Fair warning to all my douchebags, liars, assholes, sociopaths, and generally manipulative jerks out there: you’re not going to like this.
(Well, to be perfectly honest, it probably won’t faze you much, because what I’m about to say isn’t news to you. It’s your modus operandi. But it may infuriate you to be called out on it, natch, ’cause I’ve figured you out, bro. And I’m not the only one.)
Today, boys and girls, I’d like to talk to you about gaslighting.
If this fancy word sounds unfamiliar to you, never fear. I’ll explain, you’ll understand, and you might even find yourself nodding your head as a past (or present) recipient of it.
Gaslighting, in essence, is when one person makes you feel like a crazy person. The craziest person. When someone is gaslighting you, it’s as if you’re being told what you believe, feel, or know is flat-out wrong.
And what’s more, the tables are then turned on you. You’re the bad guy, you’re the bully, you’re the one making things up. Remarkably, despite what you presumed was unwavering confidence in your own position, you start to wonder, “Hey, maybe it was me.”
Forget what your gut tells you. Forget what facts say. Not only aren’t you right, but the blame has somehow been shifted — to you.
It’s mental abuse, in essence. So hey, from here on out, let’s just call the perpetrator by his or her deserved name: the abuser.
The abuser may attempt to convince you that nothing happened. The abuser may lead you to believe that your very sound, very solid judgments are patently false. The abuser may deny any wrongdoing, and make you feel like what you said or did — which was perfectly rational and warranted, by anyone else’s standards — was the crime in question. And you, the victim, will actually wonder if it was your fault.
“You’re too sensitive.” “You’re overreacting.” “You’re being defensive.” Well, dude, you’re gaslighting.
Now does this sound a little closer to home? I thought it might.
But when you break it down, that’s not the way a person shows he cares about another person. A surprise jockeying of position between two people — where the defender becomes the defensible — doesn’t allay unfounded fears. Gaslighting is solely a way to make the abuser feel better, because you know what? Your gut is probably right on, and the abuser knows it — and you’re making him uncomfortable. It’s slimy tactic for the person in the wrong to regain control of the situation — by making you go completely insane questioning yourself. A self you know well enough to trust when things aren’t quite right.
And yet, it’s so common that there’s a word for it (derived from a 1940s movie of the same name), which should be enough to chap your hide. It’s a prevalent theme in Zero Dark Thirty. It’s a trendy, timely, well-documented cultural phenomenon (sadly). Hell, I’m pretty sure that’s what Katy Perry’s wailing about when she declares she’s wide awake.
You’ll find this sort of strong-armed cowardice present in many types of relationships, for sure, especially when the balance of power is significantly skewed. But it’s probably no more frequent than in romantic ones. Which makes it all the more disgusting. Because when are you more vulnerable or more impressionable than in the heady throes of amorousness?
It happens to men, it happens to women. It doesn’t discriminate based on what you’ve got between your legs. But you hear about it a hell of a lot more when the abuser is a man.
Why is that the case? Ugh. I don’t know. And I also don’t know that I care to speculate that much on the reasons why. Do they really matter? I mean, we can use traditional stereotypes, if it’s easier. Women are more feeling, more intuitive, more trusting, more marginalized. Men are more domineering, more direct, more unforgiving, more insecure. We’ve been dealing with these sorts of issues since time immemorial, and really, stereotypes don’t really serve us at all in making sense of a gross phenomenon. It happens. It happens a lot. That’s good enough.
The fact that doesn’t depend on stereotypes is that when something’s wrong, we women feel it. It’s deep, deep in our bones, straight down to the marrow. It’s a gnawing that won’t let us sleep, eat, or think straight. It’s a panic that keeps rising, no matter what we do to quell it. It’s a burning thought that we can’t shake. It’s intangible, but it’s so real, you can taste it. It’s there. It’s legit. And it ain’t going anywhere until it’s addressed and handled. You see, they don’t call it “a woman’s intuition” because shit’s a fabrication of our imaginations (which would, ahem, be gaslighting).
So now let me speak directly to you, dearest Gaslighters of the World. I know examples paint a clearer picture, and if that’s the case, let me be your artist-in-residence.
When you label a woman’s reaction as “freaking out over nothing” that’s very obviously something to her? Yup, dude, you’re gaslighting. If a girl you’re dating asks why you suddenly stopped contacting her, and you accuse her of pressuring and bullying you? Gaslighting, round two. And when that girl happens to discover that, in the midst of your unscheduled silence, you magically acquired a girlfriend? That’s called, um, she was right.
Are we clear?
You see, gaslighting isn’t cool or kosher or even mildly acceptable at all. Because it doesn’t change the facts: you probably fucked up, and you probably got caught. (Your bad, bro.) Short of fucking up in the first place, maybe you ought to step back, act like a human being (and not an aggressive pack animal), and put yourself in your gaslightee’s shoes for a minute. Exhibit a little respect; common courtesy won’t strip you of your coveted and hard-earned playboy title, I promise. At any rate, your next (inevitable) victim would appreciate the compassion. And neither of you — and especially your victim — will be any worse for wear.
But maybe that makes too much logical sense for you.