The term “gaslighting” originally comes from a theatre play, later developed as a movie, in which a husband gradually convinces his wife that her own memory and perceptions are faulty, even causing her to doubt her own sanity, so as to cover up a crime that he has committed.
In psychology, the term “gaslighting” has been used since the 1960s to describe an individual’s persistent efforts to cause someone else to doubt their own memory and sanity, with the cause of destabilising them, and making their beliefs appear not to be legitimate. The term is often occasionally used to describe the actions of corrupt or propaganda-driven governments or politicians seeking to confuse the public for the purpose of concealing their own actions or statements.
Gaslighting is often found in abusive relationships. The abusive individual will typically deny having said or done something so persistently, and with such conviction, that their partner will start to doubt themselves. They may even move on to trying to convince them that they themselves have said or done something they have no memory of. The gaslighting may start when they attempt to cover up something, such as an affair, and gradually extend to every aspect of their relationship.
Gaslighting is frequently employed by psychopaths, who find it easy to overlook the social norms about lying and exploitation, and are often very good at denying ever having engaged in wrongdoing. In the context of the family, it can occur among partners, and even among parents and children, where one family member insists that things did not happen as others remember, with such conviction that they start to doubt themselves.
Once someone starts to doubt their own capacity to remember things correctly, and even begins to doubt their sanity, they become incrementally more dependent on the person who is abusing them, who can then take further advantage of their lowered self-esteem to manipulate them even more easily. As their self-esteem becomes lower and lower, they will typically start to accept worse treatment, as they perceive themselves as being less deserving of love, care, and respect.
While both women and men can be involved in gaslighting as both perpetrators and victims, when someone is in a situation of financial or physical dependence on the other, they are particularly vulnerable, as they may have few options to leave the relationship at an early stage, before things escalate. For this reason, historically more women have tended to be victims of gaslighting on the part of their significant others.
Unless the cycle is broken, victims of gaslighting are very vulnerable to developing psychological disorders, up to and including serious depression. In the worst cases, the crisis can even culminate in suicide, as they feel that they have no way out of a situation that has become unbearable.
WHO CAN I SPEAK TO FURTHER ABOUT THE ISSUES IN THIS ARTICLE?
For help with the issues discussed in this article speak to one of our therapists here at Private Therapy Clinic for a free initial chat or to make an appointment.
Is somebody gaslighting you? was last modified: July 5th, 2021 by Dr Becky Spelman
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