The term gaslighting was coined by Florence Rush in her book on child sex abuse in 1980. The term originated from George Cukor’s 1944 movie Gaslight staring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. Florence writes, “Even today the word [gaslighting] is used to describe an attempt to destroy another’s sense of reality.”
Clinical work around the concept of gaslighting as part of betrayal trauma is derived from Omar Minwalla, Jerry Goodman, and Sylvia Jackson MFT.
The plot of the movie is a husband (Boyer) who is stealing his wife’s (Bergman) family heirloom jewelry and money from the attic of the house. When he goes into the attic, he begins to dim the lights, powered by gas, of course. When she questions the dimming lights, he insists she is imagining that. He continues to manipulate small elements in her environment until she and others begin to believe she is becoming insane. While this seems like an eccentric plot, this deception happens often in psychological abusive homes. Oftentimes, men who are involved in sexual betrayal, will gaslight in order to cover up their activities and make their wife believe that they are the problem and therefore emotionally unstable. I believe at times husbands aren’t even aware that they are doing it. They can be so sick (and stuck) in their addiction that even this manipulation has become a pattern.
So, what does gaslighting look like in a relationship with an addict? For the purpose of this article, we are discussing a male addict and his wife. You could be the husband reading this and your wife is a sex and/or love addict and you are experiencing gaslighting from her. Or, maybe you are a girlfriend or fiancé of an addict. Whatever your experience, you may be able to relate to some of these activities in your own life.
A person who is gaslighting manipulates other people so that he does not look bad. He may manipulate a situation so that his wife will think everything is normal. Often, the wife will begin to second-guess herself. “Maybe there is something wrong with me that I can’t seem to fix dinner and get everything on the table at the right time.” She might begin to think she is confused, crazy or overly sensitive. She may find herself hopeless, without joy, unhappy, maybe even depressed. Oftentimes, women begin to make excuses for her husband or else she may withhold information in order to make him not look bad. Overall, she likely knows something is wrong, but she is unable to put her finger on the problem.
She gets to the point of believing that she can’t please her husband when there are circumstances out of her control, yet she knows that he has expectations. Although her desire is to please her husband, there are times she needs to stand up for herself and ask him to take care of some of the to do list. One woman shared this: “There was a time when I felt my husband would be angry if I forgot something on the shopping list. What he didn’t understand was, shopping with 4 little kids in tow was a challenge and I as much as society and even my church told me I was supposed to be super-mom, I could not do it all. When he began doing some of the shopping and picked up Cashew Salty and Sweet bars instead of Peanut, or forgot my lemons or tomatoes for dinner, he realized shopping was difficult even without the kids.”
If this sounds like something you might be dealing with, I would urge you to explore this further with a therapist who understands the concept of gaslighting. A therapist can help you to stand up for yourself and see things as they really are rather than what another wants us to believe.