What Is Gaslighting…?

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

I’ve used the word “gaslighting” a bunch (and I might continue to)… So, we should probably talk about what it is..

I didn’t know what gaslighting was, until I was with sexual assault guy…

Now I do. And if you don’t, I would highly recommend reading about it a little, because it is terrifying.

It is nearly impossible for me to explain. The best recent example I’ve seen of gaslighting is Donald Trump and his campaign.

For example, during the vice presidential debate, Mike Pence told Tim Kaine, “You’re running an insult driven campaign.” And I was bewildered while watching it.

It feels like, “Wait. What? How did you just share that with me with so much confidence? Do you realize you’re the one who’s running the insult driven campaign? Donald Trump has thrown around more insults than practically any human has ever given. We are merely quoting him! …Yet you’re beyond confident that we’re running the insult driven campaign?” And then you start to feel crazy for so vehemently defending merely reality… That’s an example of gaslighting.

In fact, a reporter did a great article all about gaslighting and Donald Trump. I think it’s worth the read.

Also, I know Salon has a lot of mixed reviews, but I still found their article on gaslighting and Donald Trump pretty interesting as well.

Honestly…Goodness. There are so many reports of Donald Trump and gaslighting. Here’s a google search if you’ve got time to kill.

And then there are articles about how it feels to be gaslighted – signs to help know it’s happening to you, etc.

And having it done to me was unnerving, to say the least.

Kind (or neutral) things I did or said would be made to look selfish. Things I had a right to be upset about (such as sexual assault) were made to look like I was dramatic. Untrue details were fed to me – such as, “I never said that!” And then if I’d show a text or something to show he did, it would become “Well, you know I didn’t mean it that way,” and he’d twist things with semantics and then pivot to how I was hurting his feelings by accusing him of hurting mine, etc…

My perception of some of my experiences started to feel wonky, even though I was so sure of them. I was often asking myself if I was being dramatic or crazy or too harsh etc.

It’s weird when someone is telling you so confidently that things didn’t happen – when they definitely did, or that you’re crazy for being upset about stuff you have more than a right to be upset about…

And while I know it might be weird of me to keep sending you to other places to read about stuff, it’s partially because SO many people have already talked about it online (many of whom are way more qualified than me to talk about it – and/or are able to explain it better than I am).

I still can talk a little from my perspective though.

And I know the examples I’m about to give are small… But I think that’s partially why gaslighting works so well and is so effective… If someone were telling you something suuuuuuper crazy that’s easily proven false, it’s harder to doubt yourself… Not impossible, but harder… When they chip away at tiny things, it’s easy to feel nuts.

Here are two small examples of gaslighting from my time with this guy.

1) One time we were talking, and internet harassment came up.
It was weird because somewhat often, for some reason, he seemed to want to start conversations about how women are treated. But he’d want to tell me how women are treated in America, instead of listening to, you know, my experience being a woman in America and all…

And weirdly, I think he’d like to talk about that stuff almost as a way to prop himself up… You know? Other men are terrible, but he’s great – that kind of thing… I don’t want to sound paranoid, but it was all just really weird and even normal conversations became manipulative…

Anyway, he started talking about online harassment. I said I experienced a fair amount. Later, he said, “I looked at your blog, but I didn’t see any harassing comments.” And I said, “Well, I moderate them out.” And we got into a weird conversation about it.

And then I ended up sending screenshots of lots of internet harassment to try to prove it was real. And I told him how weird I felt digging into archives of my computer just to prove an offhand thing I said was real…

And he was all, “You don’t have to prove it to me. I was merely saying your blog doesn’t show comments when you’re on the home page. I was commenting on the layout.” And it’s like, ‘well, but that’s – that’s not what you said at all… Like, that is literally nothing close to what you actually said, and now you’re trying to say that what you said means something completely different’ But instead of arguing with him over semantics, I apologized for misunderstanding.

2) When I (was pushed to) talk about my troubles in my BMI class, and how it was frustrating that I was having a hard time being viewed as a performer, he said, “Don’t worry about it. Once you get to year two, people will be bringing in real performers anyway.”

And he didn’t talk like he meant Audra, or Sutton, or like super definitely real performers. No, he just meant solid singers, maybe Equity members… Like…You know… Me? It felt like a super dig, because he knew how important performing was to me.

He knew that I have done it professionally. (Granted, yes, in little gigs. Yes, I’m not on Broadway. But I perform, and I’ve been paid to perform.) So, to tell me not to worry that I don’t seem to be getting across a *core* thing about myself to my class, because after all, the “real performers” will be coming soon…. It seems rude!

(I’ve known some of the “real performers” who come in just to perform songs, and a lot of them are at my level. It’s not crazy to want to be held in the same ranks as people at my level.)

And mind you, this whole stupid conversation is on a day when I was begging him not to have to talk about BMI, because I was so tired of talking about it, and I just wanted to enjoy my time with him. But he pushed and pushed because he always wanted to “help” me, if I had any problem… But forcing me to talk about something I don’t feel like talking about that day, and then telling me my fears are dumb or baseless or unfounded is not helping.

But again, I “read him wrong.” I was “sensitive.” He was just trying to “make me feel better” or “not be so stressed about it.” Okay… Well… that’s… possible

And it’s stuff like that. It’s stuff that we could sit here and wonder over and be like, “Weeeeeeeell… I meeeeeeeean… You knooooooow… He was just being a guy who wasn’t paying attention.” But when it happens all the time… It just cannot be all misunderstandings.

And it’s hard to talk about, since so many of the examples are so small. And I really don’t want to sound like a crazy person… But aye aye aye aye aye, the gaslighting! It is painful and confusing, and a feeling I can not completely put it into words. And if you haven’t experienced it, I hope to goodness you never have to.

But if you do, and you can come up with the words I can’t, feel free to tell me about your experiences in the comments. xoxo

I'd love to hear from you! So whaddya say?