Gaslighting is a particularly vile and duplicitous means of manipulation. TV Tropes defines it as “deliberately trying to drive someone mad by altering their environment without their knowledge, then denying it”. It plays at one’s natural impulse to put their faith in someone they believe to be trustworthy. This may be a husband or lover, or could represent the government, typically seen in dystopian stories.
It’s a serious subject, because not only is it seen in books, movies and TV, but unfortunately it occurs in real life far too often. In fiction, it can occasionally be played for laughs. For instance, a memorable episode of the sitcom Happy Endings (The Kerkovich Way) features the character Jane tricking her husband into thinking he’s forgotten an entire evening’s worth of events. But these moments work as humor because they’re so cruel, and the gaslighter has such little insight into the potential damage she could be causing.
It is a form of psychological abuse, a despicable means of controlling a person or even an entire population. Since the Golden Age of cinema, depictions of gaslighting have been pervasive in storytelling, often with terrifying and memorable accounts.
Nick hosts the TV Tropes podcast On The Tropes.