What is gaslighting?

Here’s the link:


I have seen other descriptions as well. This one seems to-the-point and concise. It’s a form of interpersonal abuse, meaning it isn’t necessarily limited to spousal abuse. Often in the Movement we speak of the gaslighting that shrinks do to patients. When you read the article I pointed out, do you see similarities in your own mental “health” experience?

Have you ever gone to a dentist to get a tooth worked on, and for whatever reason something hurt. Let’s say the dentist is rather sparing with the topical anesthetic.  You tell him you can feel what he is doing, and suggest you might need more anesthetic (they used to use Novocaine). The dentist says, “That doesn’t hurt.” Since when can he feel what you feel? He is saying, “I know more about your body than you do. I am the expert. You are incompetent. I couldn’t possibly be at fault.” This is illogical since the dentist doesn’t feel what you feel.

Or perhaps, “I see you are oversensitive.” Ever get that line? So the dentist is physically harming you, but saying that you have a bogus mental disorder, thereby excusing his carelessness.

Or, “You are the only patient who has ever complained.” This means he regularly does these unnecessarily painful procedures. He is implying that since inflicting pain is the norm, then what he does is okay. He’s calling you a whiner, but in reality, you are the first brave one to say, “This isn’t right.”

What happens in a shrink’s office, or between patient and “staff”? Yes, gaslighting happens regularly to mental patients. Note that the article states that this begins in a manner that’s almost imperceptible, then increases over a long time. Often, the same thing happens to patients. A shrink isn’t likely to gaslight during the first appointments, otherwise he won’t have too many customers. After all, he wants to make that “meet and greet” session as satisfying as possible. After that, he can do whatever the hell he wants.

Here are ways that shrinks gaslight.

You are in a hospital. The shrink comes to see you, or perhaps he has an office on the ward. Within ten seconds, before you have barely opened your mouth, the shrink says, “You have a serious problem with anger.”

If you an observer of human nature, you know as well as I do that all humans are a bit uncomfortable with anger. So you might counteract with, “Yes, doctor, many people do. I don’t see my anger issues as anything to be concerned about right now.”

But the shrink starts saying stuff deliberately, taking jabs at you. Finally, you can’t take it anymore. He asks, “Are you angry?”

By now, you realize the guy’s a jerk but there’s nothing you can do. You say, “Yes.”

Then, maybe you wish you had thought up some wisecrack instead of telling the truth. He literally points his finger at you, saying, “See? See? You are an angry person.” What can you say to that? Most people, if they are in a subservient position, such as “patient,” are often in the same boat. You just don’t know what to say. You don’t yet recognize that this is abuse, and it’s wrong. You leave feeling horrible, but you don’t know why. Later, you might find yourself depressed, or resorting to whatever nasty behavior you originally sought help for.

I’ll bet any reader reading this who has seen a shrink has had this happen to them. Once, I confronted a shrink on this, since I had indeed seen him do this to many other patients, and he told me the following: “Yes, I always do that, because everyone has anger issues.” This was after I’d been seeing him for a while.

So he needles patients deliberately and then tells them they have a “disorder.” I wish that I’d informed him, “Do you realize that what you are doing is abuse?” But I was a compliant mental patient and said nothing. Actually, he was one of the better ones!

But you may ask, “Why not leave this shrink?” Many patients insurance coverage that limits them to only one shink. Or they are put on lengthy waiting lists to get so-called “care.” When they finally get one, they know that if they stop seeing this person, they will be put on yet another lengthy waiting list. I’ve heard of people waiting a full year, or more. This is good news for the shrink. He can always remind the patient of this, so he can keep on milking her insurance.

We can see how patients are trapped in these abusive doctor-patient relationships. Perhaps you have heard the following on psych units:

“Other units do this, too.” This is also illogical. The staff knows what they do isn’t legal, and is saying the laws aren’t enforceable so they will continue to abuse for their own convenience. The staff is telling you that you are the sick complainer. The truth is that you are the brave one who points out the truth, while others have sat back and done nothing.

Or, say you complain about a policy or unnecessarily restrictive rule. The staff in eating disorders “care” might say, “That’s Ed talking.” Ed is the acronym for Eating Disorder, invented by therapists as a marketable gimmick.  It works well to silence a patient, causing her to doubt herself instead of doubting the almighty staff.

It’s so easy to abuse patients with this line: “You aren’t cognizant of your disorder.” Or, worded otherwise, “You lack insight.” This is the best way to silence a patient. It’s works, and it’s handy and convenient to completely disarm and de-voice just about anyone under their “care.”

What I dislike about the article you find in the link above is what’s below the description of gaslighting. That a person who has been through this needs to change. Wait!  So nothing is done to change the abuser, he gets away scott free, and now, the abused person is the one who requires ‘treatment”? Where does this abused spouse end up? In a mental ward or shrink’s office, to be abused for the next ten years, then end up with a permanent “diagnosis” on their record.

* * *

Ii was on the phone last night. I usually have pleasant conversations with people these days, but after I got off the phone with this particular person, I felt rotten inside. I asked myself why this happens whenever I speak with this person. I don’t talk to him often because the same thing happens again and again. I have known this person a long time and have had to limit contact only to protect myself. But I could never put a finger on it. Just now, I realize that I am being gaslighted.

The conversation went as follows. We got onto the topic of cyberbullying. He repeated this back to me slowly, “Cyberbullying.” Then told me, “You mean this exists?”

I told him that yes, cyberbullying is a serious problem these days. I pointed out that this is a hot issue in the news. Maybe we read different news. I hear about it all the time.

He said, “That’s not possible. It only happens to kids.”

I pointed out to him that bullying happens to adults as well as kids.  Again, I imagine he isn’t very aware of these things. I pointed out, “Have you never heard of workplace bullying”” I got no reply to that.

He said, “It’s not illegal.” I told him that I had gone to various government sites and read the laws myself. I told him that if he doubts my word maybe he should read them, too. I had to repeat this several times since he didn’t believe me. In other words, he was telling me, “You aren’t clever enough to find a government website and read summaries of laws. You are stupid and incompetent.”

Finally, he admitted he had not even looked at his computer while we were speaking, so he backed down, realizing that maybe I was right. So then guess what he said, “The laws won’t be enforced.” He repeated this again and again.

Do you see what’s happening here? He admitted he’d never heard of cyberbullying, and he admits he’s not even aware of these laws. But he turned the tables on me, playing “expert” on these laws he had never known about, regarding a crime he had never heard of.

I certainly should have gotten off the phone. Maybe thanked him profusely for his wonderful advice. Pumped up his ego since that’s what he seems to need. Instead, I jabbed at him, saying, “So many laws aren’t enforced. I am aware of this. Patient rights laws, where they exist, are disregarded.” He said nothing to that. Of course he didn’t! He spent over a year telling me I wasn’t abused.

At one point, I said to him, “Clearly, you haven’t been subject to bullying, so maybe you don’t understand how it affects a person.”

I wonder about that. Most women I know have been sexually harassed in their workplaces, yet men seem unaware that this exists. Maybe he was never bullied. Or maybe he was too busy bullying other people, or gaslighting everyone around him.

We changed the subject after a while.  I felt worn out. I certainly didn’t want to go on with this conversation, and I was glad when we got off.

After that, I felt awful. I told myself I should go to bed, as it was late, and then decide what to do.  What would you do? I guess it’s a common question. Do we try to mend the situation, or walk away?