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Gaslight: The Invisible Evil

Gaslight.  I’m being Gaslighted.

Some words and phrases become so popular and used so frequently they begin to be used haphazardly and dangerously.  I’m being Bullied. I’m being Triggered.  And now we have Gaslight.  These words, rather than accurately describing a set of circumstances for better understanding, are now used as a weapon, thrown about willy-nilly without regard to the havoc that is caused by their misuse, leading to great pain and misunderstanding.  The trendy weapon of choice today isn’t new, but just as destructive – Gaslight.

It was the title of a 1944 film “Gaslight” and referred to a seemingly genteel husband who would alternately dim and brighten the indoor gas-powered lighting and then insist it was only his wife’s imagination.  The unsuspecting heiress would become confused, his manipulation causing an invisible cloud of uncertainty.  When her husband would come home from work and she described her experience, his reply would be, “That can’t be possible.  That’s not true.”  All with the intent, and that is the key to the use of this word “gaslight”, intent, of eventually driving her crazy with her own thoughts and interpretations so he could make her think she was going insane and steal her fortune.

That is what is meant to be “gaslighted.”  Someone is manipulated, brainwashed, by a manipulator into disbelieving your own experiences in order to achieve their nefarious intentions. Doubt your own thoughts.  Reinterpret what you perceived to be true, but were subsequently told by someone you assumed had your best interest in mind, “No.  That didn’t happen.  That isn’t true.  You must be confused with something else.”  With these comments, they are literally casting doubt on your own ability to interpret the world and your experience within it.  It’s maddening.

To be gaslighted is a cousin to lying except with a dramatic shift in focus.  When someone lies they are covering up, presenting a false front about themselves.  “No!  I wasn’t at the strip club.  I was at the library!”  A lie is about making the liar look better than they are.

To Gaslight someone is about the one being gaslighted, the victim.  The intended focus has shifted from the liar to the one they wish to manipulate, to make someone question their perception of reality, leading to, as described by Merriam Webster, “dependence on the perpetrator.”  The purpose is to literally change the thought process of their victim in order to fulfill their own personal, disparate emotional needs.  It’s the victim who cannot interpret the world accurately.  It’s the victim who does not have the ability to trust their own thoughts and feelings.  It’s the victim who is now dependent on the one doing the gaslighting as the arbiter of truth and fact. 

Gaslighters are the self-identified savior from someone’s untrustworthy thoughts and feelings.  The victim is told they are being fooled by their own filters of logic and judgment.  The victim, as venomously portrayed by author Sherrie Campbell, is being tricked by a trusting family member or friend who is too clingy, too defensive, too arrogant or too belligerent and you are supposed to place your emotional trust in the one doing the gaslighting, not yourself.

This is an outrageous and evil form of deception because of how it affects the one being gaslighted.  A discovered lie makes you mad at being lied to.  Gaslighting, once aware of the practice and intent, will make one mad about themselves and their inability to function without certainty of truth and fact. 

How can you tell the difference between a lie and being gaslighted?

Intent.  This is the key to uncovering the truth.  With the weapon of gaslighting, the intent and purpose is directed toward diminishing the victim, giving them self doubt, lowering their self-confidence about their experiences and feelings, making them dependent on the perpetrator.  A lie is about the liar and their attempt to cover up something unfavorable or build up something that is a false front about themselves.  Gaslighting is all about the victim and calling into question their own judgment about themselves.  

Salman Rushdie said that “History is always contested.”  The gaslighter uses the history of the other person to force them to reinterpret their memories in such a way that it benefits the larger purpose of gaslighting; control.

The gaslighter needs to control everyone and everything in order to fulfill an emotional void that has never been resolved.  They receive temporary relief when everyone around them interprets life through their distorted filters. “No one likes Bobbie.  She’s only nice to your face and then will stab you in the back” when everyone else’s experience with Bobbie, including your own, has been one of generosity and graciousness.  The gaslighter needs to knock Bobbie down to make her feel good about herself by making you doubt your own experience.

There is a sociopathic component to gaslighting used by those who have maladaptive personality traits such as mood and anxiety disorders, needing to convince others to doubt their own perceptions.  They don’t care if their victim doubts their own feelings and experiences, causing deep pain of uncertainty and confusion.  They do not share common forms of empathy or compassion. It’s not within them to care if, by their deception, their victim’s history is being demolished before their eyes. 

They’re only concern is using the primary weapon they’ve learned works best to control everyone’s definition of reality and relationships.

If someone claims you are being gaslighted, manipulated, brainwashed, all you need to do is look at the intent.  What is being fulfilled by the manipulation?  Does that person need you to doubt yourself in order to fulfill their own emotional need?  If the answer is no, the accused is strong and self-confident within themselves, then what would be the purpose of the gaslighting?  Does this person tear people down, destroy lifelong relationships, think the worst of others for their emotional sustenance?  If yes, then might it be, they are the real perpetrator, the one doing the gaslighting?

Patterns are not established by taking isolated instances and interpreting them as the whole truth.  Life is long and filled with well-established evidence that allows each individual to consider the accuracy of their own views and judgements.  It’s easy to be caught up in the web of deceit that is the stock and trade of one who gaslights as you assume you can trust them, maybe even love them.  But when you look at the years of experiences, engagements, and interactions, yourself and others, you will find the strength and confidence to trust your own conclusions.  And after careful consideration of the evidence you’re still not sure of the truth, ask yourself:

“What is their intent?  What is their purpose?  To build up or tear down?  To include or exclude?  To be happy and healthy all together or only be happy when they get you to agree with their interpretation of your own thoughts, feelings, and experiences?”

Your gut (your heart) + pattern of evidence will show you what is true and who to believe.

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