Gaslighting: What Makes a Person Vulnerable?

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From Psychology Today/Peg Streep: “Well, it’s official: Merriam-Webster has named ‘gaslighting‘ the 2022 word of the year. This is pretty amazing for a word that began as a title of a play, Gas Light in 1933 and then became a movie, Gaslight, in 1944 starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. In the movie, Boyer manipulates Bergman and distracts her from his criminality by trying to convince her that she’s going insane. And there we have it: Gaslighting describes the effort to convince you that your grasp on reality is tenuous at best and that what you think you saw or heard simply didn’t happen.

Gaslighting a child is remarkably easy since the adult is the voice of authority, sets the rules of the little world the child inhabits, and has superior knowledge of the real world, or so the child believes. (This is explored at length in another post.) The adult knows the power of his or her words full well. What child can stand up to the statement, ‘That never happened. You’re making it up’?

But what makes gaslighting another adult work? The key thing to remember is that the gaslighter—like all verbal abusers—operates from what they know to be your fears, insecurities, vulnerabilities, and neediness. Additionality, as in other types of verbal abuse, there has to be an imbalance of power with the gaslighter holding the cards. That imbalance of power can be literal (a boss who can fire you, a colleague who can make your workday untenable, a spouse who holds the purse strings, a parent on whom you depend financially and emotionally) or symbolic (a partner who is less invested in the relationship than you, a spouse whom you can’t imagine living without).

Looking at what makes you vulnerable

Self-confidence, belief in your own perceptions, and a degree of independence all provide the armor people need to resist gaslighting. That said, let’s look at what leaves some people open to it.”

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3 COMMENTS

  1. “…the gaslighter—like all verbal abusers—operates from what they know to be your fears, insecurities, vulnerabilities, and neediness.”

    “Additionally, as in other types of verbal abuse, there has to be an imbalance of power with the gaslighter holding all the cards.”

    “This [your inclination to doubt yourself] is something the gaslighter knows about and he or she stands ready to exploit.”

    Psychiatrists AND therapists will often use these gaslighting dynamics to gain an unfair advantage over vulnerable people.

    And people saying, “That’s just their training, they’re really just trying to help,” IS BULLSHIT because for the most part, people who have no problem using these tactics are more interested in HAVING POWER OVER OTHERS more than EMPOWERING OTHERS; they obviously prefer infantilizing people.

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  2. Gaslighting and other forms of verbal and emotional abuse were so normalized throughout my childhood that even when I watch videos that try and illustrate gaslighting, invalidation and other forms of verbal abuse in an unmistakable fashion I just see normal behavior. Or maybe I have a twinge of anger in my body, but am flooded with fear thereafter and determine that the perception of abuse must be an illusion, which I guess is the intention of gaslighting. So good job fam it worked!

    Also I read the other entries for what leaves a person susceptible, and they’re just a portrait of how my father taught me to respond to my mother and brothers’ abusive behavior. I.e. any negative response on my part was me being conflictual and failing not to get angry: ‘why can’t you just ignore it?’ was his motto. So the childhood abuse left me vulnerable, and the ways of responding to it available to me and forced upon me left me more vulnerable! Lovely.

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