The term GASLIGHTING, whilst a colloquialism, is often used by psychologists to refer to a particular type of manipulative behaviour, and form of psychological abuse,which may be employed by narcissists (click here to read my article on the effects of narcissistic mothers on their children), sociopaths, or, indeed, narcissistic sociopaths (or should that be sociopathic narcissists?!).
Gaslighting involves the perpetrator of the psychological abuse systematically and deliberately undermining the victim’s memory, perceptions, judgements, self-esteem, self-confidence, sense of identity and their very sense of reality.
In extreme cases, it can leave the victim questioning their own sanity and becoming actively suicidal.
Gaslighting may involve both denying that certain events ever happened and claiming that other events did happen when, in reality, they did not. It can, then, almost be characterised as a kind of ‘brainwashing’ which is carried out in an insidious and subtle manner over a prolonged period.
As well as the effects referred to above, the victim may also become depressed, highly anxious, find it increasingly difficult to make own decisions, confused and, paradoxically, increasingly dependent upon their psychological tormentor.
The strategy is used to gain control and power over the victim and may occur within a variety of relationship types, including :
– parent and child
– romantic relationships
– work colleagues
I have already stated that gaslighting is a long-term strategy, and one of the reasons it can go on for so long is that, in many cases, the victim remains in a state of DENIAL, unable to accept that the other person could be so cruel, darkly calculating and coldly manipulative.
THE 3 STAGES OF RELATIONSHIPS INVOLVING GASLIGHTING:
Typically, relationships involving gaslighting entails 3 stages :
Let’s look at each of these in turn:
IDEALIZATION – in this first stage, the abuser presents the most positive image of themselves possible to entice the victim into a relationship. They may lavish the victim with love, affection and attention, be charming and charismatic, flirtatious, full of fun, energy, enthusiasm and a general joie de vie.
As a result, the victim becomes enamoured of them and imagines that these feelings are reciprocated. Whilst this is not the case, the abuser does obtain a psychological gain : the victim provides the abuser with what has been termed ‘narcissistic supply’ – this refers to the boost of ego derived from the victim’s ‘worshipful’ behaviour towards him/her.
Often, the victim becomes psychologically ‘hooked’, or ‘addicted’ to the abuser during this initial stage.
DEVALUATION – Once the IDEALIZATION stage has run its course, however, it is replaced by the devaluation stage.
In this stage, the abuser abruptly loses interest in the victim, becomes emotionally cold towards him/her and may treat him/her him with contempt and derision.
The victim may well try to win back the abuser (providing the abuser with further narcissistic supply) but to no avail. The abuser continues to treat the victim as worthless, inferior, pathetic and weak.
DISCARDING – finally, once the abuser has derived all the narcissistic supply s/he can from stage 2, s/he loses interest in the victim altogether and discards him/her as s/he might a disposable plastic razor.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).