Friday, September 2, 2011

“Gaslighting”: Are You Fanning the Flame?

In her book entitled, “The Gaslight Effect” (Crown Archetype, 2007), Dr. Robin Stern describes “gaslighting”, an unfortunate emotionally debilitating phenomenon that occurs in relationships where a strong, intelligent person is undermined by the insecurities of another. The tendency manifests as a person of low self-esteem seeks to undermine the confidence of another in an effort to bring stability to their own instability. It appears in personal and professional relationships without regard for race, class or gender. Dr. Stern first observed and identified this exploit as typically occurring among women in their romantic and business relationships.

As you turn the pages of this very enlightening psychological read, it is easy to identify with the anecdotes of the “Gaslightee”; the victims of the “Gaslighter”. We remember our own experiences with lovers, family members and workplace acquaintances: seeds of pathological and narcissistic manipulation sown in the gardens of a once healthy mind; or compliments peppered with “constructive criticism” spoken softly over a toothy passive aggressive smile. Spend enough time reminiscing and you will eventually find yourself wearing the cloak of victimization, which I vigorously discourage.

Psychology has an array of programs and pills for victims of emotional abuse. For all of the attention that is given to those singed by the flames of another’s insecurity, I wonder how many people are brave enough to admit to having been the “Gaslighter” at some point in their lives. To admit that in the heat of relationship or workplace battles and because of a measure of perceived inner insufficiency, you took deliberate aim at the psyche -- the heart and soul of another human being in order to simply have your way. Admit it, and take steps to refrain from this and all other acts of emotional terrorism.

The “Gaslighter” constructs a prison in the mind of their so-called beloved. Most people forget that the jailer is always confined with the inmates. The Gaslighter can only do what is permitted by his victim. As long as there is someone bowing to his mental exorcism, he will have regular work and fresh prey; hurting people hurt people. Without his well-chosen prey, then and only then is he forced to face himself…or perish.

If you read Dr. Stern’s book, I challenge you to do so without assuming that just because you recognize yourself in a scenario or two, or find yourself in disbelief with regard to your answers to the questionnaire in chapter one, that you must immediately seek professional help because yet another author, survey or manuscript has branded you as a victim. Rather, reflect on the text with brutal honesty, admitting to and finding a remedy to your own prior bad acts.

Endeavor to extinguish the flames fanned by irrational emotion and perpetual self-doubt. Each of us is responsible for self-reflection and appropriate course correction to ensure we live in a manner that is wholly pleasing, purposeful and prosperous.



You can read an excerpt from “The Gaslight Effect” by clicking on the link below.