Gaslighting: what it isn’t

You have no doubt encountered the kind of person who looks up some kind of psychological disorder and applies the diagnostic criteria to you or someone you know as a means of winning an argument. If the subject is egotistical, they will cry narcissism; emotional, and they’ll cry histrionic. This has rightly earned the term “armchair psychology,” but the armchair aspect doesn’t stop at psychology. Any kind of word that aims to categorize a kind of behavior as abusive, dysfunctional, or simply bad is likely to find its criteria abused by laymen, due to a diagnostic vagueness that exists when diagnostic criteria only list what something is rather than what it is not.

“Gaslighting” is a mental health term that originates from the 1938 play Gas Light and has exploded with popularity on the feminist / social justice / progressive blog sphere. There are several definitions of this term, but in a nutshell it refers to the act of trying to deceive someone into a false reality by discrediting their emotions. Like most mental health terms, it describes something serious; also like most mental health terms, it is ubiquitously misused.

The Google trends search for gaslighting shows it experiencing a surge of popularity in the last two years. What is more likely: a term describing a serious mental health threat has become popular on feminist, social justice and progressive blogs due to a growing concern with mental health issues in general — or because a lot of people have found a term to categorize behaviors they don’t like in a cognitively lazy way? I’m going with the latter.

It’s not difficult to find a social justice advocate who has accused someone of “gaslighting” someone else because that person said they are being too sensitive, too dramatic, or unable to take a joke. The added gravity of this accusation is that gaslighting is deemed a form of abuse by some mental health professionals. Domestic abuse in particular, since it is likely to occur in that setting. Like typical armchair psychology, accusing someone of this is a lot like accusing someone of having a personality disorder because you read the symptom-based diagnostic criteria in Psychology Today. Actual gaslighting is pretty serious, but virtually everyone who uses this term cannot distinguish between “domestic abuse” and “telling me I don’t have a sense of humor,” so the dilution of the term here isn’t helping anyone.

A definition that describes “gaslighting” as “trying to discredit your emotions” is not rigorous. What the more rigorous definitions of gaslighting are referring to is specific: attempting to deceive someone that false events actually occurred, and that real events are false. It is ongoing and requires some prior knowledge of at least one participant’s experiences; you can’t “gaslight” someone in an anonymous internet argument, and simply telling someone they’re being too sensitive lacks the denial-of-reality aspect. There needs to be a deliberate, dishonest aspect to it — in other words, there needs to be lying. Simply telling someone they can’t take a joke doesn’t qualify as lying, nor gaslighting, nor abuse.

The vast majority of resources you will find online attempt to the abusive nature of gaslighting are not actually describing abuse; most of these entries are the worst sort of pop-psychology and pseudoscience, because they will say things like “you’re overreacting” qualifies as this. Something like “you’re being crazy” can be as simple as a refutation in an argument to say that the emotions in a response are disproportional to the thing evoking the response. That is not abuse. That’s not even close to abuse.

I define a “good” definition as a precise one. And by “precise”, I mean you narrow down the possibilities of behavior it is describing so that the definition is very clear about what it means and doesn’t mean.

Wikipedia’s definition of gaslighting is actually useful in this respect. As per the current revision, it reads:

“a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory, perception and sanity. It may simply be the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, or it could be the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.”

There is a definite marker here: the doubting of memory and perception. In other words, the gaslighting needs to be aimed at denying something factual, not simply the emotional state of the person receiving the criticism.

Contrast the Wikipedia definition with the unspecific definition by Yashar Ali, in an entry that was lamentably treated as a standard:

Gaslighting is a term, often used by mental health professionals (I am not one), to describe manipulative behavior used to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they’re crazy.

The difference here  is drastic: in the Wikipedia definition, there needed to be an aspect of reality-denial. In this one, there is no mention of reality denial; “thinking [your] reaction [is] far off base” can mean something as simple as “thinking I have an exaggerated emotional response.” Which is to say — this is the kind of definition that makes women on tumblr believe they can say someone is “gaslighting” them when they’re told they’re being dramatic.

The instances of this definition falling short are numerous. There’s this implied one from Clutch Magazine:

Sound familiar? It certainly does to me. I’ve always had a difficult time articulating an offense in the first place, so it’s been fairly easy for others to convince me I’ve misread an offensive situation. I can attest that too many comments like: “I was just playin’! You need to learn how to take a joke” and “Wooow. I was just tryna keep it real with you, but since you can’t take it without getting your feelings hurt, I’ll fall back” will make anyone second guess herself.

and even this one from a proposed mental health dictionary:

Example 1: If an abusive person says hurtful things and makes you cry, and then, instead of apologizing and taking responsibility, starts recommending treatments for what he or she calls “your depression” or “your mood swings,” you are in the presence of a gaslighter. Example 2: If someone insults you or criticizes you, and then pretends it was a joke and asks “Don’t you have a sense of humor?”, that’s gaslighting.

These definitions fall short because they lack the necessary aspect of reality denial and ongoing deception. It is not sufficient to say that because someone is downplaying another’s emotions they are gaslighting you; there must be an attempt to establish a fake reality and make the person believe that reality. In other words, to lie on a large scale.

There are some sources on the web (such as this academic’s work) which approach a rigorous definition of gaslighting, similar to the Wikipedia one I linked earlier. Most definitions, unfortunately, are more along the lines of this one in Psychology Today:

“Instead of addressing the issue, he tells you that you are way too sensitive and way too stressed…”

In an argument or conflict, there are absolutely situations where someone’s sensitivity can be at issue. And expecting someone to “address the issue” or otherwise be guilty of abuse is absurd, because “addressing the issue” is something distinctly in the realm of the collegiate; the educated. It relies on at least some implicit understanding of informal logic to understand what “the issue” is. Most people don’t know the precise distinctions between premise, conclusion, and proposition; most people don’t understand how to attack the main point of an argument, in fact. This is true with or without emotions. Most people focus on motive at expense of the point. This is something typical of the general population, not an abusive relationship.

Don’t get me wrong: it would be great if most people understood logic so well that avoiding the point qualified as abuse, but unfortunately that is not the case. A simple instance of ad hominem circumstantial, more easily understood as “motive fallacy”, is not psychological abuse. Nor is it psychological abuse to tell them that they don’t get a joke, or that they’re crazy, or that they’re being too sensitive.

If you wish to apply gaslighting to a set of behaviors, simply discrediting someone’s emotions doesn’t qualify as gaslighting. The litmus test for gaslighting by all authoritative definitions has been a dishonest and manipulative attempt to deny reality to the person on the receiving end of gaslighting. So, for example, an attempt to make that person believe that actions which most certainly happened haven’t actually happened. You can understand how some people would get the impression that calling someone crazy qualifies as this, because someone could say “you’re crazy, that never happened” — but merely telling someone they are being dramatic does not qualify as abuse, in any way, nor does telling someone they are being too sensitive qualify as abuse on its own.

Let me reiterate: no matter what you define gaslighting as, telling someone they are being dramatic or too sensitive or that they can’t take a joke in no way, shape or form qualifies as abuse on its own. Even repeatedly. There must be an aspect of denial of a factual event integrated with the accusations of oversensitivity. 

To clarify what I mean by “denial of a factual event”, I have constructed a set of examples to distinguish between actual gaslighting and not gaslighting at all.

Actual gaslighting: A wife witnesses her husband cheating on her. He starts an ongoing campaign to make her believe this event was false and that her perception of reality is incorrect. “No, you’re crazy.” When she insists that she saw what she saw, he retorts with “why are you being so emotional?”

Not gaslighting: A husband repeatedly tells jokes that offend his wife. “Why are you being so sensitive?”, he asks. “You take offense to things way too easily.” She starts to doubt her own judgment — but not because of any abusive reason.

Actual gaslighting: A boyfriend and girlfriend are having an intense argument when he hits her repeatedly. Several days later, she calls the police, but there is no proof. He insists that she is delusional to the police. When she confronts him about this in private, he insists that she imagined it, and repeatedly calls her crazy for recalling the event. She begins to doubt her own memory.

Not gaslighting: James is dating Rebecca, whose political ideology he opposes. James frequently comments on Rebecca’s articles with dramatic and overblown emotional language. Rebecca insists that he’s being overly emotional, and that he should stop doing that. He says she’s trying to diminish the importance of his point by gaslighting him.

Actual gaslighting: A son witnesses his mom snorting meth in the pantry, when he previously did not know his mom did drugs at all. Since this event is so anomalous, he has a hard time believing it. She insists that he imagined it — she was just dusting the pantry. But since this image was so vivid, he insists he believed it. She starts to discredit his statement, saying that he is delusional, that he is too emotional, and that he doesn’t have a grip on reality. He begins to doubt his own sense of reality and she uses this as a basis for additional lies.

The point: abuse is very specific. “Gaslighting”, as it is applied by far too many internet commenters, is not abuse. There is a form of gaslighting that qualifies as abuse, and the popular blog application of this term is not it. Much like “narcissism”, it has come to be diluted by pop-psychology such that talking about real gaslighting or real narcissism is next to impossible. The bloggers who scream “gaslighting” from the mere utterance of “you’re crazy” are unanimously wrong; the pop-psych writers who tell wives to look for cues like “you can’t take a joke” are being erroneously misleading; calling an emotional response disproportionate is far from abuse.

These commenters are wrong on a massive scale in their application of the term “gaslighting.” It is certainly possible for ongoing and systematic manipulation by way of breaking down a partner’s sense of reality (actual gaslighting) to be abuse, but not without rendering virtually all applications of the term by internet feminists and political bloggers woefully invalid.

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21 thoughts on “Gaslighting: what it isn’t

  1. >Example 1: If an abusive person says hurtful things and makes you cry, and then, >instead of apologizing and taking responsibility, starts recommending treatments for >what he or she calls “your depression” or “your mood swings,” you are in the presence >of a gaslighter. Example 2: If someone insults you or criticizes you, and then pretends >it was a joke and asks “Don’t you have a sense of humor?”, that’s gaslighting.

    >These definitions fall short because they lack the necessary aspect of reality denial >and ongoing deception. It is not sufficient to say that because someone is downplaying >another’s emotions they are gaslighting you; there must be an attempt to establish a >fake reality and make the person believe that reality. In other words, to lie on a large >scale.

    These examples, while vague, do seem to me like they could fit the extra criteria you’re claiming are necessary here to meet the definition. If a manipulative person repeatedly presses your buttons with the full intent of provoking a reaction, then claims your normal, healthy reaction is your own fault, a sign of weakness, etc, they are attempting to create a fake reality where their initial intent to do harm does not exist, and your natural emotional reactions to said intent are actually due to a character flaw.

    • The distinguishing factor in that scenario is the need for there to be a false event. Masking your intent is lying — immoral on its own, but something distinct from the criteria given for gaslighting. It also lacks the ongoing nature; in creating a false reality, the person being gaslighted needs to doubt their perception of reality and their judgment in general. Doubting someone’s intent is specific to that person, and questioning whether that person is telling the truth won’t cause someone to question their very grip on reality.

  2. Actually, presenting false information – which may or may not be related to a specific event – in an effort to undermine the victim’s trust in their own perception is gaslighting. There needn’t be a false event, just false information. Regardless, all examples you’ve offered are examples of invalidation and are in and of themselves abusive (note – people often fall into the trap of defining illegal abuse as the only abuse, it’s not).

    • Thank you for your comment, Lauren.

      The definition provided establishes that the crucial aspect of Gaslighting is reality denial. False events aren’t necessarily included in this, like you said, and false information can certainly be in this category as well, since reality denial would proceed hand-in-hand with false information. (You are welcome to source definitions you find more airtight, as scant internet-friendly literature exists in the area of *defining* Gaslighting.)

      You do bring up a good reminder that abuse can occur outside of the legal realm. What I would dispute is why you think something like the sentence “you take offense too easily” qualifies as in and of itself abusive, since the sentence isn’t abusive inherently, even though it can be used in abusive contexts. There is no shortage of people who take offense to subject matter too easily; some would say entire organizations have established this as their purpose.

      • The complication here lies in the definition of the term and it’s application. Firstly, “gaslighting” can be used to repeatedly and consistently deny and invalidate a normal reaction, therefore denying reality. Secondly, I believe the form of “gaslighting” that people are accusing others of in the context you give regarding the internet are more involved in the “trolling” phenomenon. This sort of giving and taking of offense is most poignantly viewed upon the mat and ropes of a “Professional Wrestling” competition, not the type of application where there is an attempt to brainwash someone into submission by spoon feeding them falsehoods about reality. Although efforts to control are certainly being made when someone tells another they are full of shit or overreacting, it is not necessarily “gaslighting”, but it is also not necessarily an absence of an attempt to “gaslight”. To those not involved in it’s creation, it’s subjective, like really bad art.

  3. Dude, Alfred, this is amazing. You have what appears to be a very well-written and seemingly well-reasoned essay on the term “gaslighting.” I am just going to guess that you’re not paid to do this, so let me just say thank you: thanks from a member of the public who is in awe of citizens who are brave and confident enough to sit down and express themselves. Even if we don’t always agree, I appreciate you. Much love Alfred!!!

  4. Pingback: Putting the Spotlight on Bad Behavior: Gaslighting? | The Ignorance Antidote

  5. When a person has an integrated understanding of their emotions, and the conditions in their environment that give rise to them, they are enabled to make personal decisions effectively as it regards their well being and the satisfaction of their personal needs.

    In an authoritarian culture, this internal locus of control is systematically dismantled to keep individuals locked into a hierarchical social format in which people can forgo making informed decisions related to their personal needs in favor of supporting a larger power structure that concentrates wealth and resources into the hands of a few.

    People will feel crazy if every expression they make about their own internal reality (over which they are the only rightful authority) is contradicted; they will be socialized to fight against the aspects of themselves and their desires in life that speak to them most deeply and truly. And they will live divided, lest they turn and assert their own inner truth for what it is and refuse to let others dictate that.

    it is the height of arrogance to assume an authoritative role as it regards another’s emotional reactions, as that system of feedback with environment will do better in the case of an ‘individual’ taking ownership of such.

  6. I’m not sure that people “look up” psychological disorders and apply the diagnostic criteria to “others” simply to win arguments. I believe that people are looking for answers to why certain people treat others as they do. I don’t believe that one needs a pigskin plus a PHD to understand exactly what a narcissist is nor what gaslighting is.
    Shouldn’t your sentence read something to the affect “…this has earned them the term ‘armchair’ psychologist? In your sentence it would be better put “the phrase” armchair psychology.
    “Gaslighting” may be overused by some however I sincerely believe that not allthose who use it are feminist women and there are many, many who use it with the correct connotation in mind, i.e., the “gaslighter” is lying about the event that happened in order to distort the “gaslightees” sense of reality.
    Lastly, in your “about” it might be helpful to let us “blogees” in on what your educational background is. Me, I’m a class of ’78 dropout from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, still trying to navigate this minefield called life. Growing up in an incredibly dysfunctional family can do that to you. But I’m getting there… one enlightening insight at a time.

  7. Bravo Mr MacDonald. As a victim of severe gaslighting, I agree wholeheartedly with you. I had just read Yashar Ali’s definition before I found your article. Her examples are so vague; very far from what I’ve experienced. There needs to be a malicious intent at driving someone crazy in order for a gaslighting diagnosis to be correct. Let me share an example of what I’ve experienced to contrast with all the vague examples out there.
    For nine years, I had stored all my cook books in the kitchen cupboards above the passthrough. In the ninth year, my “then” husband, in his usual unhappy fashion, decides to put them in the cupboard of the living room entertainment unit. The space above the pass through was then used for a reserve of salad dressing bottles. Shortly after that, I confronted him about maliciously getting me green peppers when I asked for red ones (after nine years of this kind of treatment I began to pattern

  8. Of behavior and didn’t think it was my perception that was wrong anymore…) . His answer was: “if that’s what you think of me, then leave. ” I left. I was getting ready to do so anyway. After about five months of being away, he invited me to take care of our dog while he was away on a business trip. While I was at our house, I got hungry and looked in the fridge. There I found the most beautiful lettuce II had ever seen called “artisanal” . (My ex knows I like salads). So I wanted to eat some and of course looked for salad dressing. I found a bottle in the fridge, but it was practically empty. So I looked all over the kitchen and didn’t find any other bottles of salad dressing whatsoever. Instead, In the cupboard above the passthrough, I found all my cookbooks.

  9. Since it was close to Thanksgiving and that I wanted to contribute a side dish at the dinner were I was temporary living, I grabbed the binder containing such recipes. I chose one and was going to bring the binder with me but decided against it when I saw how heavy the bag of belongings I was bringing back at my temporary place was. Since I was coming to feed the dog tomorrow, I decided to take it with me then.

    Also, that same day, I felt like listening to music and chose a cd from the entertainment unit cupboards.

    The next day, I come back to our house, opened the cupboards above the pasthrough only to find the reserve of salad dressing … and not my cookbooks!!! Talk about destabilizing!!! I had been treated like this for so long that I actually questioned my memory of having looked into the recipe binder. In fact, what had happened only occurred to me the next day: how scary! How can I even question my own memory when also, all the cook books where now in the bottom cupboard of the entertainment unit!
    And this meant that either my “then” husband lied about being on a business trip or that someone else had come into the house and did this.
    To further make you understand how malicious this was, my ex told me sometime later that he had asked a neighbor to feed the dog that week end. So I really didn’t have to go to our house after all. Can you see how this was purposely staged to destabilize me by questioning my own memory of something I actually touched?
    Can you appreciate why I think
    Yashar Ali’s example are extremely lame compared to what I’ve experienced!
    Hoping you, Mr MacDonald, can use this in your work. And definitely hoping that you will reply. thank you so much for your outstanding post.

  10. I am recovering from 12 years of true gas-lighting which meets Alfred MacDonald’s criteria. I visited the other websites referred to in this article before finding this one, and all of the examples seemed ridiculous to me. I’d like to share with you all some serious examples of real gas-lighting I have experienced.

    Every time my husband was home (his job kept him away from home 2 weeks out of every month) things would “go missing” either for good or they would appear again in a very unusual place. When he was away things did not “go missing”.

    This sounds like something minor, but it is very serious. It’s all the little lies and denials that end up taking their toll on you. By the end of the relationship, he had convinced me that he was video tapping and recording me, that the HOA was out to get me and everyone in the neighborhood was afraid of me and thought I was crazy. I had hardly left the house in 2 years. Any time I tried to speak to him about anything that bothered me or hurt my feelings he acted as if I was crazy un-reasonble, crazy and a physical threat to him. He would act as though he was physically abused and cower around me at home and in front of other people. My sister once commented, “I don’t know who he’s trying to fool by acting like that, but he can’t fool us, we know you.”

    My entire family began to worry about my safety and my life. He never physically abused me to the point that most would classify as “abuse,” although he did push me around and head-butt me a hand-full of times during the 12 years we were married. He called the police on me twice, lying to them both times. Once he had pushed, chested, and head-butted me screaming at me to hit him all the while holding his hands behind his back and when I finally couldn’t take anymore and complied with his request to hit him, he called the police and I was arrested. He told the police that I was crazy and he was afraid that I was going to kill him in his sleep with a baseball bat. He then tried to get custody of our son.

    Against the advise of my family and friends after two years, I went back to him, believing that everything was my fault. The same stuff started happening again and 7 years later I found myself seeking help in therapy for extreme panic attacks and agoraphobia. He told the therapist that I was paranoid and a conspiracy theorist. He said he was 100% committed to our marriage and getting me help. Two months later he freaked out when I asked him a question about why he changed and cut me out of his life and would not allow me around his family (his mother, father, sister, and nephew). He cowered in the corner and raised his hands as if I were going to beat him then he ran from the house as if I were a monster. My 17 year old daughter and her friend witnessed his bizarre behavior because they were in the family room watching TV when he stormed out.

    I had known for a while that something was off because of his odd behavior . . . you just know when something is off . . . I knew he was up to something. He convinced every therapist that the problem was me, that I was paranoid, suspicious, and thought he and everyone was conspiring against me. I refused to let him in the house until we went to our marriage counseling session, but he kept insisting and was becoming increasingly agitated when I would not comply. I was afraid he would break me down and I was such an emotional mess I did not want him to bully me and bait me into a situation where he could manipulate it and call the police. Well, he kept insisting and I told him that I would have to call the police if he insisted on coming over because I was afraid of him. Then the next thing I knew two police cars pulled up in my driveway. My children and I were sitting on the sofa watching a movie at 9:00am on a Sunday morning in our pajama’s. He told the police that I was acting crazy and erratic, he reminded them of the call he made 7 years ago and told them he was afraid for his life. He was sitting in the police station the entire time he was texting me and never told me.

    I had not allowed guns in the house since he pulled one on me and then turned it on himself 10 years prior, but he slowly brought them back in the home. He had threatened to kill the President of the HOA because I was so upset about their notices. It scared me when he went for the gun and I talked him down, I was afraid and upset about the HOA, but I didn’t want anyone hurt or killed. It was such a bizarre reaction from him to me that I called my mom and told her then I hid the guns in the attic. Well, he didn’t know where the guns were but he wanted them so he told the police that he thought I might do something crazy with a gun. I don’t even know how to load a gun and I’m terrified of guns.

    My soon to be ex-husband has been able to convinced respectable psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers, and marriage counsellor’s as well as the local police and the Board of Director’s of the HOA that I am an un-stable dangerous crazy person. I hardly ever left the house and all my children’s friends love me, and are afraid of my husband. Fortunately, he did not have many friends in the community, and after our separation, I have been able to reconnect with some really good friends. I have found out that a lot of what he told me about what people thought of me and the HOA being “out to get me” were all lies. They still cannot understand why he would lie to me about that stuff, but I know why . . . because he wanted to wear me down and make me crazy . . . why? Because could.

    I know that as long as I serve a useful purpose for him, I should be ok, but once I do not serve a purpose, he will try to “get rid” of me again. He records telephone conversations and collects text messages and continues to “paper the file.” He tells me when ever I say something he doesn’t like, that he will take the recording or the text to the police. I do not know if he is really recording me or not because he said he had video of me 7 years ago, then he denied it in counseling. Whether is is or not is not the point, its the psychological effect that it has on a person that matters. Either living feeling like you constantly have to look over your shoulder because you might be video tapped or recorded or wondering if you are as paranoid as your tormentor says is equally devastating. If he is recording me and keeping records of everything I say, and he can get something out of showing that information to someone, he will. If he cannot get anything out of it, he will lie and say I’m a crazy paranoid conspiracy theorist and deny any such videos, recordings or texts. Either way, he is successful in distorting my reality.

    I know what he did to me because I saw him do it before. When we were dating, he had this “crazy” ex-girlfriend that stalked us and called all the time. He told me things that made me so afraid of her. She called all the time and insisted that he loved her. She warned me that I didn’t know what I was getting into and said that as long as everything goes “his” way it would be fine, but for me to watch out for when it doesn’t. He told her “If you interfere in any way . . . I will kill you.” He recorded her and had her arrested for telephone harassment. (He also recorded his first wife for 6 months before telling her he wanted a divorce). For two years after we were married, I was so afraid of this woman. He had me convinced she was breaking in and following us everywhere. Then she died . . . suicide they say. I saw the death certificate and spoke to the person who found her. He told me that he had suspected that my husband had done it and had a full investigation and it was a suicide. He believed that my husband was responsible for breaking her to the point that she felt she had nothing else to live for. He told me a lot of things about my husband that I was slowly figuring out but did not want to believe. In the end, I think his ex-girlfriend saved my life because I kept thinking I was becoming her . . . crazy . . . and I was not going to allow that to happen. I know what he is now and what he is capable of and how he distorts the reality of those he claims to love. I won’t fall for his lies again.

    After hearing my story, many of you will think that I am the one that has a problem. That it’s too unbelievable to be true. I’ve only skimmed the surface of what I have been through. If you knew everything, you wouldn’t believe it and you would think I needed to be committed to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. That’s how people like my ex-husband get away with it and also why people like myself cannot get help in dealing with and getting away from people like this. As soon as we open our mouths and tell the truth . . . we are the ones that look “diagnosable” not them.

    Thank you for your post, I hope that some people listen to your advice.

  11. my husband frequently tells me I am ‘gaslighting’ him when we have differing memories of events. For example, last night I was putting the kids to bed. I left a dirty diaper in a garbage bag hanging on the bannister upstairs, meaning to take it down either that night or in the morning. That night I am fast asleep. My husband comes into the room with hallway light glaring into the room saying “do you smell shit up hear”. I tell him there is a dirty diaper in a bag on the bannister and he swears then closes our bedroom door. He gets rid of the diaper then says he’s sleeping in the other room. I get up to go to the bathroom (now wide awake) and to also close the bedroom door which he left partially open. on the way back from bathroom I open the spareroom door and he says in a stern voice “i thought we agreed not to leave dirty diapers upstairs. I replied with my memory being that we had agreed that I wouldn’t leave a bag with dirty diapers hanging on the door in the bathroom next to the sink because he shaves there and it grosses him out. He tells me I’m gaslighting him again. Is it gaslighting when we have different memories of events?

  12. This phenomena of misapplied finger-pointing arises from an increasingly hostile and paranoid environment in North American society. We are creating perceived enemies. It was communists, then it was terrorists, now its psychological abusers.Feminism has infiltrated our judicial and psychological cultures and we use psychology the way we have used Medicine, largely to “pathologize” focussing on the negative.

    Much of the detail of exploring psychological subtlety we are beginning to discover in the west is found in ancient meditation technology in Buddhism. There it was developed over a long period and had a context of the understood goal of positive transformation.

    For example, one of the purposes of speech (which nowadays might include writing) is to be “non-devisive” meaning, to do so in a way that brings people or aspects of self together, not divide them. Combined with meditation to increase our non-concepotual intuition, one develops a “feel” of things, seeing the positive nature of all intention at its root.

    In the modern West (especially North America) we try do it all with our heads, discounting the intuitive heart as if it has no power, and by separating things under a microscope without context of the big picture. Combined with an all out effort to keep us anxious and defensive (good for sales, good for governance) we are running around like lost children looking for the causes of our unhappiness externally and trying to “fight” the source as though the universe is out to get us.

    We lack faith in the nature of consciousness, lack experience in learning of its intrinsic basis in love and expansion of that love. we don;t understand that even perverse acts, and certainly mild transgressions are at their root, an attempt to bring balance and relief of suffering. So we demonize even the mildest behaviours that offend us.

    Intentional, actual gaslighting is obviously cruel, but the character in the movie is a rare character indeed, while we are looking over our shoulder at everyone around us with suspicion and ready to call the police or sue someone or enlist our psychologist to hep us put the other in a box from a textbook. A textbook which is obsessed with the worst case scenarios and a lack of positive solutions to perceived negativity all around us.

    Horrible things have happened to individuals, among them, male targets in Family Law Cases, when the frenzied machine of Psychology, enforcement and the judiciary run with these labels. It has been reported that 97% of people incarcerated in America are for non-violent crimes, and 50% of those are questionably guilty. Once you point a finger a whole machine goes into force to make it so.

    Actually, we all need to “Calm down” a bit and “stop taking things so personally”.

  13. But of course it must be remembered that definitions – even academic ones – shift over time, so that what is considered ‘gaslighting’ in five year’s time might be widened or narrowed depending on the prevailing zeitgeist. I think the important fact about gaslighting is the intent. Whatever the terminology, if the intent is to completely control the victim that dynamic must be recognised and protective policies put in place.

    • An important caveat to that: if you are using the definition to mean something else, then you can’t have the definition carry the gravity of the original definition you extended it from. Otherwise, that’s abuse of association, and misleading if not deceitful. “Creating a false reality” is far more serious than, say, “downplaying emotional responses” and if the latter attempts to retain the weight of the former while changing what it actually refers to, that’s dishonest.

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