Q. If I hand you an apple and tell you it is a pear, you would say, “no it isn’t.” If I tell you it is raining outside when it is sunny, you would say, “no it isn’t.” What if I told you that you are stupid and unable to make good decisions, on a daily basis, would you say, “no I’m not” or would you begin to believe it?
A. If you have been listening to the political news you have probably heard the word, Gaslighting. Just what does gaslighting mean and why should we become knowledgeable. One reason is that gaslighting is used not only in politics but in relationships and work settings.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s belief.
Sociopaths and narcissists frequently use gaslighting tactics. Sociopaths exploit others with their convincing lies, charming interactions and consistently denying any wrongdoing.
There are two characteristics of gaslighting: The abuse wants full control of feelings, thoughts, or actions of the victim; and the abuser discreetly emotionally abuses the victim in hostile, abusive, or coercive ways.
It is necessary to understand the warning signs of gaslighting in order to fully take care of yourself:
1. Withholding information from the victim.
2. Countering information to fit the abuser’s perspective.
3. Discounting information.
4. Verbal abuse, usually in the form of jokes (oh I was just kidding)
5. Blocking and diverting the victim’s attention from outside sources.
6. Trivializing the victim’s worth
7. Undermining the victim by gradually weakening them and their thought process.
It has been interesting to see a high number of women who seek counseling because they think they are “crazy” because they don’t trust their own reality. They are confused, angry, depressed and sometimes suicidal. Upon further assessment they report being in a relationship with a boyfriend/husband who is controlling, tells them what they think and attempts to isolate them. These are not stupid women but they are vulnerable, mentally weak, easily defeated and manipulated.
If you want to learn more about gaslighting, read about the 1938 stage play Gas Light, and the film adaptations released in 1940 and 1944.
Vicki L Mayfield, M.Ed., R.N., LMFT Marriage and Family Therapy Oklahoma City
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