The Signs and Responses
Last week I watched the 1944 movie, Gaslighting. I have heard the term before and watched the television series, Dirty John, so I knew it’s a real thing. Gaslighters play games with your mind and psychologically try to get you to question your own sanity.
In distinguishing between good old manipulation and gaslighting, Stephanie Sarkis, a psychologist, says that influence or manipulation is how we learn to work the system. But when it becomes a series of behaviors where the sole intent is to gain control of someone else, then you're getting into gaslighting behaviors. It's a form of abuse, and usually, the person displays a pattern of these manipulation tactics throughout several relationships.
In the 1944 movie, Paula (played by Ingrid Bergman who won an Academy Award for her work), loses an heirloom brooch that Gregory, her suitor, had given to her despite its having been stored safely in her handbag just before going out. A picture disappears from its place on a wall and Gregory says that Paula took it, one of many instances of her removing and hiding things. But Paula has no recollection of having done so. Paula also hears footsteps coming from the sealed attic, and sees the gaslights dim and brighten for no apparent reason. Gregory suggests that these things exist only in her imagination.
In a more recent portrayal of Gaslighting, the television series Dirty John, tells the tale of a real life story about a predatory Southern California con man, John Meehan, and the woman he targeted, Debra Newhall. John does things that make Debra question her sanity. Did these things really happen to me? Did I do what John accuses me of? Am I losing my mind? These are all questions Debra has to deal with.
In a follow-up series, The Betty Broderick Story, a true tale, Betty suspects Dan, her husband, is having an affair with his young office assistant, Linda Kolkena. At one point, Dan tells her that she’s imagining it all. She’s left feeling ridiculous, but that feeling of him having an affair doesn’t leave her. Deep down, she knows he’s a terrible man. She just needs to figure out the truth, but it’s not easy when your mental health takes a dive.
I won’t tell you more about the story in case you want to watch the television series, which a highly recommend.
Gaslighters use phrases to confuse their targets. Here are a few mentioned in an article by Kiranjotkaur Valecha, 12 Warning Signs of Gaslighting and 5 ways to Deal With It."
- “You are always making a big deal out of things. It’s not even that big a problem.”
- “You are a psycho. You are always imagining things.”
- “Your problems are not real. Stop being so dramatic.”
- “You don’t give enough in this relationship. I’m the only one who cares.”
- “I’m not dealing with your drama again. You are neurotic.”
- “We talked about this. Don’t you remember?”
- “If only you would ever pay attention…”
- “You never listen to a word I say.”
- “I have to keep repeating myself since you can’t remember anything.”
- “You can’t even take a simple joke.”
- “I criticize you because I love you.”
- “You are always overthinking.”
- “I find it impossible to deal with someone who doesn’t trust me.”
- “You need to learn to communicate better.”
- “You are always irrational.”
Here are signs of gaslighting.
- Denial – the most common sign of gaslighting.
- Repetitive behavior.
- Emotional projection – the gaslighter’s tool.
- Constant negativity in a relationship is a sign of gaslighting.
- Lying – the classic gaslighting sign.
- Gaslighters constantly manipulate you.
- Gaslighers make you reel in constant self-doubt.
- They use your friends against you.
- Gaslighters dismiss your feelings right away.
- Gaslighting -Confusing actions
So, how can you effectively deal with these psychologically destructive behaviors by someone you are close to?
- Trust your instinct
- Know your worth
- Have the courage to leave
- Call out on their behavior
- Recognize the root problem
With regard to #5, the gaslighter needs to be in control or have power over you.
Being a victim of gaslighting is, arguably, one of the worst things one human being can do to another. It seeks to break down your confidence in yourself, question whether you are going out of your mind, create doubts whether you are a good person, and, ultimately, cause you to do something destructive.
Gaslighting is a form of bullying. Like most bullies, they seek to blame you for their actions. It’s a toxic relationship and you need to seek the advice of an anti-bullying group or reach out to support groups such as “End Bullying Globally.”
Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on November 17, 2020. Dr. Mintz is the author of Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior that is available on Amazon. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics.