Abnormal Psychology

Is Trump Gaslighting America?

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

disbeliefIt 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.

Narcissistic Gaslighting

picnicbasketThe 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.

lamplighterTrump’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.


33 replies »

  1. WELL done, Jack – and please forgive the length of time it has taken for me to jump over, read and follow. I’ve been having some tough days myself. FYI, there are quite a few “gaslighting” posts around the ‘net – many written by mental health professionals who are seeing an uptick in returning patients.

    I hope you are remaining sane while completing the aftermath activities of a move. My own challenge, always!
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes! I’m refusing to be ‘re-traumatized by this election. I recognized his twisted lies & evasions & wondered why others didn’t get it & kept feeding the Narc more & more supply. The more you fight a Narc the stronger it grows! Now he’s our president…..now what to do ? No contact is only way I know to handle a narcissists, but how? I see so many similarities between what happened on the way to Hitler’s rise, & don’t want to go there. I feel personally challenged to not let the fear have say, to stay positive & within my own power. I’m staying calm & kind to not allow others to push my buttons.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Howdy Chezzy!

      Trump having won the presidency has just blown his ego sky high! Christ, he’ll be worse than ever because he’ll see it as vindication of his entire life. The only hope we have is no hope at all! He has no sustain, so even if he is not impeached, he will probably resign, or just give up doing anything besides tweeting and giving speeches, anyway it goes, we’re stuck with Mike Pence as being president or the de-facto president.

      What a disaster this is going to be.


      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m not wild about Pence – but at least he doesn’t seem to be crazy, either. ‘Agent Orange’ aka Mr. Hypo Thetical looks undoubtedly so. (LOVE your snark – but maybe Hyper-Thetical might be more apt). In any case, I believe it is a clear and present danger to all to have this man-child who would be king thinking he now runs the country. I hope you are right that we won’t have to endure what he believes passes for leadership for the entire four years. Alternative facts?

        Perhaps, however, the Republican strategy has been Pres Pence all along – and only in comparison to McDonald did they believe they could slide him through?
        (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
        ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
        “It takes a village to educate a world!”


  3. I don’t think Trump is gaslighting America, or anybody else. As someone who has been the victim of gaslighting for over twenty years, I can pretty confidently say that he’s not. Gaslighting is subtle, manipulative, usually low-key and difficult to detect. Trump is none of those things. Is he arrogant? Yep. Abusive? Absolutely. A liar? Without a doubt. But he’s totally in your face about it. He’s an asshole and he OWNS it. His name calling is not subtle at all. His lies are not difficult to detect. When someone is the victim of gaslighting, they rarely know it. The victim usually begins to think there is something wrong with THEM. The gaslighter projects an image of blamelessness, of goodwill, of competence. They play the victim, and they play it well. Their subtlety is what makes them so dangerous. If Trump is trying to use gaslighting techniques, he’s TERRIBLE at it. Because Trump is obvious.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Walter!

      I apologize for taking so long to respond. I’m in the middle of a major move, and I wanted to take some time to consider my response.

      Gaslighting probably isn’t the best description of how Trump is relating to America. But, I think there is something there, anyway. I think the peddling of such absolute falsehoods and to be able to stand in the face of challenge and deny what is plainly obvious, i.e. on tape, really does challenge our collective understanding of reality. His ability to just reflect accusations back on his accusers is astonishing. I think his performance at the Al Smith Dinner is a clear indication of what it is like when a gaslighter’s game is exposed. But, gaslighting is a personal interaction, and I am trying to stretch it to the public stage. The analogy breaks down under those circumstances.

      His followers willingly accept that he is blameless and his victimhood. The number of pundits who have noted his ability to project competence and confidence is testimony to his skills there. What’s the percentage that believe that a loss in the election is proof that it was stolen? What’s the percentage who think he is a successful business person and could be president? That he isn’t losing the election by a huge margin that he won the nomination surely suggests that there are millions of Americans who have been fooled by this guy regardless of your political affiliations.

      It is easy for me to imagine that in a personal relationship, Trump is an excellent gaslighter. Perhaps, it explains his top campaign staff’s ardent support and belief in him.

      Whatever the merit of describing Trump as a gaslighter, my main goal was to educate about gaslighting. Given the popularity of the post, I hope that it was achieved.


      Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Carol!

      Thank you for taking the time to post such an affirmation of my work. This weekend kinda was all the proof you needed with Trump’s birtherism BS running front and center.

      Now that Clinton has reached her all too predictable flounder point, I’m terrified, too. Twilight Zone is right.


      Liked by 1 person

  4. As a person who has experienced gaslighting before, I saw this in Trump instantly. While my friends were laughing, I was terrified. But not as much as I am now that he has pulled the wool over so many eyes. Talking to someone like this is like wrestling with a greased up eel.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Howdy Claire!

      Thank you for the confirmation as terrifying as it is. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a child or spouse of his.

      Once you get your radar calibrated, you can spot abuse pretty easily.


      Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Pam!

      You gotta watch that thinking… it’s dangerous! Kellyanne looks like a vindictive patronizing unkind person! She seems soulless to me. Of course, anyone willing to work for Trump has sold his or her soul in order to do so. The only redeeming hope here is that he hasn’t and won’t be paying her since he hasn’t paid very many on his campaign staff yet.

      Any time you’re trying to justify or rationalize Trump’s lies and distortions, you’re engaging in his gaslighting. The whole thing is pretty darn sick.


      Liked by 2 people

  5. P.S. If you haven’t already, I recommend the movie Gaslight, for a creepy, thriller demonstration of gaslighting in action. Bonus: Angela Landbury plays a supporting role.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Howdy Someone!

      I love movies from that era. I’ll gladly watch it again just to be creeped out all over again.

      Thanks for the recommendation and pointing out Angela Lansbury’s role. I had missed that the first time around!


      Liked by 1 person

  6. The thought and research that went into this are compelling, especially as it describes a feeling many have had. Since you’re going to be much shared and much read, would you allow me to edit this post, just to get the typos and misspellings?

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Please keep writing, please keep writing, please keep writing! I’m always educated (and sometimes a little terrified) to learn, re-learn and/or reconsider what I got from my psychology minor through your lens here.

    Liked by 2 people

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