It’s a coercive and insidious form of psychological torture, but gaslighting can be recognised and stopped

Gaslight was the play that made its writer Patrick Hamilton a very rich man. It opened in London in 1938 to exceptional reviews. Noël Coward was a fan. King George VI took his wife to see it. In 1940, it became a British film, followed four years later by the Hollywood version starring Ingrid Bergman. When domestic abuse was barely whispered, Hamilton shone a light on coercive control and marital manipulation. He caught it exactly.

The play is set in the upper-class house of Jack and Bella. She tiptoes around him. He’s kind, then cold. He flirts with women, but when Bella objects, she’s told she “reads meanings into everything”. He hides her things so she questions her sanity. At night, he secretly visits the top floor of the house, turning up the lights, causing the downstairs lights to dim (hence the title).

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