Gaslighting is a type of emotional abuse where the abuser manipulates situations repeatedly to trick the victim into distrusting his or her own memory and perceptions. Gaslighting is an insidious form of abuse. It makes victims question the very instincts that they have counted on their whole lives, making them unsure of anything. This tactic has been seen many times in popular films.
In ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, Jessica Chastain plays "Maya," a CIA officer who, at one point, treats a detainee to a sumptuous dinner to reward him for sharing critical information that she says saved American lives. The truth is, the detainee doesn't remember telling his captors anything. But weak in mind and body, after several sleepless days and nights of torture, he accepts what Maya says as the truth. This is gaslighting.
The term itself was popularized by the 1944 film Gaslight, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. "Gregory," played by Boyer, maintains that a gaslight his wife "Paula" (Bergman) sees growing dim then brightening is in fact a steady flame. This small deception is followed by countless others. Paula initially protests her husband's accusations about her "forgetfulness," but in time she questions her every action and memory. In reality, her husband Gregory is plotting to have her committed to an asylum so that he can take her inheritance.
In every gaslighting situation there must be a gaslighter, the agent of the abuse, and a gaslightee, his or her target. "Over time you [the gaslightee] begin to feel like you don't know your own mind or you don't know your own reality. Worse than that, you've allowed someone else to define it for you," says Dr. Robin Stern, author of The Gaslight Effect and a research scientist at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
How do you know if you are being gaslighted? If any of the following warning signs ring true, you may be dancing the Gaslight Tango. Take care of yourself by taking another look at your relationship, talking to a trusted friend, and begin to think about changing the dynamic of your relationship.
Here are the signs:
1. You are constantly second-guessing yourself.
2. You ask yourself, "Am I too sensitive?" only after interactions with the possible gaslighter.
3. You often feel confused after arguing with a likely gaslighter.
4. You're always apologizing to this gaslighter.
5. You frequently make excuses for the gaslighter’s behavior to friends and family.
7. You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don't have to talk about the gaslighter.
8. You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
9. You start lying to the possible gaslighter to avoid the put downs and reality twists.
10. You have the sense that you used to be a very different person - more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
11. You wonder if you are a "good enough" girl/boyfriend, husband/ wife, employee, child, or friend to the likely gaslighter.
Gaslighting can be used on you by your boss, neighbor, child, parent, and mate and it’s up to you to determine whether you are enabling them. What should you do if you’re being gaslighted? Firmly counter that your memory is resolute, express yourself, and don't accept a gaslighter's labeling.
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