s lying. the title comes from the dimming of the gaslights in their apartment, which she notices but which he denies really happened.
gaslighting is a form of emotional, or psychological, manipulation. over the next few days, i’ll look specifically at different examples. generally speaking, however, it is a technique used to plant the seed of doubt in someone’s mind. through a series of manipulative behaviours - like lying, denial, contradiction - the abuser aims to make the victim question their own judgement, memory, perception, and sanity. it ensures that the victim is less likely to be taken seriously, validated, or believed, because it makes their version of events seem unstable, unrealistic, and unreliable.
it is through gaslighting that many abusers retain control over their victims. they make them believe that it’s all in their own head, or they’re overreacting, or they’re being unreasonable. it makes someone doubt their own experiences, and ultimately their own perception of the world around them. many women who are being abused, don’t realise it until they are faced with a breakdown of gaslighting behaviours which give them the vindication of knowing their experience was valid.
gaslighting is no joke.