A handful of examples that explain what gaslighting is and is not.
The post by Yashar Ali, “Why Women Aren’t Crazy” is one over our most popular posts of all time, with well over 1 million pageviews since it first ran. It explains a form of emotional manipulation known as “gaslighting”. As Ali explains it:
Gaslighting is a term used 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.
The post has generated over 950 comments, with some people unclear of when saying to someone “You are over-reacting” crosses the line into. This recent comment by Saint Sithney looks at a couple of examples in an attempt to clarify what gaslighting is and is not:
“Gaslighting is not trying to calm down someone who is truly being overemotional. It is taking normal displays of emotion and twisting them to make the person showing the emotion in the wrong.
For example, I once witnessed a man throwing a tantrum over his pizza having incorrect toppings. Full out tantrum – cussing, screaming, throwing things, threatening to hit the girl at the counter and beat up her manager. That is not a normal emotional reaction to being upset over an incorrect order. It would not be gaslighting to say, “You need to calm down – you are taking this way too seriously. It’s a PIZZA!”
Now, another example I know of from a different restaurant. A group of men were celebrating their buddy returning safely from deployment in Iraq. They brought out barbecue, and the soldier ran, retching, from the table. His last job in Iraq had been morgue duty and it had reminded him viscerally of a bomb-charred body he had had to scrape out of a car. It would be gaslighting to suggest that his PTSD was him being too sensitive and that he should just get over it. He witnessed something truly terrible, and he reacted in a way that is normal for PTSD sufferers.
If you say something really hurtful to a woman and she cries, that is a normal emotional reaction. You can not say “You’re being oversensitive, just because you’re upset that I hurt your feelings”. That’s victim-blaming, and it’s a cowardly move to absolve yourself of guilt. Own up if you were dumb enough to say something really hurtful, or if you innocently triggered someone’s PTSD. It’s what a real man would do, instead of this “Well… YOU shouldn’t be hurt just because I hurt your feelings! You have no right to make me feel guilty, so I’m going to make you feel guilty and crazy for daring to make me unhappy.” What kind of man would do that to a woman he cared about?
Here is a video that explains the term in more depth:
And finally, here is a movie trailer from the original movie Gaslight, from which the term was coined. It may not shed much more light on the term, but it sure is fun to watch.
photo: lianza / flickr