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How Gaslighting Can Affect Mental Health

The attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 has been described by many as a cataclysmic event planned in plain sight. Others describe it as a “moral dilemma”, while others believe it to be the summation of “self-destructive behaviors to escape anxiety”. Regardless of how the event is labeled, it is clear the participants felt they were facing a moral dilemma – “…a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two courses of action, either of which entails transgressing a moral principle.” Were these assailants psychologically manipulated? Did they suffer a severe disconnect from reality? Or could their actions have been caused by long-term gaslighting – a practice used in “hateful” information warfare? Perhaps it is all of the above. Gaslighting dates back centuries and has led to emotional breakdowns, mental illness, physical pain, and the death of millions. Improving Lives Counseling Services treats the emotional abuse and psychological cruelty caused by gaslighting.

What is Gaslighting?

Originally linked to relationships, gaslighting causes a person to distrust themselves, or to believe they are mentally ill – which in the United States is not illegal. However, the law will step in if or when gaslighting leads to physical abuse. Political gaslighting is the process of creating disarray, confusion, and mistrust in everything and everyone. Projecting a disbelief of facts, and the incompetence of others, is a 21st century political tactic most recently used against governments, political parties, racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious groups.

Gaslighting is an abusive practice. Victims of gaslighting experience low self-esteem, anxiety, fear, apprehension, and long-term trauma. Despite feeling something is wrong, or knowing their emotions are being played upon, many victims continue a baseless dependency on, and belief in, their abuser.

Much like the narcissist and psychopath, the gaslighter is invested in getting what he or she wants, regardless of the needs of others. Gaslighters embellish achievements, have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, believe they are superior to others, and often suffer borderline personality disorders. They tend to gaslight defenseless groups: the less-intellectually inclined, the scapegoated, and the socially and/or financially disenfranchised – their final goal, to create dependency. “A gaslighter strongly believes people can be controlled and possessed.”

Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, gaslighters have used political information warfare to conn, influence, and control individuals, organizations, political parties, and racial, ethnic, and religious groups. Defined as any action taken to deny, exploit, corrupt or destroy someone’s perceived enemy, a 2017 article in Psychology Today says, “Gaslighting is an insidious form of manipulation and psychological control. Victims of gaslighting are deliberately and systematically fed false information that leads them to question what they know to be true, often about themselves.”

Humans have a natural tendency to look to pundits, teachers, religious leaders, political figures, organizations, and media outlets whose messages they relate to. They believe-in and trust people who respond to their needs, desires, hopes, and fears – particularly those related to money, religion, politics, and cultural beliefs. Feeling misrepresented, overlooked, denied endowed rights, and/or disparaged makes humans more susceptible to gaslighting. When you add conspiracy theories to political information warfare, “gaslighting threatens democracy by damaging its bedrock, a shared commitment to truth.”

The human cost of cultural, medical, religious, and political gaslighting in this country is staggering. Structural gaslighting, or gaslighting en-mass can happen in the home (to an entire family), in the workplace, in groups, and in organizations. The emotional or psychological abuse can include verbal aggression, shaming, manipulating, lying, and bullying. Recent studies have found the long-term effects of gaslighting in this country is somewhat responsible for an increase in violence, hostility, belligerent behavior, chemical abuse, drug abuse, mental illness, mass shootings, and suicides.

Meet With Our Therapists & Counselors

Whether a person is gaslighted knowingly or unknowingly, the effect on their mental health and well-being is the same. If you find yourself experiencing hostility, doubting those things you know to be true, buying into ill-conceived conspiracy theories, doubting yourself and reexamining your decisions, Improving Lives Counseling Services’ team of professional licensed therapists, counselors, and clinicians can help. We diagnose and treat stress, anxiety, depression, long and short-term trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) triggered by gaslighting. Live the life you were meant to live. Call us.