Gaslighting

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For other uses, see Gaslight (disambiguation).
Ingrid Bergman in the 1944 film Gaslight

Gaslighting or gas-lighting[1] is a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted/spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.[2] Instances may range simply from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.

The term owes its origin to the play Gas Light and its film adaptations, after which it was coined popularly. The term has been used in clinical and research literature.[3][4]

Etymology[edit]

The 1938 stage play Gas Light, known as Angel Street in the United States, and the film adaptations released in 1940 and 1944 motivated the origin of the term because of the systematic psychological manipulation used by the main character on a victim. The plot concerns a husband who attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane by manipulating small elements of their environment, and subsequently, insisting that she is mistaken or remembering things incorrectly when she points out these changes. The original title stems from the dimming of the gas lights in the house that happened when the husband was using the gas lights in the attic while searching for hidden treasure. The wife accurately notices the dimming lights and discusses the phenomenon, but the husband insists she is imagining a change in the level of illumination.

The term "gaslighting" has been used colloquially since the 1960s[5] to describe efforts to manipulate someone's sense of reality. In a 1980 book on child sex abuse, Florence Rush summarized George Cukor's 1944 film version of Gas Light, and writes, "even today the word [gaslighting] is used to describe an attempt to destroy another's perception of reality."[6]

Clinical examples[edit]

Psychologist Martha Stout states that sociopaths frequently use gaslighting tactics. Sociopaths consistently transgress social mores, break laws, and exploit others, but typically, are also charming and convincing liars who consistently deny wrongdoing. Thus, some who have been victimized by sociopaths may doubt their perceptions.[7] Jacobson and Gottman report that some physically abusive spouses may gaslight their partners, even flatly denying that they have been violent.[4]

Psychologists Gertrude Gass and William C. Nichols use the term gaslighting to describe a dynamic observed in some cases of marital infidelity: "Therapists may contribute to the victim's distress through mislabeling the woman's reactions. [...] The gaslighting behaviors of the husband provide a recipe for the so-called 'nervous breakdown' for some women [and] suicide in some of the worst situations."[8]

Gaslighting may also occur in parent–child relationships, with either parent, child, or both, lying to each other and attempting to undermine perceptions.[9] Furthermore, gaslighting has been observed between patients and staff in inpatient psychiatric facilities.[10]

Some of Sigmund Freud's conduct has been characterized as gaslighting. Regarding the case of Sergei Pankejeff, nicknamed the "Wolf Man" due to his dream featuring wolves that he discussed extensively with Freud, Dorpat wrote, "Freud brought relentless pressure on the Wolfman to accept and to confirm Freud's reconstructions and formulations."[3]

Introjection[edit]

In an influential 1981 article Some Clinical Consequences of Introjection: Gaslighting, Calef and Weinshel argue that gaslighting involves the projection and introjection of psychic conflicts from the perpetrator to the victim: "this imposition is based on a very special kind of 'transfer'... of painful and potentially painful mental conflicts."[11]

The authors explore a variety of reasons why the victims may have "a tendency to incorporate and assimilate what others externalize and project onto them," and conclude that gaslighting may be "a very complex highly structured configuration which encompasses contributions from many elements of the psychic apparatus."[11]

Resisting[edit]

With respect to women in particular, Hilde Lindemann argued emphatically that in such cases the victim's ability to resist the manipulation depends on "her ability to trust her own judgments."[12] Establishment of "counterstories" may help the victim reacquire "ordinary levels of free agency."[12]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Gas-lighting - Definition and More from the Free Merrian-Webster Dictionary". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 23 May 2014. 
  2. ^ Dorpat, T.L. (1994). "On the double whammy and gaslighting". Psychoanalysis & Psychotherapy 11 (1): 91–96. (subscription required (help)).  Closed access
  3. ^ a b Dorpat, Theodore L. (1996-10-28). Gaslighting, the Double Whammy, Interrogation, and Other Methods of Covert Control in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. Jason Aronson. ISBN 978-1-56821-828-1. Retrieved 2014-01-06. 
  4. ^ a b Jacobson, Neil S.; Gottman, John M. (1998-03-10). When Men Batter Women: New Insights into Ending Abusive Relationships. Simon and Schuster. pp. 129–132. ISBN 978-0-684-81447-6. Retrieved 2014-01-06. 
  5. ^ "gaslight". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.  1969 S. C. Plog Changing Perspectives in Mental Illness 83 It is also popularly believed to be possible to ‘gaslight’ a perfectly healthy person into psychosis by interpreting his own behavior to him as symptomatic of serious mental illness.
  6. ^ Rush, Florence (February 1992). The Best-kept Secret: Sexual Abuse of Children. Human Services Institute. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-8306-3907-6. 
  7. ^ Stout, Martha (2006-03-14). The Sociopath Next Door. Random House Digital. pp. 94–95. ISBN 978-0-7679-1582-3. Retrieved 2014-01-06. 
  8. ^ Gass, G.Z.; Nichols, W.C. (1988). "Gaslighting: A Marital Syndrome". Journal of Contemporary Family Therapy 10 (1): 3–16. doi:10.1007/BF00922429.  Closed access
  9. ^ Cawthra, R.; O'Brian, G.; Hassanyeh, F. (April 1987). "'Imposed Psychosis': A Case Variant of the Gaslight Phenomenon". British Journal of Psychiatry 150: 553–556. doi:10.1192/bjp.150.4.553. PMID 3664141. 
  10. ^ Lund, C.A.; Gardiner, A.Q. (1977). "The Gaslight Phenomenon: An Institutional Variant". British Journal of Psychiatry 131: 533–534. doi:10.1192/bjp.131.5.533. PMID 588872.  Closed access
  11. ^ a b Weinshel, Edward M. (January 2003). Wallerstein, Robert S., ed. Commitment and Compassion in Psychoanalysis: Selected Papers of Edward M. Weinshel. Analytic Press. p. 83. ISBN 978-0-88163-379-5. 
  12. ^ a b Nelson, Hilde L. (March 2001). Damaged identities, narrative repair. Cornell University Press. pp. 31–32. ISBN 978-0-8014-8740-8. Retrieved 2014-01-06. 

Further reading[edit]

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