Gas-lighting is a tactic where a person, in order to gain more power, makes you, the victim, question your own reality. We are all vulnerable to gas-lighting, and it is a common practice of abusers, despots, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done subtly, so subtly that the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed. For example, in the movie Gaslight (1944), a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind.
People who gas-light typically use some or all of the following practices.
They tell flagrant lies.
You even know it’s an outright lie. But they are telling you this lie with such a straight face, and they are very convincing. Why are they so blatant about it? They do it because they’re taking the first step; they are setting up a precedent. Once they tell you a huge lie, you’re not really sure if anything they say is true. Keeping you unsteady and off-balance is the goal. And after the BIG lie, you will never be sure.
They deny they ever said it, even though you have proof.
You know they said they would do something; you know you heard it, and you even wrote it down. But they flat out deny it with such conviction that it makes you start questioning your reality—maybe they never said that thing after all. And the more they do this, the more you question your reality and start accepting theirs. It is a downward spiral.
Even the cleverest,
most self-aware person
can be sucked in by gas-lighting.
They use what’s important to you against you.
They might know how important your kids are to you, or they know how important your identity, or your business is to you. So those will be the first things they’ll attack. If you have kids, they tell you that you ought not to have had children. They’ll tell you’d be a more admirable person if only you didn’t have that long list of undesirable peculiarities. They attack the very foundation of your being as an individual. They will tell you that your work is unimportant.
They try and wear you down.
This is one of the really sinister things about gas-lighting and it is done oh-so-gradually, over time. A lie here, a half truth there, a nasty comment now and again, and then once they have built a solid base of trust in your psyche, they start ramping up. Even the cleverest, most self-aware person can be sucked in by gas-lighting—it really can be that successful. It’s the “frog in the stew pot” analogy: If the heat is turned up very, very, slowly the frog never realizes what’s happening to it until… well, you know how it ends for the frog.
Their words and actions don’t jibe.
When you’re around a person that gas-lights, look at what they are doing rather than what they are saying. What they are saying means absolutely nothing; it is all just talk. What they are doing is what is important not to miss. They NEVER walk the talk.
Isolation gives them more
control, and control over you,
your time, your money,
or your life is their primary goal.
They throw in positive support just to confuse you.
The very person who was cutting you down yesterday, telling you that you that you suck, is now falling all over you telling you how great you are! This exacerbates that sense of uneasiness, adding confusion to the mix. You might even start to think, “Well, maybe they aren’t so bad.” Yes, they sure as hell are that bad—maybe even worse. This is a calculated attempt to keep you out of balance, and once again, to make you doubt your own reality, your own senses, your own sense. If you look really closely at what you were just praised for, it was likely something that actually helped the gas-lighter, not you.
They understand that confusion weakens individuals.
Gas-lighters know that people need a sense of stability and normalcy to keep their lives on the proper path. The gas-lighter’s unspoken goal is to uproot those feelings and cause you to question everything you think or feel. Humans have a natural tendency to look to the person that helps them feel more stable and to gain perspective; guess who that has become? Yep, you got it—it has become the gas-lighter.
Of course you know that they are a drug user or a cheater, and yet you wonder why they are constantly accusing you of the same. They do it so regularly and seemingly sincerely that you might actually start trying to defend yourself, and in that moment, you are distracted from the gas-lighter’s own behavior. They win.
They will soon turn your friends against you.
Gas-lighters are Jedi-Masters at manipulating and finding just the people who will stand by them no matter what—and you can count on them using those people against you. They will make comments like, “Jeffery knows that you’re screwed up too,” or “Harriet knows you’re a useless tool.” (Spoiler alert: these people never actually said anything at all, but the gas-lighter knows you will never check). A gas-lighter is once and always a relentless liar. When the gas-lighter uses this tactic, it makes you feel like you don’t know who to trust or who to turn to, and that leads you right back to the gas-lighter. Beginning to see how this works? And that’s exactly what they want. Isolation gives them more control, and control over you, your time, your money, or your life is their primary goal.
They tell everybody that you are crazy, even you.
This is one of the most effective tools of the gas-lighter, because it’s frigging dismissive. The gas-lighter knows if they convincingly question your sanity, people won’t believe you when confess that the gas-lighter is abusive or out-of-control. It’s a terribly masterful technique and when you are in that far, you are in severe trouble.
They tell you everyone else is a liar.
By telling you that everyone else—your family, your friends, the pastor—is a liar, it reinforces your need to question your reality. You will probably speculate that you have never quite known anyone with the pluck to do this, so they have to be telling the truth, right? No, no, no, no! It’s a master manipulation technique and it causes innocent, exhausted people to turn to the gas-lighter for the “correct” information, which guess what, isn’t correct information at all. They are fucking lying to you over and over again and unless you are superbly attentive, you will never notice it until you are lost.
The more you are aware of these techniques, the quicker you can identify them and avoid falling into the gas-lighter’s trap. This is one of those “word to the wise” types of articles so I hope you will heed my words and keep your eyes out for these kinds of people…you meet them from time to time.
As they say, “forewarned is forearmed.”
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Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative. You can see Frank’s other website, www.frankhopkinlifecoach.com on line as well.