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June 9, 2017

The Horrors (& Excuses) associated with Gas Lighting.

I’ve been gaslighted. And it’s probably happened to us all.

What can we learn in this situation? How can we identify if we are being gaslighted?

Brené Brown, in her interview on the Chase Jarvis Show in 2014, mentioned the term “gaslighting” along with its basis for the 1938 play, later turned into a popular film starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. 

When I first heard the term, I gasped. I needed to learn more because I understood its context. I watched the black and white 1944 movie and acknowledged the implications of the message, which are still powerful today.

I recognised and compared the patterns of behaviour. It felt like I too was in a play, except I wasn’t the leading lady. 

The main characters in the story are married. The manipulative gaslighting husband, Gregory, plays games at his wife’s expense, such as dimming the gas lights in their home, hiding or deliberately breaking objects in the household, and then later questioning her sanity—causing doubt in her mind.

“Do you know anything about anything you do?” he asks.

He uses verbal techniques and brings their servants in to swear on the Bible, to eliminate their inclusion. His tone is full of accusation and suggests that she is unwell.

“You’re not lying. It’s worse than lying. You’ve forgotten.”

Gaslighters can be our friends or colleagues, our partners or ex-partners, our parents or children.

And however the manipulation is conducted, it is usually done for the same reason: for personal gain.

There are four major forms of gaslighting:

1. Forgetting/denial.

This includes pretending to forget or simply denying something that was said.

“I think you must have dreamt that.”

“I don’t remember that at all, are you sure?”

“I didn’t agree to that, you’ve got it wrong.”

2. Blocking/diverting.

This involves deliberately stopping or diverting a conversation.

“Where did you get that idea from?” 

“Maybe I’m missing something here…”

“I’m sensitive and empathic, and I’m finding this difficult.”

3. Countering/contradicting.

This one involved making dramatic statements such as:

“You always forget things like this.” 

“I really need you to be present with me on this one.”

“You can’t have forgotten what we said.”

4. Withholding/suppressing.

This one is about feigning ignorance.

Stop telling me things like this.” 

“I can’t think about that right now.”

“Why are you acting like this?”

For me, the words and actions of a gaslighting family member, followed by an even worse episode unleashed by a colleague, was the worst form of manipulation I have ever encountered.

Upon changing their mind about an agreement we had made, my colleague, instead of offering an honest explanation, opted for an attempt to erode and deflect the situation by pretending to forget certain elements and then denying certain content of the original plan.

Further tactics included feigning illness, attempts at imposing guilt, and finally, vicious and vengeful words. Their ultimate goal and achievement was to gain the sympathy and support of others taken in by their act.

The four major forms of “secondary gaslighting” are:

1. Gaining support.

Carefully selecting loyal or vulnerable characters to get them on their side:

“I can’t believe some of the things that person has done to me.”

“I think you can see that I’m not like that.” 

“He/she has issues with me and others have noticed too.”

2. Creating rivalry.

Playing two people off against each other:

“I don’t want to get involved, but he/she did tell me that…”

“There does appear to be some conflict happening between the two of you.”

“Maybe it’s all in your head, he/she did mention that you’ve done this before.”

3. Dismissing.

When a third person that you confide in makes light of your situation:

“I know her/him, and I can’t imagine they would do that.”

“Do you not think that you analyse things too much?”

“I don’t know, maybe you’re both as bad as each other.”

4) Defending

When you notice that someone is a victim of gaslighting, but they deny it:

“I know his/her traits better than you do, you’ve got it all wrong.”

“I can see where you’re coming from, but you don’t really know them, do you?”

“I do appreciate your concern, but it’s not like that at all.”

There are many variations of gaslighting and its secondary cousin, and whether the intent is malicious or a subtle form of avoidance due to fear, the tactics are often cunning and the victims amongst us are often unaware. To begin with, that is.

We can learn to spot the flaws between the words of the gaslighter. It never appears to be their fault, and there is usually an external factor to blame. But the play can only continue with audience participation.

Look out for the guilt techniques. A typical example, such as, “I don’t have anyone else who can help,” or, “I know I’ve got your support this time,” might be giveaways.

Both of my experiences were transparent with hindsight. Through journalling and observing patterns within words I developed awareness.

I witnessed the “poor me” victim dramas, and I refrained from participating in the theatrical performances that I was called upon to star in.

The self-pride I’ve since gained from trusting my gut instinct has been my Oscar.

We simply must pull down the curtain on these stage shows. Karma sees to the rest.

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Author: Shelley Dootson-Greenland
Image: “Gaslight” movie
Editor: Travis May

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