In the 1944 thriller “Gaslight,” Paula starts to believe that she is losing her mind. Her new husband, Gregory, has begun to tell her that she is inclined to lose and imagine things and is hopelessly forgetful — that she’s “ill.”

“I couldn’t have dreamed it. No, I couldn’t. I couldn’t have dreamed it. No, I couldn’t have dreamed it. I couldn’t have dreamed it! Did I dream? Did I really, really dream? Dream, dream,” Paula says at the end of the film, believing that she has lost her last straw of dignity and is doomed to commitment in a mental health facility.

But Paula was not, in fact, dreaming it. Rather, she was a victim of gaslighting.

The famous British play-turned-film “Gaslight” follows a wealthy woman whose husband manipulates her into thinking she is insane using tactics like changing the gas lamps within their home, thus coining the term “gaslighter.”

Psychiatrist Dr. Grant Brenner of New York City defines gaslighting as a “form of manipulation in which one person uses another to doubt their own sense of reality. Starting with being pressed to see an unhealthy relationship as coming from love and good intention.”

As a specialist in trauma recovery, Brenner told the Deseret News that it is a tool of emotional abuse that can often take a long period of time for a person to escape its effects.

“More generally, gaslighting is the use of a power dynamic in a relationship where one person is dependent on the other psychologically and/or materially, such that the person who has more power is using their influence to impose their own sense of reality on the other person to the extent and with the effect of making them doubt that their own sense of reality is accurate and valid,” he said.

Brenner added that abusive relationships usually begin with an intense connection.

The love bomber

A study published in Personal Relationships included participants who claimed to have been a victim of gaslighting in a romantic relationship.

The study found that the majority of participants said their partner expressed “love bombing” at the beginning of the relationship.

“Characterized by excessive affection, attention, gifts and charming behaviors, love-bombing is distinguished as an ‘exaggerated’ form of typical relationship initiation behaviors. The experience of love bombing from the survivor’s perspective is described as enjoyable but also disorienting,” the study said.

Brooklyn’s relationship at 17 was as innocent and infatuating as any first love.

The Deseret News has chosen to change subjects’ names in these personal accounts of gaslighting to protect both parties.

She and her boyfriend, Jack, came from different backgrounds and faiths, but she told the Deseret News that for the first few months of their relationship, he respected her standards and loved her for them.

After a while, she said, he began to push her boundaries.

He began to say things like, “Oh, it’s not that bad,” or “You don’t actually believe those things, do you?”

At first, Brooklyn would stand up to him, but after a while, he resorted to anger and manipulation when she turned down his advances.

“He would get so upset, and I would ask him, ‘Why are you so mad?’”

“I’m just frustrated,” she said he replied. “I can be like this, I can be mad if you don't want to do anything with me.”

Jack had gained Brooklyn’s trust before he began to exhibit controlling behavior.

According to MedicalNewsToday, “A person who uses this tactic may have learned it is an effective way of obtaining what they want or controlling people. They may feel entitled to have things their way or that the wants and needs of others do not matter.”

The gaslighting worked on Brooklyn for over a year. Jack even followed her out of state for college; she truly believed she was in love.

She continued to isolate herself from friends and family and said she felt like a shell of herself, but at least she had Jack.

“He would always ask, ‘What’s wrong?’ and I didn’t know. I would tell him I was just feeling off at the moment,” Brooklyn said. “I would feel like I couldn’t do anything. Even right before I broke up with him, we were hanging out and I was making him dinner at my apartment, and he came over to hug me, and I literally could not hug him back. I just felt so withdrawn.”

Whether they are conscious of it or not, Brenner said victims will often go along with the gaslighting even when they are confronted with evidence because they are getting certain needs met by their gaslighter.

“What happens is you see the split in the individual who’s being gaslighted. Because they’ll go back and forth between saying like, ‘no, no, no, he loves me,’ to ‘I don’t like the way they were treating me. No one should treat me that way,’” he said. “Then there’s a lot of rationalization. And one of the issues that people get stuck on is whether it’s intentional or not. And I think that’s actually a distraction because gaslighters or abusers, more generally, will often say like, ‘Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean it.’ And it’s kind of like, let’s figure out whether it was intentional later on or not. The point here is that I shouldn’t be treated this way. Whether you meant it or not is a separate issue.”

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The unpredictable spouse

“She began being difficult to talk to and was changing her tone when she would talk to me,” Taylor said. “I would try to confront her about it, but she would give me no response. Or she would just go silent on the phone, and I would share my concerns and my opinions, and she would say nothing.”

Taylor and Claire had been married happily for five years before he said he started to see a change in his wife.

In their fifth year of marriage, Taylor told the Deseret News that Claire approached him, saying she had been admitted into the FBI and that it had always been a dream of hers and she was going to do it. He noted that she had never mentioned this to him before.

It was during her six-month training that Taylor began to notice his wife's change in demeanor.

“Once she got back from the academy, everything was good for maybe two weeks, and then all of a sudden, she started to bring up reasons why we should no longer be together. She no longer had faith anymore. She believed that we got married too young, weren’t prepared for the big decisions that we were going to make and that we had grown apart as people, and that she never trusted me as a person. She said she didn’t want to have kids with me because she doesn’t think I would be a good father. You know, just attacking every aspect of me, my ambitions, my work ethic, my support and love for her,” he said.

He said he’d also discovered Claire was having inappropriate relations with another man.

“Those who gaslight their partners regularly put down, demean and harshly criticize their victims. ... If your relationship is a one-way street in which your opinions are invalid, your feelings are characterized as incorrect and your beliefs are constantly called into question, these are strong indicators you are being gaslighted,” per Psycom.

Taylor said that for a year and a half, they tried to work on their marriage.

Divorce was constantly moving on and off the table. As Taylor said, Claire would have really high moments where she would “feel like her old self again” and really low moments where she would say that “she never truly loved me and doesn't want anything to do with me.”

Claire handed Taylor divorce papers in December, he filed in February and the divorce became official right at the two-year mark of her return from FBI training.

Looking back, and now remarried, Taylor said the manipulation really took a toll on him when he started dating again.

“Starting a new relationship was very difficult. And, you know, I was hesitant about jumping into a relationship until I was kind of sold that this is someone that I could really confide in and care for,” he said. He added that what happened between him and Claire was not going to keep him from trusting people again.

Overcoming manipulation

“To be accurate with oneself and not having distorted perceptions that are called unbiased processing” is how people can be more aware of being either the perpetrator or victim of gaslighting, Brenner told the Deseret News.

Taylor said maintaining contact with family was what kept him from believing the hurtful words with which Claire was attacking him.

“It was really important that I kept people in my circle that I trusted and would help me see things right, helped me see the world a little clearer,” he said.

Some of his relatives went straight to anger toward Claire when they heard what had happened, Taylor said, while others were more willing to forgive. “Both perspectives, obviously, were helpful in me seeing the truth and how things really were.”

Willis Klein, lead author of the earlier noted study, said the severity of gaslighting ranges across a a spectrum. “Some cases may be easily identifiable as gaslighting, and others easily identifiable as not gaslighting, but there will also be trickier cases. Spotting gaslighting is made even more difficult as it depends on an element of plausible deniability; if gaslighting is too obvious it’s unlikely to work,” per Pyschology Today.

Experts advise victims of gaslighting to maintain close relationships with loved ones that they can trust and to set boundaries in new relationships. Also, write down conversations so that you have them on record if you’re concerned that you are being gaslighted and are doubting yourself.

“We all carry insecurities we’re afraid to acknowledge,” marriage and family therapist Ana De La Cruz told Healthine. “When someone gives us a reason to doubt ourselves, it’s like they’ve given us permission to allow those insecurities to come to life.”