Motivation matters (DW# 785)
Jun 26, 2020
We have been talking about gaslighting in relationships: that is saying or doing things which cause the person on the receiving end to start questioning their own perceptions, reality and even sanity.
There are various situations where another person may question our view of events or our perceptions and we need to remind ourselves to be careful about being quick to label something as gaslighting or writing the person off as a narcissist.
The first situation is more a matter of personality than of malign intentions. Some people are dismissive of things and attitudes of others as a matter of habit. So what we may think of as gaslighting may simply be a person’s argumentative nature, their air of superiority, or their judgmental tendency. Many high functioning and powerful individuals sometimes have a hard time practicing humility or knowing how to have egalitarian relationships. They may not intend harm on purpose and are often surprised when their partners get angry and hurt by their dismissive remarks. This is not really gaslighting. To be labeled as gaslighting there needs to be an intention to deceive or distort what you know or suspect to be true.
Here is a second situation: a person who engages in gaslighting on a one-time basis or during a brief period in a relationship. The gaslighting happens because they may find themselves caught up in a betrayal they never imagined would happen—like an affair, something financial or a major secret that they have been keeping. Such people fear that their partner will leave if they learn the truth or may get hurt beyond repair. Or they are simply not brave enough to face the situation. Since they do not know how to approach their partner to own the betrayal and to make amends, they engage in denying the truth of what happened and blame the other person instead.
The third situation is the most serious. This is where there is intent to control, manipulate, and subjugate one’s intimate partner. In this case, the perpetrator of gaslighting is acting sadistically—in other words they are deliberately damaging someone’s psyche without any care for the consequences on the victim. This is of course the most challenging situation and the hardest to heal from.
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