Childhood Abuse: Gaslighting

Q: Dear Frank, I received this note from a trauma survivor. “I was very surprised to learn there was a term for some of the crap my mother pulled on me..”gaslighting”. I looked it up..and found there was a very interesting and clarifying article in psychology today. If I didn’t know there was a name for it maybe others don’t either. Is it possible that you have something in your help bag for”

A: Dear reader, I read the article and several others. This is a good one, too: (But one mistake– in the next-to-last paragraph the term should be “psychopathic personalities” instead of “psychotic personalities.”)

I have not used the word, Gaslighting, but I can appreciate its significance. There are emotional abusers who become “gaslighters” and there are vulnerable people, usually women, who get trapped in relationships with these exploiters.

Gaslighting takes “two to Tango.” If your self esteem is high, you can usually resist the damage done by gaslighters. If you have been raised by parents and older sibs who have a knack for causing you to doubt your own perceptions, you could be especially vulnerable to the style of the gaslighter.

This style involves, not only insults and put-downs, but continual accusation of mis-reading reality, of being overly sensitive, of causing the perpetrator’s abuse. It is “victim blame” in many forms. So having friends and peers who are rational, compassionate, empathic and supportive goes a long way to counteract this gaslighting effect.

I find it very useful to identify the personalities that occupy our “Board of Directors.” This “Board” is our conscience or superego. It judges us and gives us critical comments on how good and honorable we are, or, conversely, how pathetic and useless we are. Too often, we have a gaslighting family member from our past on that Board. Get her off! Push him to the back of the table. It is important to get a gaslighter out of our lives – and even more important, to get that poisonous personality off our Board of Directors.