Gaslighting is a form of psychological warfare that causes the target to question their own judgment and reality. It is an extreme and very specialized form of brainwashing. When used in a consistent and pervasive manner, gaslighting is a form of masterful manipulation and mental abuse and it can be crippling.
One of the great things about having easy access to so much information right at your fingertips is that it can shine a bright light on certain forms of covert and abusive relationship issues that were not previously well-known or discussed in our society. A newer “buzz” word that seems to be talked about a lot these days is gaslighting. What exactly is gaslighting and how does it affect the victim? More importantly, how do you know when you’re caught in the proverbial spiders' web and what, if anything, can you do to free yourself? Let’s start with three examples from the film.
1. The Changeling
Set in the 1920s, this movie stars Angelina Jolie as a mother whose son vanishes. The story unfolds in the local media and creates embarrassment for the local Los Angeles police department. Months later, Christine (Jolie) is informed that her son has been found, however, upon being reunited, it is clear to Christine that the boy brought to her is not her son.
The police department uses the boy as a tool to make Christine’s nightmare of events disappear and ultimately take the focus off of the police department. Her detractors continue to go on the offensive, even as she insists the boy is not hers, by claiming her to be a bad mother and obviously crazy. As a result, she is sent to a psych ward and forced to take antipsychotic medications.
Not only did the corrupt police department gaslight Christine, but they also exploited the media and gaslit the people of the town who turned against her.
In Nacho Vigalondo’s 2016 sci-fi film, Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is an alcoholic who’s newly single and has just returned to her hometown. Her alcoholic struggles have not only affected her personal life but in a rather ingenious twist, she is metaphysically linked to a gigantic creature who destroys South Korea.
Gloria’s addiction and the destruction it brings is not the only monster lurking in the film. Gloria’s childhood friend Oscar becomes controlling, possessive, and manipulative of Gloria as the film progresses. This causes him to unleash a monster of his own, which he uses as an additional tool to keep Gloria under his thumb. Oscar uses Gloria’s drunk tendencies against her to further his own agenda by taking advantage of her at every possible turn.
3. Girl On The Train
Rachel (Emily Blunt) is an on-off recovering alcoholic divorcee’ who travels by train to New York City every day after losing both her job and her marriage. She fixates on the lives of her former husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), as well as their neighbors Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett). Megan worked for Tom and Anna as a nanny for their bay Evie but had recently quit the job.
When a pregnant Megan goes missing and Rachel wakes up covered in blood after a night of drinking, she is questioned by Detective Riley (Allison Janney) as a potential suspect. Rachel doesn’t trust herself because her marriage to Tom resulted in him making her believe she is crazy and that her memories are inaccurate. He goes so far as to convince her that she is the reason he lost his job. As Rachel works to disentangle herself from the suspect list and works toward becoming sober, it becomes apparent that Tom had planted false memories in Rachel during her drinking binges and he was violent towards her once she blacked out. Turns out, Tom was actually fired for having sex with his co-workers.
As the days of sobriety stack up, her memories return and become clearer and clearer leading her to realize that on the day of Megan’s disappearance she saw Tom and Megan together. When she confronted them, Tom struck her and knocked her unconscious. Later, when she awakens and tries to flee, she discovers the door is locked. Tom comes for her and she ends up in a fight for her life, while Anna watches from the top of the steps, guarding Evie.
In addition to the examples given above in modern-day cinema, Psychology Today indicates that it is vital to look for multiple of the following behaviors; Exaggeration and blatant lies, repetition of abuse, escalation when challenged, wearing you down emotionally by going around and around in circles, the experience of false hope, dominates or/or controls you, and lastly, the formation of a codependent relationship. Remember, These behaviors must be consistent and form a pattern.
Keep in mind that when you challenge them (which you will, especially in the beginning), they will refute the evidence (no matter how concrete), deny, blame, misdirect, create confusion and doubt, and manipulate you into submission. They want complete power over you mentally and emotionally so that you feel like you need them for acceptance, approval, respect, safety, and security. You will be full of fear, vulnerable, and marginalized so that they can exploit you at will for their own power and personal gain. If by some chance, you do happen to receive kindness or remorse, it will be fleeting, fake, and superficial- its only purpose is to keep you dancing on the puppet strings
By now, you might be wondering what, if anything, can you do to disengage yourself from the web? First, it is incredibly important to recognize that you are in the gaslighting web in the first place. After all, you cannot fix what you do not acknowledge. Once you do, discontinue engaging, set clear boundaries, talk to someone you trust about what you are going through, and write any inconsistent or disturbing interactions down. Seek help from a therapist- they can help you make a plan and take steps to get out of the relationship as soon as possible. Full disclosure here- it will not be easy, but don’t give up because you can take back and rebuild your life. You don’t have to do it alone.