Many people have pointed to this scene as a prime example of gaslighting.
Just as a refresher, gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that typically involves denying the reality of the person you’re attempting to control. According to therapist Aki Rosenberg, LMFT, the behavior is about self-preservation and “the power/control to construct a narrative that keeps the gaslighter in the ‘right’ and their partner in the ‘wrong.'”
As doctor of clinical psychology Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, tells mbg, we don’t have enough information to know if the man in the All Too Well film is deliberately gaslighting at first, but when he talks about how she ruined the night, “that’s the kicker,” she says.
“This is something that such personalities weaponize. They use ‘tiny’ moments and actions like not looking at someone or dropping their hand, knowing that hurts–and pretend they didn’t, to train their victim to gaslight themselves,” Neo explains. “She’s conditioned to not bring up anything.”
According to clinical therapist Alexis Sutton, it’s also common for partners who gaslight to flip the blame onto their partner, such as the man in this instance telling the woman it was her own fault she was feeling stupid and for ruining the night, all the while he was directly calling her behavior and feelings “crazy,” “insane,” and “bullshit.”
And if you’re wondering about that apology, that would be something called “cognitive empathy.” Even when a gaslighter apologizes, “you’ll notice a robotic quality to their expressions of empathy,” doctor of philosophy in mental health Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D., writes at mbg. “Gaslighters are experts at using ‘cognitive empathy’–acting as if they have empathy without actually feeling it.”