On the 2000 album Let’s Get Free, rap group Dead Prez released a song entitled “Psychology” which featured the line, “Believe in none of what you hear and half of what you see.” At the time, the phrase resonated with me.
Currently, I think the automatic disbelief standard is a bit too rigid for my worldview. In particular, belief in “none” of what is heard may exclude some information relevant to a quest to know truth.
Nevertheless, I value a healthy amount of skepticism and Dead Prez’s line may be useful when considering the topic of gaslighting—a form of psychological manipulation in which a person is deliberately deceived in an attempt to cause the individual to question the person’s sanity.
According to one source:
The origin of the term is the 1938 British thriller play Gas Light by Patrick Hamilton, which provided the source material for the 1940 British film, Gaslight. The film was then remade in 1944 in America – also as Gaslight – and it is this film which has since become the primary reference point for the term.
Describing the plot of the 1944 film, one source states:
After the death of her famous opera-singing aunt, Paula Alquist (Ingrid Bergman) is sent to study in Italy to become a great opera singer as well. While there, she falls in love with the charming Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer). The two return to London, and Paula begins to notice strange goings-on: missing pictures, strange footsteps in the night, and gaslights that dim without being touched. As she fights to retain her sanity, her new husband’s intentions come into question.
When Gregory incrementally dims gaslights without Paula’s knowledge, Paula questions her own sanity when Gregory convinces her that Paula’s observation is all in her head. In Paula’s case, she can’t believe what she hears from Gregory, or even what she sees with her own eyes.
· Lying and distortion are the cornerstones of gaslighting behavior
· People may pretend to be worried about you while subtly telling others that you seem emotionally unstable or “crazy”
· When you ask a someone who gaslights a question or call them out for something they did or said, they may change the subject by asking a question instead of responding to the issue at hand
· When you deal with someone who never acknowledges your thoughts, feelings, or beliefs, you may begin to question them yourself
· Every discussion you have is somehow twisted to where you are to blame for something that occurred
· Denial of wrongdoing on the part of the person who is gaslighting
· Sometimes, when called out or questioned, a person who gaslights will use kind and loving words to try to smooth over the situation
· A person who gaslights tends to retell stories in ways that are in their favor, also referred to as “rewriting history”
For the most part, I agree with these signs. However, I take exception with the element related to acknowledgement of thoughts, feelings, or beliefs.
Practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I understand that even if a person “never acknowledges your thoughts, feelings, or beliefs,” unconditional acceptance may be used to keep from self-disturbing about the behavior of other people.
Unfortunately, I’ve observed many people who use the concept of gaslighting as an essential feature of victimhood—the tendency to recognize oneself as a victim of the negative actions of others, and behaving as though this is the cause of suffering even when evidence doesn’t support this conclusion.
For instance, person X may claim that because her longtime boyfriend doesn’t consider her beliefs to be valid, he’s gaslighting her by questioning why person X believes as she does. Seeking comfort from others who share her irrational belief, person X may conclude that she’s being victimized by her boyfriend.
Aside from fictional person X, I recently became where of a concrete example of gaslighting. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) allegedly shared a video on her Instagram account that claimed inflation is “propaganda.”
Though inflation numbers continually fluctuate, one source reports, “Consumer prices rose 3.7 percent in the year through August, marking another month of accelerating inflation.” Is the average person to believe none of what AOC says and only half of what they see with month-to-month spending?
Personally, I’m not fooled by AOC’s purported gaslighting. The cost of conducting teletherapy has increased since the pandemic, as have my living expenses.
Understanding how gaslighting works is an initial step to countering this manipulative practice. When being lied to, it isn’t necessary to take at face value criticism of one’s skepticism.
I find that seeking evidence to support or refute the beliefs I maintain about myself, others, and the world is a healthy step towards addressing the process of being gaslit. Even if other people appear to remain fully convinced that the lights aren’t systematically dimming, I seek evidence to know truth.
How about you, dear reader, what do you do when suspecting that you’re being gaslit? If you’d like to know more about how to address this matter, I’m here to help.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As the world’s foremost old school hip hop REBT psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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