“You’re going mad, your memory is flawed, you’ve got it all wrong, I was only joking, you’re too sensitive” The cruel manipulation of GASLIGHTING.
I wonder if anyone has ever questioned your belief system enough to make you feel like you are losing the plot? Have you been made to feel like you are delusional or mentally ill in order for your manipulator (who could well be a loved one) to persuade you that you have got it wrong? Then its quite possible you are, or have been the victim of GASLIGHTING. I know its an odd term to use but the ‘gaslight effect’ is now a recognised label for a form of psychological manipulation where a person (the gaslighter) attempts to sow seeds of doubt in another individual (the victim) which makes them question their own memory, their actions and perceptions. By using persistent denial, contradiction and lies, they manage to destabilise their victim to a point where they feel they are becoming paranoid or mentally ill.
Gaslighting is such an odd name I know, but it comes from the 1940’s movie called Gaslight, in which the main character keeps dimming the gaslights in his home to disconcert his wife, so he can persuade her that she is imagining it, so she’ll eventually question her own sanity.
If you’re as old as me, think back to the wonderful seventies sitcom ‘Allo Allo.’ We all laughed when the waitress was caught in the arms of her lover Rene by his wife; yet we can see gaslighting at play as Rene patronisingly tells his wife “you stupid woman, can you not see I was simply comforting this poor child who is overcome with sadness.” Similarly, the brilliant psychological thriller The Girl On The Train demonstrates the gaslighting of Rachel by her ex husband Tom. When Rachel was drunk and had passed out, Tom consistently told her she had done terrible things she was incapable of remembering. All his lies were designed to make her question her own mental health.
If we think about gaslighting in relationships, it usually evolves gradually, so the gaslighter’s actions seem harmless at first, with little indications of its presence and seemingly harmless dialogue such as “you’re overreacting” and “you’re getting paranoid.! Over time, their partner becomes confused and anxious, and loses sense of what is really happening. They knows the facts and have a good sense of what is true, yet the gaslighter is able to manipulate them into thinking they’ve got it all wrong. Self doubt comes into play and there you have it, the gaslighter is victorious and the partner feels like they are losing their mind.
Another treacherous example of gaslight manipulation, commonly seen by us therapists is when the victim is persuaded over time to give up their loved ones. The victim is eventually worn down by their gaslighter’s persuasive suggestion that seeing their loved ones is bad for them in some way. This enables the gaslighter to fully control and have power over their partner, and by secluding them from friends and family, the gaslighter knows that only they can influence their partner’s thoughts and actions, which, in a sinister twist, also brings them a sense of pleasure.
Disturbingly, I see many people in my counselling room, who are the adult victims of manipulative, gaslighting parents, conditioned in childhood to believe they were not ‘good enough’ were ‘under-achievers’ or had let their parents down. Therapy is often useful in helping these people understand how they were manipulated and controlled by one parent – or both, and enables them to make sense of how this has played out for them in their adulthood.
It is not unusual to see gaslighting in the workplace too. Imagine a boss who uses gaslighting tactics to cover up abuse, destructive, illegal or immoral behaviour within their company? This can take many forms but consider an employee with genuine concerns over something that they have witnessed that should be addressed professionally; and then consider a boss telling them they have simply overreacted or have misread the situation. “stop making drama, shut up, sit down, and go do the work we are paying you to do!” Tribunals see this all the time. A sly boss who gaslights their employee so dastardly deeds and foul play can be swept under the carpet.
If you’ve ever had the misfortune to know or even live with a full-blown narcissist (poor you if you have) you will know they are the ‘Oscar winners’ of the psychological world. A true narcissist will frequently use gaslighting tactics to undermine their victims. They will use charm, lies, break laws, and deny wrongdoing to such an extent that their victim will find themselves doubting their own perceptions. Narcissists make for the most dangerous of gaslighters, but of course, you can never tell them that….. it’ll go down like a s**t sandwich and you’ll come off worst.
A gaslighter’s ultimate goal is make their victim more dependant on them. They want full control of their victim’s thoughts and feelings, and will do this by emotionally abusing them in coercive ways. They will attempt to degrade their victim by ignoring their pleas for honesty, they will withhold information, discount the victim’s information, make abusive jokes aimed at the victim and trivialise their victim’s worth. This all concludes in gradually weakening their victim and their thought process. And if you thought that men were the main gaslighters, think again. Despite social conditioning and the structure of sexism that women are supposed to be less manipulative and scheming than men, I can tell you there are as many women gaslighters as there are men out there! I’ve met a few in my sixty years of being naïve.
Now don’t even get me started on politics… there will be times when you are sat there watching the 10 ‘o’ clock news and before you realise it you will be being gaslighted by propaganda of gargantuan journalistic proportions, worked elaborately into scripts designed to reinforce that you have got it all wrong and our government are doing a marvellous job!
Make no mistake, gaslighting is a serious and very damaging form of abuse because it undermines the mental stability of the victim, who in time will become dependent on the gaslighter for their sense of reality. If you recognise yourself as being a victim of gaslighting don’t be afraid to seek help.
Musings and thoughts from Marica Webley....