Tonight I re-read one of the most important articles ever written in the history of the internet (according to me), Why Women Aren’t Crazy, by Yashar Ali. It explains a situation that we ladies (and some gents) have likely all found ourselves in at some point or another. A situation that sucks so badly because it has the ability to derail logical circuits and send thoughts spinning off in all kinds of wacky directions. It trashes your self esteem and makes you question your sanity and your intelligence all at once. It is the phenomenon of GASLIGHTING, and you must learn to recognize it and eject it from your life.
Gaslighting is emotional manipulation that confuses people into thinking they are crazy for reacting to inconsiderate behavior. It’s not always intentional, but it is always hurtful. This manipulation is often carried out by men on female partners, but sometimes it happens the other way around and other times the term can be applied to parent-child or boss-employee relationships. For the sake of this blog post, I’m going to arbitrarily assume we’re dealing with a gaslighting guy and his innocent, unsuspecting lady friend. From Ali:
The term comes from the 1944 MGM film, Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman. Bergman’s husband in the film, played by Charles Boyer, wants to get his hands on her jewelry. He realizes he can accomplish this by having her certified as insane and hauled off to a mental institution. To pull of this task, he intentionally sets the gaslights in their home to flicker off and on, and every time Bergman’s character reacts to it, he tells her she’s just seeing things. In this setting, a gaslighter is someone who presents false information to alter the victim’s perception of him or herself.
Before I read this article, I had no idea there was a word to describe what so many guys have done or attempted to do to me throughout my dating career. But once I learned that this power trick is as old as time itself, or at least as old as black and white movies, I felt better (but then worse when I didn’t even see it coming when it happened again).
Here’s an example of how it happens as explained by the cast of Clueless, as this term needs a new, Technicolor narrative:
It starts when a guy you’re into looks at you with those eyes and makes your heart flutter a little bit.
There’s probably some kind of physical exchange, as is only logical when two people are into each other.
If you are an emotionally rational human, you will probably carry on as such, trying to move your relationship forward in a satisfying way, impressing him with your moves. But much to your dismay, you may find that he begins to act distant and becomes impenetrable to your charm. Maybe he says something mean, stands you up, or is just generally inconsiderate of your feelings.
Because his new-found disinterest or agitation seemingly appears out of nowhere, you begin to question what you did, or what it is about yourself that caused this response and the break in the logical progression.
When you try to initiate communication to point out the discrepency between what you think you experienced and what your interactions have become for no apparent reason, the gaslighter will try to dodge the questions and retreat into a further state of aloofness.
Pressing him further will likely result in anger and accusations that you are the one causing the problem in that very moment.
He will disregard your confusion and make you question your assessment of the situation, eventually making you believe that your sense of perception is off-kilter and that you are being paranoid, clingy, or crazy. He may even go so far as to blame the entire problem on your craziness and demand that you stop this behavior immediately, leaving you in a tailspin of internal confusion and emotional haze, powerless to do or say anything because you don’t understand what you did to cause this negative response in the first place. You never even saw it coming.
You may do a number of things to try to remedy the situation such as acting like nothing is wrong or apologizing for overreacting and being crazy. All the while, you know in your gut that it’s not actually your fault. The more introspective you are, and the more you attribute events to an internal locus of control, the more this knowledge will slowly erode your self-image and sense of reality.
Thankfully, this is what friends are for (or therapists, doormen, random people on twitter, etc.). When you objectively explain the situation, your friends may not be able to explain why the emotional interaction is occurring, but they will be able to recognize that something is off and it’s not your fault.
At this point, the person being gaslighted may chose to end the interaction. Sadly, far too many people in the world allow the behavior to continue, constantly apologizing without knowing why and living in a state of confusion for eternity. But if, like myself, your unrelenting pursuit for knowledge and possibly concern for the person outweighs your emotional thresholds and your sense of self-respect, you won’t simply apologize and move on. You will figure out what the reality of the situation is.
Once the true motivation for the gaslighting behavior surfaces (such as guilt, emotional illiteracy and subsequent shame and avoidance, feelings of inadequacy, mental preoccupation, sadism, and in the case of poor Ingrid Bergman flat out criminal deception) the gaslighting psychosis will lift.
Once you posses the missing information, your mental circuits realign and you can once again see yourself as the awesome person who attracted your cowardly gaslighter in the first place, even if he wasn’t man enough for you in the end.
Hopefully the truth is something minor or something that can be stopped in the future. Or if it’s something major, at least now you know and you can end things and move on. And if you’ve found yourself in this situation, don’t fret—it doesn’t mean you’re some kind of weakling. According to Ali:
The act of gaslighting does not simply affect women who are not quite sure of themselves. Even vocal, confident, assertive women are vulnerable to gaslighting.
Because women bare the brunt of our neurosis. It is much easier for us to place our emotional burdens on the shoulders of our wives, our female friends, our girlfriends, our female employees, our female colleagues, than for us to impose them on the shoulders of men.
It’s a whole lot easier to emotionally manipulate someone who has been conditioned by our society to accept it. We continue to burden women because they don’t refuse our burdens as easily. It’s the ultimate cowardice.
The solution to preventing and approaching ongoing gaslighting is easier said than done, but something worth working for. This may sound cheesy, but be open and honest with your partners and accepting of their emotions. After all, if the thing causing the gaslighting is really a deal breaker, it’s better to be honest and find out your relationship is doomed sooner rather than being miserable and emotionally mute for an extended period of time.
So get put your gaslighter on the spot, get out of that situation. Then get back to living life and interacting with genuine people who will tell you straight-up when something is amiss and keep you being your fabulous self.
This post was adapted and republished with permission from The Millikan Daily.