Crazy Making Behaviors
Many folks are familiar with the crazy making behaviors of disturbed characters. And these days we even have a commonly accepted name for them: gaslighting. Still, misunderstandings abound about this phenomenon. That’s because so many erroneous notions about it are promoted in popular books and articles.
Many writers see gaslighting as a specific tactic. And it indeed can be. That is, someone can deliberately try to make you feel crazy, as a tactic to abuse or exploit you. But more often, gaslighting is the crazy-making effect of any number of tactics a manipulator might employ. Moreover, there are various things a skilled manipulator can do to enhance the effect.
Enhancing the “Gaslighting” Effect
Engaging in manipulation tactics with apparent conviction, righteous indignation, intensity, etc. are all ways to enhance the gaslighting effect. Allow me to illustrate with a typical example (all potentially identifying information deliberately distorted):
“Jan” accidently sees a suspicious text appear on “Ted’s” cell phone screen. He has already admitted having an inappropriate relationship. But he has long insisted the affair is “over.” And he’s expressed regret and asserted he wants to patch things up. So, she’s given him the benefit of the doubt. But the message on his phone appears to suggest he is still lying, so she decides to confront him.
The intensity of his response more than sets her back a bit. “Why should he be the angry one, anyway?,” she wonders. After all, he’s the one who did wrong. But he is the one expressing outrage. Worse, what he says makes her feel like the victimizer instead of the victim. “Am I always going to be under the microscope?,” he asks.” “Are you going to assume the worst anytime something you think is suspicious happens?,” he challenges. And he says these things with such seemingly righteous indignation that she feels like the bad guy for even suspecting.
Jan feels crazy, even though she shouldn’t. She has every right to be suspicious. After all, Ted is the one who broke the trust. And it’s his job to repair it. But the intensity and seeming righteous indignation he displays makes him appear the victim. That’s why such behaviors are in themselves manipulation tactics. And such tactics are particlulary crazy-making in character. They’re meant to be!
Overcoming the Gaslighting Effect
Recognizing manipulation tactics when you encounter them, and responding appropriately is key to both sanity and personal empowerment. And that’s why I wrote In Sheep’s Clothing. Still, overcoming the crazy-making gaslighting effect takes time. Manipulation victims lose their sense of trust – not only in others but also in themselves. Full of self doubt, it can take years to regain a sense of self-validation. (See also: Toxic Relationship Aftermath: Doubt, Mistrust, and Paranoia?.)
In the example above, only one person is entitle to outrage: Jan. And her outrage ought rightfully be greater because of Ted’s continued tactics. There’s no true remorse here.
I discuss the topic of crazy making behaviors a little more on the latest edition of Character Matters.
A VERY IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT
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