Gaslighting by Proxy
Gaslighting by proxy can take many forms. So many forms, in fact, that it’s often hard to recognize. What exactly is it? Well, it’s gaslighting, to be sure. That’s the making you feel crazy set of tactics manipulators use and that I first brought to wide attention in In Sheep’s Clothing. We didn’t have a commonly accepted label for the phenomenon then. But we do these days. And gaslighting by proxy is essentially someone else doing a manipulator’s dirty work for them.
Gaslighting by proxy can go something like this:
You’re pretty sure you’ve caught the disturbed character doing one of their shady or nefarious things.
They act all innocent, like they have no idea what you’re talking about. Or with intensity and conviction, they insist you’re reading things all wrong.
Then, their proxy backs them up. Sometimes, subtly. They say something like “I’ve never known (him or her) to do anything like that.” And they might add that other friends feel the same way, too.
Now you feel completely unsupported. Worse, you begin to doubt your perceptions. You’re all alone, with no one else seeing things like you do. Then, you feel even more crazy than usual.
The Different Ways It Happens
Skilled manipulators can recruit a proxy deliberately. They often enjoy the game of staying one-up on you so much that they cultivate allies. That way, whenever you step out of line, they call in the militia to intimidate you back into place.
More often, however, gaslighting by proxy occurs more subtly. Many manipulators are excellent impression managers. They use charm, seduction, and their various amiable characteristics to cultivate allies and allegiances. That way, whenever they face being exposed, their unwitting allies come to the rescue without even having to be told to do so. These folks have already bought into the manipulator’s story and image. So, they’re ready to defend, without half realizing what they’re doing.
Gaslighting by proxy is most effective when multiple proxies are available. Gaslighting victims feel so much more alone and self-doubting when they find themselves among a sea of folks who view the disturbed character differently.
It’s More Common than People Think
Gaslighting by proxy is more common than many realize. That’s because so many manipulators are capable of considerable charm. And while in our times charm should routinely sound an alarm, most folks realize a manipulator’s nature after it’s too late.
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