*The ideas contained in this post are the opinions of the writer and communicated without reference to supporting documentation. The writer also recognizes that BPD is a disorder that affects both males and females, and uses of “she” or “he” in the communication of ideas are not intended to covey sexual bias. Breakaway MHE Disclaimer
“Gaslighting 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.” ~ (Retrieved from Wikipedia, May 22, 2019)
Gaslighting is perhaps one of the oldest and, sadly, most effective tricks played on people with emotional sensitivities. It is a subtle, underhanded, and beguiling tactic, and it is often practiced whether or not it is noticed or understood by perpetrators for what it is and how it is being used. It happens in relationships with much regularity and does not allow persons suffering from genuine mental health issues to make much needed progress in learning how to responsibly manage emotions and discern fact from fiction. Gaslighting is particularly stifling and debilitating for those suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) due to the fact these individuals are yet to develop confidence in making accurate interpretations and gaining other essential skills.
Since gaslighting is so commonly used in relationships, and is also especially aggravating to mental health, it becomes vital for those suffering from conditions like BPD to become acutely aware of when it shows up and how to deal with it. To develop this special type of “gaslighting awareness,” it helps to work through some of the common life-scenarios in which the tactic might get used. I will go through a few of these scenarios further down in the article. After it becomes easier to “SEE” how gaslighting seeps into conversations, the next essential skill area that needs developing is a way to effectively respond (as opposed to react) to gaslighting. A response format that I have discovered and that I call “the best defense against gaslighting when you have Borderline Personality Disorder” will also be discussed below.
Gaslighting can be used in any situation where two people disagree on facts, and likewise, at any time there exists an unwillingness to deal with emotions and be honest about intentions underlying behaviour. For instance, if a person complains that her partner is not helping with chores around the house, the gaslighting partner may suggest that “he does help” and any information to the contrary is simply false. An attempt to fine-tune the complaint may then be made by explaining that he doesn’t pick up his clothes off the floor, to which the gaslighting partner may reply that “he does pick up his clothes” and if clothes are on the floor then he didn’t put them there. The ongoing denial pattern continues until the complaint is dropped and, if emotions get aroused, the gaslighting partner may then take this as an opportunity to suggest that the person complaining has now become “unstable.”
Another good example of gaslighting is the president of the United States in 2019. This man is constantly denying, lying, and making attempts to misdirect his audience despite there being many available facts to disprove his statements. But despite his very apparent pattern of blatant lying, he can nonetheless sound very convincing as he speaks. Indeed, an expert gaslighter can sound extremely convincing to his or her audience no matter what the situation or circumstances, and this why anyone unskilled in mental health and unaware of gaslighting can easily get drawn into their false reality. Persons with emotional sensitivities, in particular, may easily give up their power and lose confidence when they are surrounded by individuals, such as the president in 2019, who so chronically gaslights.
To be more specific regarding individuals suffering from BPD and who are also struggling in relationships, it is very common for the suffering and struggling to be related to experiencing gaslighting in the form of emotional invalidation. For instance, it is not uncommon at all for a person with BPD to hear that “nothing harmful is taking place” and “to just calm down” when emotions are being blatantly dismissed and invalidated (e.g., “why are you acting so upset and crazy just because I said your feelings are wrong?”). Despite the fact that those suffering from BPD need to learn how to take responsibility for their interpretations, emotions, and behaviours, it becomes exceptionally difficult to practice taking this kind of responsibility when “fuel is added to the emotional fire” every time an invalidating statement is uttered by others, either on purpose or accidentally.
The ongoing challenge when diagnosed with BPD is to work through challenging emotions that can interfere with rational thinking and induce ineffective behavioural reacting. To be on the receiving end of gaslighting in relationships, whether on purpose or by accident, is ultimately just another emotional challenge to work through using emotional processing skills. The best defense against gaslighting, therefore, is to become highly (and precisely) aware of your emotional experience and the chain of events (including your interpretation of events) that produced the emotional experience. Other necessary skills include being able to self-validate, self-regulate, and adjusting thinking to better fit the reality of the situation (e.g., do the people around you understand mental health, do they unconsciously gaslight others, and do they even know what gaslighting is?).
As you are perhaps starting to recognize, getting equipped to handle these types of situations involves developing a range of knowledge and skill in the areas of self-awareness, mindfulness, cognitive restructuring, and behavioural effectiveness. It is the same general skill set that is needed for mastering Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), with the only difference for this article being to learn the definition of gaslighting. It is a journey of pattern recognition, both as they occur between people and as happen inside you (e.g., how do you perceive, how do you think, how do you feel, and how do you behave?). Patterns between people (and within people) tend to repeat with great frequency, and this is good news because it offers opportunities to practice using skills and, ultimately, creating a different reality.
Gaslighting is but one of many patterns of interaction that shows up between humans, although once recognized can be processed and tolerated just like any other. The enlightened response to gaslighting may include amusement, curiosity, or even laughter, since after all it is merely another attempt made by humans to avoid honesty and emotion. That being said, being on the receiving end of gaslighting too frequently (and too soon) prior to mastering skills in thought and emotion management, it may become necessary to limit exposure to individuals who use this tactic. If limiting exposure isn’t a realistic option, then the next best (and perhaps only) option is to utilize exposure to gaslighting as an opportunity to strengthen mental health knowledge and skill. Eventually, your accumulated knowledge and skill will overpower the gaslighting effect.