There’s a wonderful movie made in 1944 by the name of “Gaslight”.
A young woman played by Ingrid Bergman is a newlywed and moves into the house of her murdered Aunt with her new husband, Charles Boyer. The husband is kind, charming, and generous. But this pleasant exterior is merely the mask worn by a dark and sinister character. For you see, the new husband is actually the man who killed the aunt. He had carefully seduced and enticed the niece into marriage, figuring that living in the aunt’s house would give him ample opportunity to find the aunt’s jewels. That’s why he had killed her but he couldn’t find the jewels at the time of the killing.
But it gets worse.
He carefully manipulates his wife into thinking she’s losing her mind. He hopes to have her committed and with her out of the way, he’ll have free reign to search the house. A little here and a little there, he messes with her brain. When he goes out at night supposedly to work in his office, he goes instead into their attic to search for the jewels. He cuts on the attic’s gas lights which makes the house’s other lights get dimmer—a phenomenon that is clearly observable by her. And she hears footsteps in the attic. But whenever she brings these things up, he dismissively makes the case that her perceptions are actually psychotic delusions. In fact, all of her suspicions are explained away as mere figments of her imagination. He is literally driving her crazy. If you want to find out how this movie ends, you’ll have to buy it or rent it. Believe me, it’s worth it.
Somebody somewhere coined the term “gaslighting” as referring to a form of manipulation in which the manipulator gets the target to question his or her own sanity. I won’t give away the movie’s ending but the wife’s feeling of sanity was restored when she found someone who saw what she’d been seeing all along, someone who served as a reference point for her sanity. It was a colossal relief to discover she wasn’t crazy after all.
I’ve seen many individuals in my office over the years who aren’t crazy, but who feel crazy in close association with a manipulator.