Gaslighter Jim: Nice dog you have there.
Bob: That’s a pygmy goat.
Gaslighter Jim: What breed is it? Labrador? Newfie?
Bob: PYG-MY! Goat!
Gaslighter Jim: I don’t know why you’re getting so defensive about your dog. Anyone can see that’s a dog.
(Bob looks quixotically at his goat/dog.)
How damaged you are by this encounter really depends on how deeply invested you are in Jim.
If Gaslighter Jim is just a random stranger, you’re going to dismiss him as nuts. If, however, you’ve invested a lot of money with Gaslighter Jim, or he’s your father, or your favorite child, you’re going to give a lot more credence to his erroneous pronouncements.
But, but… Jim is unassailable!
Also, if Gaslighter Jim has the trappings of authority, say he went to an Ivy League school and he wears nicer sports jackets than Bob, you may also doubt if goats are dogs.
But, but… Jim is man of intelligence and discernment! And has a perfectly folded pocket square!
At the end of the day, none of these things — your investment, your opinions about Jim, your hopes — changes a goat into a dog.
Dogs are dogs and goats are goats.
So, why is gaslighting a THING? Are gaslighters just that good at their mindfuck craft, or are we really just gullible saps?
I think it’s a bit of both, but frankly, more of the latter. Gaslighting works because we want to believe.
Let’s break down our chump tendencies around gaslighting. (And don’t beat yourself up. No one gets chumped without letting some real whoppers go by.)
Gaslighting works because:
1.) You want to believe. If Jim is your spouse, you’ve got some deeply invested sunk costs in believing him. Dog versus goat is pretty low-stakes poker. “That wasn’t a kiss you saw, I was swatting a bee off her face with my mouth” is higher stakes. You don’t want to believe Jim is a cheater. The evidence suggests otherwise.
Antidote: Trust your senses and the critical faculties God gave you.
2.) You give this person power you shouldn’t. Gaslighting is just a contest of narrative wills. The truth versus mindfuckery. You’re either going to let this fuckwit steamroll you with bullshit, or you’re going to stand up to it. Jim isn’t better than you. He may have a perfectly folded pocket square, but he’s NOT the final authority on goats. You have no idea what his pernicious agenda is behind saying a goat is a dog, but you’re a pretty damn good judge of both dogs AND goats, and your perceptions matter.
Antidote: Don’t give away your power. Does Jim really deserve this much benefit of the doubt?
3.) It’s very upsetting to your world order if you accept the truth. And don’t think Jim doesn’t know that. If you accept reality, you also much accept that Jim is a Bad Person who mindfucks. You will hit a wall of pain.
Antidote: Hit the wall of pain and then realize fuckwits are not worth your tears.
4.) It’s exhausting. As I said, it’s a contest of wills. And if you’re going to stand there and argue with Jim who is deeply invested in getting you to doubt yourself (for some evil Dog v. Goat scheme), you may just give up to keep the peace. (And let Jim go about his nefarious business.)
Antidote: Let go. Trust the truth. You know reality, it doesn’t matter what Jim says. The only winning move in mindfuck games is not to play.
How many legs does a dog have if you call his tail a leg? Four. Saying that a tail is a leg doesn’t make it a leg. — Abraham Lincoln