Gas-lighting: Psychological Warfare

Gas-lighting: Psychological Warfare

I had never heard of the term gas-lighting until I was in a tumultuous relationship with a woman with borderline personality order who accused me of gas-lighting.   At the time I asked her what it meant and she told me to look it up, so I did and the more I read about it and researched it, the more I realized she was the gas-lighter and I was the one being gas-lighted!

What Is Gas-lighting?

Gas-lighting is a deceptive and insidious form of control and manipulation. The name comes for the 1938 play, Gas Light. People who are being gas-lighted are deceived into doubting what they know to be true through the use of false information. These victims end up doubting their memories, feelings, perceptions and nearly everything about themselves, including their own sanity. Overtime, the gas-lighter’s manipulation tactics become more complex making it harder for the victim to recognize and avoid. If this sounds like psychological warfare, that’s because it is.

Gas-lighting is most common and noticeable in intimate relationships, but they can happen in professional relationships as well. Gas-lighters are usually charming at first and often have personality disorders such as narcissism or borderline.  Many sociopaths and addicts are skilled gas-lighters as well.

Gas-lighters attack their victims most sensitive areas: their sense of identity and self-worth. Through my research and interviews with clients who were in toxic relationships, I found that it was common for gas-lighters to show one face to their victim and another to the rest of the world, making it hard for their victim to reach out to others in fear that no one will believe them.

In it’s most basic form, gas-lighting can be seen as projection taken to it’s highest level. The gas-lighter needs to create a certain reality by attempting to shape the reality of the person being gas-lighted. They will change facts in-order to create a new narrative more suitable for themselves and disregard their victims reality.

Gas-Lighting Can Be Used To Manipulate A Whole Society

Gas-lighting not only happens in day to day relationships, but historically has and is happening in a greater context. Think about how the narrative around Thanksgiving downplays the genocide of Native Americans, or how many American History books brush over the horrific slavery of and treatment of African Americans. Cultural appropriation and white-washing are both ways experiences and realities of others are overwritten, manipulated and downplayed. It happens so much in our society through the use of media and stereotypes that’s it’s not easily recognized, but is just as damaging to those who are the victims of gas-lighting.

I once read a book called Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority, that in many ways detailed how American Society has been gas-lighted to perceive African Americans a certain way.

My Personal Experience

One example from my personal situation is that the person I was dating continuously disrespected our relationship by flirting with other guys. Even other people who knew us would come and tell me and it became embarrassing. When I would talk to her about it she would accuse me of being insecure, other people of manipulating me and accusing me of looking at other women.

It got so bad that I started questioning if I was insecure, if other people were trying to sabotage our relationship and although I had never been accused of having wandering eyes before, I started to doubt that as well. I started becoming more aware of my behavior and attempting to never even look in another woman’s direction. I started becoming paranoid and questioning things my friends were telling me about her. I started to doubt myself so much that I became oblivious to the ways she was continuously and increasingly disrespecting me and our relationship.

That’s what gas-lighting does. It makes you start questioning your own reality to the point where you don’t trust what you know to be true.

How I ended up overcoming this was through some deep introspection and awareness. First,  thanks to her accusing me of gas-lighting (the gas-lighter often accuses their victim of being the gas-lightee), I became aware that I was actually being psychologically manipulated.

I had to regain trust in my own sense of self and judgement and realize that I wasn’t crazy and that my eyes and heart weren’t deceiving me. I had to find a way to separate myself from her and see the truth for what it was and once I did that, it was like someone had turned the lights on in a dark room and allowed me to see everything. I had to take back my power and it’s then when I decided to leave because I knew she wasn’t going to change and the new “woke” me, couldn’t stay in that toxic relationship and keep my sanity.

Despite the fact that I knew I had to leave, it still took multiple attempts before I was able to walk away for good. Toxic relationships are usually hard to leave and take several attempts.  During that time I did reach out to friends for support and I continued to read articles and books that opened my eyes and made me strong enough to eventually leave for good.

-T.R. LMHC

Charity Johnson/Stevens: Why It’s So Hard For Us To Detect Con Artists

Charity dressed like a 15-year-old
Charity dressed like a 15-year-old

All morning I have been reading about this 34-year-old woman named Charity Johnson, who has been pretending to be a 15-year-old teenager by the name of Charity Stevens. This woman, not only convinced someone who eventually became her guardian, that she was an orphan, homeless and had been abused by her recently deceased father, but she also enrolled in school as a 10th grader.Charity and Lincoln apparently met when they worked at McDonald’s together and Charity told her soon to be guardian, Tamica Lincoln, that she had no place to stay after both her parents had died. Feeling sorry for her, Lincoln took her in. She even brought Charity, who was actually four years older than her, clothes, did her hair and even attended parent teacher’s conferences.

Lincoln said that Charity even acted like a kid, doing her homework and getting good grades, but eventually her act was exposed when a group Charity tried to join that helps children in need, called Lincoln after they tried to do a background check on Charity.

Charities mugshot where she looks ever bit her real age and more.
Charitys mugshot where she looks every bit her real age and more.

They notified Ms. Lincoln about their questions who then contacted the manager at the McDonald’s she and Charity had worked at together. The manager looked in her file and told Lincoln that Charitys’ real name was Charity Johnson, not Stevens, and that her year of birth was 1979.Lincoln then notified the police and went straight to the school to notify them. Everyone was shocked including administrators, teachers and students, some who even cried after befriending who they thought was a 15-year-old orphan. Police confronted Charity Johnson, who gave them her false name, Charity Stevens. She was then arrested and charged with failure to identify/giving false, fictitious information and given a $500 bond.

My question is, what goes through the mind of someone who can pull off such an elaborate scheme? I wondered if she had some sort of mental problem, but after reading this story over and over, I have come to the conclusion that while she may have some personality deficits, she is simply just a con-artist.

Good con-artists know how to trick you so that you aren’t even suspecting that you are getting conned. Everything seems to be as it should and so our brains don’t pick up on the deceit as easily.
Psychology today puts it like this:

“The most natural answer is that sly or fraudulent, yet persuasive, salespeople signal to our brains that everything is as it should be. Their smooth behavior raises our confidence, thereby boosting our serotonin levels. The well-being chemical serotonin can turn off our critical sense and increase our feeling of content-so much so that our initial beliefs never are subjected to scrutiny in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and the anterior insula never gives us the warning sign that would make us step back and think… Our gray matter can distinguish honesty from dishonesty and alarming situations from unruffled ones but it cannot instinctively detect dishonesty and fraud cleverly disguised.”

For the most part, our brains aren’t created to catch con artists. It’s easier to recognize a manipulation on paper than it is when we are face to face with a person, which explains why so many of us get deceived so easily.

It’s best in this situations if we do not make quick decisions and take our time before jumping into something, especially something big or out of the ordinary. It gives us time to think and another chance for our brains to try to read through the deceit.

Con artists in general tend to have antisocial personalities. They do not care who they hurt, use or betray as long as they are getting what they want. They generally never feel sorry for what they are doing and usually never stop, even once they get caught. They will continue to either try to con their way out of the situation, or if they end up incarcerated, will just come up with another con when they get free.

This woman, Charity was getting free housing, free food, clothing, her hair and nails done, attention, affection and another opportunity to relive her teenage years bigger and better than before. She had a lot to gain and didn’t care who she hurt along her path.

I do not believe she is not mentally ill. She may have a mental deficit and even if she qualifies for antisocial personality disorder, it is are hard to treat which is why many of them are in our jail and prison systems. Hopefully some time in jail will help her get back to reality, but I doubt it. I imagine she will be running one scam or another sooner or later.

In the meantime, the people who have allowed her into their lives as a 15-year-old orphan, especially the children at the school she attended, are left trying to wrap their minds around this troubling event and I am much more concerned about how this will affect them. We know she had a best friend and friends at this school, but what if she also had a boyfriend? I shutter to even think about that.