What We Mean When We Talk about “Gaslight-ing”

People of all ages (from my teenagers to seniors) throw around the term “gaslighting” all the time. It is used to mean a cruel attempt on the part of one person to confuse and control another, often by getting that person to think that he or she is going nuts.

What few people know is the origin of the term.

In the 1944 film Gaslight, a hypnotically evil Charles Boyer attempts to destroy his wife, a young heiress, Ingrid Bergman in a crazy bravura performance, by attempting to convince her that she’s losing her mind, starting by making the gas in the lamps flicker and insisting that no one sees this except her.

According to some critics, this film started the sequence of “do-you-really-know-your-husband?” films characterized by such movies as Spiral Staircase in 1946.

It holds up, this story, and it’s compelling evidence of how relatively simple it would be to transform a trusting and vulnerable person into a paranoia-soaked wreck.

At my lowest ebb, I wonder … could this happen to me? What if you had a fortune in jewels, as did the character Ingrid Bergman played in the film? What if someone wanted to get it away from you? What if that person was your own grown child?

I could write a novel about this.

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