In the last few weeks, I’ve heard the phrase “Gaslighting” on the news, especially about the current political situation. I always try to keep up with the latest terms so I can understand what people are saying. But I must admit, gaslighting had escaped my attention until now.

Mary Ellen Mann, a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Denver, gives us a definition: “Gaslighting occurs in a relationship when one person tricks the other individual into doubting their experiences.” When this happens, you hear such comments as these:

“You’re crazy – that never happened.”

“Are you sure? You tend to have a bad memory.”

“It’s all in your head.”

If your friends, family, colleagues, bosses, professors, roommates, partners respond in any manner that leads you to believe that you should question your judgement, perception of reality, even your own sanity, that person may be using what mental health professionals call, “gaslighting.”

This term comes from the 1938 stage play, Gas Light, in which a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy by dimming the lights (which were powered by gas) in their home, and then he denies that the light changed when his wife points it out. It is an extremely effective form of emotional abuse that causes the victim to question his/her own feelings, instincts, and sanity. Once an abusive person has broken down the victim’s ability to trust his/her own perceptions, the victim is more likely to stay in the abusive relationship.

There are a variety of gaslighting techniques that an abusive person may use, says Mann:

Withholding: “I don’t want to hear this again.” “You’re trying to confuse me.”

Countering: “You’re wrong. You never remember things correctly.”

Blocking/Diverting: “Is that another crazy idea you get from a [friend/family member]?” “You’re imagining things.”

Trivializing: “You’re going to get angry over a little thing like that?” “You’re too sensitive.”

Forgetting/Denial: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “You’re just making stuff up again.”

How do Christians tend to gaslight?

Withholding: “You are being faithless and ungrateful when you bring up things from the past.” “Your need to resolve this problem is another indicator of your empty soul.”

Countering: “If you were able to see things with spiritual eyes, you would know that your memory does not serve you well.” “When are you going to learn to forgive?”

Blocking/Diverting: “If you trusted God, you wouldn’t hold onto these sorts of issues.” “You have an issue with forgiveness.” “Your lack of humility and self-righteousness constantly interrupt our relationship.”

Trivializing: “The way you make everything such a big deal shows your total lack of faith to trust that God is in charge.” “When you finally learn to let go and let God, you’ll see why you’re blowing all of this out of proportion.” “A sin is a sin and there is nothing worse about my sins than yours. No one has the right to judge here.”

Forgetting/Denial: “I choose to trust God with those details and if you were a person of faith you would, too.” “If it really happened, God would have spoken to my heart about that, but he didn’t. So until then, I don’t have to respond to your issues.”

When you doubt your instincts within the context of any relationship – with friends, family, colleagues, bosses, professors, roommates, partners, the biggest healing maneuver is to set firm limits. We only have our experiences, which – when broke down – result in two things: what we feel and what we think.

If someone does not allow those two things to matter, we are no longer with a person who will accept our personhood. Period. I strenuously urge you to discontinue or avoid that relationship if you have tried more than three times to get that person to accept your experience of any event.

But does God’s Word address this form of mental abuse? You won’t find the word “gaslighting” in Strong’s Greek Concordance or Lexicon. But that doesn’t mean it was not happening. Some might say that in the Apostle Paul’s confrontation with the Apostle Peter in Antioch was a form of gaslighting.

I like how Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians addresses this from a positive point of view. In other words, we may not be able to stop it but we can sure resist being a victim. Here’s how Paul prayed:

I pray that the great God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Anointed One may give you the wisdom of His Spirit.” Paul shared this with the Roman believers: The Spirit himself speaks to God for us. He begs God for us, speaking to him with feelings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)

Paul continues: “Then you will be able to understand the secrets about Him as you know Him better.” Most of us have a general concept of God and His divine abilities, but it is not until we study His Word that we learn secrets about how He helps us deal with negative and toxic relationships. King David says to those who were telling him to get out of town, I trust in the Lord, so why did you tell me to run and hide? Why did you say, “Fly like a bird to your mountain?” (Psalm 11:1). In other words, don’t be intimidated by their gaslighting attempts.

The Apostle concludes: “I pray that your hearts will be able to understand. I pray that you will know about the hope given by God’s call. I pray that you will see how great the things are that He has promised to those who belong to Him. I pray that you will know how great His power is for those who have put their trust in Him.” (Ephesians 1:17-19)

Always keep this treasured verse by the Apostle John in mind: The Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. (1 John 4:4) – Dr. Robert R. Seyda

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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