If you’re anything like the average chump, (decent, law-abiding, a bit of a mark), you respond to mindfuckery with bewilderment. Maybe you sputter. Make a weak reply. What you probably DON’T do, is call it out.
Amiisfree would like to suggest some ways to call it out. So, I’m handing the blog over to her this morning. Enjoy! In the comments, please share your A-ha moments and strategies too! — Tracy
I have recently become aware of a gaslighting method that has been working very well on me, all my life. In the spirit of “once seen, cannot un-see”, I am pulling it out and setting it on the table to see it for what it is. Inside my head, I refer to it as “harsh/critical/jaded“.
In my experience, certain people use these terms in conversation with me anytime something uncomfortable enters the conversation. They have achieved resounding success in deflecting me, as a person with a conscience, because the kernel of truth sends me reeling to try to fix myself as if I am broken.
Well, not anymore. I am starting to say “No, what I said is not unreasonable. This is what (harsh/critical/jaded) would have sounded like. (Offers example.) I didn’t make a value judgment, I stated an observation of what occurred without evaluating it.”
Doing this has been… enlightening.
A few examples from my former marriage are listed below, using C for Chump, G for Gaslighter, and S for Schmoopie.
C: “You lied to me about S for X years and now you want me to trust that you aren’t lying just because you’re asking me to. I don’t trust you yet to tell the truth.”
G’s exaggerated response: “You called me a liar! You’re so critical! Why would I want to stick around just to be criticized all the time? S isn’t critical. That’s part of why I was drawn to S.”
If C were actually being critical, C would speak negative value judgments aloud, such as:
“You are a worthless piece of shit who wouldn’t know the truth if it bit you in the ass. Liars and cheaters are worthless assholes and I don’t trust lying cheating assholes.”
C: “You betrayed our marriage agreements because you wanted sex with someone else. You knew how much it would hurt me and you didn’t care. That is incredibly hurtful to me.”
G’s exaggerated response: “That’s harsh! You called me selfish and accused me of being bad. I just want to be positive and happy! Stop judging me harshly based on your narrow minded beliefs!”
If C were actually being harsh, C would use vitriolic language aloud, like:
“You can’t control yourself because you are an immature asshole. You are disgusting because you stuff your genitals into skanky whores’ genitals. You suck and you know it, so you hurt other people to try to avoid admitting what a shitty excuse for a person you are.”
C: “The only way we can rebuild trust is if you are fully transparent and honest with me, no secrets and no avoiding.”
G’s exaggerated response: “I told you I won’t do it again. Why won’t you believe me? You’re so jaded. I have no freedom because you are so paranoid and can’t trust. You are making this harder than it needs to be. When will you get over this?”
The truth about C:
C *is* now jaded, specifically as a direct result of actual abuse from G (and maybe others too).
Protecting one’s self from things that caused one harm in the past is intelligent and reasonable. This includes expecting that if a being, situation, or item caused us harm in the past, it is more likely than average to also cause us harm in the future, and avoiding that being/situation/thing is likely to mitigate further risk of harm. This makes sense.
Also, it is an incomplete truth to claim that that C simply doesn’t trust G’s words. It’s essentially factual, though incomplete, which is why it works well for gaslighting.
The rest of the story is that C does trust, through experience, that G’s words and actions are often not in harmony. C trusts this to be true because it has happened many times. The opposite — G’s actions matching G’s words — has not happened many times, so C does not trust that will occur now.
In reality, C DOES trust. It’s just that C trusts the actual data C is receiving rather than the illusions and half-truths G wants to feed C.
If someone is calling me harsh, critical, or jaded, I can hold a light up to it and ask myself, is that person exaggerating and/or leaving out critical data to spin the conversation in his/her favor? If so, I don’t have to swallow the spin.
I can look at all of the data. That’s where reality lives.
This is well summed up in a quote I heard the other day while watching Downton Abbey. Mrs. Hughes made a comment about Mr. Carson not having much faith in his fellow man. Mr. Carson replied, “I have the opinion life has taught me.”