For several years now, the manipulative tactic known as gaslighting has crept its way onto our screens through reality television. Married At First Sight is the latest to venture into dangerous territory, depicting groom Sam gaslight wife Elizabeth by mocking her, belittling her and making her feel like she's done something wrong (when in fact, she hasn't).
The start of the experiment saw Sam wed Elizabeth wed in what many would say was a 'fairytale ceremony'. But, on the morning after the wedding, Sam told his new wife that he had received news his ex-girlfriends mother had passed away and he would be travelling to New Zealand for the funeral. Two days go by and Elizabeth doesn't hear from her husband, so she decides to leave him a voicemail checking in. Another four days go by and Elizabeth has still not heard anything back.
Then comes the first dinner party. Elizabeth turns up solo without having heard from husband Sam. Halfway through the night Sam returns and proclaims, 'Honey, I'm home', before acting as if nothing has happened. Immediately, Elizabeth asks Sam where he's been and why he hadn't contacted her. He acts coy and claims he doesn't have a voicemail, despite Elizabeth proving that he does.
As Elizabeth continues to calmly ask Sam why he hadn't reached out in the past week he gaslights her into thinking she's the one to be blamed. "No need to carry on, talk to me like a human being," he says. "How old are you? We’re adults." Elizabeth breaths heavy before saying, "Are you serious?"
“You’re so angry, you should relax, just breath,” Sam continues. “No need to be angry. You just gotta calm down.” In a final blow, Sam laughs in her face before going back to his meal.
Many viewers were quick to point out that Sam was gaslighting Elizabeth, a form of psychological manipulation which makes the targeted individual doubt themselves and causes the victim to question their own feelings, instincts and sanity.
At the second dinner party, Sam once again uses the manipulation technique toward wife Elizabeth. After a heated argument over who attempted to seduce who during their relationship, Sam asserts: "You've lost your mind" while simultaneously laughing at Elizabeth.
"You're just mean, you're a mean person. You're being mean to me and I don't even think you realise it," Elizabeth says to camera. "Which is hurtful and it hurts."
Cut back to the dinner party and Sam says, " You've just wasted my time and my time is precious. I came on this for a reason."
This isn't the first time we've seen gaslighting portrayed on Australian screens. Last year on The Bachelor, contestant Romy was called out for gaslighting Tenille, so much so Tenille decided to leave Bachie mansion and head home.
But what does gaslighting mean and how serious can it be?
What is gaslighting?
"Gaslighting is a tactic which people use (either consciously or unconsciously) to gain power or control over a person," Lysn psychologist Breanna Jayne Sada explains, saying the term was coined from the 1944 movie Gaslight, where a man tries to convince his wife that she is ‘insane’ by making her question her reality.
"Gaslighting is often done slowly, often to the point where the victim doesn’t realise that is what has been happening. It can make a victim doubt his or her own thoughts and memories," Sada says.
Can gaslighting happen in any situation?
Though many associate gaslighting with a romantic relationship, as we saw on The Bachelor, it extends further than intimate relationships and close friendships.
"It can happen at work, with friends, relatives and as we’ve seen last night, on reality TV," Sada says, noting that a lot of people make relationships about power - and that's where gaslighting comes in.
Why would someone gaslight someone else?
"This technique is used by people to gain further power and control over someone or a group of people," Sada explains. "It comes back to control and manipulation, with people often using it to make others depend on them."
"Sometimes perpetrators learn this behaviour throughout their childhood, perhaps their parents practised this kind of behaviour or they’ve slowly learnt tactics through their own behaviour and seeing the outcome it can have. Gaslighting is also common among people who have personality traits like narcissism and examples exist among dictators and cult leaders."
What should people look out for?
"There are several techniques to look out for, however, one of the biggest signs is when the perpetrator tells deliberate lies, often denying things they’ve said," Sada says. "This can make the victim question everything in their own reality because the perpetrator is so adamant that they’re telling the truth."
What effect can gaslighting have on the victim?
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse and can have a big impact on a person’s mental health. "The constant self-doubt, confusion and questioning of self-worth can lead to things like anxiety and depression," Sada says.
"It can also cause future trust issues and problems in relationships when the victim is hesitant to make themselves vulnerable. Gaslighting also beats down a person’s self-esteem which can lead to the victim becoming co-dependent on others or the perpetrator themselves."
This article originally appeared on marie claire Australia.