We have chatted about gaslighting here and there but realized, recently, that we do not have a formal post on the topic. So! Here is an informational post that will also, hopefully, enlighten many of our readers to this heinous tactic of abusers. Armed with knowledge, we know better how to fight the lies.
Gaslighting is a term often used to describe manipulative behavior that confuses people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they’re crazy (You’re so emotional. You’re crazy. Stop freaking out. It’s not a BIG DEAL). Gaslighting can make a victim doubt his or her own perception, memory and sanity. It can range from simple denial (“I didn’t do that”) to out and out staging of bizarre events with the purpose of disorienting the victim. The term was taken from a popular movie in the 1940’s called “Gaslight” (starring Ingrid Bergman), in which the husband works diligently to convince his wife she is insane so he can gain the upper-hand.
Martha Stout refers to gaslighting as a common tactic of sociopaths in her book The Sociopath Next Door [*Affiliate link]. George K. Simon discusses the “denial” (a tool of the gaslighting abuser) used by covert-aggressives to confuse a victim in his book In Sheep’s Clothing [Affiliate link].
We may all have experienced this form of manipulation from time to time but it is especially, excessively damaging when a victim is being “gaslighted” on a regular basis.
Abuser: “I didn’t say that.”
Victim: “Yes, you did. I heard you say it. Why did you say that to the children?”
Abuser: “I didn’t. The children are just saying that. They are being manipulative. Trying to play you against me.”
Victim: “Wait . . . The children didn’t say that!. I heard you say it.”
Abuser: “See? No one heard me say that. It’s YOU; it’s not ME. You’re hearing things again.”
Repeated gaslighting causes a victim to become isolated . . . wondering if she is crazy. The victim shuts down and doesn’t talk to others, afraid friends will think she is crazy, as well. Depression and darkness loom heavily over the victim as she loses her footing, doubts herself, and begins to believe that her mind is playing tricks on her.
Gaslighting is not new to this world. We have only just come up with a very handy and understandable term for the tactic. Gaslighting began at the very beginning of time . . . in the Garden, where the Master Gaslighter met Eve . . .
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 (Genesis 3:1-7 ESV)
So, right out of the chute, the Serpent is questioning Eve in a way that causes her confusion . . . “Did God really say . . . ” I can just see Eve’s confusion in that split second. I wonder if there was a pause while she tried to stand back up on that rug that was just pulled out from underneath her. Wait a minute. What did God say exactly? Let me think. The Enemy lied to Eve and tried to cause doubt in her mind. To Eve’s credit, she spoke truth back to the serpent. Having never known lies or sin, I wonder just how confused Eve was in this moment. And yet, she stood for truth. Still, the serpent pressed her harder . . . “You will not surely die . . . ” Doubt doubt . . . lies lies . . . twist twist.
Eve . . . You did not really hear that. God did not really say that. If God said it, that is not what God meant . . .
Eve was pummeled with gaslighting from the very beginning. Granted, Adam and Eve were responsible for their decision. I am not writing about that. I am writing about the fact that gaslighting is as old as time . . . . literally. And that, it is evil. Pure evil. Used by the the Enemy, himself.
How many of us have slowly sunk into the spiraling insanity of the miry muddiness of gaslighting? I know I have. And it takes an army to help pull our minds out of the muck. But, it can be done. We are not crazy, friends. God has given us a sound mind. You really did see it; you really did hear it. You are not losing your sanity. Trust in the truth of God’s Word:
For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7
That’s truth right there.
Addendum: A great article on Gaslighting in the Huffington Post can be found here [Internet Archive link].