I HAVE been the victim of gaslighting.
And I didn’t even know it!
To understand anything which now follows, you probably will need to read my recent autobiographical blog piece entitled Denial. The posting tells the story of my denial of access and loss of my two middle daughters.
Following the publication of Denial on Sunday 9 March, I suddenly discovered by cruel irony that the perpetrators had poisoned other members of my family.
It was a sinister and unexpected shock and left me asking “Why?”
Then last weekend things became a lot clearer.
I had my best friend to stay. She wanted to help me come to terms with the most recent turn of events. She is my soul mate, my trustee and by chance a psychologist. She has known me for many years and knows most of my life. She had read my blog posting and was concerned. So during Saturday afternoon sat on our sofa, I filled in a few gaps and we chatted.
Then she turned to me and said suddenly: “You have been gaslighted.”
“It is a cruel and cunning and devious abuse tactic,” she added.
I gasped for an explanation.
So here it is: Gaslighting is a sophisticated manipulation tactic which is used to control and create doubt in the mind of the victim.
In a 1930s movie thriller entitled “Gas Light”, a conniving husband tries to make the wife he wishes to get rid of think she is losing her mind by making subtle changes in her environment, including slowly and steadily dimming the flame on a gas lamp.
In recent years, the term “gaslighting” has come to be applied to attempts by certain kinds of people to create so much doubt and fear in the minds of their targets of exploitation that the victim no longer trusts their own judgment about things, thus coming under their power and control.
Sometimes, a person can assert something with such an apparent intensity of conviction that the other person begins to doubt their own perspective.
Bringing up historical facts that seem largely accurate but contain minute, hard-to-prove distortions and using them to “prove” the correctness of one’s position is another method.
Gaslighting is particularly effective when coupled with other tactics such as shaming and guilting. Anything that aids in getting another person to doubt their judgment and back down will work.
Deception is often the key ingredient in manipulation. Deception can be accomplished by outright denial, distortion of key aspects of events, and a variety of other methods, especially the more sophisticated lying techniques.
A really accomplished liar can deceive another person by merely reciting a litany of absolutely true things — while deliberately and cleverly leaving out one or two crucial elements that would change the entire character of what they’re trying to make you believe.
But a common element among all the tactics manipulators use is that they cause the person being targeted to doubt their gut instincts about what’s going on. Their gut tells them they’re under attack or that someone is trying to get the better of them, and they intuitively go on the defensive. But because they often can’t find any clear, direct, objective evidence that the other person is merely trying to disadvantage them, they start doubting and questioning themselves.
This is the real secret of effective manipulation. If the “target” were solidly convinced they were in the process of being done in, they’d more likely put up more resistance instead of capitulating.
Manipulators know this. They win by getting the other person to back down or give in.”
My friend then added: “The way I see it is that the person behind this is like a poison seed. That seed poisons those around to believe them and demonise you.”
So things began to become clearer:
- The perpetrator could cite three of four instances in my life when I had lost my temper… therefore I had an “anger management problem”. Failing each time to mention the circumstances which led to the rational outburst of anger.
- The perpetrator could prove that on a few occasions in my life I was treated for depression… therefore I was “mentally ill” and “must be dangerous”. Failing to point out that these occasions were separated by many years and were a natural reaction to overpowering life events, such as bereavement, cancer and loss of a job.
- The perpetrator could point out that I had a criminal conviction… therefore I was “a criminal with an interest in young girls”. Failing to point out that the conviction was 30 years ago, had been fully spent since 1991, and was due to me immediately handing myself in to the police when I discovered the girl’s age.
- The perpetrator could point out that I had moved 300 miles away and not seen my daughters for years… therefore I had “abandoned them”. Failing to point out that their mother had moved away and had prevented me from seeing my daughters.
And so on. Until those around them – mainly my daughters – believed all the blackening lies and half truths about me.
My friend said that I had been specifically a victim of gaslighting by proxy, which is described: “If all else fails, the abuser recruits friends, colleagues, family members, the authorities, institutions, neighbours, the media, teachers – in short, third parties – to do his bidding. Even the victim’s relatives, friends, and colleagues are amenable to the considerable charm, persuasiveness, and manipulativeness of the abuser. The abuser offers a plausible rendition of the events and interprets them to his favour.
“Others rarely have a chance to witness an abusive exchange first hand and at close quarters. In contrast, the victims are often on the verge of a nervous breakdown and are angry.
“Confronted with this contrast between a polished, self-controlled, and suave abuser and his harried casualties – it is easy to reach the conclusion that the real victim is the abuser, or that both parties abuse each other equally.
“The abuser perverts the system – therapists, counsellors, mediators, court-appointed guardians, police officers, and judges.
He uses them to pathologise the victim and separate him/her from their sources of emotional sustenance – notably, from their children.”
Dr Richard Gardner sums it up: “The purpose of the alienation is usually to gain or retain custody without the involvement of the father. The alienation usually extends to the father’s family and friends as well.
“Many of these children proudly state that their decision to reject their fathers is their own. They deny any contribution from their mothers. And the mothers often support this vehemently. In fact, the mothers will often state that they want the child to visit with the father and recognise the importance of such involvement, yet such a mother’s every act indicates otherwise.
“Such children appreciate that, by stating the decision is their own, they assuage mother’s guilt and protect her from criticism. Such professions of independent thinking are supported by the mother who will often praise these children for being the kind of people who have minds of their own and are forthright and brave enough to express overtly their opinions. Frequently, such mothers will exhort their children to tell them the truth regarding whether or not they really want to see their fathers.
“The child will usually appreciate that “the truth” is the profession that they hate the father and do not want to see him ever again. They thereby provide that answer – couched as “the truth” – which will protect them from their mother’s anger if they were to state what they really wanted to do, which is to see their fathers.
“After a period of programming the child may not know what is the truth anymore and come to actually believe that the father deserves the vilification being directed against him. The end point of the brainwashing process has then been achieved.”
So I turned to my friend exhausted. She hugged me and said: “Now you know what has happened to you. You are not alone, you are a beautiful person and those that love you and know you well are still with you and we all support you.”
My first lesson in human psychology was over!