Verb: manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.
"In the first episode of her life, Jane is gaslighted by her former husband."
I used to call it the Jedi mind trick. The idea that a person can just say something with such resolve that it must be true—say with such certainty that obviously I’m somehow crazy.
I still have a really hard time if I feel someone is trying to gaslight me. I think it’s probably one of the biggest things in my life that I get really defensive about. Sometimes it’s hard to know if someone is just mistaken about what just happened or if they are trying to manipulate me. Either way, I don’t like the feeling that my memory is completely wrong.
There is new documentary on Netflix right now called “Abducted in Plain Sight.” It’s truly shocking and will probably make you rethink people in your own life or past. The true story in the documentary shows the extremes of manipulation—a man works for years through a series of lies and manipulation to get into a family and control the parents with shame and guilt in order to take their young daughter away to be his lover. Yeah, it’s creepy as hell.
I think the response I hear the most from people who watched this documentary, is “how in the hell do you let someone do that to your family?” I’m sure that’s the question this family will now have to endure for the rest of their lives.
But really, how does that happen?
If you’ve ever had to live with someone in your life who is a sociopath (Defined as: ‘a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience’) then you know that something as crazy as this movie can happen to anyone.
And the question, “How did you not know?” becomes a popular question among friends when you finally tell your truth.
I think the question comes from what most of us feel when we see a movie like “Abducted in Plain Sight,” is simply, “Could this ever happen to me?”
If you know my story, then you know I spent almost 17 years of my life with someone that I would now refer to as a sociopath. It took me many years to understand that he was a sociopath and what that term actually means. If you know me, then you also know, I’m smart. So, if you think intelligence will protect you, then you underestimate the power of a sociopath.
For instance, some characteristics of a sociopath include: Superficial charm and good intelligence; absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking; absence of nervousness or neurotic manifestations; unreliability; untruthfulness and insincerity; lack of remorse and shame; inadequately motivated antisocial behavior; poor judgment and failure to learn by experience; pathologic egocentricity and incapacity for love; general poverty in major affective reactions; specific loss of insight; unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations; fantastic and uninviting behavior with alcohol and sometimes without; suicide threats rarely carried out; sex life impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated; failure to follow any life plan.
But I think the most important thing to know about sociopaths is that the traits they seek out in people to take advantage of are the same traits most of us already have--which is why we have to realize that it really can happen to anyone. Your life could be the next trending Netflix documentary.
Why? Because we all make mistakes. I know in my personal life I did things that I am not proud of and those are the points in your life that a sociopath can use to control you. And that’s how it begins--and from there, it’s just a matter of time before you’re down that rabbit hole and people are asking you the question--how did you not know?
And the only truthful answer I can give is that a part of me did know but the bigger part of me, the part that I wanted to believe, did not truly acknowledge or even have the power to acknowledge what was really going on in my life.
I think the best gift I got out of what happened to me many years ago is the gift of knowing that even if you’re a smart, good, loving person, bad things can happen to you. You can end up broke, you can end up with your kids in therapy, you can end up alone, you can end up on food stamps and government healthcare, you can end up in debt, you can end up getting behind on bills, your house can go into foreclosure, you can be publicly humiliated, you can feel like the biggest failure on the planet.
And why would that be a gift? Because in the end, there is always going to be a part of us that can be abducted in plain sight—for some of us it’s our trust, our marriage, our belief in other people, our faith. For others, it’s their dignity, their family, their home, their money. And when that end happens, people are going to ask, “how did you not know?”
I didn’t know. Even though the truth was right there in plain sight, I just didn’t see it. I beat up myself for it. I was embarrassed. I replayed moments over and over in my mind. I’ve seen my friends do the same thing in their own lives—wondering how they allowed someone they cared for to trick them, lie to them, gaslight them.
It’s OK. Bad things are going to happen to you in plain sight, it’s how you handle it inside yourself that matters in the end.
I have a friend who is going through a divorce right now and the part I think that seems to bother her the most is that she feels she wasted 20 years of her life with a person that she knew didn’t really love her or respect her. And my response to her is to just forget that part—focus on the now. Focus on what you can control and focus on where you want to go.
Don’t waste your time beating yourself up or feeling like an idiot or feeling like you have to answer questions about how you didn’t really know. Because in the end, it doesn’t matter what happened. Telling yourself that you are stupid is just a way to gaslight yourself. And why do any of us need anyone else gaslighting us?