|Gaslighting Definition by Dr. Martha Stout|
© by Gail Meyers
What is gaslighting? What are the signs to look for? What steps do you take if you are being gaslighted? Gaslighting is a little known, but insidious form of abuse. It is also a favorite of abuser, manipulators and narcissistic personality disordered mothers.
"Gaslighting is the systematic attempt by one person to erode another person's reality, by telling them that what they are experiencing isn’t so – and, the gradual giving up on the part of the other person." Robin Stern, author of The Gaslight Effect. It is important to note the gaslighting does not have to be severe to have serious psychological consequences.
The term came from this 1944 movie entitled Gaslight. This is an absolute must see for adult sons and daughters of narcissistic personality disordered mothers. Yes, it is a black and white movie, but I assure you this psychological thriller won't disappoint. It is an enjoyable movie even if it wasn't so educational for the abuse survivor.
|Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight|
Gaslight was originally performed on Broadway as Angel Street. The 1944 version was released in the United States after another version was released in the United Kingdom. The 1944 version stars Ingrid Bergman, who won her first Oscar for her performance as Paula. Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten and a very young Angela Lansbury (Murder She Wrote), makes her file debut. Charles Boyer plays her psychopath husband, Gregory Anton. Angela Lansbury plays the role of a conniving maid. While Joseph Cotten is Inspector Cameron.
The movie begins with young Paula's aunt being murdered. However, the murder did not get away with the jewels he was after. Years later Gregory and Paula meet, fall in love and marry. Gregory then convinces Paula to move back into the house her aunt was murdered in. Spoiler alert, unbeknownst to Paula, Gregory is the one who murdered her!
Gregory believes the jewels are in the attic. While searching for them behind Paula's back, he uses a gaslight. When he does, it causes all the other gaslights to dim. When Paula notices the dimming of the lights, he tells her she is imagining things. This is one example of him gaslighting her. He moves things, then when she can not find them he gives responses designed to cause her to doubt her sense of reality. Soon, he gets the maid to join in so that no one validates her perceptions, which are 100% accurate by the way.
I do not want to ruin the movie for you, but the gaslighting continues until Paula is on the brink of losing her mind. Notice he never raised a hand to her, nor did he even raise his voice. Yet, she is on the brink of losing her mind. This tactic is also used in workplace mobbings and cause stalkings.
Signs of GaslightingDr. Stern articulates three stages of gaslighting, including disbelief, defense and depression. You can see this progression in as Ingrid Bergman's character progresses toward losing her mind.
Here are the signs of gaslighting from Dr. Stern's book, The Gaslight Effect:
- You are constantly second-guessing yourself.
- You ask yourself, "Am I too sensitive?" a dozen times a day.
- You often feel confused and even crazy.
- You're always apologizing to your mother.
- You can't understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren't happier.
- You frequently make excuses for your partner's [mother's] behavior to friends and family.
- You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don't have to explain or make excuses.
- You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
- You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.
- You have trouble making simple decisions.
- You have the sense that you used to be a very different person - more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
- You feel hopeless and joyless.
- You feel as though you can't do anything right.
- You wonder if you are a "good enough" girlfriend, wife, employee, friend. daughter.
Real Life Example of Narcissistic Mother's GaslightingGaslighting can be as simple as an unfaithful spouse telling you you're just paranoid when you question him or her. It can be as simple as narcissistic mother pretending as if the abuse did not happen the night before. However, it can also be long-term and much more elaborate.
Gaslighting was a favorite abuse tactic of my late narcissist mother and here are some actual, real life examples. For several years right before the holidays my mother started a fight with me, attacking me from out of nowhere. She then verbally assaulted me, told me to get out of her life and uninvited us to the family holiday gatherings.
This usually happened before Thanksgiving and lasted through Christmas and the new year. Then a couple of months after the holidays were over, I would begin to hear rumors. She had concealed her abuse with a flipped tale, telling that I had verbally assaulted her. This is more commonly referred to as playing the victim while vilifying the true victim.
Then we either did not attend the holiday gatherings because I was uninvited, angry or because I had not apologized to her. She would then, and she did this many, many times, stand right in front of me with a straight face and tell me how I had attacked her and owe her an apology.
For the first few years as a young adult she was so convincing that I thought well maybe it is just two different perceptions. However, it did not take me long to start actually writing out exactly what happened in anticipation of her gaslighting, scapegoating and supposedly being owed an apology. I got to the point that when she started an argument from out of nowhere, I would tell her I am not taking the blame. I would actually try to interrupt her script or tell her to stop, but to no avail.
It literally did not matter what I said or did not say, even if I said I had seen this routine before. She would simply carry on with her melodrama regardless of what I said. She would tell me to get out of her life, tell everyone I had done to her what she had actually done to me, and after the holidays act like she deserved an apology. By that time, she had most of the family mad at me because she had told them some ridiculous lie about what happened.
I always thought I was taking the high road and things would work out. It worked out, but not in any way I would have ever imagined. However, I want to warn you when a narcissist does this to a son or daughter over many years, many people just assume it is true because she is your mother. I witnessed her doing this to both myself and my late brother. A narcissist will destroy relationships in just this manner before you have the slightest idea what is going on.
Another way my mother gaslighted her two scapegoat children was by never admitting the truth. My narcissistic mother continued until the day she died with the martyr routine that she had been treated so poorly by her two (scapegoat) children. She was playing the victim while vilifying the true victims.
It truly is nothing less than alarming how many people bought it hook, line and sinker. This is also what my pedophile step-father did prior to admitting the truth of the sexual abuse. The difference is the pedophile actually took responsibility for his abuse before his death, the narcissist never did!
While my narcissistic mother was terminally ill for two years prior to her death, her every action demonstrated her first concern was that her facade remain in place after her death. By their very nature most scapegoats are strong personalities and truth-tellers. It is often their truth telling that gets them in trouble with a narcissist. As a narcissist targets a scapegoat and begins to destroy their reputation and relationships, fewer and fewer people are there to validate their perceptions which are generally 100% accurate.
This happened so gradually, incrementally and consistently to my brother that he did not understand why he was being treated so badly. He internalized it. She also did this to me, but during those years I had enough contact with extended parts of the family that she did not achieve the same extent of damage. Oh, she destroyed relationships and reputation in many ways. It is just that my brother had long since stopped visiting extended family because he was busy with his own family.
Physical GaslightingIf you experience this you can bet you are in a dangerous relationship. This is a form of what Charles Manson did when they broke into homes. They would not steal anything, but just moved a few things around to cause distress. So the person knew someone was in their home, but it was not a burglar because they did not steal anything (which can be even more disturbing). It is intentional infliction of emotional torment.
For a more on gaslighting, see Gaslighing: More Than Just Lying.
Updated 11/8/14 - This article was sabotaged the last time this blog was hit. The bottom half of the article was removed and the first half duplicated. I returned it to the original. If you notice anything else, please let me know. Thank you.