Developing skills for dealing effectively with gaslighting and its pervasive and insidiously destructive impact is essential for mastering courageous living. Why? Because using tactics to induce vulnerability, insecurity, fear and shame is the modus operandi of the gaslighter. So being brave and skillfully courageous in the face of coping with gaslighting and the gaslighter is critical for success. It’s essential to not only see gaslighting for what it is but most importantly develop resiliency for rising back when it occurs and immunity protection from its negative impact going forward.
According to Wikipedia, Gaslighting “is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it (gaslighting) attempts to destabilize the target and delegitimize the target’s belief.” Experiencing doubt and the subsequent healthy resolution of doubt is a natural step in the developmental process for developing Self, healthy beliefs, autonomy, esteem, and confidence. Gaslighting derails healthy functioning of this process.
Gaslighting … is elaborate, insidious systematic deception, manipulation and demonstration of power over another and over time can erode capacities such as foundational trust, love, esteem, worth, rightness, intuition, freedom and meaning in its targets. Eventually it can disable integrity and executive functioning capabilities. The evidence to suggest that experiencing powerlessness, the goal of gaslighting in its targets, impairs executive functioning capacities can be read here.
In this article published by Science Daily, there is evidence to suggest that those in positions of power of who feel inadequate for the level of power they have are more likely to abuse their power and exhibit bullying behaviors, which is a type of gaslighting. According to Ian H. Robertson from The British Psychological Society, there is evidence to support that experiencing power changes the brain in key areas of judgment, cognition and behavior – and in some cases the areas of remorse and empathy. Recognizing and coping effectively with the massively dangerous and destructive impact gaslighting and the gaslighter have the potential to inflict on the health of their targets is imperative to the whole health of a person, group and greater community and culture at large.
The term gaslighting originates from a stage play called Gaslight debuting in London in 1938 and was later made into a film in the UK in 1940 and the US in 1944. In the play and films, a husband systematically drives his wife insane by convincing her that she is a kleptomaniac and has imagined sounds and the dimming of the gaslights in their house. The sounds and the dimming of the lights were actually caused by him while he was looking for jewels.
Like the husband in the play and films the word originates from, gaslighters systematically and strategically set their targets up to experience confusion, mistrust, fear, shame, doubt, guilt, inferiority, anger, isolation, loneliness, stagnation, stuckness and despair. I call this tripping their targets. And, the target is often mocked, demeaned, disregarded, discredited and blamed for the trip or made to believe that the tripper is the only person who can rescue them or others they intend to seek favor from. The main reason for doing this is for them to feel powerful and regulate self capacities such as self worth, esteem and identity. These trips are how gaslighters attempt to render their victims powerless thereby increasing their own feelings of adequacy, authority, status, position and control. These trips are a radical twisting or distortion of reality and truth for self serving means. This behavior stems from the disavowal of their own feelings of inadequacy, shame, remorse or guilt. It is essential to see these trips for what they are: trips to nowhere you want to go, trips to stuckness, trips in circles, trips to hurt and pain.
The primary mechanisms used by gaslighters are projection and blame, stemming from denial of their own inadequacy, badness, responsibility, shame, remorse or guilt. And, what can be so painful and difficult for the target of gaslighting is the very destabilizing impact of gaslighting at the most basic level is precisely what the gaslighter uses against the victim to validate their gaslighting. And, if others are not savvy and are drawn in or duped by the gaslighting, they will perpetuate the impact of the gaslighting on its targets, invalidate her/his experience and perpetuate the pathogenic effect of its impact creating further harm and furthering toxic dynamics preventing whole healing and growth – this is classic, blaming the victim behavior.
Projection – is the psychological defense mechanism when the human ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities both positive and negative by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. Blame – is the act of censuring, holding responsible, making negative statements about an individual or group that their actions are socially or morally irresponsible. Blame is the opposite of praise. When someone is morally responsible for doing something wrong and bad, there actions are blameworthy. When someone is responsible for doing something right and good, their actions are praiseworthy. In gaslighting, the blame/shame/praise paradigm is deformed: bad and shameworthy behavior is praised and good and praiseworthy behavior gets punished. It’s twisted.
Take back your brain, body, mind, identity and ultimately your life by overcoming and transcending the destructive impact of gaslighting. Projective Identification is when the human ego unconsciously identifies with or takes on projections as if they were true to themselves. In the twisted paradigm the gaslighter operates within, its essential the target of the gaslighting not identify with the gaslighter’s projections, thereby not “taking on” what’s not theirs. This is the first step in reclaiming one’s power from the destabilizing impact of gaslighting. This effectively means:
- NOT buying into the trips to nowhere but pain,
- NOT identifying with the gaslighter’s projections, blame or twisted versions of the truth and
- NOT owning undeserved censure, punishment, responsibility or blame.
- Approach the impact of gaslighting as a self growth practice. This in and of itself is an empowering approach. Then, make room, space, time and attention for thoughtfully allowing the feelings and beliefs that have been triggered by the impact of the gaslighting in order to systematically release what needs to be released and heal what needs to be healed so that the brain and the body can realign and ultimately grow, deepen and expand in its capacity. Understand that this will be a process that will require patience, diligence and ongoing self care and understanding.
I have outlined 8 classic Trip / Transcendence Continuums that align with classic stages of development.
- The Fear Trip with healing can lead to Trust and Flow.
- The Shame / Doubt Trip with healing can lead to healthy and balanced Autonomy and Confidence.
- The Guilt Trip with healing can lead to healthy and balanced Initiative.
- The Inferiority / Anger Trip with healing can lead to Industriousness and stable Productivity.
- The (Role) Confusion Trip with healing can lead to Identity consolidation, cohesion and expansion.
- The Isolation / Loneliness Trip with healing can lead to true Intimacy.
- The Stagnation / Stuck Trip with healing can lead to Generativity and a feeling of Purposefulness.
- The Despair Trip with healing can lead to ego Integrity.
How do we move from the Trip through the healing to Transcendence? It begins with responsibility for ones own self care, especially when triggered – responding with ability to what has impacted you.
Imagine a train track with a lever for guiding the train’s direction. One direction is the Trip Track the other the Trust Track. Imagine having this lever in the center of your being. Then use this lever to adjust to realign on the Trust Track to get the process started.
Use deep core breathing to get the brain and body back online, use this with the train track lever imagery mentioned above. If it’s hard to breathe on your own, ask a trusted support to breathe with you. You can ask this person to hold your hand and breathe with you or do a “heart sandwich” by placing a hand gently on your heart center from the front and the back, then align your breath attuning this way. Or, listen to a guided meditation to guide your breathing.
Use grounding skills to get your body back online. You can imagine a ball of light dropping down from your root energy centers down into the earth or roots like roots of a tree going down into the earth from the soles of your feet. You can also do this in nature which will support connecting with your natural innate capacity for centering by literally feeling the earth by sitting, laying or being bare foot. Then you can release the negative emotions through the grounding roots for transformation.
Use unblending skills to get your Self / part alignment back on the Core Trust Track. By unblending, this means, you can literally ask your parts that have blended with you and have taken over your body and brain to separate from you, allowing core Self to be present, giving you access to feeling Self energy – such as calmness, clarity, connection and courage. Then you can use this Self energy to support your healing.
Use unburdening skills to facilitate the release of negative emotions and beliefs. Once a critical mass of Self energy is present, healing can be facilitated through the energy Self brings from the unblending process. Listen to your deepest truths, honoring what needs to be honored. Then, releasing the burdens being held in the system should be followed by infusing needed qualities – such as trust, faith, love, etc.
Receive support from trusted supports who will help you securely connect with your innate truth and capacity for trust and from there reclaim the narrative and your empowerment.
The destructive impact of gaslighting cannot be underestimated. Freedom from it and transformation through it is possible.