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Can we talk about Gaslight?

Image from IMDB


As a fan of psychological thriller film, other than Psycho, Gaslight is one of the movie I recommend for those who are interested to understand psychological term: Gaslight. I watched the 1940 film starring Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard. There is also the remake version starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. If you are not into a black & white movie, you might prefer the 2017 version with more color and modern cinematography. I myself always prefer the original. I love Alfred Hitchcock’s style movie.

Aside from its poor rating 7.3, this movie deserves reward for pointing out a common type of psychological manipulation that we rarely acknowledge. Gaslight is a form of psychological manipulation where one convinced the others that their memory is false and their behavior is abnormal. A serious victim of Gaslight might doubt their sanity and unable to perceive events which are real and not. The term ‘Gaslight’ is adopted by psychologists from the movie itself.

In a very small degree, many people unconsciously had experienced Gaslighting. Whether in a parent-children relationship, boyfriend-girlfriend relationship or even between leaders and their commoners. In a greater degree, an overlooked Gaslighting behavior can be used as a political strategy. Nonetheless, few people talk about this. My worst Gaslighting experience was with my ex-boyfriend. In this post, I will talk further about it. This post is not to judge my ex-boyfriend. Hopefully, it could enlighten people what it looks like to be gaslighted because this topic is not easy to be understood only by theory.

How it feels to be gaslighted?
I actually do not know term ‘Gaslight’ when I was in my abusive relationship. I did not dig deeper about mental abuse in a relationship and accept blindly all issues in our relationship as a natural thing that happen in every relationship. I learned this term after the break-up. One time, there is an article on facebook describing about Gaslight in an abusive relationship. After I read the article, suddenly all the doubts I ever experienced were making sense. There are about two or more times, when I was supposed to call him at a time we agreed. One time, I forgot to call him and he claimed me as forgetful. Every time I made this mistake, he will give a consequence (which previously I called it as punishment, but he refused to call it punishment. According to him, this is a consequence, because I am generating the mistake and this is the ‘consequence’ of my action). Since he knows my liking and my dislike, he usually used it on the consequences. Such as cancelling my appointment with my sister; spoiling my secrets; exposing me to things I despise. I finally switch to not rely on my memory and write the detail of the appointment on note. Despite of that, he claimed that I wrote a wrong detail on the note. The note that I made was a useless evidence because he used past event as a proof that I am forgetful.

Another time, there was a time, he claimed I was flirting my friend by letting him pick me up. In fact, I never let anyone touch me without my consent. Based on the memory I had, my friend was challenged by him to pick me up. I was about 60kg, that was a quiet heavy weight for man to carry. My friend accepted the challenge and I let him to carry me, he is my good friend and I know he does not have intention to flirt me. But again, I failed to proof my ex-boyfriend that he was mistaken the event which is caused by him. He again convinced me that my memory was the one that is failing.

What happened when you are gaslighted?
The effect of being Gaslighted may vary. To me, I suffered a light sign of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). My ex-boyfriend might give me ‘consequence’ if I fail to meet our appointment on time. Even only for one minute. I continuously checking time just to avoid punishment that I got because not being on time to him. Thankfully, my Gaslight experience was not as bad as in the movie, however the effect of this relationship occurs in a long term period that affecting to my current relationship too. I grew unnecessary paranoid. When I got late one minute from an appointment, I feel guilty and being frightened that I made my partner upset. I always run fetching my phone when the alarm, I set as a reminder for every appointment, is ringing.

How to avoid gaslight?
Even until now, I cannot conclude the best strategy to avoid Gaslight. At first, I thought documenting everything will be helpful. But when you are in a Gaslighted relationship, the victimizer tends to use their dominance to make you accept their claim. Even more, they could even convince your friend and family that you are mentally ill and they are actually helping you. By far, my best advice to you is to seek advice to therapist. Many people still think visiting therapist means you are depressed and it is still considered as embarrassment and failure. In fact, coming to therapist does not make you an insane person. They have professionally learned about human psychology and they are the one who can understand your situation without judging you. If possible, visit by yourself. So your victimizer does not have chance to interrupt you when explaining your situation.

Gaslighting is difficult to trace, difficult to tackle and difficult to avoid. To me, it is important for everybody to learn the meaning of Gaslighting. Everybody can be the victim and the victimizer of Gaslighting. I personally believe, my ex-boyfriend did not know the term Gaslighting back then. He was not an academic person. When you learned about Gaslighting, I hope it raise everybody’s common sense not to be the victim or the victimizer of Gaslighting.

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