Is it Malicious or Unintentional Gaslighting?
Lately, in our culture, we have been both plagued and graced with the fountain of information: the internet. We can now find out anything we want with a button. It makes sense that with this plethora of knowledge comes inaccurate depictions of things; human error has not been obliterated. In this journey, therapy vocabulary has become the language in which most people who have the privilege to access resources traffic. The trigger word, Gaslighting, has now become a commodity and weaponizing tool for some. What is Gaslighting?
Derived from a 1930's play titled, Gas Light. The term refers to making someone believe their perception of an event is wrong and maliciously trying to manipulate their partner. In the play, the person engaging in the gaslighting was a husband who purposely dimmed the gas light in their home each night and had his wife believe that she was imagining the scenario. This is the short-term definition. Typically, the "victim" of this action tends to feel like they are crazy and in the wrong.
It makes sense that with this resurrected terminology, many individuals in relationships now feel like they are victims of their partners. After all, if my point is not getting across to you and you feel like I am not making sense, would that not translate into gaslighting?
This is where nuance comes into the picture.
I say this because we are now struggling with differentiating between the dichotomous thought of who is right or wrong, and if we are being gaslit, then they are bad.
First, let's break down what the five manners of Gaslighting look like:
Coercion: This is manipulating a person's reality to get them to do something they want. This can come as a veiled threat or guilt. Examples can look like someone making you think that you are the problem when they do the act.
Outright lie: This is shown as it is described as someone lying about a situation that you know to be true. Such as telling you they were not at a dinner that you saw them in or that they gave you money when you do not recall the exchange.
Scapegoating: When someone displaces the blame onto you. This can look like blame and, once again, the act of using manipulation. Examples can be blaming your lack of intimacy on their infidelity without taking any accountability.
Reality Questioning: This is the most common use of the phrase. This is where someone bends your reality and makes you question what you are experiencing. This can be very damaging because it begins to affect your ability to trust yourself.
Trivializing: This is the act of minimizing or dismissing a situation you bring up to the other person. Often it can make a person feel that they are being hypersensitive and worsen a situation.
Many individuals who read this might feel that their partner or friend/ family is engaging in these behaviors. If that is the case, then they must be evil…no? It is important to understand that things are not black and white. What is the goal we are trying to achieve when we speak to someone? We tend to want to feel understood. The feeling we get after someone doesn't understand us is that they choose not to understand. What if, instead, someone does not possess the skills to communicate? Especially when there is a potential for conflict. With this possibility on the horizon, it is no wonder that we tend to "trivialize" the issue and tell our partner that it "is not a big deal." Have you ever been in that position? I'm sure you have because most people struggle with conflict and are receptive to what they consider criticism. Instead of assuming that your partner is twirling their mustache and plotting your demise, it might be possible that they struggle with communication skills, and this may, in fact, be more benign than what we assume.
What are the ways we can work through this? Communicating with your partner how you feel and stating that although their perception might be (blank), you are entitled to feel your feelings. How will we grow if we cannot have circumstances with multiple lenses?
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