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.

Sweet & kind (or even 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 (and sometimes very prove-ably) 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 these 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 a few 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 sometimes, 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 at all 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 (that I mentioned in a conversation he was determined to have) 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 literally not what you said at all… Not even a little bit. That is 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) I was lucky enough to have some breakfast meetings with a couple of broadway composers, and sexual assault guy asked me how one went. And when I started sharing some dorky conversation we had about a specific musical theater thing, he said, “I wonder how his wife feels about that.”

Now, this was about the millionth (okay, that’s hyperbole, but still a lot) comment on how he was married or was such a good family man or whatever.

And when I finally very lightly mildly confronted him, like “why do you keep insinuating something here,” he was all “oh, come on! I’m not insinuating anything. She works in musical theater too. It’s not weird to think she’d have an opinion.”

Yeah, sure. If she were there. I didn’t get to meet with her. Only with him. I don’t know her opinion. And maybe – maybe this itself, one little slip of the tongue, wouldn’t be so bad. But it took me forever to say something. He had mentioned him being married or having a family all the time. I could hardly ever tell even part of a story before sexual assault guy would want to point that out. He was so exceptionally clearly insinuating that either I wanted to sleep with the composer, the composer wanted to sleep with me, or maybe even that we were already. It was so heavy handed that if you saw it in a movie, you’d be like “dang. Does the writer or anybody know subtlety, ’cause he is being so the opposite of that, I’m shocked [meaning me] hasn’t thrown a freaking drink in his face yet.”

And yet, when I beet nicely and walking on eggshells asked him about it, he acted like I was nuts for even bringing the idea that he was insinuating those things.

3) I saw him after an episode of The Nightly Show that I was particularly proud of. And he was like “I watched your show!” And I said, “thanks so much!” And he said, “well, I didn’t watch it for you.”

His face seemed like he was almost inviting a fight. But I just let it go. Based on his body language and voice it was impossible to tell – does he mean he didn’t watch it for me because he’s trying to remind me how not special I am, or how something that matters to me is not worth 23 minutes of his time? Or is he trying to tell me the show/episode was so good that he would’ve watched it no matter what, therefore he didn’t have to watch it “for me,” because it’s such high quality he’d do it anyway. 

Was it a compliment or a dig? Who’s to say?! And that was so true if so many freaking things always.
Anyway, there are a billion of these. And every single time, it’s like, I “read him wrong.” I was “sensitive.” He was just trying to “make me feel better” or whatever. Okay… Well… that’s… possible…I guess

It’s all 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 (which again, is part of what makes gaslighting so effective). 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?