Monday, November 28, 2011

Gaslighting. The favorite communication strategy of the narcissist.

I stumbled upon this term a few years ago.  Up until that point, I didn't know there was an actual name for this most annoying and degrading form of manipulation.  Someone says something insulting, then says you are "too sensitive" or "shouldn't take it personally" when you are offended by the behavior.  One of my favorite movie lines for this reason is Will Ferrell playing Ricky Bobby in Taladega Nights beginning a line with the words "With all due respect..."  He thinks he can say anything insulting as long as he begins by using those words.  Boy, has my life been touched by people who are of the same opinion!

Yashar Ali hits the nail on the head in his article, "A Message to Women from a Man: You are not 'Crazy'" when he emphasizes that Gaslighting is an epidemic that is running rampant throughout society today.  It has been my experience, however, that women more than men use this "one two punch" form of undermining the feelings and opinions of others most often.  Nothing irks me more than the little jabs women throw at each other.  I don't know where this need to knock others down a notch comes from.  

Do you ever end a conversation with someone and afterwards feel as if something isn't quite right?  I call it "mud slinging" because when I converse with people who habitually Gaslight to me or speak badly of others I am left feeling dirty, like I need a shower.  My husband is the best at spotting these little "attacks", which he objectively calls "typical bully behavior", and I sometimes use him to filter a conversation or an email for me to help pinpoint what doesn't feel right.  Fortunately, now that I've discovered what Gaslighting is, I can see where and why relationships in my life have gone sour.  The offenders who thrive on Gaslighting who were muddying it on a daily basis now play a very small role in my life.  It's painful to keep them at arm's length, but it is much easier than dealing with the regular onslaught of hurtful behavior that I really don't want or need.

An added bonus to learning about Gaslighting was realizing that I, too, can be a Gaslighter at times.  I'm a "but" person.  I catch myself too often giving praise, then adding a "...but..." and giving my opinion on something.  I rarely do this with my children.  As a homeschool parent I work very hard not to do this because I realize that everything that's said before the "but" is erased once I add the "but".  It's my poor husband, the expert Gaslight spotter, who has to deal with my big but most often.  One of his favorite movie lines comes from Pee Wee's Big Adventure, "Everyone I know has a big but.  Let's talk about your big but, Simone."  I don't know what we would do in our relationship if we didn't have movie characters to relate to.

But...I want to cringe when I think of it, exhibiting Gaslighting behavior.  For a sensitive person, I sure can be insensitive at times.  I guess the first step to changing is in knowing there is a problem, right?  Don't be a spark and the whole thing could blow up in your face!

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