Gaslighting: That Ubiquitous Term
“Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Dorothy, Wizard of Oz
The 1944 movie Gaslight, staring Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotton, and Charles Boyer, chillingly portrays the concept of gaslighting, which has become common vernacular, particularly in the narcissistic abuse recovery community as well as with the advent of “fake news” on a political level. I have been writing and informing clients about gaslighting for many years.
Gaslighting definition: This circumstance occurs when a psychological abuser seeks to psychologically confuse and inflict self-doubt and profound consternation in their designated target, resulting in the victim losing faith in their own internal ability to perceive the truth, building a trauma bond with their abuser, and tipping the scale of power and control in favor of the abuser. Gaslighting results in cognitive dissonance and a feeling of insecurity, not knowing what is true and what isn’t. The survivor of gaslighting doubts their own internal sense of what is real, whether it be perceptions, memories or cognitions of events. For further information, please read my just previously posted article on cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive Dissonance Definition: In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values (Wikipedia, 2017). Survivors of psychological abuse (specifically narcissistic abuse), are impacted by cognitive dissonance all along in their relationships with abuser ( in family, romance and work), as well as in the aftermath when doing the work of trauma recovery. Many have described cognitive dissonance as akin to being on a merry-go-round, where their head is spinning with a sensation of unreality, dizzy with trying to understand that the person that claims to love them also has abused them (Schneider 2017).
Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Definition: Many survivors of psychological abuse are actually impacted by a more specific form of abuse, entitled narcissistic abuse (Louis de Cannonville, 2015). A victim of narcissistic abuse encounters their perpetrator in family-of-origin, romance, work, and/or friendship. Typically a narcissistic abuser employs tactics such as gaslighting, silent treatment, blame-shifting, projection, smear campaigns, rageful reactions to perceived criticisms, pathological lying, and endless cycles of idealize, devalue, and discard. Gaslighting, as mentioned above, is one of the more frequently deployed assault weapons of the narcissist. When a survivor of this form of abuse goes No Contact and begins their recovery process, they are said to be engaging in narcissistic abuse recovery. Psychotherapy with a skilled clinician trained in relational trauma, complex-PTSD, narcissistic abuse recovery, and trauma-informed approaches is extremely helpful in order for the survivor to heal (Payson, 2002).
Other Examples of Gaslighting:
- When false news is shared on media and it is assumed as fact (Ghitis, 2017).
- Movies where gaslighting occurs with the characters
- The character of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, as she perceives the Wizard to be a ferocious and scary disembodied head floating above the green curtain. Of course, she learns, with Toto’s help, that the main behind the curtain is just that, a little man.
What Can You Do If You Think You are Being Gaslighted?: The antidote to cognitive dissonance in the aftermath of psychological abuse (including gaslighting) is validation and confirmation of your truth and reality. See a trained clinician to help narrate your story of narcissistic abuse, so that you can lower the confusion of the mind control tactics your abuser engaged in. When your story is witnessed and heard, you begin to resolve any residual cognitive dissonance, own your truth (your story) and move through severing trauma bonds that may be present. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of working with a psychotherapist who knows relational trauma and how to help clients heal from a strengths-focused, empowering perspective (Schneider, 2015). Such a clinician will be trained and informed in how to resolve trauma, reclaim self-worth, and have several interventions designed to assist with recovery. With qualified support, you will heal and reclaim your ability to believe in your understanding of circumstances, heal from trauma, and move forward as a stronger, wiser apprentice in the school of life.
Louis de Cannonville, Christine (2015). The three faces of evil: unmasking the full spectrum of narcissism, Black Card Books.
Payson, Eleanor (2002). The wizard of oz and other narcissists: coping with the one-way relationship in work, love, and family, Julian Day Publications.
Retrieved on December 8, 2017 from http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/10/opinions/donald-trump-is-gaslighting-america-ghitis/index
Retrieved on December 8 2017 from https://letterboxd.com/jamesmalcolm/list/anna-billers-classic-gaslighting-movies/
Retrieved on December from: https://blogs.psychcentral.com/savvy-shrink/2017/12/dizzy-on-the-merry-go-round-cognitive-dissonance-after-narcissistic-abuse/
Retrieved on December 8 2017 from: https://themindsjournal.com/singed-and-spinning-gaslighting/
Schneider, Andrea (2015). Soul vampires: reclaiming your lifeblood after narcissistic abuse, BookBaby Publishers.
Schneider, A. (2018). Gaslighting: That Ubiquitous Term. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 22, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/savvy-shrink/2017/12/gaslighting-that-ubiquitous-term/