Continued from Tuesday…
As I wrote, read and re-read Tuesday’s post I kept having to step away and come back to it, because it was confusing and didn’t flow. I couldn’t get it to flow with better clarity. I was frustrated. Then I remembered that being gaslighted is inherently addling, non-linear and maddening. Naturally, trying to write about it might produce something just that.
People who gaslight are desperate to control others. They are desperate to be right and to have the last word. They are desperate to manipulate reality to conform to their image. They are very sick people who lack empathy and basic problem-solving skills. They are desperate because they lack a stable identity, and are filled with vast empty inner spaces that threaten to collapse on them, causing total personal disintegration. They are living, breathing black holes, and they are desperate to avoid exposure. The deeper the desperation, the stronger the need to manipulate and control. The greater the fear of exposure, the louder the grandiosity.
Because the gaslighter’s self-image is constantly on the verge of shattering, their insides dangerously near collapse, they evolved a brilliant system to keep these ever-present threats in check. In order to hide their dire circumstances in plain sight with the rest of the plain folk, they work to amass as much power and control over others as possible. They do not have the ability to introspect; to do the hard work of change, building a stable inner foundation for themselves. What they have is a cunning system for meeting these ends–total dominance over others. If they can control reality, they can dictate what others see, how they think and feel, and their reactions. These clever machinations mean never having to experience the fall into total disordered chaos.
It’s a very complicated situation because of its subtlety, its insidious nature. It is designed to make you feel crazy, and it does. That’s the art of it.
It’s stuff like the “you” apology. Someone does something to hurt you and they say sorry by pointing out that if you hadn’t done something to them first they wouldn’t have done what they did. If you hadn’t made me angry, I never would have yelled at you like that.
It’s bald-faced lying when confronted with the truth, shamelessly holding onto the lie until the truth is dropped out of pure frustration. I never said that. I never said that. I NEVER said that.
It’s downplaying bad behavior by calling it humor. It’s minimizing another’s feelings. You’re too sensitive. I was just joking. And besides, it’s your fault you took it that way.
It’s bowling over another’s thoughts, ideas or perceptions, in favor of their own. It’s challenging another’s perception of reality in an attempt to supplant it with their own. That’s not what happened. Give me one example of when that happened. See, you don’t even have one, so there.
It’s invalidating another’s experience as a means of avoidance. You don’t know what you’re talking about. That’s not how it happened, you’re wrong.
These are all examples of gaslighting behavior. Little, tiny aggressions that pile up into a confounding mess, tearing the fabric of a person’s reality until they are controlled wholly by their gaslighter. They seem so sure of themselves, that what once sounded wrong eventually becomes accepted by a mind struggling to make sense of disorder.
Picture someone running at full speed, one step ahead as the ground behind them collapses into a pit of lava. This is what it feels like to be inside the gaslighter’s psyche. It’s not so much that they’re aware of it necessarily, moment to moment. Like all human minds, elaborate structures have evolved in theirs that allow them to stay precious strides ahead of total personality collapse. They do it by working to make those around them feel crazy so they don’t have to; so they can avoid exposure. It’s a devastatingly neat little trick.
Gaslighting is about exercising power and control, making us especially vulnerable to people on whom we’re dependent who have ill intent. Maybe it’s the person who signs our paychecks, or a family member, or partner, or the president. If a gaslighter knows you need them, they’re turning up the flame. What are you going to do about it anyway? Risk losing them and your housing, say, or career, or family system, or friend group?
I’ve been gaslit before when I was a vulnerable child by a family member. I’ve been gaslit as an adult with a masters in counseling psychology who knew better. The most recent time it came on so slowly, so imperceptibly it took me seven years to see it and get the hell out of there. What I lacked was an outside perspective, someone outside the friend group to whom I could turn to check things. I believe this is what we all need, now.
We have to surround ourselves with people we trust, with whom we can have difficult conversations about the position we’re in. People who will dispute so-called “alternative facts” and force the truth with us. People who will reject false claims and brash speech later dismissed as humor. This is a deadly serious time. We need to band together and resist the pressure to “get on board” and just accept whatever’s being dished out, destroyed, enforced or taken away.
Above all, it begins with recognizing that when those in power seem crazy, it’s them, not us.