Gaslighting is the word for 2022. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary announced it last month. Gaslighting is not a new idea or concept. However, it has become more pronounced in the last couple of years with the increase of misinformation, conspiracy theories, fake news and Twitter trolls.
Gaslighting Definition and History
So, what is gaslighting in the first place? According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, gaslighting is “psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.”
Gaslighting comes from the title of a 1938 play and the movie based on that play. The story is about a man attempting to make his wife believe she is going insane. He intentionally causes the gas lights in their home to dim. While insisting to his wife that the lights are not dimming and that she can’t trust her own mind.
Back in the day it referred to a kind of deception like in the movie. But today, gaslighting describes something simpler and yet broader. For example, a patient is not believed when sharing concerns with a doctor. The patient is told their concerns are not as bad as what they think. It is not only seen in personal relationships but in businesses, religious organizations and politics.
Gaslighting Not New to Me
Although gaslighting is the word for this year it is not new to me and people in my community. Let me give you a scenario.
Many times I come across inaccessible websites. And being the advocate I am, I bring this to the attention of the company and/or developer. Instead of responding with a thank you for bringing this to our attention and we will fix it, I get a reply like this one. “Well, no one else has complained about this before. This is the first time I have heard anyone mention this situation.”
Don’t Feel believed
I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I have heard this reply. When I do I feel distressed and frustrated. I feel I am not believed or don’t know what I am talking about. Sometimes I am left to feel it is all in my head and I am the one with the problem. My annoyance and even anger starts to rise. I feel duped and not believed. As if my complaint is not valid because I took the time and energy to say something about it.
Just because others, for whatever reason, choose not to speak up and speak out doesn’t mean my complaint or concern is not valid. The main ingredient of gaslighting is to make the person think and/or feel they are confused or wrong. It is about slowly stripping away self-confidence and lowering self-esteem. When instead the problem should be addressed and a solution found.
Have to Stay Calm
So, what do I do? I have to tell myself to breathe and stay calm. I know I won’t get the result I want going off and being upset.
Faking My Blindness
Another scenario is when people don’t believe I am really blind as if I am faking it. In my mind, I’m thinking why in the world would I fake a major, permanent disability. My life is hard and challenging enough so there is no good reason I would pretend to be blind. Perhaps people think I got the hook up with all kinds of benefits and perks. But I’m hear to tell you , disability don’t work that way. In some cases, it is the total opposite. I sometimes get the crumbs and the leftovers.
Again, I feel distressed, confused and annoyed. I am left to feel like I am the problem and that what they are saying to me is not an issue.
Educate People on Disability
My solution is to educate as much as possible. But I have to tell you it can be exhausting. I have to check my energy level and if the person is really willing to be educated in the first place. There are moments I don’t bother and just try to roll it off my back.
So here is the thing with gaslighting. I have learned to recognize it more. I even read an audiobook recommended by a friend on the topic title, “Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People–and Break Free” by Stephanie Moulton Sarkis. Now that I know more about it I can see it coming and prepare myself. I let people know up front pretty quick that I am a smart, capable person. I won’t be easily fooled. I let them know it will be hard to gaslight me.
What about you? What has been your experience with gaslighting? How do you handle it?