Why Is It Called Gaslighting?

The term "gaslighting" became big this week, as (surprisingly) TeenVogue wrote an editorial accusing Donald Trump of "gaslighting" the country. In fact, the editorial was titled "Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America," and included quotes like this:

Trump won the Presidency by gas light. His rise to power has awakened a force of bigotry by condoning and encouraging hatred, but also by normalizing deception. Civil rights are now on trial, though before we can fight to reassert the march toward equality, we must regain control of the truth. If that seems melodramatic, I would encourage you to dump a bucket of ice over your head while listening to "Duel of the Fates." Donald Trump is our President now; it's time to wake up.

So what is "gaslighting"? Why is it called "gaslighting"? Read on...

What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is the term used to describe a psychological technique of convincing someone that he/she is insane.

That is, when you "gaslight" someone, you manipulate them into thinking that all of their beliefs, perceptions, and memories may be incorrect. By doing that, you can essentially make anyone believe anything, regardless of whether or not it is true.

While it seems like something more likely to be performed by a sinister magician, "gaslighting" is a very real technique. It has been used by the Nazis and many others to spread propaganda.

Why is it called gaslighting?

The term "gaslighting" came from a 1944 movie and the play that inspired it, according to IMDB.

The movie, titled Gaslight, was about a husband who slowly convinced his wife that she was insane by adjusting the lights in their London house. The house, like many at the time, was lit by gas fixtures on the wall.

When a new light was turned on, the gas to all of the lights would be reduced, thereby dimming the light. By insisting that the lights were not dimming, the husband made the wife think she was going crazy.

Why did he do that? Without spoiling the movie, we can say this: the wife's aunt was murdered long ago, and the husband was willing to do anything necessary to keep the truth a secret.

Anyway, the title of the movie, "Gaslight," became associated with the psychological phenomenon, and soon the term caught on. Today, it is an accepted term used by psychologists and others.

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Gaslight Film