I have found myself asking that question when observing the certainty with which people affirm what appear to be polar opposite views of a situation or event. In fact, we seem to be living in a parallel universe where half are seeing things one way and the other half seeing something totally different. Yet, both sides are certain that they are right. Which is reality? If one is viewing reality, then the other must be deceived into seeing something false as real. Or could we all possibly be deceived about some things? It is enough to make one feel crazy.
I saw an anonymous piece about Gaslighting shared on Facebook. I was reluctant to share it, not wanting to start any contentious discussion about details in it. I will share the beginning and the end which present the phenomenon in general terms.
“The term [gaslighting] originates in the systematic psychological manipulation of a victim by her husband in Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 stage play Gas Light, and the film adaptations released in 1940 and 1944. In the story, the husband attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane by manipulating small elements of their environment and insisting that she is mistaken, remembering things incorrectly, or delusional when she points out these changes. The play’s title alludes to how the abusive husband slowly dims the gas lights in their home, while pretending nothing has changed, in an effort to make his wife doubt her own perceptions. The wife repeatedly asks her husband to confirm her perceptions about the dimming lights, but in defiance of reality, he keeps insisting that the lights are the same and instead it is she who is going insane.”
Having spent a period of my life studying addiction and working with families experiencing it, this is very familiar. There is a common joke said among them which goes like this: “How can you tell if an alcoholic or addict is lying?” “You can see their lips move.” Yet, family members have a common tendency to repeatedly believe what their addicted family member tells them when it contradicts what they observe with their own senses. I understand the feeling of craziness and doubting one’s own perceptions. We want to believe and trust, so we even convince ourselves that we must be imagining things, or our perceptions are off. We feel we are going crazy. And in the process power shifts from us to the deceiver.
Gaslighting on a Societal Level
On a societal level we want to be able to trust organizations to give us accurate information about events in our world. In taking sides, we tend to trust only certain sources and see others as the source of misinformation and lies when they differ. Have we lost trust in our own perception and judgment? Do we need, as Bari Weiss pointed out, the “enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else” of the truth to interpret the world for us? Feeling secure in a bubble with your trusted sources, you can dismiss alternate views as obviously the wrong ones without even seriously considering them.
We also have the added influence of peer pressure. It is like we are living the old fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes. When everyone around us, especially those who are supposed to know, are raving, we want to go along. Speaking out about the reality that we see results in our being treated like the crazy ones, or worse vilified, censored or cancelled. It is easier, and safer, to not even think about it – just silently and without question accept the narrative, reflexively parroting approved sound bites. It seems better to believe than to feel crazy. And of course, that is the point.
Think For Yourself – Trust Your Gut
I learned from alcoholics that the best course is to look at behavior/actions/fruits rather than listen to flattering words. With much that has happened recently, I try to trust myself, my first gut reactions, and what I see. When some sensational bombshell is tweeted, I try to sit back for at least a few days to see what develops. Usually, with looking at a variety of sources, facts gradually come out that paint a more complex and sometimes a very different picture. Things are too often taken out of context and it takes some effort to listen to more and varied voices to understand the context. Like dealing realistically with addicts, this involves using one’s own senses, observations and perception, rather than just accepting what you are told as fact.
Too many things this year have left me feeling that something is not right. The picture being painted does not fit with the reality that I personally see and experience. Reactions seem extreme and out of proportion. Things presented as spontaneous feel rather orchestrated and unnatural. I ask myself questions. Does this make sense? How does this fit with what I already know about history, government, natural laws and human nature? Where is this coming from? Who wants me to believe this and why? Who stands to benefit from people believing this? What about the money? It is always good to follow the money. I come to a conclusion of what is true and real based on my own observations and reasoning, rather than simply what I am told.
I will conclude with the conclusion from this anonymous post:
“Gaslighting has become one of the most pervasive and destructive tactics in American politics. It is the exact opposite of what our political system was meant to be. It deals in lies and psychological coercion, and not the truth and intellectual discourse. If you ever ask yourself if you’re crazy, you are not. Crazy people aren’t sane enough to ask themselves if they’re crazy. So, trust yourself, believe what’s in your heart. Trust your eyes over what you are told. Never listen to the people who tell you that you are crazy, because you are not, you’re being gaslighted.
Maybe the crazy ones are the ones so readily believing the lies?