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Epstein, O.B. (2017). “Gaslight” and on “Knowing What You are Not Supposed to Know and Feeling What You are Not Supposed to Feel” (Bowlby, 1988). Att: New Dir. in Psychother. Relat. Psychoanal., 11(1):vii-x.

(2017). Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, 11(1):vii-x


“Gaslight” and on “Knowing What You are Not Supposed to Know and Feeling What You are Not Supposed to Feel” (Bowlby, 1988)

Orit Badouk Epstein

During the past year, here in the UK, BBC Radio Four listeners have been transfixed by the popular radio programme, The Archers. This middle class drama normally features the day to day life of a farming community in rural England, except instead of discussing the falling price of milk, the plot has taken a turn to exploring the troubled side of domestic life. Things got heated when one of the characters, Rob Titchener was controlling and emotionally abusing his unconfident and compliant wife, Helen, in insidious and manipulative ways, while to the outsiders in the community, all seemed to be perfectly loving and acceptable. The drama eventually reached a climactic episode when Helen finally lost the plot during an argument and stabbed her husband with a kitchen knife. This not only caused an uproar among the loyal listeners of the programme, but also sparked a wider public debate about domestic abuse and women as its main target. What seems to be relevant to this editorial, however, is the use and the return of the term “gaslighting” and its modern interpretation that I find can be helpful in the clinical setting.

Originally written as a play (Gas Light, Hamiltion, 1935), this film noir Gaslight (Cukor, 1944), was set in Edwardian times in England and tells the story of Paula (played by Ingrid Bergman) who finds the body of her murdered wealthy aunt, by whom she was adopted as an infant, in the house where they lived together (9 Thornton Square). The police fail to find the murderer. Looking fragile and confused, the bereft and traumatised Paula is then sent to Italy to study music while being told that she must forget all that had happened. In Italy she gets courted by her piano teacher, Gregory Anton. The vulnerable Paula falls in love with him, they get married, and the couple eventually return to her aunt's abandoned house in Thornton Square. Once settled in, Paula finds a letter, she shows it to Gregory, who clearly looks agitated by its contents, since he has a lot to hide.

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