Both of my girls participated in gymnastics when they were younger. It was a little harder for Emma, because she is really tall and has long legs. Basketball and volleyball became her things. Mollie Ann stuck it out and was a cheerleader throughout high school. She could probably do a standing back tuck right now. Of course, gymnasts are incredible athletes—-pictures of strength and balance. When we are young, moving our bodies, like kids in a gymnastics class, is natural—-instinctive. As we get older, we become gymnasts of the mind.
Speaking of gymnasts, I am sure you are familiar with the term “gaslighting.” Psychology Today defines it as follows:
Gaslighting is an insidious form of manipulation and psychological control. Victims of gaslighting are deliberately and systematically fed false information that leads them to question what they know to be true, often about themselves. They may end up doubting their memory, their perception, and even their sanity. Over time, a gaslighter’s manipulations can grow more complex and potent, making it increasingly difficult for the victim to see the truth.
I think most of us want to believe people are honest, especially those with whom we are in intimate relations. A gaslighter wants to control your thoughts, usually to accomplish a goal. In my world of divorce, it is often used to hide something like an affair or an addiction, unless the gaslighter is borderline or narcissistic, and for them it is basically sport—-controlling the victim to satisfy their warped sensibility about how the world should be in relationship with their self-loathing expressed as grandiosity.
While everyone’s truth is at least slightly different, and we are all guilty of being manipulative from time to time, gaslighting is destructive because the victim questions their own truth. Owning our thoughts, feelings and perspective is a fundamental human right. No person can tell you what to think nor how you should feel. That’s not to say sometimes a person with good intentions may want to persuade you for one reason or another, but the idea of gaslighting is more insidious. The gaslighter knows the truth, disregards it and creates chaos and emotional energy which hides reality.
If you are in a relationship with a gaslighter, it is important to step out of the cloud of confusion being created. You can do this through seeking evidence of the truth. A gaslighter’s weapon of choice is the lie —both big ones and small ones, so take steps to discover the truth as opposed to taking them at their word, which is proven to be untrustworthy. You must also know and trust yourself. If you are confident in who you are, a gaslighter’s attacks will fall flat. Remember, healthy people cannot be successfully in relationship with the unhealthy, and gaslighting is a symptom of a lack of well-being. A meditation practice is also imperative to have in your tool kit, as meditation has been recognized across religious traditions for hundreds of years as a valuable human endeavor for seeking clarity. Finally, another weapon against gaslighting is being in healthy community with other people who are similarly situated in life where you can share your truth versus what you are being told. What do the people in your foxhole say about the situation?
While words like gaslighting, narcissism and borderline are popular phrases in our modern world as mental healthcare is becoming less stigmatized; it does not water down the reality of their existence, especially masked as concern or intimacy. Chaos is not intimacy. It is chaos.
May you experience peace, love, happiness and truth, and may you have the discernment to know gaslighting when you see it. I love the serenity prayer, and I will leave you with these words:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Craig Robertson is the founder of Robertson + Easterling. For over 20 years, he has practiced exclusively high net worth divorce and complicated family law in Mississippi. You will want him in your corner because he believes every case is his most important, and he knows the things you care about deeply are at stake –family, safety, and security. He knows a gaslighter when he sees one.