Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the target and delegitimize the target’s belief.
Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim. The term owes its origin to the 1938 Patrick Hamilton play Gas Light and its 1940 and 1944 film adaptations. The term has been used in clinical and research literature, as well as in political commentary.
And yes I know you are not supposed to use Wikipedia for fact verification. But considering the discussion is about gaslighting, I thought it quite appropriate to use a cite, which in this instance isn’t wrong in its analysis, but can be manipulated to project disinformation, political partisanship, and out and out lie about historical facts without any derision whatsoever. Gaslighting is the monumental prevarication which seeks to reshape how society views reality, and at the same time have that society refuse to say that “the emperor has no clothes.”
It amazes me that gaslighting has taken on a life of its own in our discussions today. Up until a few months ago, gaslighting was a word used mostly by those in the psychology field when trying to help the victims of abuse understand how they had been brainwashed into believing that they, and not their abuser, was at fault for the abuse. It is an attempt in a relationship to gain power by the use of techniques that makes the victim doubt their own sense of reality. Basically they undermine your self-confidence and use it to control what you think, how you act, and even question your own sanity. It is the primary tool of the sociopath.
But why now? Why has gaslighting become part and parcel of our societal culture and discourse? The truth is that it’s not simply because of the abject lies told by the Trump administration. Sorry. But every administration has lied to one degree or the other. It’s a political reality that in truth, if a politician is talking, more times than not they are lieing. They gaslight the populace. In fact, the ancient Romans used to call this bread and circuses. Tell the people anything they want to hear. They won’t question it, as long as you distract them from their reality.
But something has happened along the way that has upended our society. There is so much disinformation being spread by any number of websites, news organizations, political pacs, think tanks, and authority figures today that at times you really don’t know what to believe. Moreover, if you believe one aspect of the truth, the question then becomes how can you be manipulated into spreading that belief into a realm of unrealistic proportions. Because for every lie to be believed, there has to be some modicum of the truth, no matter how small, to point to as if to say, “see I’m not lieing.”
Now, this isn’t about spreading conspiracy stories. This isn’t about thinking that little green men are performing experiments on humans, that the moon landing was a Hollywood production, that 9/11 was an inside job, or the Elvis is living somewhere in Mississippi fixing cars. This is even more than “fake news.”
Fake news for all intents and purposes, can be found out. These are facts that can be verified, or investigated. Fake news is merely another name for “yellow journalism.” It is tabloid journalism to the nth degree. It does not have to sway your world view. It does not have to have a hold over you. Fake news is no more real than breast implants, or hair plugs. Fake news is nonsensical. But it becomes dangerous when used to manipulate our nation into war, or to staying out of a conflict when we need to confront evil to prevent an even worse evil from infecting the world. Don’t forget, newspaper owners, even governmental officials use(d) yellow journalism, at times to force an issue, “Remember the Maine,” and the “Gulf of Tonkin.”
Fake news is nothing new. It is our response to fake news that is telling. More importantly, it is the use of the term “fake news” to gaslight the populace into not listening to the truth coming out. It is journalists telling us that terrorists don’t shoot off rockets from hospitals, as they stand in front of a hospital as the terrorist shoots off a rocket. It is a politician saying that they believe in free speech, but then telling you that “mean words” are unAmerican, and if you were truly a good person, you would believe in limiting speech. Of course, they only want you to limit the speech that they don’t like.
Gaslighting is telling people that something was not said, or you didn’t do something that everyone saw you do, and expecting people to believe you. It is the profound belief that no matter what you do or say, your ends justifies your actions. Gaslighting is the ultimate tabloiding of life. Turning life into a daily drama where a person uses, and manipulates those around them to ensure they get what they want, at any cost.
Gaslighting in our day and age is a daily expectation. Now is not a unique period in history. Society has been manipulated, used, and abused by the powerful to remain in power, for thousands of years. What is different today is that we are aware of the actions, and the outcomes of being gaslighted. While we do need to be on our guard to discern truth and honesty, it doesn’t mean we need to allow ourselves to be victimized. Ever.