Trust Yourself or Lose Yourself
The term Gaslighting came from a 1944 movie with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. They are married, and he wants her jewels. He sets their gaslights to flicker, she notices the wobble of the lights. In order to convince her that she is going crazy, he keeps telling her they are fine.
The term Gaslight grew legs after the film. It’s now regularly used to describe a situation where someone, for whatever reason, wants another person to doubt their own perceptions of reality and sanity. This is an incredibly powerful type of abuse, because once a person doesn’t trust themselves, they are in peril. Playing off of one’s trust is a deep, dark way to manipulate someone.
Gaslighting can occur in any relationship. With a boss, a family member, a stranger. I’ve developed a whole system of Self Defense around this concept that I call Intuitive Self Defense. ISD focuses on the exchange between victim and attacker that happens before the physical attack even occurs. During those very important minutes, hours or days, an attacker is doing their very best to make their victim believe that what they correctly perceive as Danger, Will Robinson, is actually not.
Following is a story that was inspired by the brilliant Gavin De Becker’s book, The Gift of Fear. It’s a true story. I have been telling it for so many years to various ISD groups that I’ve led, that I am sure I’ve lost some of the details, but the nut of it is the same; if you don’t trust the voice in your belly telling you you’re about to head up a crappy creek without a paddle, you’ll likely be in trouble, maybe even hurt or dead. More often than not, when something happens to us, we say afterwards, “I knew something was wrong.”
Here’s the story:
A woman comes home to her apartment in LA. It’s summertime, and hot. She is carrying several heavy bags of groceries. She is irritated to find that once again, one of her neighbors has carelessly left the front door to the apartment building unlocked.
She goes inside, and up two of the four flights up the stairwell. One of the grocery bags rip, sending oranges bounce, bounce, bouncing down the stairs.
She swears, puts down the other bags to get the runaway groceries. She hears a voice downstairs, “I’ve got it!”
A man’s voice. The hair on the back of her neck stands up, and she stands very still. She doesn’t recognize the voice. She hears him gathering the oranges and moving up the stairs.
“No, thanks,” she calls. And she doesn’t move. Although she feels there is something very wrong, she stays where she is.
“Already done,” he says as he comes around. He is a flight below, and she can see him. A really nice looking guy. He grins at her and waves an orange to prove his point.
Clearly, he is just trying to help, she feels compelled to wait. She doesn’t want him to think there is something wrong with her. Besides, he seems sweet and she is currently single.
Even so, she starts up the stairs.
“What’s wrong? I’m just trying to help.” He’s behind her now.
His tone is still nice, but indicates she is being a prude, uptight, maybe even, god forbid… bitchy.
Relax, she tells herself. “Ok, thanks.’ Her shoulders drop. He is cute.
She lets him follow her up the last bit of stairs. Thinking she’ll collect her groceries outside of her door, she turns to thank him.
He smiles, and gestures towards the door. “Let’s get this stuff inside.”
Of course, once she does, he shoves her inside the apartment, and rapes and beats her.
They are in her bed, the window is open. He tells her he is getting ready to go, and he’s not going to hurt her, he just wants to get a glass of water.
He gets out of the bed, and closes her bedroom window, which has been open. It is him closing the window which makes her understand very suddenly and clearly that he means to kills her. She silently leaps up behind him, and follows right behind him into the kitchen. Unaware, he pulls a knife from the counter. She continues through the kitchen through her front door and runs for help.
In the beginning of the story, she doubts the instinct that makes causes her hair to prickle and make her gut warn her to get to safety, because she doesn’t want the handsome guy to think she’s weird. He knows that, he expects that, and plays off it so she will give him access. He WANTS her to doubt her perception that she’s in danger. He’s counting on it. If she doesn’t doubt herself, he has no victim.
What is it that switches her deepest darkest survival button that gets her out of her apartment? He closes the window. It’s summer. He’s raped her with the window open, and now that he’s announced he’s leaving, he’s going to close it? No, he just doesn’t want people to hear him kill her.
Making someone doubt their reality isn’t always a life or death situation.
Gaslighting can be used in any relationship. It doesn’t need to be about grabbing someone’s jewels or their body. It could easily be about control, jealousy, resentment.
This conversation is gaslighting between a girl and her boyfriend:
Ann: Why haven’t you told your friends that we’re seeing each other?
Paul: I’m sure they don’t care.
Ann: Well, it makes me feel kind of bad. You act like you’re with me when we’re alone, but around them you act like we are just friends.
Paul: Ew. Insecurity is so unattractive. Shall we make it official on Facebook? Hire a blimp to write it in the sky? What is it that you want?
Ann’s request is legit. If you are in a relationship that only seems to be “on” when you are alone, that’s a problem. Paul belittles her, suggesting that she is a needy, unattractive person. Unworthy. She moves her doubt from him to herself, which was his intention. Why would she do that? Because she wants to be liked by her boyfriend. We all want to be liked, don’t we?
If she isn’t able to move out of this type of relationship with the guy, it will get worse. Her self doubt will grow. Eventually, “needy” will be how she perceives herself in other relationships, at work, with her family.
Sociopaths and narcissists rely on gaslighting in their endeavors. Often charming, they break laws and hearts, and then deny wrong doing. They abuse, mentally and or physically, and then turn it around so the confused victim believes it was their fault. If only the victim was more likable, less irritating, prettier, then their abuser wouldn’t be so disappointed in them.
When my kids were young, one piece of advice I gave them over and over, was if something happened or someone did something that “felt wrong”, then it was most likely wrong. If there was one thing they could trust almost 100 percent in this world it was the feeling in their bellies. Thankfully, my kids took it to heart and used it throughout their lives. As a mother, I can’t think of many things that will hold then in better stead than understanding how important it is to trust themselves and the feelings in their bellies.
The value of Trusting Yourself and your Inner Voice can’t be overstated. It’s gold in your pockets, and it’s always with you. Paying attention to your voice is a high form of self love. So go for it, my brothers and sisters. Trust yourself.
Photo Credit: Purple Java Troll