Gaslight: a glimpse of psychopathic manipulations

The word “gaslight,” when used as a verb, means “to manipulate someone into questioning their own sanity; to subtly drive someone crazy.” It’s a term that’s been used on this website to describe the psychological damage inflicted by a psychopath.

I was aware that the word, when used in this way, was a reference to the 1944 movie Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Angela Lansbury and Joseph Cotton. But I had never seen the film. A few days ago, I watched Gaslight for the first time.

The story is set in Edwardian London, where an accomplished singer is mysteriously strangled in her home. The crime is discovered by the singer’s young niece, Paula Alquist (Ingrid Bergman). Paula is traumatized by the murder and leaves London to live in Italy.

Ten years later, Paula falls head-over-heels in love with a handsome and suave pianist, Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), and they quickly marry. The couple returns to the London house, which Paula has inherited. Then Gregory begins a slow, calculated campaign to make Paula believe she is becoming forgetful, then hysterical, then insane.

Working on the mind

Several film reviews call the villain of the movie, Gregory Anton, a psychopath. Most movies that are supposedly about psychopaths do not, in fact, portray them accurately. Gaslight does a fairly good job.

Gregory maneuvers himself into Paula’s life and quickly sweeps her off her feet. (Does this sound familiar to anyone?) Gregory has an agenda, which is revealed later in the movie. He manipulates Paula into going along with his plans—starting with going back to the London house.

Gradually he starts working on Paula’s mind. He moves things and then asks Paula what she did with them. When Paula is understandably confused—after all, she didn’t do anything—he feigns concern, while making more and more items disappear.

Gregory shames Paula in front of their servants, and gradually convinces the servants that there is something wrong with their mistress. (Has anyone experienced that?) He lets it be known in society that Paula is not well, and then contrives to make Paula have a very public breakdown.

The psychopath shows flashes of rage, then quickly shifts to solicitous manipulation. He becomes more and more dominant—telling Paula what to do and where to sit—while his wife crumbles.

In my opinion, Gaslight provides a fairly good representation of the destructive relationship between a psychopathic predator and his victim. The only big thing that seems off is that Gregory, the villain, has a motivation for what he is doing. From what I’ve seen, many psychopaths destroy the people they supposedly love for no reason at all.

Understanding the dynamics

I was hoping that I’d be able to tell people to watch Gaslight and they’d understand what it’s like to be victimized by a psychopath. Although anyone who has experienced a psychopath will recognize the villain’s behaviors, I’m not sure the movie will help people who haven’t been there understand the dynamics. The film is just a bit too theatrical for the manipulation to be perceived as real.

I also watched American Psycho. In the beginning, the portrayal of the psychopathic character, Patrick Bateman, does seem to capture the grandiosity and cold heartlessness of a psychopath. But then the film turns into a bloody slasher movie, or maybe a horror fantasy—I couldn’t figure it out. In the end, it’s just another one of those movies that confuses people about psychopaths.

So we are left trying to explain to people how the psychopath manipulated us, how we could have fallen for it, why we didn’t see it. And the words just never seem to capture the experience.

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45 Comments on "Gaslight: a glimpse of psychopathic manipulations"

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Not sure where to post this…but it relates to writing and how a sociopath responds to ideas and expresses that response. It made me think of media and how ideas are processed.

I experienced an extended relationship with what I now recognize as a sociopath.

What was very consistent about her was how she responded to my letters and in conversations. She could never seem to have an emotional reaction to or reciprocate a pleasant or loving sentiment- however it was expressed. If I wrote to her about a feeling that I had while thinking about her – she would respond to it with an analysis of it or, in the way an english composition professor would respond to an essay from a student. A response to a letter from me where I recount my thoughts about her and the feelings that they engendered would get a response like: “You write so well. You are able to elicit a tactile response.”

Very often, when I wrote a love letter or just expressed my the love and desire I was feeling for her – it was as if she could edit out the pleasantries, look for points to criticize and, treat it as if I had just given her a shopping list – or a spreadsheet of some kind.

Perhaps she was a teacher? Sounds like she did not understand the meaning of a love letter?

Wow, I always saw “gaslighting” regarding this subject but never knew what it was til I just now looked it up then found this post here. Sheesh, I have seen this relentlessly from DH’s spath-ex-wife and lately I have also come to see it in DH and his mother. When the ex did I was like, “Whhhaaa?” I just didn’t get why someone would do that, and I just thought she was basically dumb while playing smart (high level exec). Now I see! Over that last year, every time I look harder, I see worse and worse of these unhealthily narc. traits in heck, DH, but also just about every husband anyone I know has currently. I like pollyannanomore’s having at least met someone normal. I’m wondering WHO IS normal? Though true, I am starting to see or wonder if it’s just everyone I decided I “didn’t like” as I was dating who WERE normal? I’ve had way too many mean/abusive in whatever ways relationships to not admit that I still need to learn way better boundary keeping. Pollyannanomore is my new hero. Thank you!

That is sad you have had so many abusive relationships. You may attract the wrong guy. Your DH sounds abusive. You should never allow any kind of abuse. From anyone. I don’t. And never will. My mom and dad always taught me that it was not acceptable to let anyone put their hands in you or verbally abuse u. My ex husband and I spilt because we just were not getting along and fell out of love but we are friends and have a great relationship. My husband now treats me like a queen. The only problem with him is he is such a nice guy he was manipulated by an evil sociopath and believed her lies when she was out screwing every man in town. He was like in denial or something. Until me, he never knew what a genuine, sincere and loving relationship was. He is so funny, I will iron a shirt for him and he is so grateful like I just donated a kidney to him. Because his ex sociopathic wife was so mean abusive and selfish. She did do anything for anyone but herself. She never did the small sweet things that mean the most. It was all about money. What can others do for her. Your situation is more complicated than mine, with the sociopath being successful. My husband ex wife (the sociopath) is so dysfunctional and strung out on drugs. I was at our neighbor hood pool the other day and a lady who I just met knew her and ask me if she still has a drug problem. I said ” I don’t know cause I don’t keep up with the crazy woman”. U really have to stop obsessing over his ex and how much money she has and how much u don’t have and worry about yourself. Obsessing about your husbands ex is really useless. She is an ex for a reason. Don’t let her affect u. Don’t read her blogs. Ignore, act as if u don’t even know she exists. That’s what I did. And my life is so less stressful and I actually have peace of mind. Because I just stopped caring. You will get to that point one day and so will your husband

One other thing I noticed that I did with DH, also DH with his spath-ex greatly pressured by her, is that we, just like Ingrid Bergman’s character in Gaslight, married quickly.

I wonder how common a trait that is, how often “healthy” people marry quickly, versus being pressured to by someone not that healthy or very unhealthy?

Yes marrying quick is either done out of possibly the ex wife threatening her ex husband, by saying they can’t take trips with kids because they aren’t married. My husbands ex wife, is a text book sociopath. She screwed around on my husband with everyone, then left him and Immediatly married her now husband who is like 40 years older than her. Weird…


That “hurry up marriage” is very common iin disordered and dysfunctional people. I think from your posts that DH and his mother as well as his ex wife all are high in P traits so you may have landed in a nest of vipers. Good luck and keep on reading.

I love to watch the movie “Gaslight” every few years. There are actually two versions of this movie and I have enjoyed watching both of them. I find it helpful as a victim of gaslighting to watch the movie.

Donna, when you mention trying to find movies that describe sociopath behaviors that are hard to detect for outsiders, one movie came to mind: “Sleeping with the Enemy.” However, it is also quite theatrical. I think some Lifetime movies may do a better job of showing the intricacies if they are based on a true story. But, so many people don’t understand that most sociopaths are not murderers. They can be just as damaging using the emotional and verbal abuse as show in “Gaslight.”

I think Patricia Evans does the best job I have seen thus far with describing the different verbal and emotional abuses that slowly chip away at a victim.

But, I still recommend that any victim watch “Gaslight” and see what you think. It has helped me several times to look at what the sociopath does to his victim and remind myself how easy it is for them to do it and how easy it is for me to accept it unless I realize they do not love and take my own feelings of any love or loyalty out of the equation when in any situation with any sociopath.

Nisa, this is another good article for you to read on gas lighting abuse. The stress of gas lighting abuse is tremendous on your body (stress on adrenal glands) & mind. Sociopaths know exactly what they are doing to push their victims over their emotional edge especially when they have a new victims hooked and they want to get rid of the old victim.

Sociopaths gas light their victims on purpose they are pure evil. My ex h did gas lighting everyday to me causing so much stress which caused me to emotionally & mentally push me over my edge because my body & mind could not handle that amount of stress, no one can handle that amount of stress a sociopath puts them under. Sociopaths intentionally keep the victims cortisol/adrenaline/blood pressures levels up with their drama, chaos and mind games it’s all a way to control the victim easily by exhausting them mental, emotionally & physically (adrenal fatigue).

The stress of these mind games causes issues with your adrenal glands…the adrenal glands regulate the body’s blood pressure, blood sugar, cortisol & adrenaline levels and over 50 hormones including all the “female hormones’. When the abuser causes continual stress all of these things that are regulated by the adrenal glands become out of balance which causes great distress for the body & mind (clear thinking).

Most if not all sociopaths use this form of abuse and I am guessing you were too abused this why by your ex.

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