Originally “gaslighting” referred to a situation where someone is manipulating the physical environment in order to convince another person that they are going insane (such as moving their keys many times and then denying it). However, more recently the term is being applied much more widely and includes attempts to the manipulate perceptions of others whether in the personal, social or political spheres.
For the purpose of this article I’m focussed on the personal sphere, so a definition I would like to suggest is: gaslighting is when a person deliberately targets an individual with false information with the intent to cause them to question their own memory, perceptions, or judgements. The underlying motive is usually to make the other more tractable and easier to manipulate.
The term “Gaslighting” emerged from the movie Gas light (and from a play) from the 1930’s and 1940’s. I think we can better understand the term gaslighting if we know a bit more about how people related to actual gas light, when it was in common use for lighting the home.
As a young child I visited a relative with a very old house, that still had some gas lights in use. Actual physical gas lights can make things look strange, and other-worldly, with odd flickering shadows (the term “spooky” comes to mind). Also there was a sense of not being able to trust gas lights in the home. There was a risk of being poisoned by gas (from lack of ventilation, or if a light got blown out accidently) and there was also the risk of an explosion. Although people appreciated the light they brought; there was sometimes a sense of wariness, doubt, uncertainty and even fear about their use.
The associations that people had with actual physical gas lights was very mixed. In the minds of the general public there was an appreciation of the benefits gas lights brought; yet also a wariness of the dangers. The movie tapped into a cultural experience of “gas light”, common at that time, and used it as a metaphor to show the deliberate and devious manipulation of one person by another.
The metaphor from the movie was based on the fact that the experience of physical gas lights has stark similarities with being in a relationship with someone who is psychologically “gaslighting” you. They probably bring a welcome light into your life. However, their particular light may make things look a bit strange, and you might feel a wariness or doubt about whether you are really safe with them. There may be risks attached; the risk of being poisoned by their toxic emotions and the possibility of emotional “explosions”.
Gaslighting and Tough Forgiveness Tough Forgiveness is when we want to forgive, but either we do not want a reconciliation or we want to negotiate about it.
I can be tempting to (wrongly) assume that forgiveness is the same thing as reconciliation. In fact they are different, but related, things. Forgiveness is not about learning to put up with someone’s bad behaviour (that could be “foolishness” rather than “forgiveness”).
If we reconcile with someone, and have not done any forgiveness work then that is False Forgiveness (***learn how to forgive). False Forgiveness is all too common, but nothing has really changed in the situation when we reconcile without doing some forgiveness work. The participants in the drama will still be acting out the same, or very similar, roles and will get very similar results as before.
When we do forgiveness work it changes us in deeply healthy ways. We don’t just give up our resentments, and the like, towards the person we are forgiving. We start to heal and transform the patterns of thoughts and feelings that cause us to become embroiled in unhappy relationships. Through working with forgiveness we resolve things at the level of causes. That is why forgiveness sets you free!
Forgiveness can be very helpful with issues like gaslighting. But, that type of situation is a good time to practise it as Tough Forgiveness. Tough Forgiveness is where we want to forgive the person, but are not convinced that we want to maintain a relationship with them. We may want a bit of a distance from them for a while, or we may never want to see them again (“Forgiveness can include ‘Goodbye’.” – Forgiveness is Power). Tough Forgiveness allows us to have some form of closure and move on without needing to have an on-going relationship with them – if it would be unhealthy or unwise to do so.
With Tough Forgiveness we can even decide to negotiate about what mutually acceptable terms would be appropriate for reconciliation. However, it is best to do some in-depth forgiveness work first. Otherwise, our attempts at reconciliation could turn into a disguised form of vengeance, or we could find ourselves still enmeshed in an unhealthy relationship.
Forgiveness is very helpful in unravelling the patterns that cause us to get hooked into unhealthy relationships. It helps free us from being manipulated by guilt and shame, which are very often the favourite tools of those who want to try and gaslight us. Forgiveness also helps us build our self-esteem, and our sense of purpose and direction in life, so we have a stronger inner compass to keep us on track and not get diverted by manipulative people.
However, forgiveness takes time and we may need time away from someone we feel may be gaslighting us to in order to do the in-depth forgiveness work necessary in order to regain our perspective. Tough Forgiveness gives us the ability to choose to give ourselves what we need so that we can make healthier choices about a particular relationship.
Co-narcissism or Co-gaslighting?
Some of us have low self esteem and that can cause us to have a lot of self-doubt no matter how much others try to reassure us. This may be just a temporary phase, such as after a very challenging time, or it may be part of our general character. When this is the case, eventually, we will meet someone who manipulates us through our self-doubts. That may feel, sort of, familiar, and even strangely “comfortable” as it confirms our distorted perceptions. We might even “fall in love” with such a person.
Since it is usually narcissistic people who try to gaslighting others then perhaps some of us are “co-narcissists” and tend to attract people who are narcissistic and who may then try to gaslight us. Narcissists are usually desperate for relationships and try to turn those close to them into hostages and will use various forms of manipulative behaviour to keep those people in their lives.
Something that confuses the issue is the plethora of ways gaslighting is being defined. When reading a list offered by one author, along the lines of, “Signs that You are Being Gaslighted”, the supposed “signs” the author offered could also be experienced by anyone who had really low self-esteem. It might have nothing to do with someone gaslighting them. When we have low self-esteem we may be partners in crime; except the “crime” is against ourselves as we are supporting someone gaslighting us by being too ready to doubt ourselves. Our propensity for self doubt could be causing us to be doing some form of self-gaslighting which leaves us vulnerable.
However, whatever it is that troubles us in our relationship, Forgiveness can often help – in deep and profound ways. As we learn to forgive ourselves and learn to forgive others we begin to elevate ourselves above the low-level pond-life type of perceptions that muddy our ability to see ourselves, to see others and to see life more clearly. Through the learning how to forgive, we begin to heal our inner wounds and regain our strength as self-determining individuals. Forgiveness is Power – the power to be your best self.
By William Fergus Martin, Author: Forgiveness is Power.
Four Steps to Forgiveness
Four Steps to Forgiveness
A powerful way to freedom, happiness and success.
William Fergus Martin