Do you know the term “gas-lighting”? I’ll admit I didn’t fully understand it until last year. I had heard the term referenced in books, conversation and movies and had a vague understanding but didn’t dig deeper until recently.
According to Wikipedia: “Gas-lighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s belief.”
Basically, gas-lighting is manipulating someone into thinking that they’re imagining something. We tend to think of it happening in an adult context such as manipulation between partners: “I am not having an affair, you must be dreaming.” Or, “It didn’t happen that way, you’re crazy.”
That’s bad enough but gas-lighting can happen with siblings and between parents and their children, too. A parent might downgrade a child’s feelings or reality in a variety of ways:
- “Don’t be silly, you’re not afraid of the dark.”
- “Your Uncle Billy is a lovely man; don’t be afraid of going to his house for dinner.”
- “We didn’t eat your Hallowe’en candy; you must have counted wrong.”
- “Oh, stop crying, Jenny. It’s not that important.”
While an occasional manipulation of the truth may not harm a child’s psyche, long-term gas-lighting of his thoughts, feelings, opinions or reality is most-definitely harmful and can wreak havoc on a child’s self-confidence.
Has this ever happened to you? Do you ever “gas-light” your child or partner without realizing it? I know I’m going to be more aware of this phenomenon moving forward.