What is the Purpose of Gaslighting?

By Tim McGuinness, Ph.D. – Anthropologist, Scientist, Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.

Gaslighting is all about Manipulation & Control

Online social engineering relationship & other scams rely heavily on the technique of “Gaslighting” to hold and manipulate its victims.

However, gaslighting is one of the most pervasive psychological techniques in use the world over!

Understanding its purpose and the effects that it has on its victims can help us recognize its practitioners and help victims recognize when they are being gaslit!

According to Healthline.com:

What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that’s seen in abusive relationships. It’s the act of manipulating a person by forcing them to question their thoughts, memories, and the events occurring around them. A victim of gaslighting can be pushed so far that they question their own sanity.

The term “gaslighting” comes from a play and subsequent movie called “Gaslight.” In the movie, the devious husband, played by Charles Boyer, manipulates and torments his wife, played by Ingrid Bergman, to convince her she’s going mad.

Gaslighting, whether intentional or not, is a form of manipulation. Gaslighting can happen in many types of relationships, including those with bosses, friends, and parents. But one of the most devastating forms of gaslighting is when it occurs in a relationship between a couple.

Signs of gaslighting

According to Robin Stern, Ph.D., author of the book “The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life,” signs that you are a victim of gaslighting include:

  • No longer feeling like the person you used to be
  • Being more anxious and less confident than you used to be
  • Often wondering if you’re being too sensitive
  • Feeling like everything you do is wrong
  • Always thinking it’s your fault when things go wrong
  • Apologizing often
  • Having a sense that something’s wrong, but being unable to identify what it is
  • Often questioning whether your response to your partner is appropriate (e.g., wondering if you were too unreasonable or not loving enough)
  • Making excuses for your partner’s behavior
  • Avoiding giving information to friends or family members to avoid confrontation about your partner
  • Feeling isolated from friends and family
  • Finding it increasingly hard to make decisions
  • Feeling hopeless and taking little or no pleasure in activities you used to enjoy

Now let’s look at the world we live in daily!

In the instance of socially engineered cybercrime gaslighting is mostly as described above. However, gaslighting is far more common than just with cybercrimes, it impacts us almost every minute of every day that we are awake!

Gaslighting in the Workplace

In the workplace, a gaslighter can be a negative manager, a scheming coworker, a prejudiced workgroup, a disgruntled customer/client, or a smearing business competitor.

Workplace gaslighting can also be the result of systemic, institutional bias, or negative media and social media coverage. A gaslighter may target and victimize groups as well as individuals.

According to Psychology Today, the following four attributes often distinguish workplace gaslighting from other types of challenges on the job:

  1. The difficult work situation is based on persistent individual, group, or institutional bias and negativity, rather than solid proof, strong facts, established cases, and/or proven data.
  2. The difficult work environment creates a negative/unfavorable narrative about the gaslit individual (contrary to evidence) and damages the gaslightee’s personal or professional reputation.
  3. The mistreatment persists over a period of time, despite a clear track record of the gaslightee’s positive collaboration, contributions, and accomplishments.
  4. When approached on the matter, the gaslighter typically denies mistreatment and can become defensive, contentious, dismissive, and/or evasive. Instead of using verification and facts to problem-solve, the gaslighter may escalate and become more aggressive, or stonewall and become more passive-aggressive.

Marketing & Politics

You can see how criminals and evildoers can use gaslighting to change perceptions and behaviors and actions but think about what it really does to individuals and by extension to a population or group.

Gaslighting stifles discussion and descent because it attacks conviction and surety of a person’s knowledge and beliefs.

Ironically, science can be used to gaslight as well. The tobacco industry used gaslighting techniques (and still does) to promote smoking! Countless fringe medical businesses do exactly the same. They make the consumer uncertain of their own knowledge in an effort to get them to either consider buying or using a product, or at the very least not to try to convince others of how it might be bad, immoral, or unhealthy.

Yet, once a person is gaslit, the fake belief can be spread by them like a virus. Look at vaccines as an example. We all know that there are risks in any medication – humans are not all the same and it is totally true that people react differently. But that does not negate the value of vaccines. Anti-Vaxers gaslight each other to reinforce their anti-science beliefs.

The amount of gaslighting in product marketing is nothing short of stunning. Marketing claims, negative comparisons, unsubstantiated benefits – these are all potential gaslighting. How can you know that a claim is not gaslighting? There will be confirmable verifiable facts – it really is that simple.

We have just been through a unique experience in our political lives, where two parties and candidates went to war to try to win the hearts and minds of the American populace. And gaslighting was right there at the heart of at least one party’s principal toolsets in helping force an outcome in their favor.

In exploring this we can see not only how it was used to manipulate an election, but how it is used everywhere else. Unfortunately, this article cannot go into the depth that would be needed for a full exploration, so many of the issues and concepts have to be limited, but hopefully, this will be enough to open your eyes and get you looking at what is being done to you.

What Does Gaslighting Really Do?

As has been said, gaslighting’s real underlying purpose is to get a person to doubt their convictions, certainty, and beliefs. It aims to turn an active certain person into an uncertain passive person. By doing this, it wants to convince you that you are wrong, that you should fear, and that everyone that thinks like you is the problem.

In politics, there are two approaches that were taken this time out. 1) Hate Trump and We know best. or 2) We are all in this together to make America Great Again. These seem to have been the core themes of each side. Of course, there is much more hype that is thrown out to support each position, but these two seem to be the essence.

Of course, for purposes of this discussion, these are simplified down to the two central themes to help you recognize the difference (even if you disagree with one of them), and see how gaslighting was employed.

Gaslighting never deploys controlling messaging, it always approaches the individual to instill uncertainty and fear. Gaslighting never develops loyalty and community (except through fear), it drives wedges and separation, and victimhood. Gaslighting has to tear down an individual in order to manipulate and control them.

This statement is true of all gaslighting, whether it is in a scam, a marketing campaign, a sales pitch, a narcissistic boss, a criminal’s defense, or a dangerous politician.

Gaslighting never aspires to a person’s existing higher ideals. It aspires to tear down the individual to force-feed them with the gaslighter’s ideals and objectives.

Not everything negative is gaslighting. There are real dangers in the world. For example, when the oil industry and the automakers were pushing leaded gasoline on the world they were gaslighting. But when the lone scientist on the side of reason decried the dangers of leaded gas, that was not. So in that case the negativity was not gaslighting, the apparent positivity was because it served to undermine the acceptance of lead as a danger to us all.

This brings to mind global warming. The problem here is that there is a political motive behind the movement for climate accords, and by definition, it means there is another agenda. Right now it is almost impossible to know which side is gaslighting, so the best option is to wait for the proof, not what some say is proof, but what is real recognizable proof. There appears no dispute that the climate is changing, just what the cause is. So let’s ignore this topic for now.

Of the world’s major ideologies, gaslighting is an essential part of most of the dictatorial ones. From fundamentalism to communism, they all depend on a small cadre of elites that tell the populace what they should believe, and who their enemies are, and the population is sufficiently uncertain that they go along with it. In the end, the populations choose ignorance rather than doing the work to know the truth. Ignorance and gaslighting go hand in hand.

Summary

Regardless of what political party you belong to, do not let the elites tell you what to believe. Do your own fact-based research, and remember that sources of facts can also have their own bias. Wikipedia is not an unbiased source, any more than either political party is. Twitter and Facebook and Google are all profoundly biased. This makes it much harder to find what is fact in that you have to dive into the bias and motivation of each source too.

This article is not trying to tell you what is right or wrong, but only to introduce you to gaslighting so you can recognize it in action. In the end, each person accepts what they accept. The astounding fact of humanity is that about half will mostly get it wrong.

At least if you understand the techniques of manipulation you have a chance to get it right more often than not!

Remember

Gaslighting …

  • Never promotes positivity (unless it is to defeat a truth)
  • Never promotes loyalty (unless it is to make you doubt your current loyalties to suck you into a new group)
  • Never promotes self-determination (you are wrong, we are right)
  • Never promotes your own certainty (you are not capable of learning for yourself, you have to accept our facts)
  • Always promotes doubt (you are wrong, always)
  • Always promotes fear (if you don’t listen to us, bad things will happen)

Don’t be gaslit! Don’t follow the herd. Think for yourself!

PLEASE NOTE: Psychology Clarification

The following specific modalities within the practice of psychology are restricted to psychologists appropriately trained in the use of such modalities:

  • Diagnosis: The diagnosis of mental, emotional, or brain disorders and related behaviors.
  • Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis is a type of therapy that focuses on helping individuals to understand and resolve unconscious conflicts.
  • Hypnosis: Hypnosis is a state of trance in which individuals are more susceptible to suggestion. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, and pain.
  • Biofeedback: Biofeedback is a type of therapy that teaches individuals to control their bodily functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including stress, anxiety, and pain.
  • Behavioral analysis: Behavioral analysis is a type of therapy that focuses on changing individuals’ behaviors. It is often used to treat conditions such as autism and ADHD.
    Neuropsychology: Neuropsychology is a type of psychology that focuses on the relationship between the brain and behavior. It is often used to assess and treat cognitive impairments caused by brain injuries or diseases.

SCARS and the members of the SCARS Team do not engage in any of the above modalities in relationship to scam victims. SCARS is not a mental healthcare provider and recognizes the importance of professionalism and separation between its work and that of the licensed practice of psychology.

SCARS is an educational provider of generalized self-help information that individuals can use for their own benefit to achieve their own goals related to emotional trauma. SCARS recommends that all scam victims see professional counselors or therapists to help them determine the suitability of any specific information or practices that may help them.

SCARS cannot diagnose or treat any individuals, nor can it state the effectiveness of any educational information that it may provide, regardless of its experience in interacting with traumatized scam victims over time. All information that SCARS provides is purely for general educational purposes to help scam victims become aware of and better understand the topics and to be able to dialog with their counselors or therapists.

It is important that all readers understand these distinctions and that they apply the information that SCARS may publish at their own risk, and should do so only after consulting a licensed psychologist or mental healthcare provider.

Opinions

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of the Society of Citizens Against Rleationship Scams Inc. The author is solely responsible for the content of their work. SCARS is protected under the Communications Decency Act (CDA) section 230 from liability.

Disclaimer:

SCARS IS A DIGITAL PUBLISHER AND DOES NOT OFFER HEALTH OR MEDICAL ADVICE, LEGAL ADVICE, FINANCIAL ADVICE, OR SERVICES THAT SCARS IS NOT LICENSED OR REGISTERED TO PERFORM.

IF YOU’RE FACING A MEDICAL EMERGENCY, CALL YOUR LOCAL EMERGENCY SERVICES IMMEDIATELY, OR VISIT THE NEAREST EMERGENCY ROOM OR URGENT CARE CENTER. YOU SHOULD CONSULT YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER BEFORE FOLLOWING ANY MEDICALLY RELATED INFORMATION PRESENTED ON OUR PAGES.

ALWAYS CONSULT A LICENSED ATTORNEY FOR ANY ADVICE REGARDING LEGAL MATTERS.

A LICENSED FINANCIAL OR TAX PROFESSIONAL SHOULD BE CONSULTED BEFORE ACTING ON ANY INFORMATION RELATING TO YOUR PERSONAL FINANCES OR TAX RELATED ISSUES AND INFORMATION.

SCARS IS NOT A PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR – WE DO NOT PROVIDE INVESTIGATIVE SERVICES FOR INDIVIDUALS OR BUSINESSES. ANY INVESTIGATIONS THAT SCARS MAY PERFORM IS NOT A SERVICE PROVIDED TO THIRD-PARTIES. INFORMATION REPORTED TO SCARS MAY BE FORWARDED TO LAW ENFORCEMENT AS SCARS SEE FIT AND APPROPRIATE.

This content and other material contained on the website, apps, newsletter, and products (“Content”), is general in nature and for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical, legal, or financial advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for licensed or regulated professional advice. Always consult your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider, lawyer, financial, or tax professional with any questions you may have regarding the educational information contained herein. SCARS makes no guarantees about the efficacy of information described on or in SCARS’ Content. The information contained is subject to change and is not intended to cover all possible situations or effects. SCARS does not recommend or endorse any specific professional or care provider, product, service, or other information that may be mentioned in SCARS’ websites, apps, and Content unless explicitly identified as such.

The disclaimers herein are provided on this page for ease of reference. These disclaimers supplement and are a part of SCARS’ website’s Terms of Use

Legal Notices: 

All original content is Copyright © 1991 – 2023 Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc. (Registered D.B.A SCARS) All Rights Reserved Worldwide & Webwide. Third-party copyrights acknowledge.

U.S. State of Florida Registration Nonprofit (Not for Profit) #N20000011978 [SCARS DBA Registered #G20000137918] – Learn more at www.AgainstScams.org

SCARS, SCARS|INTERNATIONAL, SCARS, SCARS|SUPPORT, SCARS, RSN, Romance Scams Now, SCARS|INTERNATION, SCARS|WORLDWIDE, SCARS|GLOBAL, SCARS, Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams, Society of Citizens Against Romance Scams, SCARS|ANYSCAM, Project Anyscam, Anyscam, SCARS|GOFCH, GOFCH, SCARS|CHINA, SCARS|CDN, SCARS|UK, SCARS|LATINOAMERICA, SCARS|MEMBER, SCARS|VOLUNTEER, SCARS Cybercriminal Data Network, Cobalt Alert, Scam Victims Support Group, SCARS ANGELS, SCARS RANGERS, SCARS MARSHALLS, SCARS PARTNERS, are all trademarks of Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc., All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Contact the legal department for the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Incorporated by email at legal@AgainstScams.org