Gas-lighting : new name, old manipulation

August 24th, 2013

gaslightI thought I was being rather clever, using the classic Ingrid Bergman film ‘Gaslight’ to illustrate the emotional manipulation that can go on between couples.  You know the one, where the woman (because it usually is a woman) is put down by the man (because it usually is a man, but not always) with a dismissive comment like – “you’re so sensitive, get a sense of humour!” and over time, if the woman sticks around (which they usually do) she ends up feeling as if she is going mad.

Then a few weeks ago a client used the term ‘gas-lighting’ in a session, and I thought, how brilliant, for two reasons.  First, as an example of how we get to learn from our clients in this therapeutic endeavour too, and second as a perfect example of Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious.  I love the idea that there I am thinking I’m coming up with this clever little metaphor all of my own, when in fact there are lots of me-like people all over the globe thinking exactly the same thing, right now.

As if to prove a point, a friend just sent me a link to a website describing gas-lighting from a male-feminist point of view.  More serendipity Jung would have smiled sagely.

‘Why Women Aren’t Crazy’ by Yashar Ali is worth a read as he describes and illustrates how this interchange gets going, and how it sets up a passive aggressive response in the woman.  I would add though that this dynamic doesn’t just appear between men and women, but between gay and lesbian couples, close same-sex friendships and work relationships, but yes I agree, it is most obvious between a heterosexual couple.

The article appears on an American website called The Good Men Project which is also worth a browse.

Jane Edwards is a co-founder of London Psychotherapy Network