Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People — and Break Free
By Stephanie Moulton Sarkis, Ph.D.
Da Capo Press (An Imprint of Hachette)
Trade Paperback (Also Available as an E-Book)
(Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional.)
Most of us who have the slightest human vulnerability have been gaslighted. Maybe it didn’t work on some of us, but don’t be too sure about that.
Gaslighting is a form of mental manipulation which causes people to question their own perceptions or judgment. The effect of it is the emotional equivalent of slipping on ice. You might struggle to catch yourself, but most of the time your feet will slide out from under you anyway. Gaslighting can be subtle, but after it has been going on for a while the deception may be fairly blatant and the person who is targeted won’t see it.
In her book, Dr. Stephanie Sarkis covers nearly (I’ll get to what’s missing later) every aspect of this controlling behavior which can ruin a person’s life. She also offers advice on how to get it stopped and begin recovery, whether the reader is an abuser or a target of abuse.
Among other things, Dr. Sarkis’s book describes how an abusive schemer can inflict harm behind one’s back. A gaslighter might say things about you to others which will damage their trust in you (I experienced this when my mother was terminally ill. Although I was the person listed first on her Advance Healthcare Directive, a gaslighter quietly advised her caregivers to ignore me and listen to him instead because I was allegedly too unstable to handle responsibility). A gaslighter may also create tension which will pit people against each other, when there would be no conflict otherwise.
I found one major shortcoming in Dr. Sarkis’s book. Although in many instances she seems to cover all bases, there’s no mention that some mental health care providers are gaslighters. Personally, I saw a gaslighting therapist for seven years before finally getting rid of him on the telephone (he had called me to question my judgment after I had already told him I wasn’t coming back).
I’m not proud of the mistreatment I took from that therapist, but the experience paid off later when I saw someone similar. She was a bit more obvious, and I understood during the first visit that I’d better not return to her office. And, yes, she called me on the phone the following morning to tell me I’d better come back because I didn’t know what I was doing.
I also became aware of a gaslighting situation when someone I knew was in alcoholism rehab. Supposedly, the staff of that facility were recovering alcoholics who had the wisdom of experience. In reality, they were technically sober but not really recovering. The counselors were engaging in the sort of antagonization you might witness in a dive bar, and offering nothing. They were what some people would disparagingly call “dry drunks,” and passing themselves off as professionals. By the time clients graduated from that dubious program their nerves were shot, and not only because of the normal adjustment to sobriety. Those newly released clients were eager for their next drink so they could calm down from the trauma.
Okay, there’s always the possibility that you really don’t know what you’re doing, and someone had better have a word with you about that. There’s a distinction between respectful intervention and manipulation, though. Your own life experience will teach you a lot about that, and Dr. Sarkis’s book can help too. Just remember that gaslighting is a problem you can run into anywhere, including the therapist’s office and rehab facility.