Friday, January 3, 2014

Trolls on Fire: Online Gaslighting

You know that "funny" thing some people do, where they make fun of you or say something somewhat ambiguous and you're unsure of what to think, and then they laugh and tell you to relax, it's just a joke?

Maybe you're familiar with these exchanges:

Why are you so sensitive? You know I love you!
Stop being such a stick in the mud. I'm natural, too!
You've got to stop being so serious! Laugh at yourself!
Oh, please, get a sense of humor! You always overthink it.

Your gut instinct is right. It's not funny. It's called emotional abuse. And then to hide from being called out, they use another abusive technique called gaslighting. Gaslighting is psychological manipulation to make the victim think he/she is the one at fault.

And with the anonymity and tools of social networking, gaslighting has taken on a new level of playing. Within the mommy wars, something hot is brewing! The pages and private groups dedicated to stealing photos and statuses to mock them are growing in number and yes, they are on "all" sides.

If you're targeted:

1) Back away from those involved quickly.
2) Document the interaction. Save all PMs, emails, texts, discussions, etc. Screenshot and file away with dates and names.
3) Seek professional help, contact law enforcement and whatever else you need to do to keep your family safe.
4) Do not fan the fumes by fighting back or arguing. Especially do not go on the defense. Stage 1 of gaslighting is putting the victim on defense, so that she spends precious time attempting to defend herself and is distracted from the ongoing abuse. Spending time arguing with gaslighters is only giving them more fuel to burn.
5) Be wary of those who appear to be on your side but still play the game. They are either trapped and don't know it or they enjoy it, too. Vigilante behavior is a sign that integrity is missing.

A few common reasons people use this abusive technique:

1) Sometimes, people were exposed to this interaction as children themselves, from loved ones and within our larger culture. They might be unaware of their behavior or acting in the only way they know how to, perhaps even defending it to protect loved ones who acted this way. A person living out a cycle of abuse will often be able to switch over to new and healthier forms of interaction with a good heart to heart discussion, firm boundaries and tools such as therapy.

2) Narcissism or other borderline personality disorders or mental disorders often present with projection and gaslighting. In this case, the abusers use gaslighting to protect their fragile pseudo-realities and sense of self. It has little to do with you, and to some degree you can anticipate and navigate the narcissist's attacks, along with protecting your emotions by realizing it is nothing personal.

A good picture summary of a narcissist. Remember that even though
it's not about you, it still involves you and can hurt you.

3) This one is the worst case scenario but it can happen. Projection, lying, verbal/emotional abuse and gaslighting are all red flags that you might be dealing with a sociopath. You cannot fix or deter a sociopath. You cannot hold out hope for them or successfully combat their techniques. Sociopaths like to hunt people, to suck you dry and destroy you. It gives them a sense of satisfaction. Again, you cannot fix this in someone or make the relationship work. If people you know do this regularly to you or others, in person or for example on online, get away from them quickly. They are slick and their desire to harm others has no limit.

Sociopaths are nice to you for a reason. They are also surrounded
by "apaths" or people who play along for sport and personal benefit.

The side effects of gaslighting are numerous and pervasive. Gaslighting will over time alter your perception of reality. You begin to doubt yourself, doubt your circumstances and become reluctant and insecure. This manipulative form of abuse will slowly trap you in their game. If you are unable to set firm boundaries and get your head above the waves, get away from this form of abuse immediately!

Some resources on gaslighting:

A gaslighting blog:

Are you being gaslighted?

Gas lighting through the generations:


  1. yep, I've been on the end of that one.. unfortunately also the perpetrator as a teen. But "grew out of it" I guess. It took a lot of self training though as it was all I knew. These days I'm mostly a closeted shut in with little interaction from others except husband and my children so it's easier to avoid as they don't do that.

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  3. As a bystander, I was able to see the red flags all over the place, and once I pointed out the classic Gas lighting behavior to my client, you could almost see a shiver go through them.