History of Gaslighting

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You probably have heard the term gaslighting before and not known exactly what it is. Fun fact! The term began with a movie from 1944 titled “Gaslight.” It starred Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. The premise of the film is a husband who tries to convince his wife she is insane so he can steal from her. The husband systematically creates situations and then denies they happened. The result is that the wife believes her husband and questions her own sanity.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse used in narcissistic relationships. Gaslighting involves manipulating someone, so they question their own reality. This occurs in subtle ways. For example, the partner with narcissism says, “you are a horrible parent. I can’t believe anyone could be that stupid.” When confronted with this behavior a gaslighting response could be: “I never said that. I’m not that kind of person.” “That’s not what I meant. You misunderstood me.” “I didn’t say that you called me a terrible parent, remember?” 

The partner with narcissism insists that their version of reality is true. Their insistence and retelling of their narrative about the situation eventually create doubt for the victim. The doubt is compounded with every incident of gaslighting. The circular forms of communicating that narcissist’s use compounds the effects of gaslighting. This is because the circuitous talk makes it difficult to remember where the conversation began and what the facts of a situation really were. 

Consequences of gaslighting

The consequences mentally and psychologically for the victim include. Feelings of anxiety about situations and conversations with their loved one. Feelings of guilt and self-blame for situations when a victim begins to take on the reality presented by a narcissist. Shame for doubting their partner or doubting their partner’s motivations. On the extreme end is questioning your own reality or sanity. This is compounded when a narcissist uses other allies to validate the lie, they are perpetuating. 

What you can do

One strategy I found helpful was taking notes during interactions to help myself remember the flow of conversation. I included what I said and what he said. Sounds crazy? Maybe and I found it to be super helpful. I had an extra large planner at the time that I kept with me and I would just grab it and start writing when conversations started. I did not use this writing as proof to my partner, it was only for my own sanity. It helped me tremendously to have the facts in black and white when the gaslighting started. 

Writing down facts helped me not engage in arguments about “the truth” because I already knew my truth. I knew when the narrative created by my partner didn’t match the quotes I wrote down that I was being gaslit. If my partner tried to spin the narrative in his own direction I could look back on my notes and sit in my own reality. Writing things down helped me look at my ways of interacting. It was important to me to react and respond in ways I felt good about. Maintaining my integrity was important to me.

That doesn’t mean that I always reacted or responded in ways I was proud of. Far from it. I am not proud of everything I said or did. It’s important to give yourself grace. A “normal” relationship doesn’t push someone to the brink. Pushing a person to do or say things out of desperation to be seen and heard creates shame. Shame keeps us stuck. Don’t stay stuck.

It’s possible to own mistakes and forgive ourselves for them. Therapy can help with this process of healing. It doesn’t mean you will ever forget what happened to you, but you can understand there is nothing wrong with you. Please reach out to someone you trust. Remember being silent doesn’t protect you. I am here to hold onto hope until you feel strong enough to have hope for yourself. 

Final thought

*Remember I often reference partners as the one with narcissism, however your relationship with a narcissist might be different. You may have a parent, friend, sibling, or co-worker with narcissism. The information still applies!