4 Levels of Gaslighting: From Unconscious to Malicious
Can someone “accidentally” make a person feel crazy?
By Paget Norton
I had always thought gaslighting was this intentionally malicious act where one person is attempting to gain more power while having the victim question their reality. At least, this is what I learned about the term, “gaslight,” which comes from a 1938 stage play Gas Light. The husband manipulates his wife’s surroundings and insists her perception, memory, and sanity are wrong. He willingly and maliciously sets out to drive her insane.
I had read this definition, and in my own mind, I had assumed a gaslighter was always deliberately and viciously interacting with the gaslightee. I also believed the victim would need to seriously feel crazy after such an encounter. A recent experience had me rethink the definition and consider the following: What if someone can unconsciously or accidentally gaslight another individual? What if gaslighting is a spectrum and not an absolute? What if it’s much more pernicious and global than I had thought?
A short while ago, I found myself at odds with a colleague. I was the one in charge of a project and needed to give him feedback. The company had a certain vision, and while my colleague had created some great work, he had also gone slightly off-track. Over the course of a week, we exchanged a few messages. I continued to clarify the issues I saw with his work vis-a-vis the vision but was met with incredible resistance. As a teacher with over 20 years of experience working with different ages (six years old through adult), cultures (I worked in Morocco and mostly work with Asian students now, along with a few years teaching Latinx students) I consider myself well-versed in the ability to communicate with different people. Why was I walking away so frustrated by this particular experience? Why was I feeling mildly crazy after each exchange and confused as to what had just happened?
I didn’t get it until I shared the experience with a friend, and he told me point-blank: You’re being gaslighted. You’re not going crazy.
I firmly believe my colleague did not set out to gaslight me, but just because he didn’t intend to doesn’t mean he didn’t do it…