Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative Behaviors
- Betrayal Trauma – How Has Betrayal Traumatized You?
- Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative Behaviors
Gaslighting is a form of brainwashing which targets the victims’ sanity and sense of Self by planting doubt and uncertainty, thereby creating anxiety and paranoia. It is an extreme and pervasive attack on your ability to trust that goes beyond the lies and cheating. The term gaslighting comes from the 1940 and 1944 movie Gaslight in which a man slowly leads his wife to doubt her reality so that she fears she may be going insane. The movie takes its name from the gaslights which the woman notices randomly dimming and brightening. She is unaware that her husband is doing this by turning on lights on the attic and when confronted he denies it is happening. Throughout the movie he tells her that she is the one who has been removing photos and stealing objects and blames her anxiety and paranoia for her supposed actions. Though she does not recall removing pictures or stealing objects, his calm persistence and seemingly logical explanations made over time lead her to doubt her perceptions, losing trust in herself.
Is Gaslighting Intentional for an MLCer?
A man or woman who is in a midlife crisis is trying to escape and often, to hide their actions—such as an affair. They are not so focused on you as they are on themselves. Rather than deliberately seeking to destabilize your sense of Self, and MLCer is trying to get you off their back and get away. That is not to say that there are not MLCers who are specifically targeting their LBS’s, but this is not the case with most. Those who do exhibit more intentional gaslighting may have higher levels of narcissism.
Even thought gaslighting may be less intentional, it still targets your ability trust yourself and can increase the trauma from which you will need to recover.
How an MLCer Gaslights
Deny and then Lie
Let’s start by looking at the affair. You have concrete knowledge or evidence of a full-blown physical affair. Maybe you have access to texts or emails, getting worse would be access to live voice mails or chats, then pictures or even (YUCK) videos. The worst might be that you personally caught them having sex—I am so sorry. How are they going to deny that? It’s not so much about how as they just do it in spite of the evidence against them. They may then begin to target you.
It’s not what it looks like.
It begins as a denial of what you think you know and then transitions into continuing lies. Of course, you aren’t buying it, but that’s just the start. I didn’t find Chuck and the alienator together (Thank Goodness), but I heard my share of stupid. My response on one occasion was to tell him I didn’t have STUPID written across my forehead. This won’t usually stop an MLCers from lying; they’re too desperate to live the fantasy and get you out of their way.
They deflect blame and guilt from themselves by projecting it onto you. I got accused of being insane; coming from a man who had recently mowed the lawn in boxers and slippers while it rained, I had no problem laughing, but I did throw it back to him and ask directly if he through he was going insane. That threw him off!
I knew of one MLCer who seemed to have some higher levels of Narcissism who would secretly enter his ex-wife’s house and just move stuff around—small stuff like salt shakers. By focusing on small things, the target remains uncertain—did I put that there? If the gaslighter were to rearrange heavy furniture, the target would notice. An intentional gaslighter may progress to more noticeable inconsistencies as the target becomes more unstable.
A gaslighter is persistent in their denials to the point that with additional gaslighting techniques, you doubt what you experience. It takes time and dedication to get someone to doubt their reality and destabilize their sense of Self. Like the frog who does not know that their tepid bath is heating to boiling, gaslighting slips past your awareness. You may feel certain of yourself in the beginning when they deny the affair after you caught them together, but after a few years of gaslighting, you may doubt what you once knew with certainty.
Dismiss and Minimize
Like projection, these phrases deflect back to the target. But the purpose is not merely to get the target to accept or feel the blame or guilt, but to doubt the validity or value of their concerns. If you are too sensitive or you always over react, then you lack credibility.
Isolate and Divide
Like other abusers, a gaslighter may try to keep you separate from others in order to keep you from communicating and showing your sanity to them, in this way they can align others with their agenda. They get you believing you are unwell and that you should stay home. As gaslighting begins to work, you may be more anxious and paranoid and others may notice. This makes it simple for the gaslighter to manipulate others into believing you are becoming worse and that maybe you are imagining things or not recalling accurately.
Destabilization: Losing Trust in Yourself
The end result of this extreme level of betrayal trauma is that you no longer trust yourself, your judgment, your perceptions… you don’t know what is real anymore. Most LBS will not have experienced gaslighting at extreme and intentional levels, but the trauma you have experienced is still destabilizing. So now what? How do you empower yourself and leave the nervous breakdown behind?