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May 18 2013

Gaslighting -shaming women for emotional reactions and for speaking up.

Before I heard of the word “gaslighting”, I had difficulty articulating why I shouldn’t be shamed for getting angry or upset at someone else’s behavior.  And then I read this article about it…

I want to introduce a helpful term to identify these reactions: gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a term, often used by mental health professionals (I am not one), to describe manipulative behavior used to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they’re crazy.

The term comes from the 1944 MGM film, Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman. Bergman’s husband in the film, played by Charles Boyer, wants to get his hands on her jewelry. He realizes he can accomplish this by having her certified as insane and hauled off to a mental institution. To pull of this task, he intentionally sets the gaslights in their home to flicker off and on, and every time Bergman’s character reacts to it, he tells her she’s just seeing things. In this setting, a gaslighter is someone who presents false information to alter the victim’s perception of him or herself.

Today, when the term is referenced, it’s usually because the perpetrator says things like, “You’re so stupid” or “No one will ever want you” to the victim. This is an intentional, pre-meditated form of gaslighting, much like the actions of Charles Boyer’s character in Gaslight, where he strategically plots to confuse Ingrid Bergman’s character into believing herself unhinged.

The form of gaslighting I’m addressing is not always pre-mediated (sic) or intentional, which makes it worse, because it means all of us, especially women, have dealt with it at one time or another.

*edit Video about gaslighting.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=HQCdUa_3rLo

I grew up with the expectation to be a “good girl”; you can’t express unpleasant emotions like anger.  Frankly a lot of that cultural conditioning came with religious indoctrination that as a female I was a ‘help mate” to a man. I still have difficulty expressing when I am justifiably upset, because of gaslighting. Like being told I “needed to calm down” or asked the popular question “are you on your period?”  Realistically even if I am menstruating that doesn’t mean I have to shoulder the entirety of the blame for someone else’s rude or obnoxious behavior.

Of course I’m not the only woman this happens to. I’ve even seen this as a shaming technique against women speaking up about feminism in the free thought movement. Even some of the same shaming that went on in less enlightened times like accusations of “hysteria“.

I posted on this issue in another forum, and some women expressed gratitude that the term gaslighting helped them to name the manipulative behavior they had been subjected to many times. It has been an epiphany for me to, so I wanted to post it here too in hopes it will help others.

 

 

21 comments

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  1. 1
    mikmik

    Another famous manipulation is done by people speaking cryptically and when the other person get’s confused or asks what’s going on, the manipulators says, “Oh, I though everybody knew ‘x’. I’ve never had to explain it to anyone before.”
    Anytime you create a situation to frame another’s reaction as inappropriate or out of touch, it’s gaslighting.
    And not every time hysteria gets called is it manipulation. Some people completely over-react and lose it, and should know because I was one of them. Sure, hysteria is a strong term, but it happens enough that a few of us do parodies of it.
    The connotation is female, yes, and although I see males being called hysterical, it is a female put-down – basically a gendered slur.

  2. 2
    WithinThisMind

    I’ve never understood how someone can take an action designed to hurt and inflame, then act surprised and indignant and blame the others for getting angry.

    I remember when I was about 13, I saved up to buy a pair of earrings. My sister wore them without permission and lost one. When I confronted her, she said both A) I didn’t ask you because I knew you’d say no, and B) it’s just an earring, don’t have a cow. If it was so unimportant, why did she insist on wearing it knowing I didn’t want her too?

    It’s the same thing with the term ‘cunt’. If the term is so unimportant and unworthy of the ire directed at it, why insist on using it when there are plenty of other words available?

  3. 3
    Mattir, Another One With Boltcutters

    And this is why I have an image of Charles Boyer from Gaslight as the phone image for my main gaslighter. Works quite well at reminding me what to expect.

  4. 4
    lilandra

    This is going on with the controversy at Women in Secularism. The male speaker that Watson called out for lecturing women at a women’s conference, is now gaslighting. He says that Watson lives in her own world.

  5. 5
    smrnda

    Another area is how often women or other groups of people get accused of overreacting – you see this a lot in discussions of street harassment. The discussion ends up being about how women react instead of why certain behaviors are somehow considered acceptable in the first place.

    1. 5.1
      Lord Narf

      That’s one of the things that gets me. If it was an overreaction (which it’s not), it would be perfectly understandable as an attempt to shock someone out of doing that crap … not that I recommend that a woman confront one of these idiots who engages in street harassment. There are some real psychos out there who could become physically violent.

      But it’s just … there are three or four layers which justify an “overreaction”, and any of those layers remaining intact dismisses any extreme reaction. If the initial behavior is sufficient egregious, then any reaction is justified, short of escalating it to a physical assault.

  6. 6
    Paul Coddington

    I don’t think this is good use of the term Gaslighting, which to me describes far more serious manipulative campaigns that devastate lives; actions on the scale of disappearing pets and pretending they never existed, or gathering false witnesses to claim someone was seen doing something they were not in order to convince someone they have a mental illness that prevents them from perceiving their own actions and motives.

    This is more like the everyday social manipulations encountered by all people (both genders). This sort of behaviour is a common tactic to dismiss people of intellectual bent (or other perceived social “disadvantage”), and will be encountered by any bright kid on their way up through life.

    1. 6.1
      lilandra

      Paul when you say gaslighting is a technique used on both sexes. Yes it can, but you’re missing a key part of the article. It is about how gaslighting is experienced by women specifically. For example, is anyone ever going to dismiss a man’s feelings by saying they are on their period? Gaslighting is a common way for a manipulative person to get away with rude or even abusive behavior with women. Search what hysteria means. There is an entire social history of women not being taken seriously as men because they were perceived as irrational. Just because there are more serious cases of gaslighting doesn’t mean that insulting a woman and telling her she is acting crazy when she reacts isn’t gaslighting. This is where we are talking past one another women are trying to explain their lived experiences to men, who can only understand intellectually with some sort of effort on their part.

    2. 6.2
      cubist

      Does anybody else hear, in Paul Coddington’s comment re: what is or isn’t real gaslighting, echoes of every Slymepit fellow-traveller who ever bloviated that since you didn’t report it to the police, it must not have been real harrassment ?

      1. J

        Cubist, no, and you’re an idiot if you got that from his comment.

        Gaslighting is making someone believe they are crazy and delusional, unable to trust their own eyes and memories. Gaslighting is not other, more prosaic forms of emotional abuse. It’s a well-known term that has a distinct meaning, you can’t just invent your own and use it as you will without causing misunderstandings. Destabilization, discrediting, and humiliation would fit better.

        By attempting to label every kind of emotional abuse “Gaslighting”, you actually trvialize the suffering of people who genuinely go through one of the more sadistic and horrifying forms of emotional abuse. Are you the “Slymepit” in that case, looking for extra sympathy?

  7. 7
    Maureen Brian

    Paul Coddington,

    Are you trying to convince us that only when pets start to disappear does abusive and manipulative behaviour become capable of ruining lives? If so, you’re going to need more than a single assertion – something like facts or the accounts of victims who eventually escaped.

    As for false witnesses, what do you imagine happens now to women who speak in the public square? Especially ones who speak on secularism, atheism, that kind of thing?

    If it wasn’t false witnesses then what on earth persuaded Ron Lindsay – by all accounts not a stupid man – that the purpose of WiS2 was to silence men?

    1. 7.1
      debbaasseerr

      Once again Rebecca Watson committed the unforgivable crime of pointing out something that was wrong. And being right about it. About something a man said. AGAIN. The nerve!

      Apparently, that makes her both in her own world, and worse than North Korean propaganda.
      The person who referred to her as a hyphenated entity of course, is planted firmly in reality.

      1. Lord Narf

        Kim Jong-un wants to prevent people from hooking up at conferences, too.

  8. 8
    spike13

    Gaslighting…I like it.
    One would think that when skeptics discuss or debate an issue,the purpose of the conversation is an exchange of ideas,not “winning”.
    There are many techniques one may use to unnerve or take an opponent off their game,gaslighting being just one of them. I can see using them when engaging a theist,as more than likely they will be using them against you as well.
    Perhaps, that is one of the problems with our community, when we argue, we’ve trained ourselves to go for the throat.

  9. 9
    Indygirl

    I went through gaslighting.. and mine was so much harsher.. maybe there is another name for what I was put through. I was constantly compared to other woman and when I got what he called upset, i.e. quiet and depressed, I was over reacting or trying to punish him for being “honest”. I would have actual proof in my hands .. PHYSICAL PROOF i.e. emails, redbox receipts of movies dropped off after 1:00am by his ex’s house.. that he was cheating on me.. and I was crazy and physco for going through his things or irrational for even thinking he was cheating.. I was called Psycho because he couldn’t understand when he screamed at me to GET OUT OF HIS HOUSE over a difference in opinions about movies we had watched that when I did and drove through blizzards or bad rain storms to get home, why I cried .. Or when I stopped giving him my opinions that he asked me for because to him they were “stupid or made no sense” I was considered being a “bitch”.. Or if I did not pick up on the first ring on a call I was cheating on him, but if he did not answer the phone for days he was busy.. that is my definition of it.. of course this is just a VERY small tasted of it.. just wanted to give an example..

    1. 9.1
      Lord Narf

      Sounds like gaslighting might have been a part of it, but there’s a lot of other assorted control-behavior mixed in there, too.

  10. 10
    ian martin

    More excuses for females to evade responsibility for their own actions.

    1. 10.1
      lilandra

      If the behavior is gaslighted by a manipulative individual, then that means legitimate behavior is being misrepresented as crazy. It isn’t an article about women getting away with responsibility for their actions. It is an article about manipulative people using gaslighting to pawn responsibility for rude or even abusive behavior onto someone else.

  11. 11
    Karla

    its attempted murder almost everyday. My husband is getting away with torture and a slow death and everyone turns their heads. Enough with what it is. What do the victims like myself do? As in quick. I’m 25 years in and no where to turn!

    1. 11.1
      lilandra

      In a past relationship, I was subjected to gaslighting, emotional abuse, and financial control. It was a long road out for me, because I don’t have much family to help. I remember social services like battered women’s shelters, that were in some ways worse than the relationship because of the financial instability it would cause. It is next to being homeless, and not a very good way to provide a stable home if you have children. Still the shelters are the best a lot of women can do in most domestic violence situations when they don’t have a good family to fall back on. I don’t know what the resources in your area are like, but if it is better than the situation you are in now you may have to consider that. There are some resources, but I grant you from experience that it is hugely dependent on where you live, how overloaded they are, whether the staff is caring or competent. It wasn’t easy for me, but I finished a college degree, and I still had consequences from that relationship years afterwards. But I was still better off on my own than in an abusive relationship.

  12. 12
    Carla

    http://blowmeuptom.com/new-leykis-101-tenet-gaslighting-the-women-in-your-life/

    Look at this jerk promoting it!!

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