Abnormal Psychology

The Existing Social Patterns of Domination allow Gaslighting to Persist


Hot damn, y’all! Gaslighting has hit the big time! It is now the subject of genuine bona fide sociological research by one Paige L. Sweet at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, so you know she’s cool. She’s just published an article in Scientific American detailing results from her research into how gaslighting is used in a variety of relationships in a variety of situations.

It’s right up Ye Olde Blogge’s wheelhouse because it is sciencey — even if it is just sociology, not that’s there anything wrong with that — and can be applied to our current political situation to help us figure out what ails us.

Sweet is claiming that her research has insight into the necessary ingredients for gaslighting to occur: power imbalance, isolation, shame, and denial or distortion of “reality.” While her research has found that there are four primary types of relationships that gaslighting occurs: domestic violence; intimate, but non-abusive, parterners; parents or other family members; and institutions, usually work.

There is one other context in which gaslighting takes place that Sweet’s research didn’t discover, politics. Trump’s gaslighting of the nation is based on the same power imbalance between himself and the rest of us. See if this quote from one of Sweet’s interviewees don’t describe the way we are all starting to view the GQP and MAGA:

“They live in an alternate reality. And they want you to live there with them.”

– Selah, domestic violence survivor describing her gaslighting abuse

As usual with this kind of material, there is too much to say in one post! I’ve divided it into two. This one focuses on The key ingredients to gaslighting and the next one applies it to Trump’s gaslighting of everything under the sun.

The Key Ingredients to Gaslighting

Power Imbalance

While gaslighting can occur in almost any relationship, one thing all of those relationships share is a disparity in power between the two parties be they individuals or groups or organizations or whatever. People who are given to gaslighting seek to create, exacerbate, or exploit differences in might, strength, or influence.

One of the things that Sweet’s research has uncovered is that our society seems to promote this disparity in power in a variety of relationships. Surprise to all of us white guys but racism and misogyny are baked into the brick and mortar that our society is made of. Every fucking institution provides an easier path for white guys to float to the top.

Take abortion for example. Single parenthood, especially single motherhood is immiserating. The earlier in a woman’s life she becomes a single mother, the more likely she’s going to be impoverished. Ergo, presto, chango! Women become economically dependent on men, parents, the state. Of course, the holy Christian types point to the 1950’s when corporate taxes were upwards of 90% and say it was all right and good that women stayed home taking care of the house and children going slowly insane due to boredom, a lack of purpose, valium, and alcohol. Their solution to our current crop of strong independent women is to outlaw abortion and if that don’t fix the harlot in all of us, they’ll allow rapists to sue their victims if they get an abortion! Pick your poison ladies! Either way, you’re gonna be somebody’s bitch.

When there is economic or material dependence, there is an imbalance in power in a relationship, whether it is within a family, with an intimate partner, or at a workplace, making gaslighting possible.

Sweet suggests that we begin to look at who is able to establish power and authority in a relationship and how do they do it. If we apply it to Trump and his choking of the Republican chicken, how did he get his power over them? How ’bout MAGA? We’ll get to that in a minute.

Isolation, Shame, and Denial

Sweet’s research sheds light into the way gaslighting typically develops once a power imbalance is established. First comes denial of reality or truth and, then, to flip the script and accuse your victim of the VERY THING YOU ARE DOING! Sound familiar? Projection, anyone?

After the establishment of the power imbalance comes the isolation of the victim. They cannot have any kind of reality check outside of the gaslighter. They can’t go running to mama or their best friend or anyone else that might could remember what really happened, tell them they’re right, or support them in their effort to defy.

Without isolation, gaslighting doesn’t work. There can be no independent verification of the lies the gaslighter is telling because they’re lies, duh. They can’t be verified. The opposite is true, though. The lies can be exposed for what they are.

Once isolation is established then the lies can proliferate. They can go unchallenged, or at worst, the challenges cannot be supported. So, no matter what reality says, the gaslighter denies, denies, denies, and then lies, lies, lies. Whatever they are being confronted about, just didn’t happen. YOU. ARE. WRONG. And, if they’ve prepared their ground work well, you are now dependent on them, so don’t piss them off and make them hurt you!

Should the gaslightee nevertheless persist, the gaslighter pulls out yet another weapon from the quiver, shame. Shame is the most damaging of all emotions. It will crush the soul and sap the will to continue. The gaslightee becomes stupid, ugly, unemployable, whatever the thing is that will cause the most shame, pain, and helplessness, the gaslighter zeroes in on and throws right in their face.

Luckily, not only does Sweet’s research give us insight into how to gaslight someone, it can be used to help us resist being gaslighted, which is especially necessary since we’re living in a gaslit nation. So, let’s apply it to Trump’s GQP, MAGA supporters, and the nation.

Have a look at the application of these gaslighting characteristics to Trump’s gaslighting of America.

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Image Attribution

Gaslight sunset, Liverpool” by Picture Esk is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

15 replies »

    • Howdy Bob!

      I was struck my Adam Schiff’s observation that Soviet operatives looked for dark tetrad personality traits when they went recruiting spies in US agencies. It is the same appeal here. That desire to put yourself ahead of the group, the desire for a quick and easy route to success, the tendency to act on short term gains rather than consider long term consequences.

      As McConnell has found out, there are no gatekeepers for the Republican Party any more. Or, the gatekeepers are the billionaires willing to fun a candidacy and the extreme members of the base willing to vote in a primary. In that sense, both sides would benefit from making voting easier since it would dilute the influence of the extremes of the base. The same is true for campaign finance reform. But, McConnell is too blinded by his own ambitions to see it.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 1 person

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