Gaslighting is creepy. Whether it’s the kind of gaslighter who knowingly tries to make you doubt your sanity by saying lies are truth or the kind who actually believes their own delusion and tries to force it on you…it’s all creepy, all the time. It’s dressed-up-for-Halloween, make-kids-and-adults-alike-drop-their-candy-and-run creepy. It’s downright ghoulish, eerie.
The problem is, gaslighters don’t come in gross masks and shredded clothes; they look just like you and me on any old day.
At Halloween, everyone seems to acknowledge something that at other times of the year we’re mostly hush-hush about—that darkness exists. Disgusting, disturbing, frightening, menacing, sinister or just plain weird things are real, whether we can see them or not. The best-case scenario for gaslighters from that list of attributes is that they’re weird, because who proudly and with complete confidence tries to make other people believe untrue things? At worst, gaslighting is terrifying, because it’s a total disregard for truth plus blatant manipulation with an intent to harm.
Either way, it’s destructive. And if we’re smart, we should have a healthy fear of being deceived—and deceiving others. A gaslighter has neither. With a relaxed smile they can say, Black is white, round is square and the sun rises in the evening. They can say, You’ve never made me dinner or loved me, while you’re setting the 10,000th dinner plate in front of them with a genuine kiss on the cheek.
The reason I think this is the creepiest kind of character is because embracing falsehoods and manipulating others for selfish gain both completely align better than anything else I can think of with the Father of Lies’ plan to steal, kill and destroy.
Because God is truth. Truth creates light. Light reveals reality. We can see clearly in the light of truth and be free.
God’s arch enemy mastered lying. He lies to create darkness. Darkness conceals reality. Then we can’t see that we’re free. He can rule us.
God has no equal and no rival, and Darkness hates that. Darkness has lost, so all it has left is to use trickery to grasp at whatever bit of control it can get for a while (sounds familiar to those who’ve been gaslighted). The tiniest flicker of light can be seen in immense darkness. And when we can see through the darkness, we can see through the lies. The enemy hates the truth that we aren’t lost, haven’t lost and are on the winning side—if we simply choose to be. All we have to do is invite God to light our light. But the Liar prefers blackouts.
If God made truth universally free and accessible so we don’t have to stumble around in the darkness of lies, wounding ourselves and others, why doesn’t everyone reverence and accept it? It seems like a no brainer…until we realize it requires giving up ego, not holding to our own smarts as lord and being willing to trade our best intelligence for His. Not everyone chooses to bend a knee. Humility eludes some of us, and submitting to concrete evidence seems unnecessary to some. Not everyone believes they need greater thoughts than they can conjure up all by themselves. That’s lie number one, and a slippery slope then ensues….
A way of life emerges of setting north on their compass to whatever particular way they happen to be facing at that moment, and a compass like that will never lead to the right path. A person believing that whatever they believe is infallible or that they need no objective feedback is in the greatest danger of delusion and deception. And the Liar is all too happy to dump darkness into a mind that’s willing to trust itself entirely and call all its own thoughts light and truth unquestioned.
For example, most of us wouldn’t say 3+3=8 and then proclaim, I’m so smart, so believe me!, despite the evidence of all history and the laws of math arguing against us. That’s called delusion or arrogance. Yet, that’s exactly what gaslighters do, with a completely straight face, saying reality be damned if the answer needs to be 8 to get what they want.
There’s a (hopefully obvious) danger in receiving these folks into close, unfettered fellowship. Gaslighters will tempt others to also set their compasses to them as true north. That’s scary, because I’ve heard religious leaders sending gaslighters to small group fellowship as a seemingly foolproof answer to stopping the madness. We have a seriously misguided type here? Let’s throw them into a small group, and that will re-train their compass. No. As important as people are, they aren’t the Source and they don’t always recognize when (complicated, covert, invisible to the untrained eye, serious) wrongs are staring them in the face. Gaslighters seek to influence, not be influenced. They wear masks that blend in. They have no interest in truth, offer no honest vulnerability that would invite accountability, no remorse that would lead to change and are in groups to align allies to help them fight their victims, usually by telling patently false stories. Small fellowship groups and churches, be on guard. You very likely will not recognize these gaslighter characters dressed up in regular clothes; you have to hear the evidence they leave behind in the stories of their victims. This is an epidemic today. You will run into it.
I don’t fault people if they can’t always spot a gaslighter, because gaslighters often believe their own lies and can tell stories that aren’t true like they’re solid facts, without remorse—without one hesitating flinch of an eyebrow. How would even the most godly person see through it to advise them correctly? Chances are small. More often than not, people who listen with empathy to a gaslighter as though they’re trying to speak truthfully or seek truth are empowering the gaslighting to continue, ever more emboldened. If someone has a claim against them of gaslighting or abuse, this enabling must be stopped until the claim is thoroughly investigated if their victims are to be as safe as possible.
Therefore, there’s grave danger of becoming flying monkeys of gaslighting manipulators for the sympathetic person thinking they can help just because they want to, the gullible who take every word spoken at face value and those who believe what they’re told without evidence (or who can’t recognize manufactured “evidence”). The wicked witch couldn’t have survived without her apes. We must believe gaslighters can lie looking straight into our eyes or we will not believe they exist or beware of them.
The answer I’ve heard in the church for this conundrum of trying to see through and manage gaslighting manipulators has been, We’ll rely on the Holy Spirit to show us all things. We’ll know if they’re lying or deceiving. I agree the Holy Spirit has gifted a small set of people in the body of Christ to easily discern spirits—lies from truth. But beyond that, the Holy Spirit doesn’t equip every one of us to handle any and every task with proficiency. I wouldn’t attempt brain surgery on faith in the Holy Spirit alone to guide me. Rocket science should be left to rocket scientists. Identifying gaslighters and aiding their victims should be left to abuse and trauma expert who’ve proven they can. If they’re really proficient, they can often spot the results of gaslighting in an instant when other people have diagnosed the situation exactly backwards–mixing up cause and effect, victim and perpetrator. Not everybody should be entrusted to give advice in every type of situation, Holy Spirit filled or not.
So, again, someone who simply has the desire to help and decides they can when they really have no business trying usually makes it worse for survivors of gaslighting. Those folks claiming to be guideposts and lighthouses need to carry healthy skepticism of their own all-knowingness, even with the Holy Spirit’s help. In serious cases of safety, abuse, addiction, etc, seeking testimony and researching claims is paramount, not just going by appearances or ones gut. Pursuing and nailing down reality isn’t an easy task with covert gaslighters, but it is the ultimate goal. Digging until you find out who the real victim is (because gaslighters will claim to be) takes determination and training (a clue is that the victim will exhibit more trauma symptoms than the perpetrator, which in fact, usually gets them accused instead of helped). So an untrained people helper should march the traumatized or suspected perpetrator straight to abuse experts (that doesn’t include most counselors, to be clear, who also make it worse for victims in this niche of abuse) or the police, not just any old mentor, pastor or group of peers.
I think modern psychology may also have done damage to our collective ability to pull the creepy masks off gaslighters, recognizing and calling out their twisted perspectives that run contrary to reality. It seems like we’ve been taught that perspective is truth—that each person’s perspective is valid and must be validated. There’s just enough truth in that mindset to be dangerous. It’s true that there are opinions, and everybody’s entitled to them. And it’s true that if someone believes something is true, then for them, it’s their truth.
But there’s truth and then there’s Truth. Things that are believed against evidence, are again, delusional or arrogant. It doesn’t have to become our truth. Don’t we want to follow folks in touch with reality? I’m just gonna go ahead and argue that if you say grass is purple, my truth that grass is green should carry more weight than yours, because my perspective aligns with concrete, provable reality. Call me crazy. And that’s exactly what a gaslighter does if for some reason they need grass to be purple for a minute (until they need it to be blue or orange or fuschia, because their claims are about convenience, avoiding responsibility or achieving a selfish ambition, not truth).
So, how does a healthy person with a healthy psyche get gaslighted effectively? It happens all the time. It’s sort of due to the fact that they’re a healthy person with a healthy psyche, ironically enough. When presented with information or a perspective not their own, a humble and healthy person engages the information with, Oh, maybe I misremembered. Maybe I need to consider this new perspective and adjust mine some. Maybe I could have this wrong. I’m fallible, and they’re a valuable human being to consider. A gaslighter has no such internal dialogue—at least not that they’re willing to admit to themself or you, because it takes them out of the power position. And because most of us can’t imagine walking around lying willy-nilly to achieve self-obsessed ends or entirely disregarding the needs, wants and thoughts of others, we assume others don’t either. We project our own goodwill or mental health onto them.
So, a healthy person in relation to a gaslighter must arrive at, I’ve listened to and tested this person enough. I can’t validate their perspective anymore. They can’t be trusted. (Beware people helpers, once again, that that’s exactly what the gaslighter will also say about their victim. You MUST look until you find reality or an expert who can find it.) As their victim, standing against a gaslighter’s uber-confident speech when you’re an empathetic person is no easy task. If you’re waiting for apologies or admissions of wrong to begin discrediting them, it’ll get you in trouble every time. They generally never authentically get there, even if their lips are saying sorry, so you’ll be led away from the light, lie and manipulation by lie and manipulation, your mind taken over slowly, getting twisted. Or, as a people helper, if you’re not extensively testing what someone is saying against victims’ stories, you’ve just gotten wings and marching orders from a puppet-master. You just turned ape.
Light has an agenda of love, and love is always in lockstep with truth, reality, freedom and goodwill.
Darkness has an agenda of control, domination and trickery. Its lies forever bring constriction, intimidation, insecurity, fear, rejection, trauma or chaos. Because when down can be called up and backward renamed forward by anyone when it serves them in the moment, what else but mayhem could follow?
Some minds are trained by lies to be desensitized to darkness, convinced to no longer even seek light (or maybe worse, to fake seeking it). This creates peril for them and all those around them. But some minds are trained by truth to only feel comfortable in the light, because they’ve been communing and abiding there for so long. For them, being around the darkness will cause them trauma and to be extraordinarily unnerved.
So, for those who know they’re the latter, I have a simple suggestion if you feel like the barrel end of a gaslighting gun is at your temple. If it feels all creepy and dark, threatening or crazymaking like Halloween at midnight, just duck and run. Don’t try to talk the gun down. You won’t find light coming out of it when it goes off, even though it’ll be shot full force at your head like it’s gospel truth. You’re not doing anyone a favor by submitting to gaslighting crimes. And that gun will go off if you speak one word to it.
You know what the rest of your sane relationships and interactions feel like. You never think you’re losing your mind in them. Trust that. The creep factor is real, and life is too short to entertain it.
With Hope and Heart in Hand,
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