The Origins of Gaslighting

Ingrid Bergman at the height of her allure in Gaslight.
Ingrid Bergman confronting Charles Boyer in a climactic scene. Ingrid Bergman as Paula -- who is beginning to lose her mind.

You're not paranoid; people really are messing with you. Go ask Ingrid.

 gaslight -- (verb) gaslights (third-person singular simple present), gaslighting (present participle), gaslighted (simple past and past participle).

1. (slang; origin UK) To manipulate someone psychologically such that they question their own sanity.

For our April KnitFlix, I chose Gaslight, a film that won Ingrid Bergman her first Academy Award -- and it is a well-deserved trophy. Bergman is called on to play naive bride, housebound paranoid and avenger. It is a PERFECT film -- from the sets and costumes to the superb cast (you won't want to miss Angela Lansbury, age 18, playing the blowsy maid) to the spot-on direction by George Cukor (just back from military service).

The film was advertised as "the strange story of an international criminal's love for a great beauty," and "the strange drama of a captive sweetheart." The film's plot, faithfully adapted by its screenwriters, was about a diabolical, Victorian criminal husband (Charles Boyer playing against type) who systematically and methodically attempts to torment, menace, and drive his bedeviled, fragile wife (Ingrid Bergman) mad. Its title was derived from the frequent dimming and flickering of the gaslights. The phrase "to gaslight" someone (to deliberately drive someone insane by psychologically manipulating their environment and tricking someone into believing that they are insane), was derived from the film." -- Tim Dirk, AMC Filmsite.

Tuesday, April 12, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Fresh City Lounge. Check out our full calendar of events and workshops.


I would like to know the percentage of gas lighters who are firemen? No pun intended but it seems this type of abuse is popular with "heroes" of the public.

Yes, you are right it is one of the most devestating forms of abuse. It took years for me to figure out it wasnt me. Then more years to figure out that what was going on in my life was real and actually had a name! By the time I figured it all out and then got my mind around it I was a mess. I went from an attractive, college educated,organized, extremly confident and Goal driven person who enjoyed life to its fullest! Now im an unemployed, terribly disorganized, always late,frassled, confused, completely depressed, hermit. I have lost pretty much everything in life. This gaslighting wasnt done to me by a romantic partner, but by a stepchild? And I was never the mean step mom, quite the opposite. Loving, kind and empathetic. My family has turned their backs on me and all my friends too.I have been labeled a drug addict. Yet I dont do drugs nor drink alcohal. But to the world I act like I am whacked out on drugs. And the worst part of all is that Noone beleives me. Beware everyone. Never ever let your guard down. Don't be too friendly, or too open.Always Be Aware!

I believe that I have recently been "gaslighted" in a Secular Franciscan group. Another woman came into the group who felt threatened by me, engaged me in a quiet, subtle power struggle, bullied me when others couldn't hear or witness it, and no one acknowledged that this was happening or believed me when I tried to elicit support. I looked like the villain, and the more I tried to convince people, the worse I looked. Our superior told me that I was power hungry and was incapable of collaboration (untrue!). It was horrible. I finally left and am leaving the Franciscan order entirely. No support from anyone. The woman finally got what she wanted!

So glad to see your article about this brilliant film. When I watched the film many years ago, I had no idea that I would end up a victim of this type of mental torture/mind game.

Thankfully, today there is more information available on these types of tactics used to drive someone (often a spouse) crazy.My hope is that with knowledge of this kind of abuse, more people can get out and away from the "gaslighter" sooner, rather than later.

I think gaslighting often goes along with addiction/alcoholism. Due to "euphoric recall" the addict will often act as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened, while the spouse remembers the night before; the trashing of the house, the punch in the nose, the fling against the wall. The next morning the addict acts as if it never happened. This can also be due to a"blackout." It's mind-boggling living with someone who does this.

Being gaslighted too often has lifelong effects. In my opinion, it is one of the cruelest type of abuse known to man.

Post new comment