Have you ever been through a period at work where you could have sworn a boss or colleague was chipping away at your sense of reality? Have you had that disorienting feeling that your very memories are being tampered with?
You might have been a victim of gaslighting.
The verb "gaslight" was probably born in the 1960s but it was conceived in 1938. That was the year a play by English writer Patrick Hamilton premiered at the Apollo Theatre on London's West End.
Set in the 1880s, just before the advent of indoor electric lighting, it told the story of Bella and her shady, unpleasant husband Jack. Jack inexplicably leaves their home at strange times and Bella notices that during these absences the lights in their home fade. When she asks him about it, he tells her it's all in her head – she's going insane.
It turns out that Jack is in fact a psychopath with a secret and is deceiving Bella in this and other ways to keep her from uncovering the truth.
The play, later a Hollywood film, was called Gaslight. The word now refers to the psychological manipulation perpetrated by Jack on Bella; his attempt to upset her perception of reality and question her mental equilibrium. It's gained new popularity recently as commentators have begun to suggest that Donald Trump is gaslighting (variously) his supporters, his opponents, the American public and even himself.
What can you do about it if it happens to you? If Bella example's is worth following, don't get mad, get even ... but do use 'madness' as an ironic defence when your antagonist's plans spectacularly unravel.
Jonathan Rivett is a freelance writer with theinkbureau.com.au.
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