PsychCentral: Understanding Mental Abuse: Gaslighting
By Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC
Mental abuse is difficult to assess. Unlike physical abuse where there are visible marks, mental abuse leaves no marks but its effect is just as damaging. One of the tactics of mental abuse is a term coined gaslighting. Understanding this scheme better can help prevent more victims and heal those who have already been victimized.
History: The term gaslighting originates from a 1944 movie called Gas Light. In the movie, the husband convinces his wife that she is insane through intentional manipulation. When the wife notices a dimming in the gas lights of their home, she addresses it with her husband. He, wanting his attic search to remain a secret from her, insists instead that she is imagining the difference and subsequently persuades her that she is instead going insane. Psychologists have used the term ever since.
Basic Tactic: Gaslighters lie about the past making a person doubt their memory, perception, and sanity. They are talented in taking a miniscule about of truth and surrounding it with lies. They claim and give evidence of past wrong behavior further causing doubt and insecurity. This paves the way for portraying themselves as the reasonable and logical party. Sometimes they go to the extreme of staging false events or proof to validate their deception….
Personal Implication: Gaslighting can be done on a small or large scale to an individual. It can be as simple as the Gaslighter claiming they have a relationship with an influential person when in actuality they have only met them once. Then they use that “claim” to further a career or agenda. Or, in a marital situation, the Gaslighter could allege they have one career when it is actually a cover for another. In either case, any attempts to assert the truth would be met with “you are the crazy one.”
What to do:
- Relive the past. Look at past gaslighting events and pick them apart. Try to spot the moment the lying started around the sliver of truth. Recall any emotional reaction, insecurity, or feelings of guilt. Gasllighters tend to use the same tactic over and over. Studying the past is good preparation for the future.
- Just the facts. Remember Joe Friday from the 1950’s TV show Dragnet? He was famous for saying, “just the facts.” Stick to factual information that can be confirmed and verified. Do not rely on data or corroboration that is dependent on the Gaslighter. When there is no valid way to confirm the evidence outside of the Gaslighter, don’t believe them. Since Gaslighters are natural liars, it is better to assume they are being dishonest.
- Don’t react emotionally. Gaslighters feed off emotions to sway a person. While it can be frustrating in the moment to deal with the tactic, an emotional response will add fuel to the fire. Instead, be as impassive as Mr. Spock from the 1960’s TV showStar Trek. This will aggravate the Gaslighter and steal their control.
- Go slow. Generally speaking, Gaslighters try to elicit a snap decision immediately following the tactic. Slow things down by saying, “I’ll have to think about that,” or “I need more time.” Distracting the Gaslighter or walking away can also have the same effect. This extra time allows a person to reflect on the logic being presented before making a decision.
While these methods are no guarantee that the gaslighting will stop, trying something is better than ignoring the issue and hoping it will disappear.
From crippling income inequality to limitless government spying, modern American life has never felt so grim
…A 2012 study of hospital patients in Atlanta’s inner-city communities showed that rates of post-traumatic stress are now on par with those of veterans returning from war zones. At least 1 out of 3 surveyed said they had experienced stress responses like flashbacks, persistent fear, a sense of alienation, and aggressive behavior. All across the country, in Detroit, New Orleans, and in what historian Louis Ferleger describes as economic “dead zones” — places where people have simply given up and sunk into “involuntary idleness” — the pain is written on slumped bodies and faces that have become masks of despair.
We are starting to break down…
…Consider the following:
-Over 2.7 million children in America have a parent in lock-up, a situation considered traumatic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are twice as likely to develop mental illness compared to the rest of the youth population, and more likely to experience a host of problems, including asthma, obesity, and academic issues.
-Unemployment is increasingly linked to suicide, the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. Researchers find that losing a job is more likely to cause a person to take her own life today than in the past. Increased job insecurity and stagnant wages have heightened our senstitivy to economic distress over the last few decades.
-Up to 15 percent of adults in the U.S. over 60 exhibit PTSD symptoms. Homelessness among the elderly is increasing and is expected to leap 33 percent by 2020. Rates of economic hardship among elderly women, in particular, have leapt in recent years — up to 18 percent live in extreme poverty, and that number is expected to rise….
“The design of the study, which we just finished last week, was simple. Seventy-two healthy adults (average age of 41 years) were recruited through newspapers in the South Bend community. They were randomly assigned to two groups: a Sincerity group and a Control group. Both groups came to my laboratory at the University of Notre Dame every week for 5 weeks to complete polygraph tests and anonymous health measures….What was so amazing is that in the 5th and final week, the Sincerity group reported significantly fewer physical health complaints than did the Control group….
It might not be easy to ‘always mean what you say.’ You might find that you have to go back and correct some of the things that pop out of your mouth. But don’t let that discourage you. Being sincere is a process. You will get there with some practice. And when you do, you will see that you are becoming more humble, more open to learning, and less sensitive to rejection. Being sincere brings you closer to the decent people you know, pushes away the nay sayers, and allows you to feel a certain hopefulness about the world.”
Read more from the article here.
“There is an overwhelming tendency to precrastinate,” according to a paper published in May in the journal Psychological Science. The behavior might include answering trivial emails, for example, or paying bills far ahead of time. “It’s an irrational choice,” the paper said, but it also reflects the significant trade-offs people make to keep from feeling overwhelmed….
“You’re constantly lured into answering email or answering a phone call,” Professor Castel said. But as the Penn State experiment indicates, getting small tasks out of the way might collectively consume significant resources.
“People who are checking things off the list all the time might look like they’re getting stuff done,” he said, “but they’re not getting the big stuff done.”
Read more from The New York Times article here.