Gaslighting is a popular psychology term today. It’s fun to use pop psychology terms to belong to some social group, but check this… Remember how narcissism was thrown around inappropriately? Ya, same situation here.
When someone is gaslighting another, they are abusing another. Full stop. Gaslighting is abuse.
This is why throwing around the term is so asinine. You are basically running around calling others abusers. That’s not okay. That is as serious claim that needs investigation and not casual dismissal.
Most people think someone is gaslighting them simply because they disagree. Nope. People can be confused, obtuse, or straight assholes, and none of that is gaslighting. Misuse of the term just devalues it and hurts true victims of abuse.
Rather, gaslighting is a slow and insidious process where someone makes another question their own sanity. It almost always takes constant interactions over a sustained period of time, and almost always involves intimate relationships.
There are six primary ways you can identify true gaslighting behavior:
Countering your claims by suggesting you aren’t remembering events correctly.
Withholding engagement by refusing to discuss serious issues.
Trivializing the events or your feelings as not important
Denying that events ever happened.
Diverting the focus of the discussion to your credibility to be making claims altogether.
Stereotyping you to try and dismiss the events and make you not want to speak up.
Abusers use these tactics to destabilize their victims, to cause them to mistrust their own perceptions of reality. It is almost a prerequisite for abuse as you need to destabilize the victim for the abuse to be able to continue and not suffer the immediate consequences of the abusive behavior. The victim must trust the abuser to spoon feed the narrative and needs to doubt their own memory of events. They must lose their sense of self. This is not what is occurring with the casual malicious misuse thrown around in online debates.
The casual misuse of gaslighting fails to address the actions that are bothering you and mislabeling them with inappropriate terminology isn’t helpful for you, or them. In turn you are doing more harm than helping. Often those throwing this term around are becoming the verbal abuser attacking the character of others when they want to deflect. Why? Because they have zero interest in good faith discourse when the ego needs protection. In an online debate labeling the opponent as “gaslighting” portrays moral superiority to those that claim it—and turns the ones claiming abuse into the abuser. Fucking brilliant if you aren’t able to spot these psychological mind games. Once this accusation is thrusted on the other individual it becomes a serious matter and changes the debate points immediately. Now there is no debate and what were we even talking about anyways? There was just a serious character attack made and needs to be refuted.
Again, the big issue is the inappropriate overuse of gaslighting because it devalues the term and harms real abuse victims. As an analogy, you have some women who complain about receiving lude messages in their social media inbox, calling it sexual harassment or abuse. Anyone who has ever been sexually abused would never classify receiving a message as such a thing. That type of use just trivializes the experiences of true abuse victims.
We need to be more cautious when we throw around these terms. If you don’t fully grasp the implications of what this entails it’s best to just describe what you’re experiencing, rather than attempting to label it. This is how we encourage good faith discourse rather than devaluing the experience of true victims of abuse.
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