Return to gaslighting (thing)

[Gas Light] was a 1938 stage play that was adapted into movies in 1940 and 1944; the [plot] centers on a man who tries to drive his wife insane by changing the environment of their house in small but perceptible ways while insisting to her that everything is the same. The titular tactic he employs is dimming the gas lights of the house; she notices it, but he insists it's all her [imagination].

Gaslighting is a form of [psychological] and [emotional abuse]; it's a typical tactic used by [sociopath]s and people with [narcissistic personality disorder]. Most times it doesn't actually involve the physical [environment] manipulations portrayed in the play and movies. Typically Person A uses various types of [emotional manipulation] to convince Person B that his or her [authentic] [emotional] [reaction]s to an [injustice] or [injury] caused or abetted by Person A are [crazy] or [unreasonable], or that the injury never even happened. This is done so that Person A doesn't have to change (or even feel [remorseful] about) his or her behavior, because a successful gaslighting results in Person B [doubting] and [second-guessing] his or her own emotions, perceptions and judgements and ultimately going [silent] about whatever bad thing that Person A keeps doing. 

There are also instances in which one person gaslights another largely for the [sadistic] [amusement] of seeing another person distressed and confused; these situations often do involve physical environment manipulations, which the instigator will [trivialize] as harmless [prank]s if he or she is discovered staging them. Imagine, for instance, the wife of an elderly man with mild [dementia] who repeatedly hides his beloved pocketwatch and then tells him he lost it, sending him on frantic, fruitless hunts through their house while his wife quietly plants the watch someplace he already searched thoroughly.

Children suffering from [sexual abuse] are frequently subjected to gaslighting by their abusers, as are [rape] victims and [domestic violence] victims.

"(E)ven today the word [gaslight] is used to describe an attempt to destroy another's [perception] of [reality]"
- Florence Rush, [|The best-kept secret: sexual abuse of children] 

Here are a couple of typical gaslighting exchanges:

Amy: "I wish you would stop [flirting] with other women at parties."
Joe: "What? What are you even talking about?"
Amy: "Bella. You were flirting with her."
Joe: "Christ, Amy, no I wasn't. God. You are so [jealous]; it's just ridiculous."
Amy: "I saw you kiss her!"
Joe: "No you didn't. All I did was lean in to tell her something about our boss that I didn't want Judy hearing."
Amy: "Judy was on the other side of the room --"
Joe: "No she wasn't. She was right there. [You should get your eyes checked]. Or maybe it was all that tequila you put away, huh? Christ, you are so unreasonable."
Amy: "But --"
Joe: "I'm so sick of your jealousy. Can't you just relax and let me enjoy a party without trying to control every move I make? Jesus. Why do you have to try to ruin everything?"
Amy: "I'm sorry. I just ... [nevermind]." 

In the above exchange, Amy starts off very reasonably expressing her desire that Joe stop doing something hurtful to her. Joe comes back at her with a "the best defense is a good offense" style gaslighting, and he is certainly offensive. If Joe were merely trying to cover his ass about the incident, he might go with a standard [apologetic lie]: "I'm sorry, dear, I didn't know what I was doing and I'd never intentionally embarrass you like that, honest!" But here he completely denies what he did and abusively pretends it's all a figment of her crazy, jealous mind. He paints himself as the [injured] party and [browbeat]s Amy into apologizing to him. Joe doesn't care if Amy really believes him or not; he's satisfied thinking he's punished her so much for bringing up his infidelity that she won't protest the next time he does it.

Sarah: "I ... I need to talk to you about Bob, that new guy in your gaming group."
Mike: "Sure, what's up?"
Sarah: "We went to college together, and once we were at a party, and ...."
Mike: "And what?"
Sarah: "And I had too much to drink, and I went to lie down in a back room, and when I woke up Bob was on top of me, and he'd gotten my jeans off --"
Mike: "[No way]! Bob's such a [nice guy]; he'd never do something like that."
Sarah: "Yes, I know he seems nice, but he did it, and ... [I'm not comfortable with him in the house]."
Mike: "That's [crazy]. Why would Bob need to pull that kind of [creeper] stuff? He's good-looking, he's got a kick-ass job, and the jokes that guy tells are [hilarious]."
Sarah: "I know, but --"
Mike: "Come on. You were [drunk], right? It probably wasn't even Bob that did it. And besides, that was what, five years ago? [Aren't you over it yet]?"
Sarah: "[horrible flashback|I ....]"
Mike: "Aw, why are you crying? There's nothing to cry about!"
Sarah: "He tried to rape me. He would have done it if Mark hadn't come in and interrupted him." 
Mike: "You're so [emotional]. Come on. Bob's not some scary [rapist]; he's a good guy. He's the best [GM] we've ever had! I'm sure that even if all that happened, he's totally changed."
Sarah: "But --"
Mike: "But nothing. He's fine. You're fine. You just need to get over this weird emotional thing you've been harboring against him all these years." 
Sarah: "He --"
Mike: "Enough, already! He's coming to the house with the guys next Tuesday. Just [make us some sandwiches] and [be cool], okay?"
Sarah: "[confused silence|...]"
Mike: "Come on, Sarah. You better not cause a bunch of [drama] and [embarrass] me in front of my friends."
Sarah: "[I give up|Okay]." 

Mike never wants Sarah to suffer emotionally; the problem is that he just doesn't really care if she suffers as long as he gets what he wants. Defending her right to feel safe in her own home would involve disrupting his own social activities and saying "No" to his buddies, and Mike's too [selfish] and [cowardly] to do the right thing. Mike's also emotionally invested in the idea of Bob as a Really Cool Guy, because otherwise he'd have to admit he's been thoroughly [tricked] by a predator. From his perspective, it's easier to pretend that his wife is overly emotional and irrational than to address the problem that he's friends with a [rapist]. This exchange, unfortunately, is a pretty classic example of how rapists get other men in their social circles to help keep their victims quiet.