Gregory has engaged in a campaign to convince his wife, Paula, she is mentally ill. He wants her money, and getting her committed to a mental institution will accomplish his goal. Their home is illuminated by gas light, and Gregory arranges to have the lights flicker whenever his wife is alone at home. This is the basic plot of a movie called Gaslight which ran in 1944.
The movie has become the origin of the term gaslighting, representing an effort to mislead another person by creating mental disturbances (e.g., disorientation, self-doubt, and distress). Those being gaslighted are often vulnerable to others they see as being in more influential positions.
Gaslighting largely was a forgotten concept until social media became popular. Originally, gaslighting had a result of commitment to a mental institution. Now the term gaslighting is used when a person has been brain washed into extreme beliefs.
The person doing the gaslighting uses a variety of strategies:
- Pretending not to understand why the person has a given belief
- Convincing the person that their memory is false
- Controlling the conversation with a person
- Minimizing a person’s concerns.
These strategies are used on a continuous basis.
With the proliferation of social media, gaslighting has become a way to manipulate people’s societal beliefs. Social media algorithms place people into social identity groups which provide a steady stream of posts and responses with the intent to gaslight individuals. The intent in this case is not to develop mental health issues, but to create adherence to extreme views of societal concerns.
The words we use often go through a journey of meaning. What began as the story line in a movie was transformed into a psychological condition. Then it became a description of an approach to influence others by doubting themselves. Often we hear these words as they become more used, but rarely do we understand how those words began. Gaslight was named by the Merriman-Webster dictionary as its word of the year in 2022 although it has taken on a very different meaning from its original use.
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“I know you never lie to me. I believe you. You’re not lying. It’s worse than lying. You’ve forgotten.”– Gregory to his wife, Paula, in the movie Gaslight.