In 1944, the brilliant silver screen icon Ingrid Bergman starred in a movie called Gaslight, in which she played a wife being manipulated by her husband. For nefarious reaons, he was trying to convince her that she was going insane. Spoiler alert: She wasn’t. The husband was just an abusive asshole.
This last year, the term gaslighting has emerged as a hot-button issue. If you scroll through your Facebook feed right now, you will likely see the term gaslighting peppered throughout headlines warning people about what is coming down the pipeline from the Trump administration.
Trump might be the reigning king of gaslighting, so let’s break down what it is and why you should give a fuck.
What Is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is when an abusive person, or group of people, target another person (or group of people) and manipulate said target by creating doubt. This doubt is created by convincing the target to question their own memory, awareness, lived experiences, and eventually their sanity. This is a formidable weapon that dictators, abusers, and con artists have successfully used since the dawn of time. Emotions can be manipulated, especially in times of tension and strife, and right now, if you pay attention, you can clearly see that we are being often duped by our new president and his band of miscreants.
Teen Vogue brilliantly pointed out that “at the hands of Trump, facts have become interchangeable with opinions, blinding us into arguing amongst ourselves, as our very reality is called into question.”
Say it with me, “alternative facts.” See also, “Bowling Green Massacre.”
When figures of power fabricate the truth and denounce legitimate facts when they are presented, what they are doing is successfully creating their own reality that they can force upon others, willing or not. This is classic gaslighting behavior that is seen with regularity in abusive relationships. According to Psychology Today, “once you identify this destructive pattern in your relationship, you can change it.” So how do we know when we’re being gaslighted?
How to Spot Gaslighting
– When persons of power refute facts and dismiss them as evidence of prejudice or bias.
– When persons of power refuse to answer direct questions and instead flip the focus back onto the person asking the question in order to create a diversion.
– When persons of power insist on withholding significant information and give no reason why.
– When persons of power consistently create situations in which you second-guess yourself or your sources.
What You Can Do
When you figure out that you are being gaslighted, you can fight back and change the power dynamic. Much like those viral images of the girl with shiny legs (or was it a stripe of white paint?), once you see it, you can’t unsee it. Unfortunately, gaslighting is the norm in the new White House. Many people are feeling hopeless, and angry, and wondering what they can do to flip the script.
Here are a few suggestions:
1. Insist on the truth no matter what. Seek only news stories that are factual and from reputable sources that are non-partisan such as NPR, BBC, Reuters, New York Times, Washington Post, and Associated Press to start.
2. Call your representatives, or show up in person, and tell them how you feel about issues and their upcoming votes. Emails and virtual petitions are better than complete inaction, but phone calls and personal visits are the way to go if at all possible.
3. Get involved in your local community politics. Join your school PTA, go to your town council meetings, run for office, or support the campaign of someone who is running for office.
4. Donate money or time to organizations that are dedicated to combating gaslighting, who fight for equality and justice, and who have an economic and political arm to make positive changes. Groups like the ACLU, National Public Radio, Planned Parenthood, and the Southern Poverty Law Center are great places to start.
5. Get and stay informed, but don’t overwhelm yourself to the point of checking out mentally and emotionally. It helps to find one cause to focus your time and energy on and know that millions of people are out there fighting for the other causes. You are not Wonder Woman — you cannot do it all.
It seems as though we are often living in the upside down these days. Every day, the news feels like a surreal trip into a nightmare of total disbelief that leaves you questioning: Is this real life? But if we work together by demanding facts, pressuring our elected officials to elevate our voices, supporting reputable news sources, and defending our freedoms that we have fought for so long to gain, then we can survive the next four years together.
Gaslighting is not funny, folks. It’s real. It’s happening now. Don’t let yourself fall victim, and do not stay silent. We have to call this shit out, starting right now.