"Gaslighting Games: The Manipulative Power to Play with People’s Minds and Control Them for Life" by Emory Green
We are all driven by desires and wants and we all have an innate need to control certain aspects of our lives and those of the people around us. We want people to love us a certain way, talk to us in a particular manner, and treat us with respect. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But what if, hypothetically speaking, you or the other person in the relationship is always controlling the outcome of your interactions by being manipulative and using words and actions that push the other party to respond in a manner that is only beneficial to them? Does that make them just selfish or are they gaslighters? (Pg.31)
When parents are gaslighters, lives are lost
Suzie and her mother were close. They always had popcorn dates together when she was a kid and watched their favorite movies. They talked about the boys she liked as a teenager and talked on the phone every day of the week when she went to college. Her mom was a single parent and she was warm, fun, friendly, and beautiful. She also never spoke to her own mom, who was living in a different neighborhood but in the same city.
Growing up, Suzie’s mother refused to take phone calls from her grandmother and Suzie only met and talked to the elderly woman twice or thrice in her life. She found out that her mother had a brother who passed away as a teenager from suicide. As she grew older, she found out that her mother blamed her grandmother for his death. During dinner at her mom’s house one day, she broached the subject of her grandmother, asking about her and why her mom never spoke about her.
“I knew this day would come,” said Suzie’s mom. “Grab that bottle of wine and meet me in the den. I’ll go get some pictures. It’s time you met your uncle and your grandmother.” In the den, Suzie’s mom looked at a picture of a young man who looked like her and was holding her hand. In the picture, Suzie’s mom was grinning at the young man, who looked down on her beaming. “This is your uncle, Tyler. He was so smart and kind and funny. Next to you, he was my favorite person in the whole world. He killed himself when I was 13 years old.” This was the first time Suzie’s mom had spoken about how her brother died.
“My mom was a pathological liar and mean as a rattlesnake and Tyler was her victim of choice. He was too sensitive and she destroyed him day by day until he couldn’t take it anymore. She would lie to him about everything and lie about him, as well. She told him his girlfriend was cheating on him with his best friend and when he confronted the girl, he found out it wasn’t true. They broke up and when my brother confronted my mom, she pretended she didn’t say that and he must have heard her wrong. She always told him that he only needed her.”
“My brother mentioned this to our grandfather, who asked mom. My mother said that my brother made up the whole cheating situation and is now blaming her. She said this in brother’s presence and even added, ‘You know how he is.’ “One day we were grocery shopping and my mom slipped some eyeliner into my brother’s backpack. He was arrested by the store security and my mother accused him of stealing it for one of his girlfriends. My brother denied it and she refused to get him out of jail that night, saying he needed to learn his lesson. I know it was her because I saw her do it, but I was too scared to tell anyone. My grandfather heard about the incident and asked my brother about it. My mom chimed in to the conversation, saying my brother was a liar and again adding, ‘You know how he is.”
Before long, my grandfather began to regard my brother as a troublemaker and my brother was so confused by what was happening, he began to withdraw into himself. There were many times when my mom called my brother names, like a liar, thief, good for nothing, dumb…the list was endless. My brother stopped hanging out with his friends because she would call his friends’ parents and tell them he was a bad influence and was doing drugs and stealing. No one at school would come near my brother and he started to get bullied, really badly. He never told my mom about it, although he tried to tell my grandfather. Grandpa called mom and told her to go to school and find out what was happening. My mom told him not to bother because my brother was just looking for attention.
Two weeks later my brother slashed his wrists in the school bathroom. In his bag was a collection of notes from one of the school bullies telling him to kill himself. The note said that no one wanted him, not even his own mother. My brother never understood why mom hated him so much. My mother lost custody of me to my dad who took care of me and I haven’t spoken to her since my brother was buried. She cried at my brother’s funeral, vowing to find out what happened to her boy. But it was all for show. I never let you near her because she is a master gaslighter. I am grateful that I went to live with my dad because I think she would have done the same thing to me.”
The toxic things that gaslighting parents can do
They dictate your likes and dislikes
This means that they tell the child what she or he likes or doesn’t like. They say things like, “What do you mean you don’t like baseball?” Or, “We are a family of meat-eaters. There is no place for vegetarians in this house.” As a result, they force their preferences on the child.
They dismiss your feelings
“Stop crying!” Or, “Don’t cry like a baby because you got hit during a game!” These are some of the phrases that parents use to dismiss sad or unhappy feelings. This conditions the child not to feel or show emotion, even when they are hurting. Eventually, the child learns to take their hurt out on something or someone else.
They minimize your achievements
Toxic families are characterized by bullying tactics in which the victim is downtrodden and their achievements are not validated. For example, if the child is great academically, the father might say, “Books don’t matter in this world if you don’t know how to take care of yourself.” Or, “I don’t care about straight As -- if you can’t play ball, you are not a man.” They will also make fun of your achievements, calling them silly and time-wasting.
They will label you
You might be called silly or paranoid or that you have a wild imagination. These labels are easy to put on kids because children are known to have imaginary friends or play most of the time. But in a gaslighting situation at home, it is meant to cast doubt on the child’s reality. If the child calls the gaslighter out on their behavior, the parent will label them rude, undisciplined, or a troublemaker, in order to make themselves feel better.
Gaslighting is a common occurrence in dysfunctional families and the gaslighter is typically the mother or the father of the child. Gaslighting is insidious in nature to anyone, but in children, it is especially devastating because the cycle of emotional abuse can continue even into adulthood. The children will also tend to choose gaslighters for their life partners. The children stuck with gaslighting parents typically lose their confidence and they tend to have little to no integrity, through no fault of their own. When the child perceives the parent as the enemy, it is particularly traumatizing.
4 types of gaslighting in childhood and their effects
Even the most well-meaning parent can be a gaslighter without knowing it. If you give your child conflicting information that conscientiously contradicts the reality they saw, you have gaslit them. For example, your daughter or son walks in on you having a piece of chocolate and you have been saying all week that you are on a diet and are off sweets. When they ask you what you are eating and you say nothing after hurriedly swallowing the chocolate, you have gaslit your child.
Some parents like to call them white lies, but they are dangerous because they set up a precedent of alternative realities. If you do this frequently, your child can become conditioned to a skewed sense of perception.
Four types of childhood gaslighting
This type of gaslighting parent was first identified in 1965 and it has been linked to schizophrenia and a personality disorder. The perfect example of double-bind gaslighting is when the parent tells the child they love them and can even be smothering in their love sometimes and, the next minute, the parent coldly rejects the child or inflicts corporal punishment.
The message is very confusing for the child, who feels loved one minute and unwanted the next. The effect of such gaslighting is that the child grows up unsure of their validity and they always question what others say to them. Questions like, “Am I worthy or not?” always plague them, especially in relationships, from life partners and friends to even at work.
Appearance focused gaslighting
In this type of gaslighting, the child is expected to uphold the status of the family by putting up appearances that everything is perfect, even when it is not. You will find that victims of sexual abuse by a family member have been gaslit in this way. Achievement focused parents also tend to engage in this type of gaslighting. This type of gaslighting makes it difficult for the child to accept human weakness in themselves and others, as they grow up. It also makes it difficult to let other people in because of the fear of being vulnerable. The message in appearance focused gaslighting is that we must appear perfect and what happens in the family stays in the family. Your pain and reality don’t matter.
In this type of gaslighting, the child is not sure how the parent will react to a situation. The same mistake is met by uncontrollable rage in some cases and, at other times, the parent is lucid and even gentle and understanding. Parents who are manic depressive or have a history of substance abuse are most likely to engage in this type of gaslighting. The message to the child in this type of gaslighting is that you can never be stable. Anything can happen to you at any time. As a result, the child is not able to read people’s characters and intentions as they grow older. This puts them at the risk of ending up with a similar abuser as a life partner.
Emotional negligence gaslighting
This type of gaslighting involves emotionally neglecting the child, although their physical needs are met. The parent will attack the child for showing emotion most of the time, saying things like “Don’t you dare cry”, “Suck it up” or, “I have no time for sensitive people.” The message to the child is that their emotions are irrelevant and they are not to be shared with anyone else. Such kids grow up feeling that they are lacking in a certain aspect of themselves and will seek people, like gaslighters, who will fulfill that side of them. (Pg.869)
Gaslight is a 1944 American psychological thriller film directed by George Cukor and starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, and 18-year-old Angela Lansbury in an Oscar-nominated screen debut (Best Supporting Actress). The film is adapted from Patrick Hamilton's play Gas Light (1938), about a woman whose husband slowly manipulates her into believing that she is going insane.
The 1944 version is a remake of the 1940 British film of the same name directed by Thorold Dickinson. Cukor's version had a larger scale and budget than the earlier film, and lends a different feel to the material. To avoid confusion with the first film, Cukor's version was originally titled The Murder in Thornton Square in the UK. The film features numerous deviations from the original stage play, though the central drama remains that of a husband trying to drive his wife insane in order to distract her from his criminal activities.
Gaslight was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay, winning two for Best Actress for Ingrid Bergman and Best Production Design. In 2019, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
World-famous opera singer Alice Alquist has just been murdered at her home, No. 9 Thornton Square, London. The perpetrator left without the valuable jewels, for which he had killed her, after being interrupted by Paula, Alice's fourteen-year-old niece. Paula had been raised by her aunt Alice following her mother's death. After Alice was murdered, Paula was sent to Italy to train to become an opera singer herself.
Years later, an adult Paula (Ingrid Bergman) meets and marries Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer) after a two-week-long whirlwind romance. At his insistence, Paula returns to London, where she has no friends, to live in the long-vacant London townhouse of her deceased aunt Alice. To help calm her anxiety over memory of her aunt's violent murder, Gregory suggests that they store all of Alice's furnishings in the attic. Before they do, Paula discovers, in an old book, a letter addressed to her aunt by a man named Sergis Bauer. Gregory's reaction is violent. However, he explains his outburst as one of frustration at the bad memories his bride is experiencing.
After Alice's belongings are locked away in the attic, events take a turn for the bizarre. At the Tower of London, Paula loses an heirloom brooch that Gregory had given her, despite its having been stored safely in her handbag just before going out. A picture disappears from its place on a wall and Gregory says that Paula took it, one of many instances of her removing and hiding things. But Paula has no recollection of having done so. Paula also hears footsteps coming from the sealed attic, and sees the gaslights dim and brighten for no apparent reason. Gregory suggests that these things exist only in her imagination.
With Gregory looking on, Paula has discovered the letter from Sergis Bauer.