Gaslighting

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Yesterday, was “one of those days”.

All was going well—as Tuesdays go–and then I stumbled upon something that shook my core: I was going through my voluminous Inbox in an attempt to make room for my life and I found an e-mail from my best friend who died six weeks ago. For some reason–never opened it. I guess it got lost in the shuffle.

Anyway, I read it and was flooded with emotion.

I didn’t sleep.

I tried watching TV but “The Giant Ladder System” was on 234 of my 280 channels so, that was a wash. I thought I’d try reading, so I went looking through my books trying to find something that would either take my mind off things or one that could help me better understand and deal with my grief.

I found just what I was looking for. I didn’t even know I had this book. It’s entitled The Gaslight Effect: Don’t Be Afraid To Speak Your Truth by Robin Stern.

“Gaslighting is the systematic attempt by one person to erode another’s reality. This is done by telling them that what they are experiencing isn’t so – and, the gradual giving up on the part of the other person.”

Stern goes on to say that gaslighting generally takes two to tango: one person who needs to be in control to maintain his sense of self; the other, who needs the relationship to maintain his/her sense of self and because of this, he/she acquiesces—constantly.

The victim ends up giving far, far more than he/she gets. This process invariably erodes the soul.

You know you’re in a full blown Gaslight Effect when you find yourself second guessing your own reality; when you’re unsure of what you really think and feel. Why? Because you’ve allowed someone else to define your reality for you. Invariably, this leads to being told what to think and how to think. And then in turn, you’re told who you are. You’re molded into an entity that someone else deems worthy of his or her love, affection…attention.

And because of the constant whittling away at your psyche, you believe you’re a better person as he or she sees you; as he/she needs you to be.

Having been “gaslit” in the past, I’ll share my thoughts with you.

Gaslighting I think, is also refined manipulation that’s defined by greed and selfishness. It creates cognitive dissonance and it’s in the “in between state of cognizance” that women–people, find themselves most vulnerable.

It’s being forced to color inside the lines that others have drawn for us. If we don’t, we’ll be alone and that to some people is a fate worse than death. Knowing this is the dreaded alternative, we allow gaslighting. It’s not compromise. Hardly–it’s utter relinquishing of the self.

The authentic self.

Then, you find yourself in a horrifically bad relationship but you stay because of that INSIDIOUS goddamn mindset that a bad relationship beats no relationship.

.
Make no mistake: this IS emotional abuse in every sense and women are almost always the victims. Don’t misunderstand the premise: women can be the culprits too. But women bear the brunt of more negative genetic coding–or so it seems. We’ve been subjugated by primordial design to believe relationships, love….and men, define us.

But gaslighting isn’t limited to love relationships. We also fall victim to it on the job; co-workers and bosses are often perpetrators and it also happens within the family dynamic.

Gaslighting is very real. As I stated, I’ve lived it. I just didn’t know it had a name. Or a book that defined it. Ordinarily, I try my best to avoid partaking from the sump pump of pop psychology. In other words, if Dr. Phil mentions it, I run in the opposite direction. But this book makes sense.

And I’ll add my two cents.

Integrity (something sorely lacking in the world today) applies to behavior that consistently matches principles. You can’t be a person of integrity if selfishness and self centered behavior are what fuels every motivation. Gaslighters almost always lack integrity; as distorted as this sounds, they thrive on their own selfishness. They are always self-centered.

One must then ask, how can a gaslighter expect to be loved if he or she doesn’t know how to love? How can he or she venture into a real, equitable partnership without knowing how to play fair?

The answer? Manipulation passed off as love.

No one will love ever love you like I love you.

You’re nothing without me.

I ONLY want to take care of you.

I only want what’s best for you and only I know what that is.

Furthermore, what these people demand of themselves will rarely work with others. Once again, we touch on “coloring inside the lines” we draw for others. And when someone refuses, that’s how gaslighting starts. I think foisting this on someone else, is the quintessence of neurotic narcissism.

I like this book. What it reveals isn’t earth shattering. If you’ve lived it, then you know exactly what gaslighting is all about. For me, it merely gave a name to what I’d experienced. Perspective is always good.

In remedying the gaslight malady, the book goes on to state the obvious.

Women (especially) must be more assertive. We must be fearless about defining who we are, what we are and what we really think. We must empower ourselves to move forward and find real contentment in a relationship as opposed to sanctuary, no matter how fleeting.

I’ll take it one step further:

Some of us, by virtue of childhood experience, seek emotional replicas of our fathers and mothers. If we had a controlling parent, very often we’ll seek controlling partners. We’re most fortunate if we can break that cycle. And just because we find ourselves in abject co-dependence with someone cruel and controlling, well…that doesn’t mean we have to stay. Gather your courage and leave Simon Legree. As the James Gang so aptly sang—walk away.

But remember this: walking away is far easier than garnering the strength required to take that first step.

And remember this, too: you’ll never gather courage by allowing fear to keep you in a one-sided relationship that’s devoid of romance, passion and real emotion. To do so is a sign of weakness. It’s giving your power away. . We should be empowering ourselves. When we relinquish control and hand over the reigns of our lives, willingly.

Frequently.

Tragically.

If we have no control of a situation, ourselves, then we believe we’re not responsible; and we’re absolved from all blame. Well then– here’s your wake up call: neglect kills as often as a bullet to the head.

It kills relationships just as efficiently. And if you allow it to happen, you’re just as guilty.

In closing, I’ll just say this: Caruso loved the sound of his own voice…some people love the sound of their own opinions being expressed.

This should come as no surprise.

The typical gaslighter defies Copernican theory. They think THEY are, in fact, the center of the universe. In reality, this blustery bravado masks rampant insecurity. Inside, they’re just scared little boys and girls , very much afraid to be hurt, yet they think they’re too smart, too superior to actually feel the pain they’ve so deeply buried.

Sadly, this fear-based arrogance means they themselves have been “gaslit”…made victims by their own actions.

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8 comments

  1. EXCELLENT, as per the usual, Ms K. Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. Didn’t know it was gaslight effect, but your review has made me want the book, and I rarely read a review of anything that makes me want to watch a movie, read a book, etc. You are SOOO cool, woman. Kudos.

    WW

  2. I just read this book myself. It was okay. I didn’t mind reading the first 1/3 of the book actually and t after awhile I sort of lost focus for one reason or another. I too have lived this life and was able to see clearly what it was that Stern was writing about.

    A book that I enjoyed much more was The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans. The gaslighting that I lived through was verbally abusive and so that book really helped me to see where I failed and what I needed to do. I also think that having read Evans book I didn’t need the gaslighting book because I had already been given the tools that I needed. I do recommend Sterns book though for anyone who feels that they may be in any sort of gaslighting relationship and might need a little help in putting it in some perspective.

  3. Hey Laurie — this was very well written and explained. I have experienced this very well in my past — YES A GUY as a victim. I always called in lack of self worth or dignity. I am soo sorry for your pain. Death is not easy to get over, all I can say is what you already know.
    I just want to tell yah Luv Yah and sending yah virtual (web) hugs

    ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I can totally and completely relate from both sides. My father is very controlling and I’ve only recently separated myself from his need to control my life. I also (around the same time) ended my 15 year friendship with a girl I called my best friend, even though she spent most of the time letting me be judgemental and demanding of her. When I became aware of my ability to be my authentic self I realized how much I was cheating both of us out of a healthy friendship. She still doesn’t understand and thinks that I ended it because of my judgement on her.

    I don’t believe that you have to be completely selfish to be a gaslighter. I think sometimes it is a subconscious behavior that was taught to us by someone else and is useful in helping fulfill some sort of lacking in our lives.

    This is a great article, Laurie! I’ve put the book on my list. Thanks!

  5. I have just come through a “gaslighting” experience with a dying daughter who lived many years adicted to cocaine. We came together 3 years ago and were living with her sister who adopted her son at age 3. She lost custody of him.
    When she knew she had stage 4 Lung cancer, she began a systematic plan to destroy my relationships with her siblings and her son. Calling me to do something for her and then telling her sister how controling and intrusive I was when I did it. Asking me to call the social worker for something and when I did, I was told they could no longer talk to me bc of her request. Many more situations that made me look really nuts to the family. Now that she is dead she is the perfect sister and no one is talking to me… I sorta began to question myself, but now I understand that she was gaslighting me. How do I ever explain this to the family? I guess I don’t. Just move on……

  6. I came across your blog by googling “Gaslighting” in an attempt to understand the behavior of a certain “friend”. Basically, telling me I said certain things which I never said. I was pretty sure that what she is doing to me fell into the description of gaslighting, after reading this – I’m convinced. Now that I know what she’s doing I think I will be able to handle our relationship and not be so reactive. I can’t end the friendship because other people that I love very much are involved and refusing to have anything to do with this person would alienate me from them . I don’t know why she is targeting me, I think maybe she is jealous of my life. It’s difficult because she is an extremely interesting and brilliant person, most likely a genius with a life story (whether it can be believed or not) that could be made into an award winning book or movie. Anyway, I enjoyed this article/blog. It has helped to validate my gut feeling about this woman, and in so doing, hopefully, will give me the upper-hand navigating through any future interactions with her. You have a marvelous blog here. I will be following with avid anticipation.

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