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Gaslighting: A Brief History

There are a number of things people do that aggravate me. People who chew with their mouths open. People who don’t clean up after themselves. People who lie.

Oh, and people who try to gaslight me.

If you aren’t familiar with this fantastic term, essentially it involves an individual who tries to rewrite history to make them seem better than they are or to impress someone.

Here is classic (and lame) example. A woman wants to impress a man. She pretends to have “always drank tea” to seem more sophisticated than the bottle of Dasani bearing her clutch marks. Only problem is that the woman has to keep up this charade in front of people who know better whenever she brings the man around. Can’t fool me! Girl, you never drank tea in your life. Don’t give me that shit and certainly STOP asking me to corroborate your story. After all, it is way more fun to see you try to fix the lie in front of everyone.

As a more serious example, I knew someone who got a DUI and due to legal fees, ended up having to move back home with their parents. To hear them discuss this event now, you would think it was some heroic and selfless act to move back home. Can’t fool me! You needed to live with your parents because your ass was BROKE! You were absolutely not there out of the goodness of your heart to help them.

Sometimes gaslighting is not to make the other person specifically feel BAD, but it assuages their own guilt or deflects focus away from their own insecurities.

For example, I had a neighbor claim they were tracking my flight home and that is why she dropped off my dog early before I landed. Can’t fool me! Nah, bitch, you just fucked up and you thought that pretending you knew my flight would make it seem like you didn’t nominate yourself for an Asshat Award. After all, I never gave her my flight number. She would have had better luck trying to track Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

Another good example is when you trust your instincts when you feel something is off the rails. Like you know someone is mad at you even if they aren’t saying it - it is nine times out of ten NOT in your imagination. I absolutely cherish the moments when I ask someone what is wrong and they tell me nothing at all…cut to days, weeks, or months later and of course things haven’t been right and it is my fault. Can’t fool me! Should have just owned up to how you were feeling at the time. Why is it on me to take responsibility for something I didn’t even know about?

Of course, gaslighting is also a way for people to try and control another person or put them down. It is a great tool for sociopaths as well as the immature, overly sensitive, and snobbish lot.

My current supervisor is a great example. He selectively forgets conversations and decisions he previously made so that it can suit his daily whims. He never puts anything in writing (on purpose) so that he can try and convince me I have a bad memory. Can’t fool me! Not only do I take notes for myself to keep up with his schizophrenic leadership style, but I also did not suffer a blow to the head. No, I did not carry boxes upstairs and set up equipment for you. I would have remembered because the experience would have been excruciatingly painful. His true talent shines with his incessant chatter without ever finishing a sentence. Coupled with his bad breath and propensity to wheeze heavily, I would have been mentally scarred. He can explain how that equipment got where it was and how components went missing all by himself. Sure as shit wasn’t my fault.

My last example showcases some of the worst of human tendencies. Ruth* and I were co-workers and shared some of the same frustrations with the office. Eventually we were both leading a team that had to work together very closely. Then Ruth deployed overseas. I began to shoulder the responsibility for both teams in her absence. It was a lot of work, but (as a not so humble brag) I truly felt like I was kicking ass. When she returned, Ruth was very put out about the new projects I had created for her team. She tried to claim credit and demanded a meeting with our project manager to discuss how I am hindering the team’s success. Can’t fool me! I had receipts! I brought documents on top of documents showing the projects she had created prior to her deployment that hadn’t progressed in years and compared those to all the new projects I started and that the team completed. I had an outline of how I met each and every project requirement. When Ruth’s plan to make me look incompetent fell through, she resorted to another tactic aside from gaslighting: gossip monger. That, however, is a story for another time.

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