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We’re off-balance. First, the weather blows warm and then freezing and everyone is either sick or fighting off somebody else’s illness. We’re drinking water we don’t trust, eating foods corporations design for maximum profit not nutrition, and the wind blows particulates and poisonous fumes all across the globe. Our view of the future is often apocalyptic. Our institutions have been physically attacked and we’re told our ideas are crazy. We feel vaguely unsafe all the time. We’ve begun second guessing ourselves. No wonder we’re perfect subjects for gaslighting.
The 1944 film Gaslight starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer was my introduction to the concept. Evil Charles Boyer dims the gas lights in their Victorian home as part of his plot to convince his vulnerable young bride she’s losing her mind. Gaslighting has since become a widely accepted term for an attempt to make a person or group question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Modern day psychologists provide lists of warning signs and recommend professional help to victims. I would guess that bullying qualifies as gaslighting, as well as the denigration of minorities—including LGBQT—or women. We don’t have to consult research or recent court cases to know that psychological manipulation can kill or cause others to be murdered.
What would you believe if you thought your own perceptions and sanity were faulty? Who would you turn to for guidance? Generally, we look around to see what people we identify as worthy are saying. For centuries, women have been trained to look to men. The weak have turned to the strong. The ignorant accept the guidance of “leaders” who seem powerful. They embrace simple answers—regardless of whether they’re factual—because they can understand them. Many turn to social media where players such as Russia, China, and unscrupulous billionaires keep polishing their skills in manipulation to achieve their own ends. Fear works. It’s the basis for hate. Some church leaders from assorted religions use the blind faith of their followers to steal and rape. They know the magic religious words to say to gaslight the vulnerable.
A woman who had finally removed herself from a domestic violence situation told me it took her months to realize the view of herself she had accepted from her abusive husband was wrong. She was neither dependent nor without options. As individuals in an insane society, we need to arrive at the same revelation. We need to base our self-perceptions as well as our critical thinking on realities that are healthier and more rewarding than the deceptions we’re being fed. Our president dubs fact checks as fake news and treats our allies as enemies and vice versa. Drug companies tell us we must have fabulously expensive drugs to survive, when often simple changes in lifestyle are more effective. What used to be called “spin” has become lies.
We don’t have to accept the crippled self-images that are presented to us as our mirror. We can analyze complicated issues better than we were told we could. We can make our own individual choices. We have only to do it. Trust your power! Act as someone you admire. Our beliefs shouldn’t be as erratic as the weather.