What is Gas Lighting?
Gas lighting is a form of emotional abuse. It is used as a way of manipulating a person's reality. People who gaslight others do so as an attempt to avoid pain, control people in their life, and to manipulate outcomes in their favor. As the saying goes, hurting people hurt people.
Gas lighters are experts of intimidation and manipulation. They have an uncanny way of using deception and anger to blow F.O.G. (fear, obligation, guilt) in to their significant others world in order to create a state of confusion and traumatic bonding.
Gas lighters often have conflict seeking brains, they are typically at odds with at least one person in their life at all times. Gas lighters mistake intimacy with intensity - they seek drama in relationships as a way of feeling "alive", often self sabotaging every step of the way.
While you may have empathy and deep love for the gas lighter in your life, it is not your job, nor do you have the capacity to save that person, even your spouse or partner.
Attempting to rescue at the expense of your own emotional, physical or spiritual well being is participating in an unhealthy and highly destructive dance.
Remember: You are not required to be a rehab center for your partner, nor do you have a magic wand that will take their pain away. That is their work to do.
Why does my loved one do this?
The key question that partners, spouses, friends, and family members of the gas lighter ask is:
“Why does my loved one do this?”
The roots of gas lighting are complex and typically include: early attachment issues, rage, unhealthy coping mechanisms, entitlement, lack of personal insight and ownership, a refusal to allow for consequences, fear based thinking, unresolved trauma, low emotional intelligence, lack of or low empathy, abandonment fear, and sometimes mental illness and/or personality disorders.
A person may gaslight others through a variety of approaches including using fear, guilt, shame, compliments, insults, gossip, denial, blame shifting, and subtle or not so subtle threats.
The Impact of Gas lighting
Victims of gas lighting report the following:
Feelings of disorientation
Doubting their own reality
Increased anxiety and/or depression
Body image issues
Shattered self image
Preoccupation with the abuser’s life
Increased co-depedency (i.e. doing all of the heavy lifting in the relationship)
Fear and worry
Impact on mental health
Physical symptoms and illness
Suicidal thoughts and/or attempts
Negative impact on career or academic pursuits
Lack of energy or hope
As a clinician I see the wounds of those who have been emotionally abused by a gas lighter in their life. It takes courage, support, education, and insight to advocate for oneself and to step out of the maze and haze of gas lighting and reclaim and restore one’s emotional, physical and spiritual health.
It is not easy, but it is possible with support.
What is Tribal Gaslighting?
We often think of gas lighting existing only in intimate relationships where betrayal has happened, and one partner has been deceived through affairs. This is a common form of gas lighting.
However, there are other forms of non intimate relationship gas lighting that gas lighters will attempt in order to control outcomes and the people around them. This is done to control, scare, threaten, alienate, or cut down individuals who are close to their wounded spouse or partner, essentially the tribe that their abused spouse or partner has reached out to (i.e. friends, family, co-workers, church members, therapists, sponsors, etc.). I have named this phenomena “tribal gas lighting.”
As an emotionally abused spouse or partner begins to wake up out of the F.O.G. of gas lighting, they often reach out for support, make a choice to seek help, or may even decide to leave the relationship. This new found determination often ignites an escalation in the gas lighter who then lashes out at those who are supporting the wounded partner. I call this tribal gas lighting.
Examples of tribal gas lighting:
"You are crazy, I did not do that to my partner/spouse, that never happened!"
"I have no idea what you are talking about. S/he/they are a liar."
"If you don't do what I want, if you don’t stop influencing my spouse, I will make you pay."
"If you don't answer my (text/email/call), I'll find a way of hurting you/your reputation."
"I'll tell the world that you are a (fill in the insulting label) and you'll be sorry for interfering!"
"You don't know the whole story about him/her/them."
"You are no longer welcome in my (husband/wife/partner) life, go away!"
"Did you know that my (husband/wife/partner) said this terrible thing about you?"
"You should know that my spouse/partner is a slut/liar/addict/abusive."
"I am the one who is the real victim here!"
Gas lighting, both intimate and tribal, is a form of emotional terrorism. It is meant to disarm you or the healthy supportive people who are in your life. It is meant to create fear, leave you feeling unsure of your reality, instill guilt and shame, and keep you under the control of the abuser.
Tools to support your own sanity and safety
Stay in your reality
Trust your gut
Do your research on gas lighting and trauma
Know, name and maintain healthy boundaries
Use I statements
Do not engage in escalating or triggering conversations
Take a time out
Learn tools to manage your anger (gas lighters are highly skilled at goading and prodding their victims to the point of rage, protect yourself)
Create a network of support (spiritual community, healthy friendships, therapy, group therapy, 12 step, healthy family members), and let them know that they are under no obligation to interact with or respond to tribal gas lighting if that occurs.
Important Note: If you feel that your safety is at risk and you are in danger, call 911. Not all gas lighters are physically abusive, but if you are experiencing domestic violence, or feel that your physical safety is at stake, or you find that your spouse or partner is escalating in unhealthy behavior, or participating in tribal gas lighting, or making threats to your support team or loved ones, take steps to keep yourself safe and alive.
This website has information on this: https://ncadv.org/learn-more, as well as the domestic violence hotline: 800-799-7233
An excellent book on personal safety is: The Gift of Fear, by Gavin De Becker.
A Reminder for Therapists
If you find that you are being targeted by a hurting or unhealthy person who is blame shifting their pain on to you, perhaps a client, or the spouse, partner, parent or adult child of a client, though this kind of tribal gas lighting is unsettling, do your best to remember that this person's behaivor is likely a traumatic response and cry for help due to their own life circumstances and consequences of their behaviors.
The person targeting you is lashing out in pain, possibly due to mental illness issues, acute anxiety, PTSD, anger management challenges, or perhaps they may suffer from a personality disorder.
Maintain your clinical boundaries, do not engage with non therapy individuals who are not under your care, do not compromise the confidentiality of clients, do not enter in to projective identification, hold solid professional and compassionate space, maintain records, and stay centered and focused. Seek legal advise when appropriate, seek peer consultation when needed.
Remember: No matter what the hurting person is projecting on to you, this is not about you, this is about their pain.
Important Note: If you are a therapist and you feel that your safety is at risk, or you are receiving covert or overt threats, you are being followed, harassed, stalked on line or in real time, remember that your well being is your number one priority.
Safety steps you can take: If you work in an office with other therapists, let them know you feel at risk. If you are an intern or working for an agency, let your supervisor know. If need be, contact your board to alert them of your safety concerns, contact your professional organization's attorney, and if you feel your life is in immediate danger, contact the police.
Intimate and tribal gas lighting is an epidemic and on the rise.
Stay safe. Stay sane. Seek support.
Kindly and in support,
Mari A. Lee, LMFT, CSAT-S, CPTT-S, MBAT-S