«Gaslighting» the most widespread word of 2022 according to the prestigious American dictionary Merriam-Webster, on whose website searches for the term increased by 1,740% compared to the previous year. Impossible to translate into Italian with a single word, the expression means «psychological manipulation of a person», usually for a long period of time which, according to the dictionary definition, «causes the victim to question the validity of their thoughts and one’s perception of reality or memories and leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability as well as dependence on the perpetrator”.
The origin of the term
It was invented in 1938 in the theatrical piece ‘Gas Light’, by Patrick Hamilton, from which two famous films were made in 1940. The first, by George Cukor in 1944 which in Italian was called “Angoscia”, tells the story of the psychological abuse of a husband, Charles Boyer, against his wife, Ingrid Bergman. To hide the murder of her aunt committed several years ago, the husband tries to drive his wife to madness by using various ruses and forcing her to remain confined in the house. Among these he makes her believe that the lowering of the gas lights, “gaslighting” ‘, of their luxurious London residence is the fruit of her imagination while instead they were the work of the perfidious waitress Nancy, played by Angela Lansbury, with whom the man is having an affair.
From psychology textbooks to Trump
From there the term was always used in psychology textbooks and scientific texts until Donald Trump arrived on the scene. Since the campaign for the first presidential elections, the media have begun to use ‘gaslighting’, more or less correctly, in reference to some of the tycoon’s attitudes, such as when he accused Hillary Clinton of spreading conspiracy theories that questioned the birth and citizenship of Barack Obama.