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Politics

Gaslighting

A form of gaslighting is when we are subject to others trying to make out that we are the cause of a problem of their making.

Gaslighting is derived from the 1944 movie Gaslight when a woman's husband tries to persuade her that she is insane by making out what he is doing is just her imaginings and paranoia. In a way, the imagery of the close light thrown out by a gas light that doesn't reveal what is happening in the shadows is very symbolic of the psychological ruse being played out by the perpetrator. We can be gaslit by those we know personally, but also by corporate bosses and governments.

People will tend to push back when confronted and they over-react, and that may involve some actions that may seem like gaslighting. However, while it may be worthwhile staying away from those who habitually over-react, those who use gaslighting as a sustained strategy for gaining control must be avoided, by whatever means possible. We don't have to keep allowing ourselves to be subjected to gaslighting, but we may need to find coping mechanisms that keep us sane until we can engineer the opportunity to escape from their dominion, and both of those may need cooperation with others.

Personalβ–³

Sometimes people we know well may undermine our sanity by deliberately making it seem like we are being paranoid in our interpretation of their actions.

While the movie details a very specific malicious scenario, many gaslighting efforts can be reactionary or deflecting attention away from themselves. Anyone who works will have been subject to at least one boss who deflected from their deficiency of management ability by brow-beating others to work harder or berating them for not being competent or lacking commitment, as if everybody, including themselves, can ever be 100% in top form all the time. Even elite athletes are only in top form for a small part of their waking lives.

Friends and family can try to make us think we need to do better by them by trying to persuade us that our needs are less important than their desires. There may be some obligations that are part of the relationships, but they need to be in balance with our individual capacities and abilities, and that is something that needs to be negotiated in good faith between everyone involved. Circumstances change, so expectations must be realistic about what those changes will now require of and for each person. Life is dynamic, and anyone who thinks that they don't need to adapt is being unrealistic.

We can push back from such efforts by acknowledging that we can never be operating at such levels without something in us breaking. From there we can either stand up for ourselves and our right to be treated respectfully, escalate the issue to someone who can deal with them, or leave the situation. Perhaps we need to acknowledge that the gaslighting may be because the person is selfish to the point of narcissism. While such people may be able to be negotiated with, mostly they are not, and should even be avoided, forever! While the latter may seen extreme, the situation is already there.

Interpersonal situations where there is a power imbalance, which occurs when one has control over the other or can materially affect their future, can be rife with gaslighting, just because the situations when meeting with them will likely have no witnesses. The gaslighter might be a doctor or HR person, and they can use that to enforce their power superiority, especially when challenged. It can be more subtle in that they may stress that because they are the ones in the know, their opinion is more important.

If a doctor, it might be time to change from them or get a second opinion. A HR person is a company employee and will likely be pushing the company line. If that amounts to sanctioned gaslighting, it is time to leave that company, because they will definitely throw us under the bus if it serves them. We have to protect ourselves, and that means not letting ourselves be subject to unfair treatment by others. We can seek the help of those we really trust, and there are professionals that can help.

Systemicβ–³

Governments often try to avoid responsibility for us by putting problems that they are responsible for onto us.

The Covid-19 pandemic really showed us the lengths to which governments would go to get us to take responsibility for our mental health while they tried to avoid spending money on us, which is rightly something that they should be helping us with during such times. While some offered token mental health initiatives, they were mostly ineffective because their were nowhere near enough psychologists to cover the need, mainly because they had run down their health systems as part of the same money saving efforts.

Of course, avoiding spending money on citizens is the neoliberal ideal, as it reduces the money that the rich could be getting in tax cuts and other subsidies. In return we get the platitudes that we should take personal responsibility and lift ourselves up, but as many minority groups have known for decades and even centuries, the systems do favour the rich and actively discriminate against those who are poorer. We know true universal health care systems like the NHS in the UK are cheaper to run than any other, but governments have been sabotaging them by underfunding for years.

It is in governments persuading us that they need to save money as if they are a normal household that they are gaslighting us. We are made to feel responsible for paying for expensive health care and education, even though there is monumental savings if such expenses are amortised across all of us by having governments being totally responsible for them. Those in government have been subsidised by those for whom they are providing favourable exploitative economic environments to gaslight us by saying we are the problem because we demand too much of government.

We are told by personal finance experts that buying in bulk can save us a lot of money over a year, but governments doing that by providing free health care and education for all, paid for by taxation and duties, is now somehow not economically viable? Businesses expect governments to support them, but somehow citizens doing that is being personally lazy and selfish? This is gaslighting on an industrial scale, and we need to push back and call out those who push this economic double-think. We are entitled to define what we expect of governments as we are the ones who vote them in.

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