Gaslighting: A Troubling Tactic

Gaslighting: A Troubling Tactic

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes, including low self-esteem. 

 Frankly, despite all my training in communication, I had not really encountered the term gaslighting until a couple of years ago. Even then, I didn’t really know what it meant. What I did know was the process that the term describes. That process is the tactic used by some people to get others to question the very essence of their perception and/or sanity in order to manipulate, control, or avoid the consequences of their own actions.

 “I never said that.” “You are remembering that all wrong.” “You’re acting crazy.” “What’s wrong with you?” “If you are going to get all wacko on me, I’ll just leave.”

 These could all be statements that someone using gaslighting on you might say in a situation in which they did or said what you think they did or said and are just trying to get you to doubt what you actually saw and heard, even a little. If they can get you to doubt your own perceptions or memory enough, then you have become vulnerable to the manipulation and are immediately in the one-down position with them. Simply put, it is a cruel power/control move.

Frankly, when I observe people employing gaslighting on their partners, friends, and family members in therapy, I have to fight the urge to become infuriated. It goes against everything that I believe healthy relationships are made of. It is the opposite of honesty and taking personal responsibility for one’s actions. It diminishes the opportunities to be healthily vulnerable and develop deeply intimate and safe relationships.

Sometimes, people gaslight because they are scared. They are so terrified of the consequences of the truth that they will do anything, fair or unfair, to avoid it. I can finally feel sorry for this sort of person if they can own and work on this primal fear of theirs. But in other cases, people who gaslight are, in very non-clinical terms, bad and even dangerous people. They desire power over others and relish the game of getting control. And worse yet, if the gaslighting does not work, they can sometimes resort to more dangerous tactics.

If any of the above resonates with you or describes a relationship you are in, I ask you take a hard look to see if you and the other person really just see things differently or is there a need in one of you to be in control. Is it happening just sometimes or does this impasse of conflicting perception happen over and over and always aimed at the same person? If so, I can only say get help soon and be very careful.