How to know when someone is gaslighting you?
The video below is a pilot for a new way of training people to detect gaslighting. It’s the audio of a generic argument with someone who fights generically, a know-it-all who has mastered the bag of cheap gaslighting tricks for ignoring all content and winning through ever-shifting empty rhetoric.
I play both parts in this argument. I do so in keeping with a notion of Carl Jung’s: We are each of us all of the characters in archetypical dramas. Playing both the good guy and bad guy helps emphasize an inconvenient truth: No one is exempt from human nature. What other people do, we do too. Just because you’ve been gaslighted, it doesn’t mean you don’t gaslight.
So does that mean we’re all equally bad or good? No. Questions of degree matter.
Some researchers define gaslighting as a deliberate attempt to make people not trust their intuitions. I think that’s misleading. Gaslighting is often simply an attempt to make our intuitions prevail over other peoples’ intuitions, which happens a lot. We all engage in what I’ll call everyday gaslighting, an attempt to cast doubt on other people’s intuitions so that ours prevail.
Is our goal making others wrong? No. Rather that’s a side-effect we find perfectly acceptable in our campaigns to prevail.
Consider a parallel: When someone tells you “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t find acceptable hurting you in the service of some other priority. We might not go out of our way to hurt someone but be perfectly happy to hurt them if they’re in our way.
Likewise, someone might say “I don’t mean to make you distrust your intuitions,” and still be perfectly contented to have you distrust your intuitions in the service of making their intuitions prevail.
This puts a burden on me that I am happy to bear. If we all gaslight, what distinguishes a gaslighter? Similarly, if we all lie (and we all do) what distinguishes a liar?
To me, the key difference is a question of degree. A gaslighter gaslights absolutely. Their gaslighting is a symptom of their absolute narcissism. A narcissist can stay on top two ways. One is by elevating themselves, the other is by diminishing others. A more accurate term for narcissism is sado-narcissism. Elevating themselves or putting others down – either way, the sado-narcissist can feed their addiction to gloating.
Everyday gaslighting only tends to corrupt but absolute gaslighters corrupt absolutely.
How, then can you tell if someone is an absolute gaslighter? Technically, you can never know for sure. Still, you can make educated guesses. If in every exchange, a person employs automatic gloating about their rightness and your wrongness and if they do so with reckless disregard for consistency, you’re probably dealing with an absolute gaslighter.
If you point that out to them, they’ll make you wrong about that too. This is where admitting that your diagnosis is merely an educated guess comes in handy.
When they say “How dare you assume that I’m gaslighting you? Shame on you!” You don’t have to be shaken. You can think to yourself “Yes, it’s my hard-earned educated assumption. It’s my bet and I’m sticking with it.”
Should you say that to the absolute gaslighter? Probably not. It’s like telling a psychopath that you think they’re a psychopath. It does you no more good than telling someone who always ignores you that they’re ignoring you. They’re ignoring you. It falls on deaf ears.
Accusing a gaslighter of gaslighting is actually enabling. To tell an absolute gaslighter that they’re an absolute gaslighter implies that you think they aren’t, that they can actually hear and consider your accusation. They can’t.
By discounting your intuitions, whether deliberately or as an acceptable side-effect of their sado-narcissistic campaign, an absolute gaslighter shouldn’t change your intuitions. Rather, they’re inviting you to keep them in the dark about your intuitions.
As this exchange shows, there’s no arguing with a gaslighter. By design, they’ll declare victory in every exchange. Instead, walk away or undermine them by other means if you can. Indeed, often the best response is passive aggression.
Passive aggression is not the always-evil strategy it’s made out to be. A slave has no alternative to passive-aggressiveness. Passive aggression is only bad when there are alternatives. Some people employ passive aggression as a way to play victim. They could be direct with you but they’d rather pretend that they can’t, that you’ve enslaved them.
Once you’re confident that someone is an absolute gaslighter trying to enslave your intuition to their sado-narcissism, passive-aggression is a perfectly acceptable response. Walk away. Talk about them behind their backs. Cast aspersions. Try to undermine their reputation. You owe it to others to warn them against what you have carefully guessed is an absolute gaslighter. You owe them no respect. If you show them respect, you’re enabling them.
Here’s the video:
This content was originally published here.