(The article includes spoilers about the 1944 movie titled ‘Gaslight’.)
This extremely effective manipulation technique gets its name from an old play. This play was adapted into movies in 1940 and 1944. In this article, I will talk about the one made in 1944.
There’s a couple and their names are Gregory and Paula. Without telling Paula, Gregory dims the gaslight bit by bit each day. Paula notices it getting dimmer, but she thinks no one would do that. So she can’t be sure if it’s truly getting dimmer or not. Eventually, Paula begins suspecting her own perception of reality and thinks that she’s going insane. This is the overall plot.
You think this manipulation technique is a bit too corny? You think it’s not possible to turn someone insane by doing something so simple? And that such things can only exist in movies? Then let’s examine the stages of gaslighting with the help of the movie.
First, the manipulator (Gregory) earns Paula’s love and trust. He makes Paula believe that he’s madly in love with her. Although they’ve met only recently, Gregory soon becomes the center of Paula’s world and they decide to marry. Paula is on cloud nine; she loves him and more importantly, she trusts him.
Once her trust is earned, the isolation phase begins. Paula quits her job in order to be with the man she loves. Then Gregory convinces her to move somewhere else so that she’s alienated from everyone she knows. On top of it all, the house they move into is the house in which Paula’s aunt was murdered. Therefore, Paula has lots of bad memories about this place. As a result, Paula now lives in a house she doesn’t like, away from the opinions and perceptions of everyone she knows. Gregory also prevents Paula from meeting new people and getting acquainted with them in their new neighborhood. He even warns the household workers about not disturbing her. Eventually, there’s only one person left in Paula’s life; Gregory.
Once he isolated his wife, Gregory starts criticizing her subtly every once in a while. He keeps telling Paula that she always loses her things and that she’s very forgetful. He also tells her that she looks tired all the time and he’s getting worried about her. Even though Paula begins suspecting things, this time she’s accused of being too skeptical. One day, Gregory gives her a jewelry and tells her not to lose it, ever. Paula finds that confusing, because she doesn’t understand why he warned her about that specifically. But then the jewelry really does get lost. Although she knew exactly where she put it, the jewelry isn’t there.
If you think she should’ve known that it was Gregory who hid the jewelry, think again. He’s the love of her life, the only person she loves and trusts in this world. The only family she had left. Besides, why would he want to take it back? He’s the one who gave it to her in the first place. Despite all the evidence, all of us can become blind and deaf to the wrongdoings of the people we love and trust the most. Even those who find it hard to trust new people often avoid questioning their loved ones.
Back to the movie; after constantly being told that she’s drained and forgetful, Paula starts doubting herself. Now she can barely trust her own mind, her own opinions and especially her own perception. On top of that, she’s literally trapped in this house with Gregory being the only person she can talk to. But she doesn’t talk to him anyway because she knows it won’t change anything. Gregory does nothing other than telling her that she’s drained and forgetful. She retires into her own shell.
And that’s when the dimming of the gaslight begins. So until it’s time for the actual act that gives its name to this technique, the victim is already made ready for this stage with various other tricks. Which means the predator patiently waits until his prey is ready for the real manipulation.
As you can understand, gaslighting isn’t just some simple deception or lie. It’s a very systematic manipulation method. Besides, its aim is not to gain temporary things. Its aim is to turn the victim into a self-doubting, unhealthy individual who’s much easier to abuse.
You think that you’re being gaslighted?
Keep a small journal. Write down the incidents exactly the way they occurred in a detailed way, mention the date and time if necessary. Avoid adding your own commentary while noting the events.
Observe. While talking about something you’re sure of, watch the reaction of the person in front of you:
Do they accuse you of being forgetful? Or do they claim to be forgetful themselves?
Do they tell you that you remember it wrong and that you have poor memory anyway? Or do they claim to have poor memory in order to get themselves out of this situation?
Do they claim that something you know has happened, never happened? Or do they claim that something else happened even though you know it never did?
Would you still react the same way if the person in front of you was someone you don’t know or love? Or are you tolerating them a bit too much simply because you love them?
Are you able to ask for advice from other people? Or are you completely isolated?
As a result, if you think that you’re being gaslighted; know that you don’t have to prove it to anyone at all. If you’re being manipulated, don’t try to confront the manipulator about it. That would only make you doubt yourself even more. Also, try not to blame yourself for being deceived. People who realize they’ve been manipulated tend to blame themselves for letting it happen. You could be asking questions to yourself such as how could I not see this coming, how could I not notice it sooner, how could I be so stupid? But this situation has nothing to do with your intelligence or personality. Being manipulated is not your fault.
Also, you can get psychological help from a professional. Because emotional and psychological manipulation isn’t something you can easily overcome on your own.
Lastly, always trust your own instincts and perceptions.
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You can also find the articles on https://medium.com/@narsistsiz:
Britannica. “Gaslighting”. Access 13 January, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/topic/gaslighting.
Elite Daily. “4 Things You’ll Notice If Your Partner Is Gaslighting You, According To Experts”. Access 3 January, 2019. https://www.elitedaily.com/p/4-things-youll-notice-if-your-partner-is-gaslighting-you-according-to-experts-15646289.
You can also check out my other articles on manipulation tactics: