V5 (5 things 1 topic)

5 Things – Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a term I’ve had some trouble understanding.  I’ve heard friends at the climbing gym toss the word around, I’ve heard it on interviews, and I often hear students use it as well.  Recently, we were covering Anna Karenina in my ethics class, and a student referred to Vronsky as a gaslighter.  That sounded like a great description, although I wasn’t sure since I really didn’t know exactly what it meant.

When I asked around for definitions and examples there were some ideas that were in common, but also some differences.  The common theme among definitions was the idea of manipulation, but the degree and style varied from person to person and conversation to conversation.  I like the term, and wanted to be able to understand it better, here are 5 things that came up along the way.

  1. The reason that the definition varies is because it’s not really codified in any one particular journal or discipline.  Although gaslighting does come up in different psychological journals, the American Psychological Association considers gaslighting a colloquialism.
  2. Pop Psychology and self-help books ascribe a very loose interpretation of the term, which lends itself to what may be considered an overuse of the idea.  Within folk-psychology gaslighting occurs in personal relationships when one party assiduously puts forth a false narrative causing the other party to relinquish their autonomy.  In other words, gaslighting is a form of manipulation in which one party commandeers control from another (most often in, but not limited to romantic relationships).  
  3. A more specific definition of gaslighting can be traced back to the 1944 film Gaslight (an adaptation from the 1940 film Gaslight (an adaptation from the 1938 play Gas Light)).  The story centers around Paula and her husband Gregory Anton.  Essentially, Greg is an exceptionally manipulative sack of shit.  He has an ulterior motive, but the means by which he attempts to achieve his goal not only make his wife Paula think that she’s crazy, but actually begins to drive her insane.  Greg, the shit-sack, convinces Paula that she is a clinically forgetful kleptomaniac who is unwell and ought to be confined to the house at all times (for her own good).  Shit-bag Greg’s manipulations start off small and increase little by little, until Paula has no idea what is real and what is imagined.  Okay, so, what does this have to do with a gaslight?  Whenever Greg the satchel of shit leaves the house, the light in Paula’s room (a gaslight) dims a little bit, and whenever he comes home it gets a little brighter.  Paula is the only one who notices this change, and whenever she runs this coincidence by her bundle-of-shit husband Greg, he uses it as an example of her neurosis.  Meanwhile Greg is up in the attic the whole time f-ing with the gas levels and writing it off as Paula losing her grip on reality1.  All this leads to a much more specific definition of gaslighting.  Gaslighting: psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator2.
  4. Being that gaslighting is a colloquialism I think it’s fair to say that there is a gaslight spectrum that ranges from the general to the specific.  Upon this spectrum lies an array of possible examples and corresponding judgments.  At one end we have Greg the gargantuan shit filled tarpaulin, and at the other end we have some prepubescent cretin trying to convince his parents that he’s drunk off one sip of church wine.  These are both examples of gaslighting under a negative light, but can it go the other way?  Can gaslighting culminate in a positive outcome?  I think so.  Think of the student who has a real depth of intelligence but has never been convinced that they could succeed.  Sometimes a compliment on a subpar thought can open an entirely new world.  Or the climber who can barely walk a straight line…with the right encouragement they could become something more than what they otherwise could have been. 
  5. Speaking of climbers…how do we gaslight or get gaslit in a gym or on a wall?  Well, I’ve never met a climber who actively engages in an attempt to drive someone insane by means of gaslighting.  So, we can rule out the extreme form here, but there are more mild forms of gaslighting that occur all the time.  Two examples stand out.  I hear climbers talk about routes that they struggle on or have struggled on and then describe those routes as incredibly easy.  I guess people do this to seem stronger than they actually are, just to flex a little.  I don’t love that practice because it can give rise to a false sense of security for someone who has yet to climb that route, and that could lead to scary or dangerous situations.  In rock-climbing sandbagging is a term for a route that is graded softer or easier than it truly is.  People who put up routes or set routes will sometimes sandbag a route for any variety of reasons.  Climbers complain about grades all the time, occasionally, the setters become fed up and set a bunch of incredibly hard routes while giving them very light grades.  This is absolutely a form of gaslighting.  When someone climbs in the V8 range, and all the sudden they are having trouble sending a V5, they question themselves.  Am I having a bad day?  Have I become weaker?  Is the gravity turned up?  Does it seem dimmer in here for some reason?  Intentionally sandbagging a route or set just to make a point is a little obtuse.  Yes, some climbers can’t help but to talk shit, but why “punish” new climbers or people who never say a word.  There might be a point to it, but come on, climbers are supposed to have thick skin, and that shouldn’t stop at the skin on their fingertips!

  1. I haven’t seen many movies from the 1940’s, so I didn’t really have any expectations for this film. The acting style was little more dramatic that I am used to, but once I habituated to the cadence of dialogue I was hooked. This was a very good movie, at times I found myself sincerely worried for the protagonist, Paula. I also felt sincere distain for the antagonist, Greg. The story and actors really pulled me into their wild little world. The film grossed $4.6 million, and was nominated for 17 academy awards including best picture, and I can understand why. Ingrid Bergman, who played Paula, won best actress for her role, and from what I can tell, she deserved it! This movie is a little bit scary, but I recommend it if you’re looking for a 1940’s psychological thriller.
  2. Merriam-Webster Dictionary

42 Replies to “V5 (5 things 1 topic)”

  1. Loved this. I have seen the movie several times and have also used the term many times. The odd looks I have gotten at times tickle me as the person doesn’t have a clue what I mean! I do love this term.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. You sure know how to ask hard questions! Start with “Casablanca” – a great cast with Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Sidney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains – and a great story of the French Resistance during WWII and the lives of expatriates in Morocco.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. I’m sold, plus I’m already familiar with Bergman from Gaslight. Thanks for the recommendation! I can’t wait to check it out!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, and I wandered how you’d relate it back to climbing. I didnhave avoid understanding of gaslighting either so appreciate your thorough description. Maggie

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Gaslighting is simple. Someone beats the shit out of you but denies it ever happened – even with physical evidence.


    Narcissism is a plague. Gaslighting is a tool used by psychopaths, doctors, lawyers.

    Like when you know something is wrong with you but the doctor says you’re fine.


    It’s not a made up term. It should be illegal.

    Like how a product will tell you it does one thing but actually does another.


    Liked by 8 people

      1. Haha…it’s such a good way to get out any aggressive thoughts on people who you don’t have to spend any time with, good call!

        Liked by 3 people

  4. The Evil X was a master of this. I remember once even saying, “I am not a pathology!” My mom was also incredibly skilled at this, for example, a Rainbow girls spaghetti dinner, my mom grabbed my upper arm, dug in her fingers, and said to me, “You really have them fooled, but I KNOW the real you.” She was so skilled that I grew up believing it was the normal way love between people played out. I would be dominated and manipulated and made to feel like there was something intrinsically wrong with me while the other person got some kind of mysterious payoff. And THAT is why I’m single. ❤️😁

    Liked by 5 people

    1. The ones creating the trauma experience zero remorse at all. Emotionally void. Soulless. The victim rarely ever recovers. The narcissist experiences zero shame – thus zero learning/growth/change

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Nope. There are some messed up people who recognize what they’re doing, but change is next to impossible, even for those who get it and want to do differently. Not only is the victim permanently damaged, the perp is, too.

        I don’t think every perp is a narcissist; some of them have messed up personalities in which they can’t value themselves, believe their self-loathing is reasonable, are terrified of losing the person who is their victim (whom, according to their lights, they love), but it’s what they know. I don’t mean to say it’s OK; it’s not at all OK. It’s just very unfortunate that so many of us have been love-crippled. My mom, however, was a classic narcissist.

        Liked by 6 people

  5. Number 3 is the only definition worth using. Otherwise gaslighting means whatever you want – which renders it meaningless. It becomes just another bad word to throw at someone you dislike for some random reason.

    The movie “Gaslight” is where the term originated but if you want to see a more recent – and equally Hitchcockian – presentation, watch the anime “Perfect Blue.”

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Yikes Fred, I am kind of nervous to see what a contemporary anime can do with a concept that had me on the edge of my seat when presented in a film from 1944.

      Liked by 5 people

  6. One of the best blog posts I’ve read in a while. I love 40’s movies, they are some of the best! Citizen Caine, Casablanca, and The Maltese Phalcon are my favorites from that time. I haven’t seen Gaslight.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. You should try Broken Blossoms (1919) with Lillian Gish. One of the early silent films and quite controversial for its time in dealing with domestic abuse and racism. Metropolis is also a good and famous silent film. One of my favorite funny movies is from 1959, Some Like It hot, with Marylin Monroe and several other big-name actors.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Would you believe Dumbo, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi and Alice in Wonderland are all from the 1940s as well?

    I would also add the 1929 French silent film Un Chien Andalou – it’s wild.

    I like the fact that you also point out that gaslighting isn’t exclusive to romantic relationships. Too often, when we talk about psychology in relationships, the focus is exclusively romantic, forgetting that we have friends, family, and work colleagues that we are also in relationships with.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are so right!!! Manipulation can rear its head pretty much anywhere.

      Thanks for the film recommendation, I’ll see if I can find that French film for sure!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I love those old classic films.

    And, cruel head games that some people play are never acceptable.

    Though you are right with the idea of using psychology in a positive light to uplift and encourage one who may not see their potential or who may need a boost in some area of their life.

    I love this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi thedigedral! I enjoyed reading this post and others and I see your “likes” on some of my posts. Thank you! I like how you relate real life issues to climbing and I’m wondering if you would feature one of my posts on your blog.

    The best way to reach me is at okamlifecoaching@yahoo.com

    Also, I would love to offer you or someone you know a free coaching session. It’s life changing in a fantastic way!

    Thanks and have a wonderful day!

    A Frantic Mom

    Liked by 1 person

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