Anyone who has poked around in the abuse literature for even a few minutes will have come across the term gaslighting. With the recent elevation of awareness of sexual assault — Thanks, Brock! — rape culture, and gender equality, and LGBTQ issues, and other liberal-leaning new age hippy-dippy stuff, gaslighting has become pretty well known. If you start to feel out of sorts, traumatized, or in crisis, please visit my blog entry, Recovering from Gaslighting, to find resources that may help.
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse in which the abuser denies plainly obvious events, emotions, thoughts, perceptions, and behaviors in an attempt to intimidate, confuse, control, or otherwise manipulate the target of the abuse.
The upshot of living in such a reality for an extended period of time is that the target of the abuse begins to doubt their memories, perceptions, emotions, and ability to reason. Many people draw analogies to brainwashing — remember Picard in that one episode, There are four lights! If you don’t, Google it; okay, I Googled it for you and put in the link, so sue me. In short, the target begins to feel crazy because their assumptions, predictions, desires, and reactions suddenly do not match the environment they find themselves in; they especially do not match the reactions of their abuser. By defining reality for the target, the abuser begins to determine what is normal even if normal is devoid of reality.
Another aspect of gaslighting is that it is closely associated with narcissistic personalities. It is widely assumed that narcissists will use gaslighting to control and manipulate the people in their lives. There are therapists who write about Narcissistic Victim Syndrome which is caused by being gaslighted by a narcissist. Because narcissists (as are psychopaths) are master manipulators, it is surprisingly easy for them to worm their way into a target’s head. It is this key skill that allows gaslighting to take place. Narcissists (and psychopaths) know the buttons to push to engage someone emotionally and get them off their game.
Three Stages of Gaslighting
Apparently, gaslighting is a lot like the frog in the pot with the heat being slowly increased. The frog never notices. While the target of gaslighting has a peculiar feeling that something isn’t quite right, undoubtedly, the frog does too, but it’s a frog what is it going to do? it is difficult to identify. It is a creeping process more akin to the seductive pedophile than rape. It is corrosive and eats away the sense of self, independence, and self esteem. And, I don’t know about you, but in Trump’s campaign, I feel like something is wrong and I can’t quite put my finger on it, not that I’d ever want to put my finger on Trump. Can you imagine? Eewey gooey rich and chewy on the inside! Tender flakey orange cakey outside! That’s it, Donald Trump is a Big Fig Newton! Your read it here first folks.
Various therapists and psychologists have identified three stages to gaslighting! Let’s consider them!
Stage one: DISBELIEF
It is easy to believe this, you’d be thinking Holy crap on a cracker, what in the name of Felix the Cat is going on here? Could this be happening? Is this possible? People often think incidents are one-off. A mistake. An accident. But not a pattern of corrosive toxic poisonous behavior. For example, let’s say Mr. Hypo Thetical is a candidate for president who has hired undocumented workers, refused to pay employees, stiffed small contractors, and filed for bankruptcy to protect his own wealth, but then runs on a platform of being for the little fellow, the middle class, the workers, and good for business! At first that seems odd. How could this possibly be? Mr. Thetical has only screwed people all his life! Yet, he keeps talking about how much he loves the middle class and wants to help them. It’s crazy, right?
Stage two: DEFENSE
At this point, there is little doubt that these things are not one-offs. You try to make sense of them. You try to reason. Wait! That doesn’t make any sense! you say. How can a candidate who is a patriot go on Russian TV and praise Vladimir Putin and denigrate the US military? Mr. Thetical isn’t patriotic! You bring it up to him! Ha ha! We’ve got him! But, Mr. Thetical, says “I’m not praising Mr. Putin, I’m pointing out how weak our president is. How could you think I would be so unpatriotic as to favor Mr. Putin?” Or, “I was being sarcastic! Can’t you recognize sarcasm?”
Now, you say, I understand sarcasm! I understand patriotism! And, you argue about you. Jeez, how can you be so stupid is the essential basic message from the gaslighter. And , you do this over and over and over again. Every objection is turned on to you, and you are criticized; it slowly eats away at your soul.
Stage three: DEPRESSION
You begin to believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with you. You are too stupid to get sarcasm! You are too stupid to recognize when a patriot is contrasting our president’s weakness with a foreign leader’s strength. You really are low-energy. You really are little — okay, Lil’ Marco is actually little. Your self-esteem is so battered that you start to become hopelessly demoralized depressed. You accept that your version of reality is flawed. Mr. Thetical has the right interpretation. He really did lose hundreds of friends when the World Trade Center buildings collapsed on 9/11. He really did see Muslims celebrating in the streets in New Jersey. Deporting criminal aliens really will save lives.
The perfect example is Trump’s recent speech in Asheville, NC, in which he lambasts Clinton for her baskets of deplorables remark. He wasn’t as impressed with the phrase as some have been. It seems to me a great title for telenovela, for example. But, I was struck by how every criticism of Trump was thrown back at Clinton regardless of whether it accurately reflected reality.
He variously described Clinton:
- running a “hate-filled campaign”
- having “no policy”
- containing”no solutions” and
- presenting “no new ideas”
Seriously? Clinton is running the hate-filled campaign? Really? That’s the thing that you’re going to accuse her of?
Hate-filled campaign? Are you kidding me? Coming from the man who said an American judge couldn’t be fair because he would be biased by Trump’s asinine wall pledge? The man who wanted to ban all Muslims? The man who led the racist birther charge to undermine Obama? The man who thought you would have to punish women for having an abortion? The man who regularly calls people stupid, fat pigs, and makes derogatory imitations of handicapped people? And, Clinton’s campaign is hate filled?
When Clinton points out that his campaign is hate-filled and appeals to odious people, he shifts the focus on to Clinton own hatreds: she treats people as objects! That’s gaslighting.
She has no policy? Clinton is the wonkiest wonkette that has ever wonked policy! The Associated Press presented someone who had gone through both of their websites and came up with this conclusion:
- Trump’s SEVEN policy proposals are expressed in 9,000 words
- Clinton’s 38 policy proposals are expressed in 112,735 words
Perhaps you’re a nerd like me, I now mom, no one is a nerd like me, and if I’d just get away from this blog I might actually become less of a nerd like me. But if you’re a nerd like me, you immediately thought is 7:9,000 greater than 38:112,735. Of course, if you’re a nerd with a more mathematical mind, you probably knew the answer without dividing it out or even asking the question.
Trump’s seven policies consist of about 1,300 words each, Clinton’s, 3,000. But, Trump insists that he is the policy candidate. He has all the best policies. They are beautiful! Fantastic. He has the best people working on them. The best. But, since he hasn’t paid his policy group, they’ve walked off the job. When criticized about his own lack of policies and details in his policies, he says Clinton has a policyless campaign. Now, we’re arguing about Clinton’s policies! Now, we’re defending Clinton, and then we shift to the scandals. I say gaslighting!
I will always tell the truth to you, Trump famously claimed. But, he’s been caught in lie and deception and policy backtracking time after time. And, yet, he insists that it is because he isn’t PC. He’s telling the truth. You just don’t want to hear it because it is not PC, but it is true. Classic gaslighting.
Remember back in the day when there were websites listing W’s and Reagan’s most ridiculous statements? It would b things like, Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do (Reagan) or Reading is the basics for all learning (Dubya). Well, sir, someone should be doing the same for Trump.
Seriously, the things he says are from an alternate reality and if you try to square those with the reality of what he’s said in the past, what you know to be factual, what you react to emotionally, it is like beating your head against a wall. And, it will make you crazy. That’s gaslighting! Donald J. Trump’s campaign in gaslighting America.