Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which the abuser consistently accuses the victim of saying or doing something they did not say or do, which causes extreme distress to the victim. They second-guess their own memory, perception, and judgment.
Those who use the gaslighting technique want to rewrite their victim’s reality so that they adopt the new reality being fed to them as their own. The gaslighting effect, commonly used by dictators, is successful when a lie, presented often enough, becomes embraced as the truth.
According to Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT of Psychology Today: “Gaslighting is a malicious and hidden form of mental and emotional abuse, designed to plant seeds of self-doubt and alter one’s perception of reality.” Anyone can fall victim to gaslighting, from any walk of life, and it can happen in a variety of interpersonal relations, including with friends, family, colleagues, and romantic partners.
The very nature of gaslighting is such that one can never fully understand it unless they have experienced it, and even then, it’s hard to believe. Gaslighting involves a pattern of malicious behavior designed to provoke emotional responses and destroy the mainframe of a person’s mental equilibrium. Those responses become heightened and are then used to portray the victim as unstable, crazy, and an abuser.
The victim begins to believe they are the problem and assume blame for the abuser’s anger, thinking they must have done something wrong to deserve this in an attempt to rationalize their aggressive, cruel behavior. Nobody could imagine someone intentionally hurting them for no reason, so they believe that they must be the reason. Normal people don’t have the ability to see this kind of abuse. It’s not within the realm of rationale, so they don’t understand or realize what exactly is happening to them and even have a hard time describing it. Victims simply know something is very wrong. Narcissists thrive off reactions, so they intentionally create all the scenarios imaginable to provoke the most emotionally charged responses.
The term “gaslighting” is based on the 1938 play written by Patrick Hamilton that made the silver screen in 1944 in George Cukor’s movie “Gaslight”. Ingrid Bergman played a young, sweet girl named Paula who witnessed the murder of her aunt in their family home. Years later, Paula would go on to marry a narcissist, Gregory (Charles Boyer), and return to the family home where her aunt was murdered.28 Over time, Paula begins to doubt her own sanity as her husband tries to convince her she is becoming forgetful and too emotionally explosive, that she is going mentally insane. He purposely does things like move pictures, dim lights, and bang on the walls to make her believe she is losing her mind and imagining it all.
Since the term comes from a movie, its definition is specific: when lies are repeated with confidence, the victim begins to doubt their own sanity and believe the lies to be truth. In this move, Stockholm Syndrome develops as well; the victim is uncertain they are able to perceive reality correctly, and they look to the narcissistic gaslighter for clarification, creating a strong trauma bond of attachment.
Narcissists using the gaslighting technique act hurt and indignant. They play the victim when challenged or questioned. Covert manipulation easily turns into overt abuse with accusations targeted at the victim that claim they are distrustful, ungrateful, disrespectful, unkind, overly sensitive, too emotional, dishonest, stupid, insecure, emotionally damaged, worthless, and so on. Abuse may escalate to anger and intimidation followed by punishment, threats, or bullying if the victim doesn’t embrace the false reality
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