Have you ever heard of gaslighting? This term, which appeared in the 1940s in the United States, summarises a practice used by manipulators who sow doubt in the minds of their victims, to the point of destroying them emotionally or even physically.
‘Gaslighting’ is an abusive practice which is more widespread than we think and far from a recent phenomenon. This phenomenon consists of showing love to one's victim before sowing doubt in them, until they are emotionally destroyed.
Gaslighting sociopaths distort information, omit elements of the truth in order to put themselves forward and provoke doubts about their victims’ mental health. The term comes from George Cukor's film GasLight, released in 1944. In this thriller, Ingrid Bergman plays a woman who thinks she's going crazy, because of manipulations perpetrated by her husband played by Charles Boyer. The title evokes the gas lights in their home.
The term was then used in the literature of mental abuse. The victim is blinded by the illusion of love in which they are trapped, which biases their perceptions and judgments.
How to know if a ‘gaslighter’ has influence over us?
Quoted by LCI, the psychologist, psychoanalyst and author Sarah Chiche says: ‘The more you are coddled by a person, the more you feel empty and in the grip of extreme anguish, the more you feel depressed, the more you hold your tongue, the more you are only a shadow of yourself even as this person claims to help you, to love you, they say to you “My poor darling, you are not well at all,” it is absolutely necessary to sound the alarm, you are under the thumb of a “gaslighter.”’
‘Some people have the art of destabilising their spouse or even their child by manipulating them in this way,’ adds Sarah Chiche. The victims then doubt their words or what they have heard, while the ‘gaslighter’ uses lies to provoke these gruelling and destructive doubts.
What are the goals of a ‘gaslighter?’
Potential victims are usually isolated people with little family and friends. People who have just experienced an emotional shock, such as being fired, a break-up or bereavement, are also ideal prey. Finally, the ‘emotional addicts’ who feel a pathological need to be loved can also easily fall under the influence of a ‘gaslighter.’
How does the ‘gaslighter’ operate?
The ‘gaslighter’ first shows many signs of kindness to seduce their victim. When the prey is under its spell, the manipulation begins until they are driven crazy.
Sarah Chiche explains about the methods of a ‘gaslighter.’ ‘There is, in some “gaslighters,” a pleasure to destroy the other, to have all the power over them, to make them believe anything, which often comes from their childhood.’ The psychoanalyst adds: ‘We are not born perverse and manipulative, we become it, and we become it because we ourselves have been confronted, in childhood, with emptiness or horror. This does not excuse perverse behaviours. It simply allows us to recontextualise them and to understand what causes this manipulation, which sometimes occurred decades before. And we must get rid of the illusion that we can heal a manipulator, by using love, and that we will stay with them, to transform them, or that we will be stronger than them.’
According to the author, ‘gaslighting’ is not used exclusively by men on women and does not exist only in relationships. For example, it may be present in an employer-employee relationship. The phenomenon is common among dictators and other narcissists. Gaslighting can even be used on a large scale. American ‘therapists’ in particular manipulated patients in the ‘80s, in order to reach their purported goal of dredging up memories buried in their cellular memory.
‘To take care of yourself, the first step is to tell a maximum number of people around you (friends, family, colleagues) what you have been a victim. Then, at the same time, to go see a psychiatrist, to get help. We can’t get away alone from this kind of manipulation alone,’ explains the psychoanalyst. The second step when confronting a ‘gaslighter’ is the resort to justice. ‘There is only the law that can stop the manipulators, nothing else’ concludes Sarah Chiche in her comments reported by LCI.