Before I heard of the word “gaslighting”, I had difficulty articulating why I shouldn’t be shamed for getting angry or upset at someone else’s behavior. And then I read this article about it…
I want to introduce a helpful term to identify these reactions: gaslighting.
Gaslighting is a term, often used by mental health professionals (I am not one), to describe manipulative behavior used to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they’re crazy.
The term comes from the 1944 MGM film, Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman. Bergman’s husband in the film, played by Charles Boyer, wants to get his hands on her jewelry. He realizes he can accomplish this by having her certified as insane and hauled off to a mental institution. To pull of this task, he intentionally sets the gaslights in their home to flicker off and on, and every time Bergman’s character reacts to it, he tells her she’s just seeing things. In this setting, a gaslighter is someone who presents false information to alter the victim’s perception of him or herself.
Today, when the term is referenced, it’s usually because the perpetrator says things like, “You’re so stupid” or “No one will ever want you” to the victim. This is an intentional, pre-meditated form of gaslighting, much like the actions of Charles Boyer’s character in Gaslight, where he strategically plots to confuse Ingrid Bergman’s character into believing herself unhinged.
The form of gaslighting I’m addressing is not always pre-mediated (sic) or intentional, which makes it worse, because it means all of us, especially women, have dealt with it at one time or another.
I grew up with the expectation to be a “good girl”; you can’t express unpleasant emotions like anger. Frankly a lot of that cultural conditioning came with religious indoctrination that as a female I was a ‘help mate” to a man. I still have difficulty expressing when I am justifiably upset, because of gaslighting. Like being told I “needed to calm down” or asked the popular question “are you on your period?” Realistically even if I am menstruating that doesn’t mean I have to shoulder the entirety of the blame for someone else’s rude or obnoxious behavior.
Of course I’m not the only woman this happens to. I’ve even seen this as a shaming technique against women speaking up about feminism in the free thought movement. Even some of the same shaming that went on in less enlightened times like accusations of “hysteria“.
I posted on this issue in another forum, and some women expressed gratitude that the term gaslighting helped them to name the manipulative behavior they had been subjected to many times. It has been an epiphany for me to, so I wanted to post it here too in hopes it will help others.