Gaslight: (verb) to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.
Gaslighting is one of the most commonly used tactics in emotionally abusive relationships, but by its very nature it can also be one of the hardest to pinpoint and combat. It is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented to the victim with the intent of making them doubt their own memory and perception.
Where did the term “gaslight” come from?
In 1938, a play called Gas Light premiered in London. Written by Patrick Hamilton, the story centers on Bell and Jack, a newly married couple. Throughout the course of the play Jack attempts to convince Bella and others that Bella is insane by manipulating small elements of their environment, and subsequently, insisting that she is mistaken or remembering things incorrectly when she points out these changes. Specifically, Bella notices that the gas lamps in their house flicker and fade at random moments, but no on else appears to notice the changes. Jack has many unexplained disappearances from the house but won’t share his destination with Bella. It is not until near the end of the play that we discover Jack murdered the woman who lived upstairs (Alice Barlow) for her jewelry and has been going up to search for her collection of jewels. When Jack goes to Alice’s flat each night, searching for the jewels, his use of her gaslights cause the light in the house below to go down.
Jack’s manipulation of Bella’s environment and his methodical attacks on her mental state are what gave rise to the term “gaslighting,” especially after two movies (a British version in 1940 and an American version in 1944) popularized the story further.