Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer star in the 1944 film, Gaslight. Watch the trailer at the link to get a feel for the movie that inspired the term. The American Psychological Association defines gaslighting as “manipulation so extreme as to induce mental illness.” It is now defined as to “make someone question their reality.” There is a memorable scene in which Boyer asks Bergman where a certain painting was that used to hang on a nearby wall. She walks over to a corner and pulls the painting from behind a large object. He scolds her for hiding it and praises her for putting it back on the wall. Later you find he was the one who hid the painting multiple times and each time blamed her until she accepted what he said as truth.
My husband and I watched this movie years ago when I was still on multiple psych medications. We both looked at each other and wondered if that type of manipulation was happening to us, perhaps by each other. It was a very creepy feeling. We were so disturbed by what we watched we did an astonishing thing- we watched it again after we took a bathroom break. It was like we did not believe what we just witnessed and had to make sure we saw and heard it correctly. Thinking about it now gives me the heebie-jeebies.
While I was actively under a psychiatrist and psychologist care, I had placed all my volition in their hands. The medication I was taking along with my family history of mental illness primed me for manipulation. I don’t blame these people for my plight. They were manipulated by the prevailing science in academia long before I came along. I willingly handed over my problems to them so that I could absolve myself of the guilt I felt at being ill. “You can’t help it, ” they implied. “It’s in your genes or brain chemistry,” they explained. They believed these things and eventually I did too.
A chance remark or a snippet of someone’s story briefly heard cracked the careful facade I had cultivated of being a victim of my own mind. It was enough to allow an unclouded flash of doubt that began my questioning, and later on, a spark of hope. What if I didn’t have to be sick? What if all my trust had been misplaced? Once I began looking at possibilities instead of what appeared to be an inescapable doom, my life changed. Oh, it didn’t happen all at once, but in painfully slow incremental adjustments. There was a lot of accumulated trauma to resolve. My family showed me one way my reality would unfold. Instead, I discovered I could transform into a completely different way of being. The whiplash effect left me pretty shook up, to say the least.
There is a funny thing about questioning what you thought was true. It is much easier to question other areas of your life after that initial taste and even to wonder about things in the public sphere. Once I accepted the new trajectory for my health, I applied my research skills to questions I had about the world around me. I didn’t have far to look. My health and spiritual awakening happened around 2004. In 2007, I opened my eyes to politics, science, education, and history. Once seen you can’t un-see the wider picture. At first, I was devastated and angry with what I was uncovering. My father fought in a war that didn’t have to be fought. The taxes we paid went to pay the interest of the government’s loans from the Federal Reserve that our country could never pay off. Mental health could be recovered and not just managed as an illness.
As my spiritual awakening took hold and matured, I allowed my anger to subside so compassion could thrive. We have all been hoodwinked. Those in charge of the media, academia, Hollywood, and the government had their marching orders. True, they did not have to follow them, but when you have always trusted those with more (perceived) authority than you it is difficult to break free. I know. That first crack in the protective shell we all encase ourselves in is sometimes too much. Some people repair the opening with denial and attacking the messenger. Others use distraction so they ignore the inconsistencies that were glimpsed. It can be a frightening time. To admit, even just in our own mind, that we might have been mistaken about certain things is challenging in these cancel-culture-prone times. Eating crow or a slice of humble pie is never on anyone’s top 100 list of favorites.
Finding out we have been manipulated, gaslighted even, into believing things from trusted sources such as politicians, journalists, doctors, professors, our government, gurus, spiritual leaders, and parents puts us in a bit of a quandary. Who do we trust, if not them? How can we ever believe anything from anyone, if any of what we discover on our own is true? Can I even trust the sources I researched? What do I do with this information? Is everything a lie? All good questions. Some of this you may never know the answer to, at least in a quantitative form.
All we truly have is ourselves. In discovering who we are and not who we have been programmed to be, we can find answers that allow us to grow as new data is found. Truth is a moving target, in that respect. At one time, arsenic was thought to be a healthy addition to one’s beauty regimen. Today’s truth discounts yesterday’s surety. Believe without the expectation that what you know now will be true tomorrow. Find what is true for you at the moment, what you can live with right now. Be open to what comes next. Embrace a bit of mystery and allow yourself to be unsure. Remember that the ultimate truth is as elusive as the last four digits of pi.
~ Pixbay geralt / 23730 images