Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse that makes victims appear or feel "mad" by establishing a "surreal" interpersonal setting. Despite its widespread use, sociologists have mostly disregarded gaslighting, leaving psychologists to speculate.
Gas Light, a mystery thriller authored by British dramatist Patrick Hamilton in 1938, was the first to popularize the word in the social and cultural zeitgeist. The drama was well-received when it was performed on stage in 1940. In reality, it was performed approximately 1,300 times. It was soon adapted into a film starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, adding to its enduring popularity. The plot follows wicked husband Gregory (Boyer) as he attempts to slowly and gradually drive his wife Paula (Bergman) insane by fabricating false allegations, conjuring up false memories, and refuting prior remarks.
A manipulative husband tries to make his wife believe she is losing her mind in the thriller film by making small alterations in her environment, such as gradually lowering the flame on a gaslight. He not only disrupts her environment and convinces her that she is nuts, but he also abuses and controls her, isolating her from her family and friends.
As a result, the wife continually questions herself, her thoughts, perceptions, and recollections. She also feels neurotic, hypersensitive, and out-of-control, which is precisely the purpose of gaslighting: to make the target feel off-balance and unsure of what is true and what isn't. Because this film accurately depicted manipulative people's controlling and destructive behaviours, psychologists and counsellors coined the term "gaslighting" to describe this form of emotionally abusive behaviour.
Gaslighting occurs when someone continues telling you something you already know to be wrong, causing you to doubt your memory. It's a sort of manipulation and bullying in the sense that it invalidates what you already know to be accurate and makes you feel powerless. Gaslighters are masters at distorting facts and exploiting genuine knowledge against their victims.
When someone in a position of power and authority, or someone well-liked, engages in gaslighting in the workplace, the victims are less inclined to confront this toxic co-worker. And the longer it goes unchecked, the more you'll find yourself questioning what is genuine and what isn't.
A lot of the time, gaslighting is unintentional. Consider that direct report who never alters her conduct no matter how many times you offer her comments. The final result is that you doubt your efficacy and capacity to manage/lead in your office—not her goal, but how her actions made you feel. It may also have sexist or racial connotations.
Download the PDF Number of Downloads (4) Download the infographic
View Trish Makiwa's full profile