It Takes Guts To Reveal Gaslighting

A little listening can go a long way

Photo by Rory Björkman on Unsplash

Human beings are social creatures — and they love to know all about other people’s business. But at a distance. Rarely do they like to get actively involved, if they can help it. I’m not talking about close friends, obviously, it’s their job to care. But for others, they just don’t want the hassle.

Unfortunately, the trouble with that approach is that sometimes, people need you. And for reasons that may not be totally obvious at the time.

I wrote a story recently about an ex of mine who cheated on me. And part of what I wanted to share was how it felt when someone tried to seize hold of the truth. I knew what was being said to me was a load of crap — I’d pretty much seen the evidence — yet he wouldn’t budge.

He stuck to his story and tried to make out that it was me who was being unreasonable by not giving him a chance. For some reason, I was supposed to compromise on this issue and meet him halfway — even though halfway would still have meant swallowing a bunch of lies.

Going through a breakup and discovering that someone isn’t the person you thought they were can be traumatic so it’s not always easy to keep your head together. But I was kind of saved on that front when I spoke to a friend of my ex’s very shortly after. And I got the blunt truth…and more. It turns out, without being aware of all the details, they’d known exactly what sort of person my ex was all along.

And you know, it was a relief. They weren’t easy truths to come to terms with but it just felt so good to hear someone saying something that aligned with my gut feeling.

The evidence I’d seen was true. My decision was then clear.

And so that’s why I know that a little validation from someone else can go a long way.

By now most people have come across the word gaslighting — it’s the term used to describe subtly abusive and manipulative behaviour. The principal MO is to use lies and distortions to sow seeds of doubt in the victim’s mind. If they become unsure of the truth, they become unsure of themselves and the gaslighter exploits this for their own ends.

It can be achieved well enough in isolation. But it is also common for these people to draw others in too, and use them, unwittingly, to build up a false picture. So this is why it is helpful if more people are aware of the signs. So they can spot if they are being used as props in a gaslighter’s narrative.

And don’t doubt that it is a narrative. Because they use stories, Gaslighters are often extremely good at putting on a performance. Like many other types of abusers, they can be charm personified when they want to be. That’s because it means they can make their victim seem less credible if they appear to be nice or generous or funny, etc.

So it’s possible that you know a gaslighter but aren’t aware of it. You could work with one, have one in your family, have one in your circle of friends. And you would just think they are a nice person.

And the first you may become aware of it, is when someone tries to talk to you about them. It feels disloyal to question the character of someone you like. A common reaction is to come back with a comment about how they’ve always been okay with you or to downplay their faults — oh, he/she is prone to exaggeration but is lovely.

It’s also true to say that non-victims of the gaslighter will likely pride themselves on being a good judge of character themselves. Most people do. So they won’t want to think that they could get someone wrong and they might dig their heels in and be defensive.

Also, a lot of the areas a gaslighter will focus on are personal. And as mentioned at the beginning, the majority of listeners to personal matters will want to remain impartial and not to get involved.

The problem is, the victim of the gaslighting will already fear that all of the above will be the reaction. They already know that people won’t want to be dragged into an argument. Or that someone won’t want to jeopardise their position at work. Or that it’s a social faux pas to turn the mood of a conversation from positive to negative. But at the end of the day, it will be a burning need for them to reach out. They need to hear another viewpoint.

So, understandable though all the reasons for pulling back may be, I think it is worth people thinking twice about their reactions to someone who wants to share their views on someone else’s behaviour. Particularly if the manner in which they broach the subject is tentative. The reason for that is — it doesn’t actually take much to make a big difference to someone suffering this kind of abuse.

Unlike with someone who’s in a violent relationship, say, which would take a lot of input and effort to change, this is simply helping someone to reconnect with their own thoughts again. A bit of affirmation.

I’m not saying that everyone who says something critical about a mutual friend or acquaintance needs to be automatically believed. Again, sometimes people pull back out of loyalty and that’s not a bad quality. But it’s just about not dismissing someone offering their opinion out of hand.

It might only take saying someone like, really? I can’t say I’d noticed. So, what’s been happening? That could be enough for them to open up a little more and get their thinking straight.

If you can recognise some of what they’re saying, would it hurt to agree that it could be the case? A lot of victims of gaslighters say that it only takes something small before (almost literally) a light goes on in their heads. And suddenly the picture is clear.

So, in being a bit more open, you could save someone from a lot of future pain and anguish. For very little effort.