Many people call it the art of gaslighting. There is nothing artsy about manipulating someone into becoming insane just so you can have power over them. This week, I shed light on gaslighting and how to know you are in a situation where you are being gaslighted.
The term ‘gaslighting’ comes from a 1938 play, titled ‘Gas Light’, which was adapted into the 1940 film, ‘Gas Light’, followed by the better-known 1944 film ‘Gaslight’, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman.
In each work, a male protagonist convinces his wife she is imagining things that are actually happening, including the dimming of the house’s gas lights, with the result of making her believe she has gone insane. Many times, without the exception that there are women who are equally manipulative and they gaslight men, gaslighting often comes from men who are abusers and are in relationships.
However, it can also happen within workplaces, friendships, families and or any other everyday scenario.
The most distinctive feature of gaslighting is that it is not enough for the gaslighter simply to control his victim or have things go his way. It is essential to him that the victim, herself, actually comes to agree with him (Spear, 2000).
It is also important to note that one of the really difficult things about gaslighting is that it is confusing at its core. This means that it is meant to confuse you, so it is really hard to identify it because it often comes from someone you trust and care about.
When someone gaslights you, they often portray the following signs. Firstly, they lie about things that are important and/or happened to you. People who engage in gaslighting are habitual and pathological liars. They will blatantly lie to your face and never back down or change their stories – even when you call them out or provide proof of their deception. They will make comments such as, ‘You’re making things up. That never happened’.
Lying is the cornerstone of their destructive behaviour. Even when you know they are lying, they can be very convincing. In the end, you start to second-guess yourself.
Secondly, they make you, as the victim, feel you are exaggerating when you narrate your experiences. Often, this does not only make you question your sanity, but it also leaves you alone with your thoughts – to the point where you are isolated because you believe you are crazy.
In the end, many victims end up making excuses for the gaslighter – and sometimes, they are the ones who end up apologising, knowing fully well they are not wrong.
With the phenomenon of gaslighting, it is definitely a game of power, where male abusers typically mobilise gendered stereotypes to gaslight their female partners.
The idea that women are inherently irrational – that masculinity equals reason and femininity equals over-emotionality and unreason.
Having power over someone strengthens their chances of easily manipulating them and further gaslighting them. For instance, for beautiful women, men often argue that it is because of their beauty that other men are looking at them. Despite knowing that there is nothing to do about how one looks, an abusive and equally gaslighting man will tell a woman to tone down how she looks – and this will make her believe it is really her fault.
As a result, this woman will stop wearing make-up, dressing well and/or just looking appealing to please the man.
Sometimes, men in these instances go as far as telling women they are whores and prostitutes for taking contraceptives – and often, because these women want to please these men, they end up doing what they say.
If you are in such a situation where someone has made you feel like your emotions are not important, please get help. You are not crazy; you are not delusional nor are you losing your mind. You are telling the truth, and I believe you.
• Frieda Mukufa’s lifestyle section concentrates on women-related issues and parenting every Friday in the New Era newspaper. She also specialises in editing research proposals, proofreading as well as content creation.