Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Three Levels of Gaslighting

I saw more gaslighting on H20: Just Add Water.  It's inspired me to write another post. And...who am I kidding? Gaslighting is obviously one of my obsessions. 

One thing funny is that Angus McLaren plays the gaslighter on H2O: Just Add Water.  About a year ago, I wrote a post about his character on Packed to the Rafters being the VICTIM of gaslighting.

Anyway, I've decided to come up with three levels of gaslighting.  I don't know.  I think I really like putting things into levels and categories.

So, here we go....

LEVEL ONE-This is where the end goal of the gaslighter is to make their victim believe they (the victim) is insane. They want to cause hurt. They want to damage the person they love...or pretend to love.

 I don't think I've ever been a victim to this and I hope it's very rare.  Though I have to admit, in a small scale way,  I was once the perpetrator. It was a mean trick I played on a friend in fifth or sixth grade. I think she was reminiscing about something we did together, and I pretended not to remember.  I seriously doubt I was hoping for her to lose her insanity.  But still...

My memory of it is vague, but I do remember my friend seeming hurt and very frustrated. To me, the incident validates what I've come to learn and believe about gaslighting. It HURTS to have our memories and perceptions denied by others...even if it's over trivial things.

Hopefully I told my poor friend the truth and didn't leave her questioning her sanity.

I think the reason behind my bad behavior is I often felt rejected, and insecure so I wanted her to get a taste of that.  It might have been my way of saying, Hey you're so not important to me that I don't even remember  this thing that you claim we experienced together. 

There's my weak excuse for evil.

What other reasons would people have for purposely trying to make people question their sanity?

Some might do it for pure sadism.  They might be everyday sadists and/or psychopaths.

They might use gaslighting as a way to weaken their victim, so they have more control over their victim.

They might make their victim question their perception and memory over small things, so later it's easier to trick their victim when it comes to much bigger things.

All, in all it's sinister...and even more so if it's done on a regular basis.

LEVEL TWO-In this level, the gaslighter doesn't actually want to cause harm to the victim. They just want to protect themselves from getting into trouble. They want to avoid being shamed or blamed. They want to protect their reputation. They want to avoid drama. 

I've experienced gaslighting on this level. Or at least I assume that I have. It could be that I've experienced level one gaslighting and gave the gaslighter too much benefit of the doubt. Or it could be the experiences were at level three and I wasn't giving the gaslighter enough benefit of the doubt.

Really. I think the only person who truly knows what level the gaslighting at, is the gaslighter themselves.  I don't think the victim can know for sure.

With level two gaslighting, I believe what the gaslighter wants is to be able to lie, and...no harm done.  The victim believes the lie, and then everyone can go happily on with their business. The gaslighter fails to understand that it's psychologically harmful to be pushed to believe we are wrong about what we saw, heard, and experienced.

Even with trivial things, it can be harmful.  Like: You said you were going to the grocery store after work.  

I never said that!

Grocery store, not a huge deal. But then the victim has to start questioning things. Is he lying? Am I losing my mind? My hearing? Is there something wrong with me? 

But it's even worse with big things—events and experiences that actually hurt us.  I think when we are pushed to believe the bad experience didn't happen, the pain is doubled...maybe even tripled. We lose trust in the gaslighter. We lose trust in ourselves.  We can't even begin a process of forgiveness, because we've been told what happened never happened. 

What I hope is that the more people become aware of gaslighting, the more people will realize it is NOT a good thing to do to others.  For sadists and psychopaths, it won't matter. But for people who care about others and want to be decent, if they understand the harm of gaslighting, I think they will try to stop doing it. 

LEVEL THREE-I think this is where the gaslighter actually believes their lie...because they are in denial.  They rewrite history in their mind, or they interpret their own behavior too kindly.

Now I don't want this confused with the person who is accused of gaslighting, but is not gaslighting. It's just a disagreement over what happened.  Why are you glaring at me like that?

Glaring? I'm not glaring! I was just looking at you!

We could look at this one incident on all the levels, and the non-level.

A). She really WAS just looking and not glaring. Maybe she was looking in admiration, and now shit, she's being accused of glaring.

B) She was glaring because she has subconscious anger. She imagines she was just looking, but her friend knows otherwise.

C) Okay. She was glaring. But how embarrassing that she's been caught. She'll just pretend it never happened. No harm done. Right?

D) She glares on purpose because it's so hilarious to see her friend get angry. She loves messing with her friend like this. And then like always, she'll deny it, because it's also fun seeing her friend get confused. 

Again, as victims we can't tell what level we're facing. Only the gaslighter knows, and even they might not be able to tell the difference between A and B.

As for false accusations of gaslighting....

 I think it can definitely happen. People can become hyper-sensitive and paranoid, especially if they've been victims of gaslighting in the past.  They might mistake forgetting for lying.  They might be quick to believe that other people are trying to fool them. They're going to be especially suspicious with someone who has used gaslighting on them in the past.  Gaslighters are probably going to suffer a variation of the cry-wolf syndrome.

I also fear, though, that there are more sinister false accusations.  I think as more and more people learn about gaslighting through the media, and the more people are confronted about it....

Well, I think while this will lead some gaslighters to self-improvement. But other gaslighters might take the knowledge and add it to their manipulation arsenal.  They might fight back by deliberately making things up; then when disbelieved, cry gaslighting.

 Let's say Jennifer has been gaslit by her brother Andrew.  She brings up something he did a year ago and he pretends it never happened. He tries to get her to believe she imagined it all.  She accuses him of gaslighting. He has no idea what it is. She explains.  He tries to manipulate his way out of it, but she can sense that he knows he's in the dog house.

In the next  couple of years, Andrew starts talking about things he "remembers" happening.  For example, he brings up this very kind thing he did for Jennifer.  Jennifer has absolutely no memory of it happening. It's very strange, because she usually has a very good memory...especially when it comes to people doing nice things for her.  She suspects that Andrew is lying, but she doesn't want to accuse him, because she fears that he's going to then accuse HER of gaslighting.  And since she has been a victim of gaslighting, she has a lowered self-esteem and a distrust in her own memory. So she doesn't have the confidence to confront him. 

Jennifer wonders what's happening. Did Andrew do something nice for her, and somehow she actually did forget?  Is he imagining that he did something nice to her?  Is he confusing fantasy with reality?  Maybe he's confusing her with their other sister? A friend? Coworker?  OR is Andrew purposely trying to mess with her mind?  If Jennifer says she doesn't remember, he can accuse her of gaslighting and that will give him leverage the next time he tries to gaslight her.

You're gaslighting me!

Yeah. And you've gaslighted ME before as well! We BOTH do it to each other. So don't make out like I'm the only bad guy here.

It's kind of like reverse-gaslighting.

Anyway...writing and thinking about all this makes me sort of want to become a hermit.