Gaslighting victims question their judgment. They can even come to question their very sanity. Crafty covert-aggressors know how to make you doubt. In your gut you feel they’re trying to play you. But they can have you feeling like you’re a fool for thinking so. They can even have you questioning what’s real and what isn’t. (See also: Manipulation and the Gaslighting Effect.}
Upping the Ante
Skilled manipulators don’t have to set out to make you feel crazy. (Although it’s certainly not beyond them to do so.) Any of their tactics can make you doubt your perceptions. And when they throw a lot of them at you at once, you can doubt even more. Sometimes, they can combine many tactics into one. And when they act with passion and conviction, they can really intimidate. All this increases doubt. But gaslighting victims generally know this after the fact. At the time, however, they simply doubt their judgment. And after doubting deeply and often they can begin to feel pretty crazy.
A Gaslighting Story
(As always, all potentially identifying information has been altered.)
Vera didn’t know what to think. She thought she was well within her rights. After all, it was Jess who betrayed her trust. He’d been “sexting” that other woman for months. And she only found out about it by accident. A message popped up on the the phone he left on the counter. She didn’t even mean to pry. But it really hurt her to learn the truth. His breach of trust hurt the most. How could she ever trust him again? She hoped she’d be able to do so. But a lot depended on Jess. He would need to prove his trustworthiness. Yet somehow, he made her feel the burden was hers.
“What kind of person just can’t let this go?,” Jess would ask with intensity. “It’s been weeks now!,” he would add. ” I told you it will never happen again. What do I have to do? Will I be under a microscope for the rest of my life?” His questions somehow made it seem like he was the victim. That made her feel like the villain. It also made her question the reality of the situation. Was she actually being unreasonable? She didn’t know for sure. She wasn’t even sure who the real victim was anymore.
Manipulative characters have a way with words. They know how to twist things to serve their agendas. Moreover, when they frame things with apparent righteous indignation, they amplify the gaslighting effect. Jess’s words were meant to intimidate. And they were also meant to instill doubt. More than anything, however, they were meant to exculpate him. Jess rightfully bore the burden to prove his trustworthiness. But he callously shifted that burden. Refusing to accept the essential labors of love that accompany a healthy, intimate relationship is the hallmark of the impaired character. Like many other gaslighting victims, Vera would have to learn this the hard way.
Next week I’ll have another example of gaslighting. And I invite the commentators to share their gaslighting experiences.
Technical problems in New York prevented a live broadcast the week before last. And last week I was in New York doing workshops. But Character Matters should air live Sunday, August 27. So, call in at 718 171-8296 or 501 258-8326 to join the conversation.