Britannica definition of Gaslighting:
An elaborate and insidious technique of deception and psychological manipulation, usually practiced by a single deceiver, or “gaslighter,” on a single victim over an extended period. Its effect is to gradually undermine the victim’s confidence in his own ability to distinguish truth from falsehood, right from wrong, or reality from appearance, thereby rendering him pathologically dependent on the gaslighter in his thinking or feelings.
Although the term ‘Gaslighting’ is frequently used in modern parlance, it originates from a stage play named “Gas Light” produced in 1938 in the UK, followed by a British movie and then the more famous American movie in 1944, starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, pictured above. In essence, the husband is trying to persuade his wife that she is becoming insane by a series of deceptions including deliberately dimming and brightening the gas lights. I won’t reveal anymore of the plot but it is an excellent movie with twists and turns.
In real life, gaslighting can exist in sexual and marital relationships, working relationships and friendships. When writing this post, I wondered if I had been gas lit by boyfriends or my husband. There were elements of manipulation in one or two relationships but I am not sure if it was truly deceptive or intended to undermine me. My husband certainly manipulates me to get his own way and vice versa. Before I learned to drive, he tried to persuade me that he was an excellent driver and that I was just an anxious passenger. I am surprised his pants didn’t burst into flames… Occasionally, I will use a sugary sweet voice to ask for something but that is just a normal part of married life.
Truthfully, I think I was only gaslit by a colleague in a work situation. We started to work together after I had been very successful with a grant application. It probably grated on her that I was being praised about that accomplishment. I had some years working in the community sector and she did not. Over a period of six months, she criticized every element of my working pattern until I doubted my own skills. She instinctively knew that I was vulnerable to being bullied – it was like a cat with a mouse. Part of me realized that she was making unfair criticisms of me, especially about my writing skills! Despite that, it wore me down and I eventually resigned.
Sometime later the gaslighter did the same to a new colleague who became unwell because of the unfair treatment. At that stage, I was asked to help with an intervention. I hate confrontation but I was also very angry that I was not the only victim. At the meeting, I snapped and yelled at her which is very unlike my work persona. She burst into tears and curiously admitted the truth about our relationship. She was insecure and jealous of my success and that was her excuse for gas lighting me. I felt no validation just sadness and guilt that my earlier intervention may have helped.
On reflection, I think she had left her previous employment under a cloud but I am not certain. It would have been even worse for my mental health to confront her in a timely manner – I needed some time to decompress and evaluate what had happened. Sometimes gaslighters get away with their behavior because it can be subtle to detect but she was asked to resign. Later, she and her husband divorced and I wondered if she did the same to him.
One would think that I learned a lesson about believing in myself, wouldn’t you? Sadly not. The very next new colleague did something similar. This was even more complex as I thought we were friends. I perceived that her jabs and criticisms were part of a jokey friendship. She called me her minion, even though I had been offered her job (and turned it down) and was part of the interview panel. This time it was infinitely more subtle and I was beginning to think I had a problem communicating with my colleagues. The reasons for the gaslighting were EXACTLY the same! What is wrong with my self-esteem – perhaps my psychiatrist could tell you? I was so embarrassed and confused that I blamed myself. This time I had the perfect excuse for resigning – Teddy had been offered an overseas posting and I escaped to Egypt.
For many years I kept in touch with this colleague who had become a ‘friend’. There was a part of me that admired and liked her despite everything. Finally, my common sense kicked in and I ghosted her (but that’s a topic I will leave alone). What provokes this behavior? In my situation (but not the Gas Light movie), the gaslighter’s insecurity made them try to undermine me. Did my seemingly confident persona get on their nerves? I can be very tactless and laugh too much at work. My theory doesn’t follow through as the perpetrators continued their gaslighting behavior with a variety of other people with different personalities. Does needlessly criticizing people give them pleasure or is it a form of sadism?
One of the most common reasons people gaslight is to gain power over others. This need for domination may stem from narcissism, antisocial personality, or other issues. Like most cases of abuse, gaslighting is about control. … Over time, the abuser may convince the target that they cause the abuser’s aggression.
I hope that none of my readers have been victims of a gaslighter but please share your experience if you have been. During these experiences, one friend and colleague reached out to me asking me if anyone was treating me badly. I regret not telling her the full facts but I am not sure that I was aware of what was happening. In other words, the gas lighters were successful. Now that I am older, I hope that this won’t happen to me again. On two occasions I was offered jobs by people (in Egypt and America) that I thought might be possible gas lighters or bullies, so I demurred with an excuse about my mental health. It helps that I am now more open about my vulnerabilities and mental health disability.
Finally, I questioned if I could have gaslit any of my employees or colleague. My flaws are many; dogmatic, disinclined to delegate, obsessive but not a gaslighter. Clearly, I can have poor judgement in interviews, given my last experience. The only thing I am sure of is that I didn’t act with malice in the workplace. Be kind to your colleagues.