Friday, 5 January 2018

| journal | 2018 | 01 | 05 | gaslighting. |

The 'illusory truth effect' is a phenomenon in which a listener comes to believe something primarily because it has been repeated so often. When truth is assessed, people rely on whether the information is inline with their understanding or if it feels familiar. This is logical, as people compare new information with what they have already known to be true. Repetition makes statements easier to process, leading people to believe this repeated conclusion to be more truthful. 

Unfortunately. People will use this to their advantage when in a position of power or privilege.

The illusory truth effect can cause us to become susceptible to the effects of another reality erosion - gaslighting.

Deliberate manipulators who gaslight with the intention of upsetting your relaity and rewriting a history will use this repetition to their advantage. They will repeat falsehoods so often you believe them to have happened, or believe that version of events over your own.

It can disrupt your perceptions and ability to trust.

I think more terrifyingly, gaslighting isn't always intentional.

We've all had experiences where we've inadvertently invalidated someone's experience without meaning to. Maybe we were on the defense. Or we just simply remember it differently. Human error can lead to 'everyday gaslighting', but this does not mean that it is an okay method, nor does it negate the danger.

Gaslighting is frequently used within abusive relationships. Especially when one party is acting out of turn. Gaslighting allows perpetrators to evade accountability for their actions, deflect responsibility and exercise their control over their partners with ease.

“Narcissists are like Teflon; nothing sticks. They don’t take responsibility. For anything. They are master deflectors and try to avoid the blame when cheating, stealing and everything in between. They make up complex excuses and can rationalize anything. When they are finally called out, they are quick to claim they are being persecuted, though they may be apologetic for a minute. When someone never takes responsibility for anything – words, actions, feelings – it is a challenging, if not impossible way to maintain a relationship.” Dr. Durvasula, Should I Stay or Should I Go? Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist

Gaslighting starts when one person seeks preservation of self and the other allows their reality to be defined by the others approval. The victim will question themself, and receive placation from the abuser.

walking on eggshells to keep peace

Dating for several months, Jane believes she's met the 'one' - Simon is generous, kind, supportive and funny. They become enamored with each other very quickly and move in together shortly after dating for one year. As soon as they sign the lease on their new apartment, things change. Simon's usual warmth and affection wanes, and he becomes cold and withdrawn. He lashes out more and creates nonsensical arguments, all whilst criticising her on a daily basis. It's almost as if he's undergone a personality transplant.

He's also started to complain about the price of their rent (on a property he chose) and accuses her of not thinking ahead. She notices he still goes out and spends money on others, just not doing anything with her.

Jane recognises that Simon is taking her for granted, but also taking advantage of her. She finally confronts him - to which the response is rageful and defensive. He accuses her of not trusting him and calls her horrible names. He threatens to leave and never return. He refuses to speak about behaviour and ends up leaving her in tears.

However this onslaught changes things and Jane begins to wonder if she's been too hard on him. She begs and apologises and attempts to make up for her 'wrongdoing'. The cycle continues. After a few days of making up, where Simon forgives her for her behaviour, he starts kicking off again. He becomes secretive and suspicious. 

Any time that Jane raises questions about where he has been and whether he's been seeing other women he pushes back hard. He calls her crazy and needy, mostly paranoid. Despite her attempts to uncover the truth - she starts to question her judgement. She begins to avoid any confrontation and instead tries to purely please him. Her hope is that once he realises what a great partner she is, he will stop his shady behaviour and go back to the man she fell in love with. 

Unfortunately. That was never going to be the case. 

why does gaslighting work?

This story illustrates a classic example of the cycle of narcissistic abuse – one in which idealization is followed by devaluation and the honeymoon phase dissipates into the unmasking of a covert predator. Simon is able to gaslight Jame into believing she is the problem – all while she financially supports him and doubles her efforts to be a more loving partner. Meanwhile, he engages in infidelity, verbally berates her and subjects her to bouts of narcissistic rage, without any consequences or accountability. This isn’t at all the healthy, loving relationship Jane signed up for, but the powerful effect of gaslighting is that Simon’s version of reality (Jane is crazy, he is the one putting up with it) replaces the truth.

Gaslighting lets the perpetrator off the hook while the victim is left picking up the pieces. 
Why do survivors believe in gaslighters?
Executed effectively and done chronically, gaslighting causes self-doubt and cognitive dissonance – a state of turmoil stirred by inconsistent attitudes and beliefs. Survivors of emotional predators sense that something is amiss, but when they attempt to address it, they are often blindsided by their abuser’s complete dismissal and invalidation of their reality.

Jane knew something was wrong and felt like she was taken advantage of when Simon stopped behaving in a civil way, but after being on the end of his abuse she rationalised her behaviour was to blame. She did not want to lose her emotional investment in what appeared to be a great relationship in the beginning. As a result she invested more. Risking the loss of her own sense of self. 

Gaslighting, after all, begins insidiously in stages; in the first stage, survivors still have a grasp of their perceptions even if they might not understand what is happening. Like a frog in slowly boiling water, they become accustomed to the insidious warping of their reality, until they no longer recognize their reality or even themselves. Initially, like Diana, they may attempt to reiterate their perspective and express disbelief at the gaslighter’s claims.
As gaslighting continues, however, it wears down the victim. Jane eventually tries to win Simon back because she feels unable to self-validate after his constant verbal attacks and rageful responses. This is not uncommon for victims of chronic gaslighting, especially when a repetition or reinforcement of false claims is involved. According to Lynn Hasher, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, “Repetition makes things seem more plausible…and the effect is likely more powerful when people are tired or distracted by other information.”
Chronic gaslighting eventually leads to pure exhaustion – victims develop a sense of learned helplessness as they are met with the intense consistency of denial, rage, projection or accusations from the gaslighter.
Exhaustion from abuse and retaliation for asserting oneself creates a mental fog of epic proportions, one in which a survivor can easily drown in even the most ridiculous excuses as long as they carry a grain of truth.
The survivor of a conniving gaslighter becomes submerged in confusion about what actually occurred and whether anything truly occurred at all. So instead of questioning the gaslighter, they attempt to prevent further psychological assault by feeding their own self-doubt and uncertainty surrounding the abuse that is occurring. Dr. George Simon, who specializes in the character disordered, writes:
“Gaslighting victims question their judgment. They can even come to question their very sanity. Crafty covert-aggressors know how to make you doubt. In your gut you feel they’re trying to play you. But they can have you feeling like you’re a fool for thinking so. They can even have you questioning what’s real and what isn’t.” – Dr. George Simon, Gaslighting Victims Question Their Sanity
why does it work so well?

 - Gaslighting exploits any existing self doubt about one's capabilities as well as any past trauma

- Gaslighting exhausts the victim. Using up their internal resources so they are unable to self-validate and eventually give into a sense of learned helplessness

- Gaslighting depletes individuals of a stable sense of self-worth and certainty about how they interpret the world

 - Gaslighting manufactures insecurities and fears that never existed, causing the victim to focus on perceived flaws rather than the abuser's transgressions

- Gaslighting causes the survivor to investigate whether he or she has done something wrong, instead 

- Gaslighting sets up survivors to fail no matter what they do; abusers will demonstrate disapproval regardless of how hard the survivor tries to please the abuser. Whether victims stay silent and compliant or aggressive and assertive, they will be punished. By moving the goalposts, the perpetrator is able to shift their expectations and their claims at the drop of a hat.

- Gaslighting diverts from, denies, rationalizes and minimizes horrific acts of psychological and physical violence.

- Gaslighting creates a dangerous form of retaliation for victims speaking out, because each time they do, they are met with a psychological or even physical assault that causes them to feel increasingly diminished.

Survivors often take on the responsibility for reducing the cognitive dissonance that arises when what they know to be true is threatened by gaslighting of an abuser. They do so by essentially “gaslighting” themselves into believing in what their manipulators are telling them, rather than trusting their own inner voice. They may even socially withdraw and become overly defensive about protecting the gaslighter due to their need for validation from the relationship. The gaslighter “trains” and conditions them into seeking their approval, and they fear losing that approval because it symbolizes the loss of the relationship itself.
eroding the sense of reality and self

The definition of gaslighting may appear clear cut and quite obvious - in reality its use is complex and unclear. There are many ways in which victims can be gaslighted, and when done over a long period of time it becomes an effective tool to manage the victim's expectations for decency, honesty and transparency over time. 

In effect, if someone cannot trust their own perceptions, they'll hand over control to the person who is shaping their reality. To confront that reality is a terrifying experience because you'd lose your entire grounding. 

denial. dismissal. belittling.

perhaps the most seen gaslighting occurs in the art of blatant denial. Even when there is concrete evidence. This dismissing of the evidence can instill a sense of doubt in the victim and by planting that seed, they create a sense of 'perhaps it didn't happy at all'.

Continually denying a victim's experiences can lead the victim to search for evidence that will confirm the created reality. A counter-narrative to the truth. that enablers of the abuser can hold onto, and at worst will distort things sufficiently that the abuser is no longer held accountable for their actions. 

Unfortunately, this form of gaslighting also preys on a sense of hope just as it does uncertainty. Victims may have their own reasons for believing in the abuser, but they are also trauma bonded to their perpetrators through the intense experiences of abuse in an effort to survive. As a result, victims of a trauma bond often protect their abusers and work even harder to depict their relationship as a happy, stable one.

As trauma and addiction expert Dr. Patrick Carnes (2015) writes in his book, The Betrayal Bond:
“Exploitive relationships create betrayal bonds. These occur when a victim bonds with someone who is destructive to him or her. Thus the hostage becomes the champion of the hostage taker, the incest victim covers for the parent, and the exploited employee fails to expose the wrongdoing of the boss…{this} is a mind-numbing, highly addictive attachment to the people who have hurt you. You may even try to explain and help them understand what they are doing – convert them into non-abusers. You may even blame yourself, your defects, your failed efforts…these attachments cause you to distrust your own judgment, distort your own realities and place you at even greater risk. The great irony? You are bracing yourself against further hurt. The result? A guarantee of more hurt.”
As Carnes notes, the emotional investment we have built in our relationship with the gaslighter is what keeps us hoping for a return on our investment. Yet the more we invest, the more we inevitably risk.
An adult child of an abusive parent does not want to face the reality that their parent may have never loved them; a doting husband may prefer to believe that any evidence of his wife cheating was misconstrued; a sexual predator’s victims may wish to not move forward with legal charges because they hope they can move forward with their lives.
Denial – however simple it may seem – can be an effective strategy for an abuser to use precisely because it also works with a victim’s natural desire to avoid conflict, protect themselves from the trauma of the truth and maintain the false comfort of the abuser’s false mask.

shaming and emotional invalidation.

When abusers are unable to convince you that your truth is a false reality, or when they feel they need to add an extra dose of emotional anesthesia to keep you quiet and compliant about their transgressions, they’ll add in subtle shaming or emotional invalidation. This is when, not only are your claims dismissed and denied, the fact that you brought them up in the first place make you somehow defective, abnormal or incompetent.

“I can’t believe you would think that of me. You have serious trust issues, to even search through my phone like that,” the cheating wife might say, displacing the onus of her own infidelity onto her husband and diverting from the fact that her shady behavior caused trust issues in the first place.
“Why are you bringing up the past? You really can’t let go of things, can you? I am so angry you’re bringing this up,” cries the abusive parent hysterically, bringing the focus to her emotions rather than her child’s plight. This effectively silences and shames the child for speaking up in the first place, discounting the impact of their traumatic childhood.
The sexual predator? He or she is able to shift the focus back to the victim’s behavior instead – asking, why did he flirt with me? Or why did she come back to my place, if she didn’t want to have sex?

Shaming is powerful. Shaming causes a feeling of voicelessness. Reduces you to being less likely to speak out. 

active discreditation. 

malignant narcissists take it one step further. They engage in actions to actively discredit their partners. They participate in smear campaigns. They talk. They stir. A victim whose credibility is weakened serves as ammunition for an abuser, because the abuser is able to evade accountability for his or her actions by claiming that the victim is unhinged, unstable, and pursuing some form of vendetta against the abuser
The most covert gaslighters manufacture scenarios that drive their victims over the edge while erasing any trace of their involvement. They exploit existing vulnerabilities in the victim.They create chaos so that the victim reacts and they are able to use the reactions of their victims against them.

They accuse their victims of being “bitter” and “obsessed” with them, when in fact, they are the ones stalking their victims. Not unlike the set-up in movies like Gaslight, the victim finds himself or herself being told that they are “crazy,” “losing it,” “imagining things,” or “delusional” even after they endure blow after blow.
Similarly, as victims of psychological violence get closer to the precipice of truth, the man (or woman) behind the curtain creates a great deal of noise to divert their victims from ever seeing what is beneath the surface of their fa├žade and grandiose claims of authenticity. The noise malignant narcissists create instead refocuses on attacking the credibility of the victim rather than addressing their own crimes.

- - -

new day. same patterns.

repetition of falsehoodsrepeating a lie frequently enough can become a way to reinforce and cement it as truth. Whether these lies are seemingly innocuous or potentially damaging, they can overwrite existing perceptions.

“You flirted with that guy. I saw you.”

“I am such a nice guy/girl. I treat you so well.”
“I told you, I was at work. You need to stop with these baseless accusations.”

minimising impact: this is when the gaslighter has committed a serious offense against you and instead of acknowledging it, will minimise the impact and gravity of it. Even by ignoring it's existence.

"That wasn't even rude. You're making a mountain out of a molehill" 

"I didn't hurt you that badly. It was just a blip"

"I didn't raise my voice. You're just misinterpreting things. As usual"

"Threatening? You think that was threatening?! Shut up"

generalisation: the gaslighter makes claims the victim is always out for attention and trouble. The gaslighter will then generalise all the victim's claims and assertations as ridiculous or attempts to create conflict, as if the conflict was not there in the first place. 

"You're just so sensitive"

"You take everything so seriously!"

"You're always causing trouble. You've gone off on one this morning. I just wanted to talk"

"You just love drama"

stonewalling: the abuser is unwilling to engage in the conversation at all and often shuts down the conversation any time a claim is made against them, or about their behaviour.

"No. I am done discussing this"

"I'm not going to argue with you, this is pointless"

"This conversation is not going anywhere"

"This doesn't even warrant a response"

"The fact you're accusing me of that says more about you than me"

Questioning their memory, emotional stability and/or competence – The abuser avoids accusations and conversations by questioning the victim’s memory or ability to comprehend the situation in an unbiased way.
“You really have some issues.”
“You need to learn how to trust people you're so paranoid.”
“You’re crazy.”
“You need to calm down and think about this.”
“You’re blowing everything out of proportion, as usual.”
- - -


firstly. it was never about you.

healing takes time and support. it requires distance and space from the abuser to reconnect with reality and get grounded.


Make ‘redirecting’ anchoring statements when you find yourself romanticizing your abuser or dismissing an abusive incident. The good news is, repetition can go the other way: we can repeat the truth until we finally believe in it, and ourselves again. Creating “anchoring statements” that help redirect you to the reality of the abuse are especially helpful when you find yourself doubting what you experienced and minimizing what you felt.

lists are great. they are concrete and can be referred to in times of self-doubt. Affirmations remind you what you experienced and why it wasn't acceptable.


you don't need them.

trust other sources

consult trusted outsiders to do reality testing. bounce ideas. describe what you saw.

be okay