Gaslighting in Contexts Other Than Relationships

I was absolutely overwhelmed with the response to my “what is” post last week about gaslighting. I never know when a post will resonate with my readers, and I could tell that my post resonated with quite a few of you. It’s unfortunate that so many related to the post because of their experiences as victims of gaslighting, but I’m also hopeful that some people will come to a better understanding of their experiences through reading that post.

However, I think it is worth doing a follow-up post because of things I’ve learned even since last Monday, and things people should learn as well, about gaslighting in contexts other than one-on-one relationships with other people.

In saying this, it is worth remembering that gaslighting is “a specific type of manipulation where the manipulator is trying to get someone else (or a group of people) to question their own reality, memory or perceptions.”[1]

Phrases like the following can be commonplace:

Of course that didn’t happen. You’re being crazy.”

“Your mind must be playing games.”

“It’s all in your head.”

“You’re being too sensitive.”

These challenges to one’s reality, memory, and perceptions happen a lot in relationships, as I said in my post last Monday, but they can also happen in other contexts.

One other context in which gaslighting can happen is politics—something that a couple of the comments in response to my post pointed out last Monday. When a politician makes a person, or a whole group of people, question their own reality, that is political gaslighting. In fact, as controversial as it may be for me to say this, I think that the American people are a victim of President Donald Trump’s gaslighting regarding the election results—he is trying to get the entire country to doubt the basic reality that he lost, so that he could be president for four more years (or for life). Thankfully, no amount of gaslighting can result in giving Trump an election that he undoubtedly lost, but in the meantime the American people have to deal with the fact that he has successfully convinced a group of people of a reality that simply does not exist. And, when you have someone with a large platform who engages in an act of political gaslighting, the result is that a group of people gets convinced of a reality that does not exist (as is the case here with the election and President Trump).

Yet another context that gaslighting can exist is in the experiences of people with disabilities, racial minorities, LGBTQ+ people, and other groups that face discrimination. Reading a post from Jackie at Disability & Determination helped me recognize that gaslighting absolutely exists in this context. Jackie’s post talked about gaslighting in the context of the disability community—it is painfully common in the disability community for someone to question or doubt the reality that there are certain things you aren’t able to do, or at least not do in the same way, as an able-bodied individual (or dismiss the reality of the disability in general). It can exist in the context of LGBTQ+ individuals through people who counter their perceptions of their sexual or gender identity, in the context of Black people through people who try to divert attention to how difficult they also have things in life, in the context of poor people by countering any notion that they are working hard yet struggling to still get by (saying that they simply need to work harder), and much more. Groups of people face discrimination and are gaslit about their own experiences of discrimination—a double whammy.

There may be other major manifestations of gaslighting that I did not cover either in last week’s post or this post; if so, please let me know in the comments section below. However, it is clear to me now that in addition to gaslighting rearing its ugly head in relationships, it can also rear its ugly head in other forms, such as in politics and the experiences of people in groups that face discrimination.


[1] My definition comes from here: https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/what-gaslighting-how-do-you-know-if-it-s-happening-ncna890866

12 Replies to “Gaslighting in Contexts Other Than Relationships”

  1. My own take on it, and this is just me, is that the expansion of the definition of gaslighting risks doing a disservice to the experience of people in emotionally abusive relationships through overuse of the term. There are many ways in which people’s experiences may be dismissed or invalidated, and many ways in which people try to push their version of reality onto others, and I wonder if calling all of those things gaslighting misses out on the nuances of the wide range of different types of experiences.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. ashleyleia. Really good point. It’s like the word “bully” that no longer means anything cuz it’s been used so much. But. What Brendan has touched on (I think) is that the abuse and the behavior of the “gaslighter” is prevalent in society. One of the biggest is the whole political situations with the conspiracy theories and the –oh I didn’t do that–the lies and such. But maybe that’s more of social manipulation with gaslight tendencies? idk. I write about lifestyle and abuse etc so I really do appreciate what you’re saying but when it comes down to two people…abuse is abuse sadly.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Ashley and Faye-Thanks for the detailed comments. This is the first critique I’ve heard of extending the notion of gaslighting beyond relationships. I will also add that Faye is correct when she said that I was pointing out that the behavior of the “gaslighter” is prevalent in society.

      I do think that gaslighting behaviors can manifest themselves in a number of contexts, and I personally veer towards calling something for what it is. That being said, I wonder if making distinctions between different major types of gaslighting that seem to manifest themselves (for example, relationship gaslighting versus political gaslighting versus discriminatory gaslighting) would be helpful. Just a thought.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I wonder if perhaps what happens in a political context is a distinct concept that’s more closely related to tyranny, such has what happened under Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, the Kims in North Korea, etc., all of whom forced their own version of reality on the populace.

        The same thing with denial of oppressive/discriminatory concepts being a potentially distinct concept—that’s deeply rooted in social structures and belief systems, and the term gaslighting doesn’t capture those many complex layers.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Perhaps they are distinct concepts. Words such as “political gaslighting” (for the politics) are the best I seem to find at the moment, but it’s possible that there’s a better word out there that is either here (and I’m not aware of it) or will come in future years or decades. After all, I have a feeling that we’re going to be studying what happened in the US in the late 2010s, trying to figure out words to describe the sort of trauma this country and many of its citizens went through.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Brendan. Great post.Agree with fellow commenter though in looking at the manipulation for what it is….otherwise everything could be gaslighting. A thought

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for chiming in, Kim. There was more disagreement than I quite realized when I published this on whether the things I talk about here could or should be considered gaslighting (not that disagreement here is a bad thing, and if anything I think it’s healthy here because we’re grappling with how best to relate to the experiences of experiences described here I call gaslighting). I would still say though that what I describe here is gaslighting, if nothing else because gaslighting seems to best describe what I talk about here, and because there doesn’t seem to be better terminology (yet) to accurately describe what I talk about here.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are welcome. Most people who have experienced gas-lighting have also experienced gang-stalking. Gang-stalkers behave a lot like the people at Capitol Hill last week. The gas-lighter is not working alone. There is a network of people working with them.

        Liked by 1 person

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