Gas Lighting

‘Gas Light’ Image courtesy of Vox.com

Britannica definition of Gaslighting:

An elaborate and insidious technique of deception and psychological manipulation, usually practiced by a single deceiver, or “gaslighter,” on a single victim over an extended period. Its effect is to gradually undermine the victim’s confidence in his own ability to distinguish truth from falsehood, right from wrong, or reality from appearance, thereby rendering him pathologically dependent on the gaslighter in his thinking or feelings.

Although the term ‘Gaslighting’ is frequently used in modern parlance, it originates from a stage play named “Gas Light” produced in 1938 in the UK, followed by a British movie and then the more famous American movie in 1944, starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, pictured above.  In essence, the husband is trying to persuade his wife that she is becoming insane by a series of deceptions including deliberately dimming and brightening the gas lights.  I won’t reveal anymore of the plot but it is an excellent movie with twists and turns.

In real life, gaslighting can exist in sexual and marital relationships, working relationships and friendships.  When writing this post, I wondered if I had been gas lit by boyfriends or my husband.  There were elements of manipulation in one or two relationships but I am not sure if it was truly deceptive or intended to undermine me.  My husband certainly manipulates me to get his own way and vice versa.  Before I learned to drive, he tried to persuade me that he was an excellent driver and that I was just an anxious passenger.  I am surprised his pants didn’t burst into flames…  Occasionally, I will use a sugary sweet voice to ask for something but that is just a normal part of married life.

Truthfully, I think I was only gaslit by a colleague in a work situation.  We started to work together after I had been very successful with a grant application.  It probably grated on her that I was being praised about that accomplishment.  I had some years working in the community sector and she did not.  Over a period of six months, she criticized every element of my working pattern until I doubted my own skills.  She instinctively knew that I was vulnerable to being bullied – it was like a cat with a mouse.  Part of me realized that she was making unfair criticisms of me, especially about my writing skills!  Despite that, it wore me down and I eventually resigned.

Sometime later the gaslighter did the same to a new colleague who became unwell because of the unfair treatment.  At that stage, I was asked to help with an intervention.  I hate confrontation but I was also very angry that I was not the only victim.  At the meeting, I snapped and yelled at her which is very unlike my work persona.  She burst into tears and curiously admitted the truth about our relationship.  She was insecure and jealous of my success and that was her excuse for gas lighting me.  I felt no validation just sadness and guilt that my earlier intervention may have helped.

On reflection, I think she had left her previous employment under a cloud but I am not certain.  It would have been even worse for my mental health to confront her in a timely manner – I needed some time to decompress and evaluate what had happened.  Sometimes gaslighters get away with their behavior because it can be subtle to detect but she was asked to resign.  Later, she and her husband divorced and I wondered if she did the same to him.

One would think that I learned a lesson about believing in myself, wouldn’t you?  Sadly not.  The very next new colleague did something similar.  This was even more complex as I thought we were friends.  I perceived that her jabs and criticisms were part of a jokey friendship.  She called me her minion, even though I had been offered her job (and turned it down) and was part of the interview panel.  This time it was infinitely more subtle and I was beginning to think I had a problem communicating with my colleagues.  The reasons for the gaslighting were EXACTLY the same!  What is wrong with my self-esteem – perhaps my psychiatrist could tell you?  I was so embarrassed and confused that I blamed myself.  This time I had the perfect excuse for resigning – Teddy had been offered an overseas posting and I escaped to Egypt.

For many years I kept in touch with this colleague who had become a ‘friend’.  There was a part of me that admired and liked her despite everything.  Finally, my common sense kicked in and I ghosted her (but that’s a topic I will leave alone).  What provokes this behavior?  In my situation (but not the Gas Light movie), the gaslighter’s insecurity made them try to undermine me.  Did my seemingly confident persona get on their nerves?  I can be very tactless and laugh too much at work.  My theory doesn’t follow through as the perpetrators continued their gaslighting behavior with a variety of other people with different personalities.  Does needlessly criticizing people give them pleasure or is it a form of sadism?

Goodtherapy.org states:

One of the most common reasons people gaslight is to gain power over others. This need for domination may stem from narcissism, antisocial personality, or other issues. Like most cases of abuse, gaslighting is about control. … Over time, the abuser may convince the target that they cause the abuser’s aggression.

I hope that none of my readers have been victims of a gaslighter but please share your experience if you have been.  During these experiences, one friend and colleague reached out to me asking me if anyone was treating me badly.  I regret not telling her the full facts but I am not sure that I was aware of what was happening.  In other words, the gas lighters were successful.  Now that I am older, I hope that this won’t happen to me again.  On two occasions I was offered jobs by people (in Egypt and America) that I thought might be possible gas lighters or bullies, so I demurred with an excuse about my mental health.  It helps that I am now more open about my vulnerabilities and mental health disability. 

Finally, I questioned if I could have gaslit any of my employees or colleague.  My flaws are many; dogmatic, disinclined to delegate, obsessive but not a gaslighter. Clearly, I can have poor judgement in interviews, given my last experience.  The only thing I am sure of is that I didn’t act with malice in the workplace.  Be kind to your colleagues.

Despicable Me

Despicable Me

Dear readers, this is going to be very hard to believe but some people don’t like me.  I know, I know – Kerry is so nice.  Nice is such an overused word but accurately describes me.  Not perfect, not fabulous, not evil; just nice.  In Scotland we have a perfect word that fits me to a T – “couthie”.  It’s the opposite of uncouth and is nice with a little extra kindness and warmth.  Gosh, I sound so wonderful that perhaps I am narcissistic?

I worked a long contract recently when I discovered that my niceness made some people contemptuous.  It is my job to charm clients, exude warmth and be as nice as ninepence.  Mostly, it works to my employers’ advantage and the clients.  In this recent scenario, the company I was contracted to had a nest of vipers working for them.  The first day I was upbeat and excited.  The second day, I was upbeat but trepidatious.  By the fifth day, I was ready to jump out the 4th story window.  In all fairness, I have been battling chronic depression and a respiratory infection but I was not alone in feeling the toxic environment.  The event was guarded and every day I would chat to the various security personnel.  On the fourth day, the guard was so concerned by my worried face that he said, “Miss Kerry, if you look behind you will see a rainbow”.  There really was one and I was almost tearful at his empathy.

I am realistic enough to see that the company toxicity preceded me and was so complex.  Who disliked who?  Why was everyone backstabbing?  Was it their comparative youth?  It was made worse by staff sharing confidences with me about personal and work situations.  I am an empath!  Just like Deanna Troi in Star Trek, I really hurt when negative emotions surround me.  This is also why I am so good with clients.  Most of the conference attendees gravitated towards me, rather than the organizers, because I smiled and made them welcome.  I made an effort to learn their names, ask about their country and business and was generally pleasant.

Every evening I would go home to Teddy and vent viciously about my contracted, temporary, employers.  This is not the first time I have worked for difficult people but when the generalized wrath finally turned on me, it felt like a knife wound.  It made me second-guess myself.  I can’t stand not being busy and constantly found something to do.  This also made me realize how little some of the organizers were doing.  So many personal texts and emails added to workplace venom.  Three of the days were 11 hour shifts with no real breaks, just occasional snacks and trips to the restroom.  Most of the job was sitting so it wasn’t hard work just mentally wearing.

What part did I play inciting the wrath of one particular person?  Well, I am straightforward and noted that the name badges were not alphabetical, making life a little harder than it needed to be.  My constant tidying of the workplace may not have sit well, especially when I asked the cleaning staff for a cloth to clean the coffee tables properly.  Perhaps my age didn’t help?  The majority of the clients were male and closer to my age, so they were putty in my hands.  A pretty accent and smiling face takes you a long way in Texas or anywhere else.  A few came up to me before they left and thanked me for my help or just talking to them.  None of this went unnoticed and my benign conversation with guests was often interrupted with a rather forced sales pitch.  Use honey not vinegar, darlings.

I would love to say this is the first time this has happened but many years ago when I was a small project manager, I had two paid staff and a team of volunteers.  One of the staff respected and liked me, all the volunteers did also but the other staff member really despised me.  She did once imply that my life should have been hers.  I was fat and unattractive yet married to a successful handsome guy (the same Teddy).  She was stunningly attractive with the husband from hell and wanted my job.  I thought I did everything I could to make her life easier and make the job more attractive and interesting but there were limits with funding.  After five years, I burned out and resigned, despite the President’s pleading, then she got the envied job with a good honest reference from me.  Within a couple of years the project disappeared.

I think I know my faults.  My honesty and tactlessness can be searing but rarely with malicious intent.  I am very warm but know when to draw a boundary line.  Delegation is not my strong suit and I prefer my boss to be straightforward with clear instructions.  I will put complaints in writing if I have to but usually prefer to talk it out.  So what’s the point of this post?  The soul searching was worth it – there are always aspects of our behavior we can modify.  Lessons are learned and we move forward.  I wonder if any of them thought about me after the event.  At the very end I received a hug and thanks from one of the nicer organizers.  The one who despised me still thanked me for all my hard work.

Onwards and upwards – I guess I could work at the White House or as an indentured servant at Amazon…

Postscript

There is a rather sad story about the photograph.  The little boy was badly affected by domestic violence aimed at him and his mother.  I was mostly unaware of this and then they moved away.  He was the son of my mum’s school friend.  Many years later we visited and he was a handsome older teenager with a car.  He took me for a drive with an open can of beer in the console.  Despite longing to date, something made me decline the offer.  He died in his 50’s of alcohol abuse.  Every time I look at this photo, I think of what happened to this sweet little boy.

 

Resolution No. 3 – be nice to Teddy

kerryandynewyear16bandicootframe

We were at a marvelous Scottish New Year’s Eve party or Hogmanay and our friends had set up a unique photo booth. After a few refreshments, we looked as relaxed as newts. Perhaps that’s a Scottish expression. The photo was a little grainy so after some ‘discussion’ I agreed to let my husband upload a free photo software program, Photoscape, on my computer. This was difficult – don’t touch my computer!!!! Eventually my myriad programs would not fix the original photograph so I surrendered with trepidation. OMG, it’s fantastic! I was able to make it look fun with a ‘bandicoot’ filter – what the heck does that mean? Then I added a fancy frame and VOILA!

My third resolution, which I doubt will last 12 hours, is to nice to my husband. He would hate it if I was really sweet all the time – he didn’t sign up for that but I could add some laughter to the snarky remarks. Less, “reallys???” More,”you are so gorgeous and clever” without a hint of sarcasm. Tonight I told him he was the best looking guy in the room and I meant it. Nobody else could make me laugh so much and turn me on at the same time. That’s like a superhuman ability, isn’t it? SEXYFUNNYMAN, perhaps?