The English term gaslighting derives from the title of a play by the British playwright Patrick Hamilton from 1938. The practice of gaslighting was first discussed in this play and later became well known around the world through the movie The House of Lady Alquist starring Ingrid Bergman. In the film, the husband tries to drive his wife mad by, for example, changing the illumination of the gaslights, but repeatedly denying this to her. The term gaslighting has been used both colloquially and as a psychological term since the 1960s, to describe a situation where the perception of a person's reality is manipulated. The culprit is also referred to as a gaslighter.
What happens during gaslighting?
In gaslighting, the perception of the reality of a victim is called into question by one or more people. This happens over a long period of time, for example by denying real, existing things or events. The basic requirement is that perpetrators and victims are in a relationship of trust. Over time, the victim begins to doubt his or her memory, perception and ultimately even their mind. These doubts become particularly strong when the perpetrator also manipulates people from the victim's social environment in such a way that they confirm the perpetrator's statements or doubt the perceptions of the victim and so unconsciously become accomplices in gaslighting. The motive of the perpetrators is an exercise in power over the victim. Frequently, narcissists or people with a personality disorder use gaslighting to enforce their will.
How can you defend yourself against gaslighting?
As soon as you get the impression that you are a victim of gaslighting, you should immediately stop the contact with the gaslighter and seek professional help, for example from a therapist. This person can recognize the method of manipulation and help to restore the self-esteem of the victim. Friends and family members can also support and strengthen their own perception. The key is to break out of social isolation.