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Gaslighting! Word of the Year but Nothing New

By Darlene Corbett December 13, 2022 Lifestyle

Gaslighting. What does the word evoke? I planned on writing an article about it, but Merriam-Webster beat me to it, crowning gaslighting as the word of the year.

Therapists have been familiar with gaslighting prior to its 2022 coronation, but before digging into the details, let’s talk about most Boomers’ first acquaintance with the term.

What Is Gaslighting?

A popular 1944 film, Gaslight, starred Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotton, and Charles Boyer. The movie contributed to using this label for not-so-uncommon psychological abuse.

Yes, gaslighting is abuse.

You can also view it as bullying, and all bullying’s harmful, but what makes it so egregious?

Corrosive manipulation.

The victim’s sense of self, judgement, and worse, mental health, suffers from pressuring and deception for the protection of another’s self, their family, their image, their money, and their reputation.

Greed, envy, jealousy, and exposure are some of the driving forces.

It occurs in families, groups, work settings, governments, and anything or anywhere threatening the status quo.

Bearing Witness to Gaslighting

Over the course of my professional career, I’ve encountered situations where clients endure gaslighting. This includes adolescent children, adult children, and other family members, when deviating from the clan’s norms.

Here are a few disguised examples:

Acting Out

About 30 years ago, I saw an adolescent because of their acting out behavior. The parents always attended the sessions, and based on their dress and behavior, I sensed something was off but couldn’t put my finger on it. Couples often display some congruency, but this was not the case here.

When the adolescent met with me, I suggested they share more about the situation in the home for me to assist them better. Much strife occurred between the couple, which included hints of infidelity and substance abuse. The adolescent became the confidante. I asked the adolescent about my sharing this with one parent. They agreed.

During my meeting with the parent, things didn’t go well. They dismissed their child’s concerns, claiming the issues were deeply exaggerated, and things with everyone other than the identified patient were fine. Thus, I never saw that young person again.

Depression

Within a year or two of that encounter, another individual sought my help. Depression ensued. This person and their spouse engaged in a nontraditional lifestyle, less common than now. Soon, this person revealed their childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a family member. When the individual divulged this to relatives, backlash and denial were severe.

They became a pariah, even by one sibling who suffered similar treatment. Again, denial and insinuations about the individual’s mental health ensued. The last I heard, the individual and their spouse removed themselves from further contact with their family of origin.

Crippling Anxiety

Fast forward years later, an individual came to see me, referred by a colleague who maintained their client suffered from crippling anxiety. After many sessions, I concluded things weren’t as they seemed. The anxiety seemed related to a situational matter disguised by another family member.

I encouraged the client to explore options to uncover the truth. They resisted at first, but soon discovered the reality of the genesis of their anxiety. I spoke to the lovely family therapist about the problem. They shared with me their suspicions. But the client and other members banished any concerns, focusing on the client’s overwhelming anxiety.

Not long after, the client removed themselves from the toxic relationships surrounding them, with their anxiety lifting.

The reason I share these examples?

Gaslighting Through the Ages on a Large and Small Scale

Many Boomers have been gaslighted. Some cases are easier for recovery than others. Put downs about one’s body or intelligence might be brushed off. Others, not so much. If it’s the latter, I hope you’ve explored ways to reverse those messages. For others, it’s never too late.

Also, as we age, senior moments abound. Please don’t allow anyone to make you feel bad. If it’s more serious, that’s a different topic. However, sometimes, dementia of a loved one lies in front of us, and if the issue is raised, it might be pooh-poohed. And this is another form of gaslighting.

How about on a larger scale? When you know something’s amiss but others double down, telling you how wrong you are or worse. They hurl insults, claiming you suffer from paranoia. Yes, gaslighting lurks everywhere, without speaking of paranoia, sounding paranoid.

What to do?

For embedded messages, please seek help from a professional.

And those that you can’t control, but you understand your sanity is challenged? Find well-balanced people who witnesses the emperor’s lack of clothing, regardless of others’ attempts to gaslight you.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What do you know about gaslighting? Have you experienced it in your life? How have you dealt with this phenomenon? What has gaslighting cost you?

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KVS

I like the broader definition of the word. “The act or practice of grossly misleading someone for one’s own advantage.” By this definition, the onus is placed upon the perpetrator’s actions and keeps the focus on him/her rather than a more victim-centric take on the action. Makes me feel better. I walked away from one unscathed (but willfully woke me up to semi-retirement).

I left my job after trying to bring to light (pun intended) my gaslighter’s intentions to push me out of my job. I left when I could no longer fight the fight trying to prove that he in fact said or committed things and not me or other colleagues. Upper management believed him over me and by their dismissal or inaction, I surmised it was too much trouble removing him. Sadly this often seems to be the case.

Gaslighter’s are not only twisted individuals but self-serving. I liken them to vampires. Insatiable blood-suckers who need that blood to exist in their “fantasy”. I’d like to ask the author of this article, what distinguishes a gaslighter from a narcissist? And from what I’ve read, businesses often hire them for upper/middle management because they can get staff to get jobs done whatever it takes and without remorse.

Darlene

Thank you for providing a courageous and thoughtful comment. I understand your desire for the broader definition. However, I see where this applies within many arenas including larger systems, causing destruction toward another person or group of people. It’s ultimate power and control. My clients know I don’t view them as permanent victims but survivors who can recover and heal from such menacing. Yes, cruelty and self-absorption places someone in the category of narcissism. Narcissists don’t always gaslight, but gaslighters are always narcissists.

Last edited 1 month ago by Darlene Corbett
KVS

Darlene,

Thanks for answering this “survivor’s” question with that succinct answer and it makes it easy for me to remember! I think this subject is hitting a nerve for many of us that really needs to be expressed. I’m grateful I had a way out, I only wish other readers who are in a situation can find the courage to find a way out…you truly feel free to be your good self once you do. Thank you for contributing. And thank you, Sixty and Me.

Barbara

Beautifully and simply written though recovery is hard work! Thank you.

Darlene

Thank you, Barbara! Yes, recovery is hard work. I appreciate you reading and commenting.

Ella Early

I had absolutely no idea that humans were so inhumane. I am the 5th child in a family that each child has a different father, except 2 full blooded brothers (which one committed suicide at age 23 in 1977). I only have one sister (had because now I will not speak to her), who was a professional gaslighter from birth basically. She is 8 years older than me and has controlled my life (because I fully, without ever a doubt, that she was always “concerned” or looking out for me. HAHAHA!
I am 62 years old and finally opened my eyes to evil.
She wouldn’t even console me or give me a hug or a I’m sorry, when I was with out Mom when she passed, because… you ready… my Mom was supposed to die with her and not me.
I even forgave her and my remaining 2 brothers for just staring at me like I was the enemy when they arrived at our Mom’s care facility after learning that OUR Mom had passed. THEY ALL JUST STARED AT ME… Not one came up and offered anything at all!!!
Now, 11 years later, I have taken off my blinders and finally see.
I am now estranged from all of them.

KVS

I’m so, so sorry this happened to you. But I have to thank you for your sharing a tough situation between family members. It made me realize how something happened to me that was similar, always perpetrated by one family member. I would excuse their comments as it being due to that person’s bitter and envious nature. But I never realized until your reply that this person has been gaslighting me.

Thank you again for allowing yourself to be vulnerable. I hope it brings some solice for turning on that proverbial lightbulb for me.

Susan Goodman

I was very glad to read this article, because I did not understand gaslighting. I had heard the expression, but didn’t really know what it was.

Sally Crawford

I felt the same. I’m still not sure…

Darlene

Thank you, Sally for reading and commenting. Think about someone who makes comments to someone repeatedly, claiming they don’t, as they watch someone’s self worth diminish.

Darlene

Thank you, Susan. I appreciate you reading and commenting. Yes, like the phenomenon itself, it’s often difficult to figure out.

marlene

You are very unclear about your writing. See the following of what you wrote. It makes no sense at all! Find well-balanced people who witnesses the emperor’s lack of clothing, regardless of others’ attempts to gaslight you.

Darlene

Thank you, Marlene, for reading and commenting. I believe I’m quite clear, but I offer a simple example.

Someone is intelligent. They’re told for years by a purported loved one, they aren’t. The loved one, not so loving, often disguises their manipulation with convincing words. The “someone” soon believes everything the unbalanced person tells them. Essentially, they’ve gaslighted them.

Leah

Marlene, what do you find unclear? This is a very short article meant to stimulate discussion or invite further research. It is my opinion that the author was very clear in her writing and explained the situation of gaslighting very well, indeed, and generally enough for even those who don’t wish to do an academic reading on the subject but perhaps do want to know something more than they did know before on this suddenly popular word. One sees it commonly used in the media/social media and heard when talking with friends and acquaintances, or even their own family. The type of action being described, “gaslighting”, has been in use to some extent ever since that b&w film of the mid20th century, even though the act of “gaslighting” someone is a well-known phenomenon seen throughout history, A typical example in history is the way certain people in many countries are documented to have used “gaslighting” in this sort of situation: a member of the family, often a woman or old man, due to inherit a great deal of money, would be framed as “insane” when they were not at all mentally disturbed until the person was treated as such by one or more of the family, or any person due to inherit the money if this person was deemed incapable. Of course, perhaps this situation still happens even though in most countries around the world we no longer “lock away the non-criminal mentally “insane” or “mentally incapable”. Various methods would be used to make the person with the money begin to act oddly and also question themselves, to the point that even those who do not inherit any money had to agree the person was truly “out of their right mind”. But in a true gaslighting situation his “craziness” was only because of the behind-the-scenes, secret mind games employed by the person wishing to destroy the reputation of the one with the money they were after. It’s a ruse as old as the hills, and used in a variety of other situations. A girl abused by an incestuous relative tries to speak out about it but no one believes her because the abuser got there first and secretly had warned the family about how the abused girl was acting oddly lately, or given to lying, or had a crush on him and had tried to seduce him but she was firmly rejected by the abuser, and the girl threatened to tell others he’d done it anyway just to get back at him—that’s an actual situation I know to have happened, in fact. But the author was clear about all of this. It’s brief, as it is meant to be, so if you want to know more, please do some research. I am a trained and professional counselor, so I have researched the subject, and I do know what the tale of the emperor with no clothes means, and how it could be used by the author in this sentence. Basically, find trustworthy people who see what you see and admit it too, and be validated in your perception, which is true, if you are ever being “gaslit” by someone or a group. Simple as that. Gossip, lies, framing a person to see them discounted—ever so common.I hope this helps, Marlene. But really, the author did an excellent job as I see it, in providing a very general look at a complex issue.

KVS

Leah, wow! You not only vindicated the author, you gave additional examples so well described. Thank you. And thank you for defending the fact that it’s so easy to be sucked in to the lies of a gaslighter. Hope this makes everyone reading your reply think twice or thrice about what people in powerful positions in every part of their lives are claiming. As carpenters are told, “measure twice, cut once. If we did, we can learn to deal with these gaslighters in a more efficient manner.

Darlene

Thank you so much, Leah! I thought everyone understood “the Emperor has no clothes” story but not the case. Also, as a therapist, you know we must be scrupulous in how we disguise true narratives. I thought it might have been more effective to offer it in the manner I did. No matter, thank you! I appreciate you going the extra mile and affirming my reality about clarity. With much gratitude, D.💖

The Author

Darlene Corbett views herself as a life-long learner, work-in-progress, bibliophile, and logophile. Darlene's primary roles are now Therapist, Hypnotherapist, and Author/Writer. At age 61, her first book on personal development was traditionally published. She’s hoping her novel, about a therapist and second chances, will be published in 2023.

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