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

Sitting Down With A Killer: Impressions On Interviewing A Psychopath

Today I sat face to with a man who had killed three people and tried to have a fourth person killed, a real psychopath. This wasn’t some disturbed person who lost his mind and killed three people in one violent, rage filled act. This was a man who killed his friends’ girlfriend, then still remained friends with the guy while he grieved over his dead girlfriend. Fast forward three years later, while still friends with the guy, he decides to not only kill him, but also to kill his new girlfriend.

Finally arrested for the murders, from behind bars he tries to elicit the help of another inmate to kill a key witness to the last two murders. This man has no remorse. No real feelings. He’s currently facing two life sentences with yet more charges coming. He is barely 30 and will spend the rest of his life in prison.

psychopathySitting across from me in a big empty room, un-handcuffed, unshackled and unguarded (the nearest officer is two flights of stairs below), this man who is covered in multiple tattoos, some gang related, one reading, American Nightmare, has a very cold disposition. It’s in his frozen eyes and the way he talks as if he couldn’t care less about anything or anyone in the world that reminds me that I am in the room with a man who pretty much has nothing to lose.

I can’t explain the feeling. It’s not fear I feel when he tells me I am asking too many dumb questions, or when he leans in with an attitude of authority as if he were the one in charge of this interview. It’s not even nervousness that I feel, but an awareness that I am in the room with a three time killer, who wouldn’t hesitate to make it four, or five. It’s like being in a room where a poisonous snake is being kept. You’re not necessarily always checking to make sure it’s still there, but you’re always aware of it and its potential to get loose. As he stated, “My life is over, although I am still alive. I’ve had many family and friends die in prison. There is nothing you can say to me.”

And he was right. There wasn’t anything I could say to him to make him “feel better”.  Often times I get called to speak to inmates who get sentenced to long sentences including life. Most of them are already mentally prepared for it, or at least think they are. Very few show any real emotions. Even fewer show any real remorse. A handful become suicidal. A very few even attempt suicide.

This guy’s advice to me when talking to inmates facing lengthy sentences was pretty spot on; “Don’t talk too much, just listen. Don’t ask too many questions. Don’t ask, ‘is there anything I can do for you?’”

In the real world, only 1% of the population meets criteria to qualify as true psychopaths, but in jails and prisons, that number jumps to 15%. I’ve talked to multiple killers before, some who have killed on accident, who killed on purpose, who killed out of anger, who killed out of greed, who killed out of jealous, who killed out of impulse and some who killed for apparently no reason at all, but none were as electrifying or showed such lack of empathy as this guy.

Here was a guy who killed his friend’s girlfriend, then stayed friends with the guy only to kill him and his new girlfriend three years later. The lack of empathy, manipulation and callousness it took to look his friend in the face day in and day out, knowing that he was the one that killed his last girlfriend is frightening.

During the hour I spent talking with this guy today I learned more about dealing with psychopaths than I could have by reading a 300 page book or taking a 9 week college course . It’s terribly fascinating.