Gaslighting has become a trendy buzzword lately.
It’s used to describe the crazy-making tactics often employed within an abusive dynamic.
Indeed, Wikipedia offers its own definition:
“Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person 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, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s belief.”
It’s about creating a nagging self-doubt, in which we question what we see, hear, believe, and feel.
Some common phrases?
“You’re crazy. You’ve lost your mind.”
“What’s wrong with you?
“Why are you so sensitive? This is no big deal.”
“You’re imagining things.”
In my personal experience, I encountered those uttered words. But I also ran into another tactic: laughter.
I’m not talking about jovial, good-natured laughter.
Instead, often in tandem with these pointed phrases, I ran into dismissive, mocking laughter, utilized to deflect from real, serious issues and situations.
One family member, uncomfortable with their own angst concerning the abuse existing with our family structure, used laughter to minimize how dangerous things were and how much behaviors needed to change.
Once, as an adolescent in pain, responding to the abuse, I bared my soul, sharing how I was experiencing suicidal thoughts. Within seconds of disclosing that revelation, this person started laughing at me, telling me I was silly. Chuckles bubbled up as I was labeled as being a” too-intense” teenager.
I felt betrayed. But even more of a betrayal?
Well, I’m sure you’ve heard how laughter can be contagious. If fact, there are actual laughing groups, sharing a human experience of contagious laughter as stress relief and bonding.
Think of that contagious reality, and now visualize me, this upset teen, being laughed at over my suicidal thoughts. Soon, that contagious laughter spread to me.
I was laughing, and it betrayed my very truth. I had betrayed myself because I had succumbed to the dismissive laughter, offered by an individual whose sole agenda was to stop dealing with the seriousness of the discussed subject matter. As I laughed, as I betrayed myself, it was mission accomplished.
The message was further strengthened to both this family member and to me alike: the pain I was experiencing was silly and unimportant. I shouldn’t take my feelings seriously.
For years, I had numerous experiences with me being upset, and then, ultimately, joining in the betraying, contagious laughter.
But this suicidal discussion was the final straw.
I learned, at the tender age of 13, that I was no longer safe discussing anything important with this person. Moreover, I learned another harmful lesson: people, in general, were unsafe. I could not risk vulnerability, for fear of being laughed at…or worse.
I also learned distrust of my feelings. Was my pain really that bad? That real? That important? After all, it was so easily “laughed off,” even by me.
What could—should—I believe about that?
Laughter, in and of itself, is not evil or wrong. We’ve all had those moments with loved ones, in which we burst out laughing, even at inopportune times, like at a funeral. It’s spontaneous. The more you try to suppress the giggles, the more explosive it gets. We have a hard time controlling our laughter. We have all had that.
That, however, is a stark difference to the laughter of gaslighting.
Within that context, there is no spontaneity, no loving, “in the moment” experience of being collectively human and having a human—if not ridiculous and free—moment.
No, gaslighting’s laughter is all about agenda.
What is it?
Some purposeful device to try to…
>> Stop an uncomfortable conversation.
>> Make someone question the validity of their pain and upset.
>> Redirect focus to something or someone else.
>> “Make” a problem go away.
The laughter of gaslighting is never about resolving an issue; it seeks to negate it, to manipulate it.
So, do you see your experiences here? Have you ever encountered laughter that may have appeared innocent and jolly but still never felt quite right?
Have you felt the laughter was at your expense?
Have you felt it was a diversionary tactic to avoid dealing with an important issue?
Not all laughter is equal. Some of it is sinister.
And yes, some of it is abuse.
If an episode of laughter makes you feel unheard, unseen, violated, or manipulated, it’s probably because it is aimed at doing just that.
Trust your instincts.
Laughter is supposed to make us feel better, not worse.