IIC 122: Narcissism and Gaslighting--What Catholics Should Know
In this episode, we review several definitions of gaslighting, discuss the tactics of gaslighting, explore the inner experience of both gaslighters and gaslightees, describe gaslighting in the workplace and with children, and list the four relationship dynamics of gaslighting. Then we describe how gaslighting and being gaslighted connects to deep, unmet attachment and integrity needs. We also address the special aspects of spiritual gaslighting with examples. Finally, we cover how to assess whether you are being gaslighted, describe recovery from gaslighting and address gaslighting from an Internal Family Systems perspective.
Gaslighting. We hear the word a lot. It was Merriam-Webster’s 2022 word of the year, based on how often web users searched for online definitions. Gaslighting was number one.
What is gaslighting and what do we as Catholics need to know about gaslighting? Gaslighting has a close connection with narcissism in that you often see overt and covert narcissism in gaslighting. But what does gaslighting sound like? What does gaslighting feel like? I’m going to show you. Just a warning here, though. I’m going to offer you some dramatic reenactments of gaslighting statements in just a minute. And some of those may be activating for some people. So just be forewarned. Here are just a few of the many ways that gaslighting sounds like and feels like.[00:01:05] “Oh, sweetie, you’re adorable. I can’t imagine you really think that. You’re kidding, right?””Are you sure that’s what happened? I have an entirely different perspective on that whole situation, and so does everyone else who saw it come down.””I know you’re sincere about what you’re feeling. Okay, I get it. We all have feelings, but let’s look at this situation from another point of view.””Of course you have your point of view. Everyone has an opinion, but that doesn’t make it true.””I never said that. You misheard me. It’s late. You’re tired. I’m sure you’ll see things differently in the morning. You just need a little sleep and things will make more sense in the morning.””Listen, it sounds to me like you’re getting triggered again. You know how you get when you are upset.””Okay, I’m going to set some limits and boundaries here and not let you judge me like that. It’s not right.””Why are you lying to me again? You don’t even believe what you’re saying to me is true. I can see it in your body language.””I know you. And I know when you’re lying to me. You need to stop that.””I’m not your baggage girl. I’m not carrying your emotional baggage for you. Your issues are not my fault. You can take it up with your parents and your crazy family because that’s where this started.””Now you’re acting like a child and expressing your emotions like a child. And you want me to believe that you’re the one who clearly understands the situation.””Look, the kids know the truth about you and your games. You’re not fooling them.”If you were a better husband and father, if you were more of a man, I wouldn’t have to explain this to you.””If you weren’t so stupid, we could work this out. But no, you have to be an idiot.””I’m worried about you. I know things haven’t been right with you for a while. Let me help you. Let me help you with this.””Why are you so sensitive? I just don’t get it. This is all normal. No one makes a big deal out of this kind of thing.””Oh, you’re going to bring that up again? We worked through that already, don’t you remember? Why are you rehashing it now?””Now you’re just making a series of random connections. You’re just free associating and blaming me for your paranoid conclusions. Give me a break. Why do I put up with you?””What do you suppose God thinks of you right now acting the way that you are? Is this holy behavior I’m seeing in you? Is this virtue or is this selfishness? You just wanting what you want again?””Of course your friends are going to see things your way.””Let me ask you, who is upset here and who is calm? Just ask yourself that question. Who is likely to be seeing things more clearly right now?””I don’t really care what your counselor says. Your counselor is not here. Your counselor does not see you when you are like this. Your counselor has never met me, and she just gets your side of the story.””Okay. This is another curve out of left field from you. I don’t know where you get these ideas, but let me set you straight on this.””You think I was flirting? Come on. Look at yourself. Look at your dress. Look at your makeup. Look at your jewelry. Look at your hair and tell me you aren’t trying to look good, to look attractive. Really look in this mirror and then tell me who the real flirt is in this marriage. It’s you and you know it, and now you’re accusing me of flirting. And that is just so rich. That is just so ridiculous!””I know what God wants for us in our marriage, and I know what God wants for you, too. And I hate to say this, but if you had greater faith, if you prayed more like I do, you would see it too. But you are caught up in your own worldliness and it’s making you less of a wife and less of a Christian than you should be. And I need you to take this to prayer and figure it out. And when you get it right, come back to me.”[00:05:46] Today we are taking a close look at the trickiness and the ugliness of gaslighting. And I’m glad that we can be together for our exploration of this difficult topic. I am Dr. Peter Malinoski, clinical psychologist, trauma therapist, podcaster, blogger, co-founder and president of Souls and Hearts. And I am your hosting guide in this Interior Integration for Catholics podcast.It is both an honor and a pleasure to spend time with you. And what I really want for you is for you to be able to experience, to taste, and to see the height and depth and breadth and warmth and light of the love of God, especially God the Father, and also Mary, our mother, our spiritual parents, our primary parents. I’m here to help you embrace your identity as a beloved little son or daughter of God and Mary. That is what this podcast is all about. That is what Souls and Hearts is all about. And we do that here on this podcast and in Souls and Hearts by shoring up the natural human foundation for the spiritual life.[00:07:11] We know from Saint Thomas Aquinas that grace perfects nature. We are all about offering you the best resources on human formation, grounded in a Catholic understanding of the human person. To bring that about, to live out our mission here at Souls and Hearts, I bring you new ways of understanding yourself, new ways of understanding others, fresh conceptualizations informed by the best of human formation resources and psychology, and firmly grounded in the perennial teachings of the Catholic Church.And I am so glad that you are with me on this mission to more deeply understand narcissism. Today I offer you episode 122 titled “Narcissism and Gaslighting–What Catholics Should Know.” It’s released on October 2nd, 2023, and it’s the fifth of six in our subseries on narcissism.This is a topic that is very near and dear to me because I experienced spiritual gaslighting in a major way when I was younger, and so this whole topic of gaslighting actually led me to become a psychologist, led me to be here right now. It’s that important to me.[00:08:28] We’re going to start with understanding the conventional approaches in the secular world to defining and characterizing gaslighting. What is gaslighting? Well, first of all, definitions can be somewhat slippery. For example, there’s a book by Don Barlow called Gaslighting & Narcissistic Abuse: Recovery Recover from Emotional Abuse, Recognize Narcissists & Manipulators and Break Free Once and for All. It has a whole chapter on what is gaslighting, and it offers some descriptions of gaslighting, but no definitions. Still, we’ve got to have our terms defined, right?Elizabeth Bates in her 2020 article called “‘Walking on Eggshells’: A Qualitative Examination of Men’s Experiences of Intimate Partner Violence” came out in the Psychology of Men and Masculinities in 2020, said this about gaslighting in the questionnaire that she gave those men. She defined gaslighting as a form of manipulation, where a person seeks to sow seeds of doubt, hoping to make their partner question their own memory, perception, and sanity. It includes using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying in attempts to destabilize their partner and their beliefs.Kate Abramson, in her article “Turning Up the Lights On Gaslighting” in Philosophical Perspectives back in 2014 said, “The gaslighter tries (consciously or not) to induce in someone the sense that her reactions, perceptions, memories, and beliefs are not just mistaken, but utterly without grounds–paradigmatically, so unfounded as to qualify as crazy.” Gaslighting is crazy making. That’s really what I want you to understand about the intensity of what’s going on here.[00:10:26] Now we have an example of gaslighting in Genesis 3. I’m 100% certain that this is the first instance of gaslighting in the history of the world. Jimmy Evans, in his article “The Devil is Trying to Gaslight You” characterizes the devil as a notorious gaslighter. So let’s review Genesis 3.
“Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say you shall not eat of any tree of the garden?'”
All right, let’s stop right there. Get the first contact here. This is the opening dialog between Eve and the Serpent, and the serpent is twisting God’s word. He knows exactly what God had said, but he’s making God sound like God is depriving Adam and Eve of a good thing. Malice. He’s driven by malice, and he knows what he’s doing.
“And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.””
All right. And it’s understandable. There’s some naivete here; Eve hasn’t had any contact with Satan before. And so Eve is explaining to the gaslighter what God actually said.
“But the serpent says to the woman, ‘You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'”
[00:12:31] So what’s happening here is the serpent is bending and violating reality. Let’s go back to Elizabeth Bates’ definition of gaslighting: to sow seeds of doubt, to hope to make the person question their own memory, perception and sanity. See the seeds of doubt undermining that childlike innocence and the trust in God? That’s what is going on here. This is gaslighting. And so Adam and Eve were listening to the serpent.
“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.”
And so this doubt that was sown by the gaslighting serpent was crystallized into defiance of God. Adam and Eve’s hearts were hardened against God. They wanted something. They distrusted God. They were reaching for the omniscience around what was good and evil. They were striving to become like gods. They were casting aside the one command that God had given them in this grasping, in this pursuing, in this coveting of the knowledge of good and evil. They wanted to become like God. That was the desire.
“And then the eyes of both of them were opened and they knew that they were naked and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.”
So now they get the consequences.[00:14:19] C.S. Lewis provides a clear and wonderful example of gaslighting in his Chronicles of Narnia series. In Book 6, The Silver Chair, in Chapter 12, the Queen of the Underworld is working to convince Prince Rilian and the children and the marshwiggle, Puddleglum, that Narnia and the overworld and the sun only existed in their imaginations, and that the underworld where she lived, where she was Queen, was the real world, the only world. It’s worth reviewing that if you really want to get a sense of what some very overt gaslighting looks like.Now let’s talk a little bit about the tactics that gaslighters use. Psychologist Stephanie Sarkis, on January 22nd, 2017, published an article in Psychology Today titled “11 Red Flags of Gaslighting in a Relationship.” And that article went viral. It went absolutely crazy. There was so much demand. This was the seminal article. This was the piece that really opened the floodgates of greater understanding about gaslighting. And in the following year, October of 2018, she went on to write a seminal book called Gaslighting, Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People–and Break Free.[00:15:51] This is what she has to say about the 11 red flags of gaslighting:
- Blatant lies. Outright lies. Gaslighters lie. They’re setting a precedent.
- They deny. They will refuse to admit that they ever said something. And beyond that, they will refute even solid proofs.
- They will use whatever is close to you, whatever is precious to you as ammunition. So whatever is important to you, they will use that against you.
- They wear you down. They wear you down over time. It’s a gradual thing. It’s kind of like that frog in the pot of water, which is gradually coming to a boil. There’s this incessant kind of chipping away at you.
- There’s a disconnect between their actions and their words. “Look at what they do,” Stephanie Sarkis says, “rather than what they say.” They will use words in a way that’s just disposable, that drains them of meaning.
- They use positive reinforcement. They will stroke you with compliments and with other ways of showing affection or giving gifts to confuse you. In the one hand they they lift you up with, the other hand they cut you down. And this generates confusion, uneasiness, and also leading to the person who’s being gaslighted, cutting them breaks.
- They know that confusion weakens the person. They try to undermine stability and and a sense of things being normal and uproot all of that to get the person to question everything.
- Projection. If they are doing something that’s really wrong, they will project it onto the other person. They will claim that the other person, the gaslightee is the one that’s doing that action.
- They will try to align people so that they are against you. They’ll try to pit your friends and family against you. They will try to isolate you from the people that actually support you and they will try to connect you with people that agree with them.
- They claim that you are crazy or they claim that other people who share your points of view are crazy. This is very dismissive. It violates a sense of dignity. It is the opposite of empathy, and it undermines your credibility in the eyes of other people.
- They will tell you that other people are not telling you the truth. They want to undermine the credibility of others, whether those are your friends or your family or even the media–news sources and things like that. This is to help foster the belief that they are the only one that really understands reality, that really has a grip on the truth.
[00:19:32] So what does this sound like? Well, we had some gaslighting statements in the introduction, but Kate Abrahamson, who wrote that article, “Turning Up the Lights On Gaslighting” has these as well.”You’re crazy.””Don’t be so sensitive.””Don’t be paranoid.””I was just joking!””That is all in you.””It doesn’t mean anything.””You’re imagining things.””You’re overreacting.””Don’t get so worked up. “”That never happened.””There’s no pattern.””It wouldn’t be different anywhere else.””You’re just acting out.””I’m worried; I think you’re not well.”[00:20:13] Well, let’s get into the who of gaslighting. Who are the players in gaslighting? And so obviously to be gaslit, there has to be a gaslighter and a gaslightee, right? But one of the questions is how much awareness do gaslighters have? This was a question that was emailed in from Therese and she asked, “Is the gaslighter always aware of what they are doing?” And another RCC member wrote,
“Does one have to be intentional in order to gaslight another person? Could someone have a habit or mechanism of gaslighting without realizing that they are doing it? Could someone subconsciously gaslight another person? In other words, does gaslighting take place in the intention of the gaslighter or in the experience of the person who is gaslighted? I really look forward to your thoughts on this! Thank you so much for addressing this topic.”
This is an absolutely important question here. Now early on, some writers believed that gaslighting really is just a malicious thing and that gaslighters are always aware of what they’re doing. Let me give you an example. There’s a book by Reva Steenbergen called The Gaslighting Effect: A Revealing Look at Psychological Manipulation and Narcissistic Abuse, and she says, “Gaslighting is a consistent pattern of malicious behavior designed to provoke emotional responses which over time destroy the main frame of a person’s mental equilibrium.” She goes on to say later that those who use the gaslighting technique want to “rewrite their victim’s reality so that they adopt the new reality being fed to them as their own.” She is very serious that it is intentional, that it is malicious.[00:22:14] But more recently people are saying it actually might not be conscious. Let’s go back to Stephanie Sarkis. In a January 30th, 2017 Psychology Today article titled “Are Gaslighters Aware of What They Do?”, she asked the question, “Do gaslighters know they’re manipulative or do they do it without realizing it?” And she says some realize it and some don’t. She called those that are aware deliberate gaslighters, and these are the ones that are scheming, that intentionally manipulate. She used as an example the cult leader and master manipulator Charles Manson, who studied Dale Carnegie’s classic book, How to Win Friends and Influence People in order to better learn how to control and exploit his followers. But she also says that some gaslighters are unaware of what they’re doing and that doesn’t get them off the hook. Stephanie Sarkis writes,
“Even if a person is practicing gaslighting behavior without being consciously aware of it, they may get a ‘payoff’ when their victim becomes more dependent on them. And then the cycle continues. The gaslighter also gets a ‘boost’ when there are no checks and balances in place–no one holding them accountable for their behavior.”
[00:23:30] So the gaslighting does not have to be intentional. Klein, Li, and Wood in their 2023 article in the Journal of Personal Relationships, titled “A Qualitative Analysis of Gaslighting in Romantic Relationships.” This is a very important article, and in their review of the literature at the beginning of the article, they write
“In recent discussions, it is unclear how intentional and aware perpetrators are that they are gaslighting their survivors. Contemporary case studies of gaslighting in romantic relationships, including self-help literature written by accredited therapists (e.g. Sarkis, 2018; Stern, 2008), tend not to involve perpetrators manipulating their targets for some clear and singular purpose. These publications focus on perpetrators general motivations to control their survivors, to avoid accountability for poor behavior, or fulfill other egocentric desires.”
So it’s more of a general position. It’s a way of being rather than calculated action. And Tatyana Glogovac in her article “What is Spiritual Gaslighting and How to Recognize It,” she admitted, “Unknowingly, I have been a spiritual gaslighter, gaslightee, and self-gaslighter myself.” I just love the honesty with which she described that.Well, let’s jump to the ‘where.’ Where does gaslighting happen? There’s a chapter in Stephanie Sarkis’ 2018 book that describes some gaslighting behaviors in the workplace. We’ve talked about gaslighting in romantic relationships, but let’s take a look at how this might look in the workplace. It could be stealing credit for another person’s work. It could be undermining or undercutting coworkers. It could be pitting coworkers against each other in rivalries. It could be giving undeserved negative reviews, harassing or intimidating coworkers. It could be creating stories, working to get coworkers fired. It could be threatening with legal action, could be threatening with claims of sexual harassment or other types of things that are not true. So there’s a lot of different things that she describes as could go into gaslighting in the workplace.[00:25:55] Dr. Heather Lonczak in an August 21st, 2020 article titled “What is Gaslighting? 20 Techniques to Stop Emotional Abuse.” This was published in PositivePsychology.com. She drew from articles from McCleod and also some of the work of Sarkis and brought together 17 examples of how parents might use gaslighting to coercively control their children.
- Children getting blamed for the chaos that is within dysfunctional or even abusive households.
- Violence can be used to manipulate the child. Violence against the child, but also violence against other family members–not necessarily child abuse directly, but the child witnessing domestic abuse because other family members are endangered.
- Children who are restricted from engaging in regular social activities or isolated from friends as a way of exercising control. This is a way to take away supportive relationships.
- There could be a lack of realistic expectations for homework or chores that could be used as a way of controlling the child’s time.
- Parents could create resentment and tension among siblings by pitting them once again, one against the other, giving positive labels to one child and negative labels to another child and using unfair comparisons and contrasts to try to manipulate children and destabilize a sense of reality.
- There could be excessive monitoring of children. Parents hovering too close, which takes away the child’s sense of privacy and compromises their sense of agency.
- Parents may prohibit children from giving voice to their feelings or to their opinions. This was actually a prominent in some of the Little House on the Prairie books where children were told never to contradict, and that whole idea that children should be seen and not heard.
- Children may be deprived of social services, such as counseling when they need it.
- It could be that parents bar their children’s friends from coming over to the house, and that way keeping hidden the dysfunctional dynamics that are going on in the home.
- Parents could be overly invested and micromanage the child’s homework, maybe making them start over having, again, excessive standards for completing that homework as part of gaslighting coercive control.
- Children may be deprived of essential resources such as certain foods or in this modern era, certain kinds of technology.
- There could be destructive teasing between parents and children, even though it’s supposed to be fun or light-hearted, that it’s really hurtful.
- Parents may enforce excessive rules.
- Parents may show a lack of regard for actual developmental abilities that children have–may not take into consideration where children are developmentally.
- Parents may control movement within the home–lots of restrictions about where you can go and not go.
- Parents may demand respect from children without respecting the children back.
- Parents may habitually break promises, for example, and that can be really disorienting to children when their parents again are lying to them or are misrepresenting situations to them.
[00:29:44] I often will see in Catholic families, gaslighting at mass. You know, for example, when religion gets used to try to enforce better behavior in mass; if a parent was to say to a child, “God really likes it when little children sit still in the pew and he doesn’t like it when they wiggle around so much. You don’t want to make Jesus angry.” That’s a form of gaslighting a child.All right. Well, let’s talk a little bit more about that process of gaslighting. This article that Willis Klein, Sherry Li and Suzanne Wood published earlier this year (2023) in the Journal of Personal Relationships is called “A Qualitative Analysis of Gaslighting in Romantic Relationships.” I like to get to the actual data. This was a study that involved 65 participants. There were 48 women, 14 men and three that identified as non-binary. It was an online survey that was well-done and they looked at what was going on. There were 15 open ended questions and then those results were tabulated and reviewed in various ways to determine what were the prominent themes that came out of the descriptions of gaslighting that the participants shared.[00:31:03] Number one was this love-bombing. And Klein, Li, and Wood said, “There is a staggering number of participants from this sample who reported that their partners were particularly romantic at the start of the relationship.” And Grant Hilary Brenner, in a May 21st, 2023, article titled “The Anatomy of Gaslighting,” described love bombing in this way. He said,
“Love bombing is characterized by early intimacy, premature sharing, and the formation of a premature strong bond. It often involves the sharing of traumatic experiences, short-circuiting caution and creating instant intimacy. Love-bombing makes it hard to separate later, due to the feelings of indebtedness and confusion about the perpetrator’s goodwill.”
So it’s kind of like this honeymoon period at the beginning. It’s very romantic. There could be showering with gifts, praise and compliments. In non-romantic contexts, it could also just be other ways of being very affirming.Why do they do it? Well, according to Klein, Li, and Wood, love-bombing discounts current and future abusive behavior. It creates this sort of sense of a golden era that the gaslightee wants to get back to. It also creates the sense of indebtedness, this confusing ledger of debts and payments in the relationship, and it generates confusion about the relationship and about the partner. So that’s the first relational dynamic: love-bombing.[00:32:33] Second one is survivor isolation. The respondents talked about how those who are gaslighting badmouthed supportive people, badmouthed family members, criticized therapists, tried to narrow the social circle so that the gaslightee was questioning his or her friendships and undermining relationships. The goal was to induce dependency. Often there were canceled plans with others and so forth–this kind of social isolation. Why? Well, because this helped perpetrators avoid accountability. Because those being gaslighted could not receive outside feedback about the partner’s behavior, they couldn’t get that new perspective. There were fewer paths to fulfill social and relational needs and it contributes to the gaslightee losing his or her grip on reality and kind of becoming a shell of themselves.The third of the relational dynamics observed by Klein, Li, and Wood is perpetrator unpredictability–swinging from being warm, kind and affectionate to being distant, irritable, contentious and blaming in a short time span. It could be moment to moment or it could be over longer periods of time, days or even weeks.[00:33:51] The fourth one is cold-shouldering. This is the refusal to communicate directly. Klein, Li, and Wood said, “This form of punishment is demeaning and communicates to survivors that they are out of sync with what is reasonable.” And again, this is used to control the behavior of those being gaslighted. The specific gaslighting behaviors that these researchers noted were insults and accusations. And they said
“Survivors were most frequently accused of being ‘crazy,’ ‘overly-reactive,’ ‘overly-emotional,’ or ‘overly-sensitive’; accusations of memory problems and infidelity also occurred. Perpetrators demeaned and insulted their targets by calling them ‘dumb,’ ‘stupid,’ ‘selfish,’ and criticizing their physical appearance.”
In addition to those insults and accusations, the researchers found that there was a lot of blaming–blaming of the gaslightee for things that was that were really not their fault or their responsibility.And again, why the gaslighting? To avoid accountability for their actions. For example, to avoid accountability for affairs and to avoid responsibility for duties that are just being part of a romantic relationship. And there was an effort to control partner behaviors. Preston Ni, who describes himself as a professor, coach, and trainer, in 2017 published a book How to Successfully Handle Gaslighters & Stop Psychological Bullying. He described this as the cycle of gaslighting:
- Lie and exaggerate
- Escalate when challenged.
- Wear out the victim.
- Form Codependent Relationships.
- Give false hope
- Dominate and control.
[00:35:40] Let’s get to why they do it. We’ve heard some some hints about it; we’ve heard that gaslighters they want to manipulate, they want to control, they want to destabilize the gaslightee. So those are some of the reasons why that have come up already. Therese asked the question “Is the main motive of the gaslighter to make you feel like you’re crazy, like you’re always wrong and don’t know what you’re talking about, or to convince you how great they are, or are there other motives?” So in my opinion, yes, these things are there in gaslighting–control, manipulation, and so forth. But if you want to understand a behavior that is not intentionally malicious, if you want to understand what moves or motivates that behavior, you need to go back to the five attachment needs and the five integrity needs.The five attachment needs are from Brown and Elliott from their book in 2016.
- A felt sense of safety and protection.
- Feeling seen, heard, known and understood.
- Feeling comforted, soothed and reassured.
- Feeling cherished, treasured and delighted in.
- Feeling that the other person has your best interest at heart.
I think the five integrity needs, though, are really what primarily motivates gaslighting behavior when it’s not malicious. And those needs are:
- The need to exist and survive.
- The need to matter.
- The need to have agency.
- The need to be good.
- The need for mission and purpose in life.
[00:37:13] So gaslighters often want control because they don’t feel secure. They don’t feel safe. They’re attempting to ward off a sense of shame. They’re attempting to ward off a sense of inadequacy. They may not want to lose the relationship. And so the exerting of control and inducing of dependency is a way to make sure that the person will still be around.I always want to take a look at what’s behind it. It’s not enough to say that those who gaslight do it out of a desire for control. Because my question then is, why do they want the control? What’s that about? So we want to walk it back. And if you actually go further and further upstream with folks that engage in various types of behaviors, you’ll see that usually you wind up with one or more of these five attachment needs and five integrity needs.Let’s take a look at when gaslighting is likely to occur. So this is the ‘when.’ It’s likely to occur when there is malice. We had that example from Satan. We had that example from the serpent in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. But again, it’s more likely to occur, I think, when there are unmet attachment needs and unmet integrity needs.[00:38:30] Now, some authors will say that everybody is vulnerable to being gaslit.And in one way, I can appreciate it. I can appreciate an effort to try to normalize gaslighting. There can be an effort to not want to blame the person who’s being gaslit, but I just don’t think that’s true. I don’t think it’s it’s it’s accurate to say that anybody can be gaslit. For example, there are people whose primary mode of operating is to be highly suspicious, very unwilling to commit or to engage with other people, and they’re not going to be gaslit by anybody, not by anybody outside of themselves.It’s also much less likely to happen when there is solid human formation, when a person really is in touch with their parts–when they’re integrated inside, when they have a deep sense of identity, when there’s this sense of harmony and unity inside, it’s much more difficult to gaslight them. It’s sort of like having a healthy immune system. There can be a lot of pathogens floating around in the environment, getting sneezed on and so forth, but if you have a healthy immune system, it wards those things off naturally rather than going and chasing down every pathogen, trying to correct the behavior of every would be gaslighter. If you have this really grounded and solid sense of identity, if you know who you are, if you’re in touch with your parts, it makes it much more difficult for you to be gaslit, because you have those integrity and attachment needs met. It’s not going to convey 100% immunity, but it’s going to make it much less likely.So situational factors can also create windows of opportunity for being gaslit. You know, for example, if there are losses, deaths, grief and so forth, there can be possibilities for portals through which a person could be gaslit. But the likelihood of being gaslit depends a lot on how you’re doing with your own human formation.[00:40:50] So what’s the experience of gaslighting? What is this like? And Tracy Malone had a couple of quotes that I thought were good. She said, “Gaslighting: when the truth becomes a fog and your reality is rewritten by the narcissist’s twisted script.” She had this other quote, “Gaslighting: where the truth becomes a fog and self-doubt becomes the norm.” There’s self-doubt and that undermining the distrust of one’s own experience. Aletheia Luna said,
“Gaslighting, at its core, is a form of emotional abuse that slowly eats away at your ability to make judgments. Essentially, a gaslighter spins their negative, harmful, or destructive words and actions in their favor, deflecting the blame for their abusive deeds and pointing the finger at you. This is often done by making you feel ‘overly-sensitive,’ ‘paranoid,’ ‘mentally unstable,’ ‘silly,’ ‘unhinged,’ and many other sensations which cause you to doubt yourself.”
And I particularly liked this description of what the experience of being gaslit is like from Dana Arcuri, who is a certified trauma recovery coach and she wrote the book Soul Rescue: How to Break Free from Narcissistic Abuse & Heal Trauma. And she wrote,
“Gaslighting causes us to doubt our own memories, perceptions and judgments. It throws us psychologically off balance. It’s like being in the Twilight Zone. If you feel as though your self-esteem, confidence, and dignity has withered under the flame of gaslighting, you are not alone.”
I like the reference to the Twilight Zone, because when you’re being gaslit it feels really disorienting. It becomes very hard to find your bearings or to find yourself on solid ground again, psychologically.[00:42:42] Klein, Li, and Wood in their 2023 article in the Journal of Personal Relationships, “A Qualitative Analysis of Gaslighting and Romantic Relationships,” described how participant #2 in their study wrote this about the diminished sense of self. She said, “I felt very confused, worthless, unlovable and broken.” Participant #9 said, “I was broken. I felt like a shell of a woman, lonely and desperate.” Participant #14 said, “I felt like my soul and life force was sucked out of me. I wasn’t myself…I completely lost myself. I was a shell of who I was.” Participant #16 said, “I barely felt like a person anymore. I suppose it did get worse, but when your perception of the truth gets warped, it’s hard to tell up from down.”Another effect that those who are gaslit in that study experienced was this guardedness and mistrust of future relationships. They avoided social contact and intimacy. Some of them said “never again will I be close to another person.”Linda Austin in this August 10th, 2023 Psychology Today article called “The Easiest Ways to Know If You’re Being Gaslighted,” said that these are the five things where you can tell.
- You lose your sense of confidence.
- You feel isolated.
- You may start lying to protect yourself from the criticisms of the gaslighter.
- You question your own judgment.
- You feel powerless to work through legitimate concerns about your relationship with your gaslighter and instead you find yourself constantly on the defensive.
[00:44:25] The most complete list of the experiences of gaslighting that I found was a Verywell Mind article from May 1st, 2023 by Sherri Gordon titled “Is Someone Gaslighting You? Learn the Warning Signs.” And she listed all of these.
- You doubt your feelings and reality: you work on convincing yourself that the treatment you receive is not that bad, or maybe you’re just too sensitive.
- You question your own perceptions, you question your judgments, you’re afraid of speaking up, you don’t want to express your emotions, you don’t want to share your opinion, and you stay silent.
- There’s this deep sensation of vulnerability and insecurity. You feel like you’re walking on eggshells around whoever is gaslighting you–on edge, lacking self-esteem.
- Feeling alone and powerless, convinced that everyone around you thinks that you’re just “different,” “weird,” “strange,” and “unstable,” just like the gaslighter says. This makes you feel trapped and isolated, she says.
- You wonder if you really are what the gaslighter says you are. Are you wrong? Are you inadequate? Are you losing touch with reality? You might find yourself saying such things to yourself.
- You may be quite disappointed in yourself. You may lament who you have become. You may feel like you’re weak and passive. You used to be stronger and more assertive.
- You’re really confused by the person who’s gaslighting you–seeing their presentation as being like Dr. Jekyll sometimes and Mr. Hyde at others.
- There’s a lot of concern about being too sensitive.
- There’s a sense of impending doom that something bad is going to happen.
- There’s a lot of time spent in apologizing. You feel like you have to apologize not only for what you do, but maybe for who you are.
- There’s this inadequacy–never good enough, never living up to the expectations of the other person.
- You second-guess yourself and your memory, wondering if you really saw it the way you saw it or experienced it the way you experienced it.
- Others feel like they’re disappointed in you.
- You wonder what’s wrong with you. Maybe there’s a sense that something fundamentally is wrong with you, that you’re bad. This is the shame coming up.
- There’s difficulties with decision making–a lot of indecision because you distrust yourself in your own judgments, so it becomes easier to let other people (including the one gaslighting) to make decisions for you.
[00:47:13] Let’s talk a little bit about spiritual gaslighting. So Tatjana Glogovac’s first point about spiritual gaslighting is that it prioritizes spiritual development over human development. And I see that a lot. I see that very commonly in spiritual gaslighting. Alison Cook, who is a Christian therapist, wrote an article titled “Gaslighting and the Importance of a Good B.S. Detector.” She makes the point that we live in a culture of gaslighting, and she says that spiritual gaslighting is when a person or faith community uses spiritual tools such as God, language, or the Bible to cause you to question your own reality in order to retain power over you. This is spiritual abuse. And she gave some examples and I’m going to quote these verbatim. She said,
“You share with a church leader that you feel uncomfortable with the way that the pastor talks about women. The response that you hear in return is: ‘You have an issue with authority. I’d encourage you to pray and ask God to change your heart.'”You can find in the members of your small group that you are struggling and feeling lonely. The response that you hear in return is: ‘You aren’t really lonely. You’re simply not trusting God enough.'”You share about feeling afraid of your spouse’s temper with your Christian counselor. The response that you hear in return is: ‘You must not be showing him enough respect.'”
[00:48:49] These are clear ways where the person’s sense of identity is being undermined. Their sense of reality is being dismissed. They’re being told that they don’t feel what they feel or something like that.So, what does Alison Cook recommend? She recommends becoming a truth teller. You know, don’t spin things. Tell the truth to yourself. Own your mistakes. If you make a mistake, own up to it. If you don’t understand what someone’s going through, get curious about the experience rather than invalidating it. And if you’re struggling, find a safe place where you can be honest about what you’re experiencing. And if you change your mind, acknowledge it. She recommends that we listen to our bodies, that we develop a healthy relationship with our emotions, that we get help from people who are outside of our immediate social circles and that we test what we are being told against concrete data points.I recommend that article, “Gaslighting and the Importance of a Good B.S. Detector” by Allison Cooke. She is also the author with Kimberly Miller of a Christian book called Boundaries for Your Soul, which is, on the whole, quite good.[00:50:02] All right. So let’s listen to an example of gaslighting. Let’s take a minute here and just listen to what it’s like as one of our podcast listeners describes it.
“Hi. This is a question for next week’s podcast, and I’m not really sure what the question is, but I was a member of a movement of the Church back in Spain, where I’m from, for many, many years–and my parents were part of that. Now I’m not a member of that anymore for the past 40 something years…45 years or so, but I’m still healing from all the hurt that I received over there. And one of the things that I wasn’t aware then is that the way of gaslighting, starting with my parents when I was 15 or 16 years old, somebody from that movement went to my parents and said if I didn’t move to whatever other city, I would lose my vocation. And instill fear in them of me not doing the will of God. So I moved to that other other city and I felt abandoned and absolutely alone and in prison, and it was a bad thing. And then many other things that I’m remembering now that were not true, but they were told me as they were true.”
Okay. So first of all, I’m really grateful that you reached out and that you left this voicemail, because I think it’s so relevant to what we’re talking about. You can hear in the voicemail the confusion and the doubts. You can hear that even after 45 years that this is not resolved. It can take a long time to work through these things. And time alone doesn’t just heal this. You can see how parents and spiritual authorities influenced this caller, destabilized her, spoke with the authority of God, used the will of God as a tool, almost like an electric cattle prod to kind of get her to do what they thought she should do. There’s this prioritizing of the spiritual over the natural in such a way that the spiritual is used in a way that violates the natural.And she describes remembering things now that were not true, but they were told to her as though they were true. Robin Stern described gaslighting as the “systematic attempt by one person to erode another person’s reality by telling them that what they are experiencing isn’t so–and the gradual giving up on the part of the other person.” So there’s this strong pull, especially in spiritual gaslighting, to give in because it might be the will of God, it could be the will of God. They’re saying it’s the will of God instead of there being an honest, truthful, open discernment that is grounded in a good human formation.[00:53:37] Well, let’s continue. Let’s continue and hear the rest of this.
“Like, for example, that I did something to spite another person. And I said, ‘No, I didn’t. I didn’t even know.” “No, no, yes, you did that.” So putting intentions in me that I knew I didn’t have it and not believing what I said, those are the things that I remember that were wrong. And I wonder how many other things that I believe now are true because I was taught over there they were not true. Really, so my whole core of beliefs are in the brink of trembling down. I don’t know. I don’t know what the question is, but if you could talk something about….and telling you these things, it brings such pain and I’m about to cry. So there is a hurt that is so big and so thick. And I’m not a girl anymore–I’m a mother of six. So I don’t know if you could speak something about that. I don’t know. Thank you for your patience and for your consideration. Bye.”
Okay, so I just want to say my heart goes out to you. The whole core of beliefs are in the brink of tumbling down, trembling down. And again, this violation of you being told what your interior experience is. Reality being redefined, the undermining of your sense of agency, the compromising of a sense of dignity–these things are not right. These things are not good. This is an abuse of spiritual authority and abuse of parental authority when these things happen. Teaching things that are not true, right?And again, you can hear the big hurt, right? The parts that still carry the impact of what this meant, the isolation, the sense of being abandoned, of being absolutely alone. And as she put it “in prison,” we can see that isolating effect of gaslighting. And so, just a lot of appreciation to you, the caller, for leaving us that voicemail and being able to share that with us so that your experience can bring different kinds of good forth for others who are listening to the podcast and know that you’re in my prayers.[00:56:45] So another Souls and Hearts member wrote, “What is one to do when clergy gaslights women in abusive situations? What is someone to do when she is gaslit by a person who is supposed to be her spiritual guide?” Okay. I struggle with these kinds of questions because they really strike home to me. I’ve been involved in a number of different investigations of the abuse where women have been manipulated by spiritual directors, by priests. And it really does pull at me in a lot of different ways. And I’ve decided that in 2025 I’m going to do a whole series on spiritual abuse. I think we really have to do that. After I get through all of the different personality styles, I think we’re going to go right into this question of spiritual abuse. Part of the reason I need that time, though, is I need to work up to that. I need to be ready for that. That’s going to take some preparation on my part. Even though I’ve worked with this for decades now, I’ve had an ongoing relationship–going back to 1991, with the International Cultic Studies Association. I would often be called as an expert when there were reports of something going wrong in a Catholic organization, and I’ve seen first hand the harm that can happen when spiritual authority is abused, when there’s been narcissism really driving the leadership of organizations, when gaslighting has been rampant. And as I said before, I’ve experienced that myself.I’ll give you an example of gaslighting where a spiritual director and a directee were in this gaslit relationship. Where the spiritual director was discussing how the relationship that he had with the directee was like the relationship between Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Jane de Chantal–this idea of a spiritual friendship. And that language got loaded and was used and twisted and distorted to allow for all kinds of physical boundary violations. Because this is okay, because it’s a spiritual friendship like Saint Jane de Chantal and Saint Francis de Sales had. Gaslit into, like I said, these boundary violations around the physical contact. Those kinds of things can happen so frequently, and a number of states have outlawed sexual contact between clergy and their congregation members. And I think it’s an excellent thing. It’s a shame that that in the Christian world this isn’t, you know, obviously just Catholic. This is an issue in other denominations as well that we have to do that. But the state prohibits that in order to protect parishioners or congregation members because of the inherent power differential that’s there.[01:00:35] So what is one to do when clergy gaslights women in abusive situations? What is one to do when one is gaslit by a person who is supposed to be her spiritual guide? Well, there’s not a “ten quick tips” type of thing that you implement like an algorithm in those sort of situations. The first is to get out of the relationship and to create some space. We’ll talk more about how to handle the the recovery from these kind of situations at the end of this podcast episode, but I want you to know that we’re going to get into this in a lot more detail in 2025 when we do a series on spiritual abuse.So we have another caller and let’s play that recording of the voicemail.
“Hi, Dr. Peter. This is Teresa, and I do have a question for you in regards to the question we you had asked us. Anyway, the question is: how can Catholic couples, when facing the challenging emotions of freeze, flight, or fright (resulting from gaslighting or emotional abuse), draw upon their faith and spirituality to find the strength and the support needed to heal and rebuild trust within the marriage. Thanks for taking my question. I’ll look forward to listening.
Okay. I am a clinical psychologist, so I’m going to focus primarily on what’s going on in the natural realm. You’re asking about how do we draw upon faith and spirituality to find the strength and the support needed to heal and rebuild trust within the marriage, and that’s not my primary focus. That’s something that’s really, really important, but it’s not where I would start. I don’t generally start in the spiritual realm, partly because I think so many spiritual issues are really spiritual consequences of problems and unresolved issues in the natural realm. In addition, the natural realm is where I really feel called to work professionally.[01:02:51] I know there are a number of programs out there. Retrouvaille, for example, works with marriages when there’s been conflict within the marriage. It sounds like you may be asking about how to work through traumatic experiences that are unresolved from the past, and I’m a huge advocate of getting professional help when there’s unresolved trauma–therapy, counseling, connecting with somebody that can accompany and work with you to help you work through those issues.And so a lot of times people want to do it on their own, and there are a lot of things you can do on your own. For example, Dr. Gerry Crete is coming out with a book in January of 2024, not that long now, on the Litanies of the Heart. And it’s a book to really help folks work through trauma. Now, it’s not a substitute for therapy. It’s not therapy, just like this podcast isn’t therapy or counseling, but it can bring in those spiritual themes as well. So I would look for those that bring that in.I know, for example, that through the John Paul II healing center, Dr. Bob Schuchts takes a lot of spiritual approaches to working through these kinds of things, and in that sense has a different focus in some ways than what I than what I offer.[01:04:33] There’s a close connection I want to mention between gaslighting and spiritual bypassing. Many of you may remember that back in February, starting on February 22nd, 2023, I did a five-week series of weekly reflections. These were written weekly reflections that went out by email and are also archived at soulsandhearts.com/blog. These were all about spiritual bypassing. Spiritual bypassing is using spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep personal, emotional, and unfinished business in order to shore up a shaky sense of self or to belittle basic needs, feelings and developmental tasks. That was the definition from John Welwood.I particularly like Rose Hahn’s definition of spiritual bypassing in her article “Spiritual Bypassing: What It Is & How To Avoid It.” She says,
“Bypassing occurs when spiritual ideals get elevated to the realm of absolute truth in such a way that our real, lived experience is somehow denied. Rather than doing the work of healing deep wounds, we may use these ideals to deny, devalue or avoid meeting our more human needs, such as emotional bonding, love and esteem. In other words, rather than risk opening ourselves to real human connection and possibly getting hurt, we adopt a more enlightened, spiritual way of relating to the world that doesn’t rely on human relationship.”
Spiritual gaslighting by the gaslighter is often used to invite or foster spiritual bypassing in the gaslightee.[01:06:09] So how do we assess our experience and it as a cue to help us to know whether gaslighting might be going on in any of our relationships? And there was a list of 25 questions to ask in order to know if you’re being gaslighted. This is in Heather Long’s article on positivepsychology.com, “What Is Gaslighting? 20 Techniques to Stop Emotional Abuse.” And I thought this list was really, really quite good. I invite you to go and check that list out. If you just do an internet search for that, you’ll come up with it. But these are questions like:
- “Do you no longer recognize the person you’ve become?”
- “Do you feel like you can’t do anything right?”
- “Do you feel trapped or powerless in your relationship?”
- “Do you feel foggy and confused?”
- “Do you worry about being too sensitive?”
- “Are you doubting your memory, your perceptions?”
- “Do you feel stupid or incompetent or as if you’re losing your mind?”
- “Do you feel intimidated by the potential gaslighter?”
- “Do you wonder what’s wrong with you?”
There’s a lot more questions that I would encourage you to go and check that out, if there’s questions in your own life about whether you are being gaslit.[01:06:09] So let’s talk a little bit about protecting oneself from gaslighting. We got an email from an RCC member who had said,
“I would love some advice on how to protect myself from gaslighting from my covert narcissist husband. I get activated and upset when I do not show up as my best self. How do I protect myself (and our young kids) and embrace my own healing while also holding up my vision of our marriage being a place of sacramental grace and unconditional acceptance? It is when I attempt to enforce boundaries that the gaslighting intensifies. Of course, I know that the answer is not to give up on attempting to keep my husband accountable. However, I do not enjoy the pushback that even a simple boundary reminder can bring.”
Yes, absolutely. So the first thing that I would recommend in a situation like this is to have professional eyes on your specific case. Now, obviously, I can’t provide you a consultation where I get into the depths of this; it wouldn’t be ethical or prudent, because I really don’t know all the whys and wherefores here. But the first recommendation in a case like this: get professional eyes. Get someone that you trust to help you understand what your own experience is if you’re feeling like it’s being destabilized.One thing to remember is that it is so common for those who are gaslighting to escalate it when it seems like its effects may be slipping, when it seems like the person may be establishing a more firm understanding of what’s actually going on. The gaslighting efforts will typically go up, because in a system, the elements of that system tend to try to go back to their ordinary state–their kind of pseudo homeostasis. And so it’s not surprising that as one person begins to change in the relationship, the other person (who may not be ready to change) may escalate their attempts to try to draw the other person back into the same way that it’s been for a long time. So that is expected when people begin to start setting limits and boundaries. When those boundaries are appropriate, it often leads to a negative reaction in the other person.[01:09:47] How does one protect oneself? How does one protect one’s kids and embrace healing while also holding up the marriage as a place of sacramental grace and unconditional acceptance? Well, that word “unconditional acceptance”, we want to be precise about what we mean. That doesn’t mean–and I’m not saying that the person who wrote this in intended it this way–it doesn’t mean endorsing the person’s behavior. I had a whole podcast episode on this called “Acceptance vs. Endorsement.” We want to accept that people are the way they actually are because then we’re conforming to reality. We’re not deluding ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we endorse it, and that doesn’t mean that we see it as a good thing necessarily. So this unconditional acceptance, again, I’d want to know more about what that meant, because that can be one of those words that gets loaded in such a way that one winds up tolerating too much from the other person in a way that’s not good for oneself, or one’s kids, or one’s husband, or one’s spouse. So that takes a lot of discernment.I would get outside opinions on this, even though a lot of times that’s frowned upon; it’s heavily discouraged by the person who’s doing the gaslighting because they don’t want that light shining in. It threatens them, it creates a sense of vulnerability, it’s likely to evoke feelings of shame, but it’s still really important to do that.[01:11:22] We had a question written in from Therese. “When we are being gaslit we aren’t aware of it in the moment. At least it seems that way…and then we react and continue the vicious cycle. So how can we avoid being gaslit?” Well, again, I would go back to what I was talking about before, about really establishing that solid sense of human formation–connecting with others that are healthy.And there are some things that can be helpful–for example, there’s a book by Robert Cialdini. The third edition came out in 2021, it’s called Influence, New and Expanded: The Psychology of Persuasion. That book was critical to me in 1991 when I was trying to figure out my experience of being gaslit. So it really helped me to understand, at an intellectual level, what were the processes that were going on. I still have that copy–the original edition that was published in 1984–and just came across it when I was doing some research for this podcast episode. It brought back a lot of memories of what it was like to hold that book back in 1991 as I was trying to make sense of my own experience of being gaslit.So these are recommendations that I’m going to offer from Heather Lonczak in her August 21st, 2020 article, “What is Gaslighting? 20 Techniques to Stop Emotional Abuse. She says,
“Recognize the warning signs. Gaslighting is not an overnight occurrence. Instead, perpetrators repeatedly trick, deceive, and manipulate to wear down victims over time. The insidious nature of gaslighting generally leaves victims feeling lost and confused without noticing the steps that got them there.”
So she offers these definite signs that may indicate early gaslighting tactics:
- Attempts are made to turn others against you.
- You are repeatedly being lied to.
- You’re being criticized as crazy, sensitive, weak, stupid, or inept.
- You’re being isolated from friends and family.
- Your attempts at communicating your concerns never go anywhere.
[01:13:22] She recommends that you listen to your gut and really pay attention to your intuitions. If something doesn’t feel right, pay attention to that. She recommends not being dominated by shame. Others are often drawn into the tactics of master manipulators who are gaslighters. She recommends not second-guessing your intellect and your feelings–to actually give credence to what’s there. There’s reasons for why you feel like you feel. She she recommends checking in with others to see if your perceptions match up. And don’t merely accept the gaslighter’s assertions about your mental or emotional wellness. She recommends not retaliating, not mixing it up with the gaslighters. She recommends not overreacting. And again, this recommendation you’re going to hear over and over again, getting help from a therapist.There are a few recommendations for recovery that came from Linda Hill’s book called Gaslighting: The Complete Guide to Identifying, Handling & Avoiding Manipulation. Recover from Emotional Abuse and Build Healthy Relationships. She talks about getting your own space back–you know, the space that you need to be able to clear your thoughts and not have the person who’s had this undue influence immediately there, impinging in on your space to be able to think. I think that’s such a great recommendation.She also says that you might not be able to get closure. You might not have this tidied up. You might have to grieve real losses. And, I would add, imagined losses–imagining what the relationship might have been or what you had hoped it would be. That could be a real sense of grief, even though what’s lost was really an illusion.And then she places a lot of emphasis on reconnecting with others. So that’s another aspect of this that’s going to be important–connecting with others that are life-giving, that are nourishing for your soul and for your heart.She also recommends volunteering, forgiving yourself, being patient, and working through your trauma.[01:15:32] Klein, Li and Wood in their 2023 article, found that their research participants said that time with healthy others was really important. Reembodying activities–these are like physical activities, including meditation, sports, creative hobbies, journaling, writing, creating art, and performing music were really helpful. And some of them were able to really see how their experience of being gaslit had positive results for them. Not that being gaslit was a good thing in and of itself, but that it did lead to growth that they learned from that and so forth.From an RCC member:
“I was wondering how long it generally takes for someone to regain their confidence after being gaslit. Then I paused, wondering whether ‘regain’ is an accurate word choice. Such a person may have entered into a relationship with a gaslighter through false confidence, but perhaps once free of their relationship, they can emerge not just healed, but in a sense restored as they become integrated?”
Yes, I mean, I really do believe that Romans 8:28 applies in these kind of situations as well: “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord, who are called according to his decree.” So any of our relational experiences, even if they’re negative, even if they involve harm, they can still be turned to good use. You know, I’m grateful for my experience of having been gaslit more than 30 years ago, not because it was a good thing in and of itself, but because of how it helped me learn and grow, how it launched me on a career, how it was directly causal to me doing this podcast episode and being here for you in this way right now, discussing this. There’s a lot of meaning and purpose that comes to that. It’s given me a sense of mission and purpose in my life, which is that fifth integrity need. And so, there can be a lot of good that comes from that.How long does it take? It really varies. Some people never recover, and it’s not something that time itself heals. But if you seek, you’re going to find those people that don’t heal, they often close themselves off. They’ve said “never again.” They’re not going to let anybody in. They’re not going to allow vulnerability again. And it’s understandable on the one hand, but tragic on the other.[01:17:51] And we have this question that was left on a voicemail for us as well. So I’m going to play that right now:
“Hi, Dr. Peter. I have a question. How does gaslighting differ from projection, scapegoating, or just general accusation? And where is the point when honest conflict in any close relationship turns into gaslighting? Thank you.”
Okay, great. I’m really glad to have this question.How does gaslighting differ from projection? Well, projection is a psychological defense, and so it can be done without gaslighting. You could project something that’s going on inside of you onto some political figure, right? Or you could scapegoat some other person that you’ve never met, right? For example, again, a political figure or a church leader, or someone like that. So projection is this process by which you take something within you and you attribute it to someone outside of you. “I’m not angry, you’re angry,” right? So projection is an element of gaslighting, as we’ve mentioned. That’s something that’s very common in gaslightingScapegoating is another thing that happens within gaslighting, but scapegoating is broader than gaslighting. So scapegoating is often a component of gaslighting, but it’s not identical with it. General accusations–again, we want to look at the motivations. We want to look at whether there is a coordinated, repetitive cycle here. We want to look at whether it’s oriented (consciously or unconsciously) to inducing dependency and destabilizing the other person’s sense of identity and their perceptions of reality. That’s what really characterizes gaslighting. So that’s the difference there.Dr. Ahona Guha, in her July 7th, 2021, Psychology Today article “When It Might Not Be Gaslighting,” she’s looking at intentionality and malice. She’s looking at the patterns of behavior. She’s looking at the context in which these things are happening and what is being denied. She writes, “Sometimes people might deny certain aspects of experiences. (e.g., ‘it didn’t quite happen that way’ or ‘you forgot this factor’), and this is not necessarily indicative of gaslighting, as people often simply notice different things or remember things differently.” Dr. Guha also notes that “sometimes the term gaslighting is used incorrectly. It may be used to label any form of behavior that the receiver disagrees with, as a form of attack or as a way of shutting people or arguments down.” So it can be used as a club to kind of beat people with.[01:20:55] Most of you know that I’m very much a fan of Internal Family Systems. I want to bring in an Internal Family Systems approach here at the end of this presentation. First off, I’m going to say there’s very little in the IFS literature about gaslighting at all. There was an article by Richard Brouillette on December 29th, 2022, in Psychology Today titled “4 Signs that You Have an Inner Gaslighter.’ And he says in this article,
“This is when you tend to downplay your own strengths and your needs to keep others pleased, where deep down you worry that you are flawed and feel shame about it. In relationships, you feel like ‘beggars can’t be choosers,’ and you should be happy with anything you’ve got. And your inner dialog includes two parts: a cruel inner critic and a scared, vulnerable part, afraid of abandonment.”
And so he’s identifying some of the dynamics from a parts understanding. And he lists five inner gaslighter traits.
- This part demands that he or she is correct about everything and will attack you for disagreeing.
- This part questions your own sense of what’s really happening.
- This part uses your insecurities to meanly attack you, like (“You’re too stupid for people to want you!” or “too ugly,” etc.)
- This part threatens you with a worst-case scenario of being rejected and abandoned. (“You’ll be alone forever,” for example.)
- This part forces you to believe that you need to rely on him or her to understand what’s really happening.
So Richard Brouillette is basically taking the qualities of a gaslighter and ascribing them to the way that a part inside operates.[01:22:39] Ingrid Clayton in a Psychology Today article from September 10th, 2021, titled “What is Self-Gaslighting?”, describes how “we pick up the torch from the gaslighter and turn it on ourselves.” I just love that line–that’s like the subtitle of her piece. And she said that being gaslighted can eventually make someone a self-gaslighter and the self messaging goes like this:
- “Maybe it wasn’t that bad.”
- “I didn’t experience real trauma.”
- “If I were a stronger, more spiritual person, I wouldn’t feel this way.”
- “He didn’t really mean what I thought he meant.”
- “She didn’t believe me because I’m not worth believing.”
- “I should be over this by now instead of having it impact every aspect of my life.”
This is what I think those parts who gaslight parts of other people want to instill in those they gaslight–because then they become lower maintenance.Catholic psychologist Greg Bottaro on his Being Human podcast, episode 98, asked this question, “Are You Gaslighting Yourself Now?” Dr. Greg and I go back many years. We’ve been colleagues together in this human formation corner of the vineyard. He was gracious to allow me to play a clip from that episode, and I think this clip is just so important. So let’s listen to Dr. Greg.
“Now, all of this I’m saying to lead up to something that is even more important and even more prevalent–which is how much we do this to ourselves. Regardless of if anybody in your life is gaslighting you or not, I can almost guarantee that you gaslight yourself almost every day. Now, that’s a bold statement, but this is this is how serious this is. So this is where the parts theory is really beautiful.”
Now, I’m not going to review everything that Dr. Greg was discussing in episode 98 of his Being Human podcast, “Are You Gaslighting Yourself?”; I’m going to invite you to check that out for yourself–you can find that on any major podcast platform, wherever you get your podcasts, it’s going to be there. The bottom line that he’s making is that parts of us can gaslight other parts of us. And he’s absolutely right. He’s the only one, from an IFS perspective that I could find that addressed this idea of gaslighting yourself. So I was super excited to find that. It was so great to find another Catholic professional, a colleague of mine, doing work in this field. You really broke some ground with that Dr. Greg Bottaro, and I appreciate it.[01:25:28] Remember that Internal Family Systems is family systems taking inside. Richard Schwartz is a marital and family therapist. He’s very familiar with family systems, and how they worked. And he noticed that when family therapy was successful, and the family members stopped acting out in the same old ways toward each other, that was good, but it didn’t heal everything inside because each person in the family internalized the other family members. The family system was taken inside, and that’s why it’s called “Internal Family Systems.”The parts of each person took on the roles of the different family members. And so if there was someone from your family of orgin that gaslit you when you were young, you’re likely to have a part that took on that role within yourself. It’s a protective role to try to keep you from being gaslit by the gaslighter. If you gaslight yourself, you’re less likely to experience negative consequences in your relationship with that important person. And so this is the way that we we begin to draw these external things inside of us. We begin to perpetuate these cycles within us and they can go on long after the original perpetrators are dead–decades later because it’s taken on a life inside of us with our own parts.[01:26:54] We have a message from Jessica, and she says,
“Hi Dr. Peter. My question about gaslighting is this: I believe my mother gaslighted me extensively when I was growing up. As a teenager and adult, through much therapy, I’ve worked on regaining a sense of reality. Now that I’ve been through more therapy, I can see that the behavior was likely from one of my mom’s protectors, keeping her safe from shame, and have greater compassion for her, but it has left me with a part that deeply doubts my ability to accurately perceive reality.”
Okay, That’s exactly what gaslighting is about. And I’m so pleased, Jessica, that you are recognizing how the relationship with your mother was internalized with a part that’s trying to protect you in some way.Jessica goes on, “As the term has become more widely used, I wonder, is gaslighting even a real phenomenon?”Yeah, the term has been diluted. It’s been used as a club to beat other people with. When I looked up Catholic gaslighting, for example, what I found was mostly different Catholic camps hurling the term at each other in a derogatory way without discipline, without actually looking at what the word means and so forth.”Or is gaslighting,” Jessica asks, “Is gaslighting just a label that we put on people behaving in a way that we disagree with?” Absolutely. Remember that Dr. Ahona Guha, in her article, “When It Might Not Be Gaslighting,” said “Sometimes the term gaslighting is used incorrectly to label any form of behavior that the receiver disagrees with, as a form of attack or as a way of shutting people or arguments down.” You can see that happening, again, in different opposing camps in the Catholic world–hurling the word at each other in highly contentious issues around the liturgy or around synodality or around other hot button issues within the Church right now. So that actually happens a lot.And I’m really excited that you, Jessica, are recognizing that your mom has parts. I think that’s really important that we don’t just collapse an entire person into the impulses or into the motivations of a particular part that they have; you realize that there are other parts there as well and we can maintain a more nuanced appreciation of the identity of that person.[01:29:15] Because in this field of gaslighting, there is a lot of condemnation of those who gaslight. And it’s understandable because a lot of harm comes from that, but there can also be a reduction of their humanity just down to their gaslighting behaviors. And that’s a real problem because it robs them of their dignity. It doesn’t help them to get out of the situation that they’re in as well.So, finally, a question from Mike:
“When one knows a situation or experience to be true and the other person is objectively augmenting with a distorted view of reality, (e.g. presuming to know the other person’s motives, hyperbolizing, stating subjective assumptions as objective facts), is it gaslighting to attempt to objectively correct?”
No, if it’s actually objective. Some of the opening statements that we presented as gaslighting might not actually be gaslighting. So, for example, that first one, “I’m worried about you. I know things haven’t been right with you for a while. Let me help you. Let me help you with this.” That’s not necessarily gaslighting. It could be depending on the context, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a really important that we own what is ours. We need to know ourselves deeply. We need to remove the beam from our own eye in order to be able to see clearly what is going on with another person, and we need to to purify our motives. There’s no doubt about that. But there is no substitute for you doing your human formation work for you, doing the work of integration for you, being able to love your parts, and to accept your parts and to invite your parts into a collaborative and cooperative relationship.[01:31:03] And Dr. Gregg talked a lot about this in that episode 98 of the Being Human podcast. He brought that really into a sharp focus in that episode. I invite you to listen to that.Also, episode 123 is coming up. Gerry Crete, my colleague, my friend, we co-founded Souls and Hearts together, is going to be joining me on Wednesday evening, October 11th, 2023, from 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. EST for a live episode called “Relating Well With Narcissistic Family Members.” Please make an effort to get to that. Go to our website soulsandhearts.com/iic, and there’s a free registration there. Just link hit that link and get yourself a registration. We’ve got 30 that have already registered for that. You need to register. We would love to have you hear your questions and so forth.Weekly reflections. We’re doing a series on daydreams in my weekly reflections, and we brought in Thomas and Juanita from episode 120. We went more deeply into their parts and their systems as we discussed the daydreams that they had and how that reflected the unmet needs that their parts experienced. You can go to our archive at soulsandhearts.com/blog. Catch up on those if you haven’t seen them.Also don’t forget that five-week series on spiritual bypassing started on February 22nd, 2023, titled “Spiritual Bypassing: Catholic Style.” That series is really, really important because, again, it gets at some of these dynamics from a little different angle. Sign up to hear from me in your inbox every Wednesday afternoon, soulsandhearts.com, click on the blue box that says “Get Dr. Peter’s weekly emails.” We don’t share your email address with anyone. We don’t rent it, we don’t sell it, or anything like that. And you can check out the archive, like I said it soulsandhearts.com/blog.[01:33:03] Thank you to all of you that left me a review on Apple Podcasts. We got a bunch of them. I would still like a few more. It was really great to hear what you were thinking about the podcast, so please, if you haven’t done so already, go to iTunes or go to Apple Podcasts and eave me a review for this podcast, Interior Integration for Catholics.The Interior Therapist Community is a community of Catholic therapists that are working on their own human formation. And if you are a Catholic therapist or you are a Catholic counselor or you are a graduate student on the way to becoming a Catholic mental health professional, you can do a foundations experiential group with me and work with me on your own human formation.We’re going to be meeting on Fridays from 11:15 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. EST–starting on October 13th, 2023. That’s going to run five months to February 2024, focusing on your human formation. So if that works for you, if you’re interested in actually working with me in that group setting, we have room for, I think, two more people. Go ahead and email me at email@example.com or get in touch with me on my cell: 317-567-9594, if you are interested.We also have an advanced group that’s starting up again, that I will be leading, where you’ll have an opportunity to work with me to practice with this way of connecting with other people.Don’t forget my conversation hours. Those are every Tuesday and Thursday from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. EST. You can reach me on my cell phone, again: 317-567-9594. I can’t do therapy or consultations on this, but I’d be happy to talk with you about how you’re responding to what’s in these podcast episodes or what’s in the weekly reflections–talk about the themes or topics that are coming up.[1:34:58] And then I will be in Denver later this month, October 25th, that’s a Wednesday, from noon to 4:00 pm., and Souls and Hearts members are welcome to meet with me at the Augustine Institute. We’re going to be hosting an event for those of us that are in the Denver area. From noon, we’ll be at Mass at the Saint Augustine Institute, then we’ll have lunch after that, then we will do some group experiential exercises together. We’ll debrief from those experiential exercises. I’ll do a demonstration of some of this work and we’ll debrief from that. And then I’m planning to do a little exercise on five ways to pray the Rosary with your parts. We’ll pray through the glorious mysteries in five different ways so that your parts can experience what it’s like to be in prayer with you as your innermost self. That will be coming up on Wednesday, October 25th, from noon to 4:00 pm local time in Denver. If you’re interested in that, again, get in touch with me: firstname.lastname@example.org, 317-567-9594. That’s an invitation only event. We want to make sure that folks are kind of connected with us already before we do that.[01:36:12] And just a reminder, if you really want to work on this human formation stuff, if this is inspiring you to work with your own parts, if you’re recognizing that there’s these kind of dynamics going on inside you, I want you to consider the Resilient Catholics Community. The Resilient Catholics Community is a group of 250 (right now), all working together on their human formation, on a pilgrimage together towards shoring up the natural foundations for our spiritual life, for learning the human formation arithmetic that we need to do, really focusing on the spiritual algebra.There’s 44 units that we do in the first year that walk through systematically how to work with IFS on your own, but also in in in groups. I provide all kinds of experiential exercises. I provide all kinds of intellectual material–a lot more than I can provide on a podcast. I invite you to check that out. Go to soulsandhearts.com/rcc. We have 107 on the interest list. We will open up again for new applications in December, from December 1st to December 31st, 2023. The programing for that new cohort, the Saint Francis Xavier cohort, will begin in March of 2024. So get on the interest list. Make sure that you are able to get that as it comes in.[01:37:39] And then thank you to my daughter Marie for being the voice actress for this episode, and a special thank you to all of you who reached out and shared your experiences and questions in voicemails and emails and private messages so that we could make this a little more connected in the episode today.And with that, we will invoke our patroness and our patron. Our Lady, Our Mother, Untier of Knots, pray for us. Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.