Manipulation, Part 1 – Gaslighting

Overheard:

“That’s not what I said and not how I meant what I said!”

This piece on “Gaslighting” is the first in a series about the oppressive manipulations tactics many of the folks I counsel experience on a regular basis.

What we will discuss in this series happens in homes, churches, businesses, friendships – all kinds of environments where hurt people hurt other people.

I pray you will find it useful.

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Gaslighting is a sophisticated manipulation tactic employing a specific kind of lying that people with certain character and personality defects use to create doubt in the minds of others.

The goal is togaslight make the target person doubt their own judgment and perceptions, and to create doubt in the minds of others about the believability of the targeted person.

Here’s where the term comes from, how it works, and what to be on the alert for.

In the classic suspense thriller, Gaslight (MGM, 1944), Paula (Ingrid Bergman) marries the villainous Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), not realizing that he is the one who murdered her aunt and is now searching for her missing jewels.

To cover up his treachery, he tries to persuade Paula that she is going mad, so he can search the attic for the jewels without her interference.

He plants missing objects on her person in order to make her believe that she has no recollection of reality.

He tries to isolate her, not allowing her to have visitors or to leave the house.

He tries to make her think she is losing her mind by making subtle changes in her environment, including slowly and steadily dimming the flame on a gas lamp.

If this sounds somehow familiar, you have probably encountered the form of psychological abuse known as “Gaslighting.”

Essentially, it describes methods of manipulation that are designed to make the victim lose their grip on the truth or doubt their perception of reality, in order to gain power and control over them.

Effective gaslighting can be accomplished in several different ways.

Sometimes, a person can assert something with such an apparent intensity of conviction that the other person begins to doubt their own perspective – like someone stealing something that belongs to you and being so unwaveringly insistent that it really belongs to them that you give up.

Other times, vigorous and unwavering denial coupled with a display of righteous indignation can accomplish the same task – like being aggressive toward you and, when you stand up for yourself, vehemently accusing you of being abusive.

Bringing up historical facts that seem largely accurate but contain minute, hard-to-prove distortions and using them to “prove” they are right – like rewording things you or they said so that there are too many little lies to try and fight that you don’t know where to begin.

Gaslighting is particularly effective when coupled with other tactics such as shaming and guilting.

Anything that aids in getting another person to doubt their judgment and back down will work for the gaslighter. One of the scary parts of Gaslighting is that, oftentimes, the gaslighter seems to believe that what they are saying is true.

Gaslighting can be a terrifying experience. It can quickly put you on the defensive, manipulate you in to trying to justify your own actions or behaviors, when what you started out to do was challenge someone else’s wrong behavior.

A gaslighter’s prevarications may be presented so convincingly and with such conviction, that you not only doubt your own memories and sense of judgment, you also start to fear that other’s (who don’t know the truth and don’t see things from your perspective) will become persuaded to believe the gaslighter instead of you.

This leaves you feeling even more trapped, more confused, more powerless, and feeds a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.

What To Do

  • ALWAYS keep yourself (and any children) safe FIRST!
  • Avoid arguing the “facts” with the gaslighter – they will not surrender to your view of things unless it serves their purpose (we will discuss this more when we look at “Assenting in Order to Manipulate”).
  • Remember that you are not responsible for the other person’s feelings or behaviors
  • Keep a journal (if you can do so safely) of these kinds of conversations when they occur. You will find the running record a powerful tool in reassuring yourself that you aren’t the crazy one.
  • Consider recording (again, if you can do so SAFELY) some of the interactions.
  • Have safe and perceptive people with whom you can discuss these things. A dialog with a trusted counselor, pastor, family member, or friend so they are aware of what you are dealing with can be very helpful.
  • Do the healthy best-practices you need to do to get out from under this kind of oppressive behavior. Calmly refuse to accept it, and absent yourself from the conversation when it starts.

There will be more coming in the days ahead.

Soli Deo Gloria

Wounded Hearts and Mangled Souls – an Excerpt

Overheard:

“We have to be careful slinging that word ‘abuse’ around too freely, you know. That can become abusive itself. Abuse is a lot rarer than some people make it out to be.”

The following is excerpted from a book I am writing about my experience as a Biblical counselor who seems to have specialized in abuse. I say, “seems to have specialized,” because it wasn’t a primary area for counseling focus I planned, it has just ended up that way. Let me know what you think, hm?

For over twenty-five years, I have sat week in and week out with troubled and hurting people who seek God’s answers to their struggles. I serve the Body of Christ in a number of roles, one of which is as a Biblical counselor.

Before coming to me, most of the people I meet with have gone to pastors and therapists and psychologists and prayer groups and all manner of folk in an effort to find resolution to two recurring battles in their lives: the pain of the evil they have suffered and the shame of the sins they have committed—often as a result of the evil they have suffered.

When people ask me what it is I do and I mention Biblical counseling, they get an odd look on their face and many ask, “What’s that?” The simplest answer I have come up with is this: Biblical counseling is targeted discipleship aimed at guiding people into the robust relationship with Jesus Christ that their current struggles are preventing. Not a textbook definition, but we find it to be an excellent working definition.

There is one area of counseling expertise that God has developed me in over the past twenty-six years and that is in the area of abuse and its cognates. Abuse in its various and tawdry forms is rampant in society and increasingly so. Sad to say, it is at least as widespread within the church in America as it is without, and (in some cases) is even more prevalent.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this is that almost every single one of the almost twenty-six hundred counselees I have worked with has been involved in a local church where they could not get help, where they experienced the abuse in the first place, or where they experienced additional wounding when they did seek help.

Am I bringing an indictment against the church in America? Indeed I am. I have been banging on the doors and walls and windows of the church for over a quarter century, trying to get the church to understand and address these matters well. The most common response?

“We have to be careful slinging that word ‘abuse’ around too freely, you know. That can become abusive itself. Abuse is a lot rarer than some people make it out to be.”

Really!?

This not only breaks my heart, but angers me just about as much.

Can I tell you how intentionally ignorant and arrogantly obtuse that is?

Statistically, when a pastor stands behind his pulpit on a Saturday evening or Sunday morning, for every hundred people sitting in front of him, only twelve to fourteen of those hundred people have not –and I say again, have not –either personally experienced abuse/neglect or been a first-hand witness to abuse or domestic violence/oppression in their own home.

Let me make that point as clear as I can. Out of a hundred people sitting down to listen to a Christian sermon on any given weekend, eighty-six to eighty-eight of those people have (statistically) either experienced or witnessed abuse or domestic brutality and/or oppression in their home. I am not talking about the occasional sinful treatment sinners perpetrate on one another. I am speaking about an atmosphere and a pattern of attitudes and behaviors that have had a defining effect on those involved.

These folks have been misused and abused beyond the normal wear-and-tear we experience as fallen human beings bound in relationship with other fallen human beings. These folks have become objectified, considered as “things” to be used for someone else’s own sensual pleasures or as punching bags on which to vent their rage. They have been minimized and cast aside as inconvenient or, even worse, as a nuisance and a bother.

They have been little children cowering under covers and in closets as one adult has verbally reviled and physically terrorized the other adult in their home.

They have been children and adolescents silently begging God, “PLEASE don’t let him come in my room tonight!!”

Most of these abusive self-proclaimed stalwarts of our communities and churches have made their victims believe they were deserving of this mistreatment or that they (the victims) had caused it, setting them up for more abuse now and later. Or they have cast these used-up “less-than’s” aside as one would an empty candy wrapper or a melon rind and moved on to the next person who has become targeted as their prey.

Over and over again, I hear the same heart-cries about the church and its leadership: “Where were they?” “Why didn’t they stop it?” “Why didn’t they help?” “Why don’t they talk about it?”

And, even more often, these wounded hearts and mangled souls seem sadly resigned to a recurring sense of, “They just don’t understand and don’t know how to help.”

My goal is to do three things:

First, to clearly articulate what constitutes abuse by God’s definition and by the fruit borne out in people’s lives;

Second, to call Christ’s church to action as the agent of God’s grace and truth in the lives of the offended and the offenders;

Third, to provide resources and references to equip the church to answer the call and be the safest place for wounded hearts and mangled souls to find rest, hope, and healing.

My goal is not to offend, but I will. My goal is not to blame, but I will. My goal is not to shame, but I hope I do some of that in a God-focused way that leads to repentance and fruit in keeping with repentance.

My main goal is to equip and to motivate God’s people to rise to the call to be instrument’s in the hands of the Redeemer as He satisfies the cry of the psalmist: “Lord, you have heard the request of the oppressed; You make them feel secure because You listen to their prayer.You defend the fatherless and oppressed, so that mere mortals may no longer terrorize them.”(Psalm 10:17-18 NET).

Perhaps you are one of the many survivors of abuse, neglect, domestic violence/oppression, or sexual assault who has been looking to the church, hoping she would be a bastion of hope and help in your time of trouble.

My challenge to you is to become the very answer to prayer that you have sought. Become someone whom God has healed of the brokenness and sinfulness that has plagued your life and become His agent of grace and healing in the lives of others who are like you.

I say this because that is why I do what I do and why I am writing this book. You see, I, too, am a survivor. And I have learned that God always intends for the evil we have suffered to be turned into good.

That is not just the trite mouthing of some Bible verse too often tossed around Christian circles like a well-worn beanbag toy. While we often lob Romans 8:28 into a conversation as if it was the silver bullet that will kill off every tortured memory or gasping-for-breath anxiety attack, its misuse does not invalidate the truth of the verse.

Bad hermeneutics notwithstanding, God does sovereignly take every good and every ill in the life of those who are His and works it to their good—eventually.

The verses that have become my “anchor verses” are 2 Corinthians 1:3-5.

“Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

When I look back at the abuse I suffered and the abusiveness that became part of my way of dealing with the pain of what I had endured, and when I see how God has chosen to use me to bring help and comfort to so many over the years since the day I became a follower of Christ, it is these verses that have been the greatest help to me in making sense of it all.

What I have learned and have found strength in is the understanding that God entrusted those experiences to me as a stewardship; something to be managed and invested and returned to Him with a profit. Had I not gone through what I have and had I not experienced the healing that He has brought into my life, I would not be equipped to sit with person after person and guide them through that same process of healing and, in turn, them becoming a helper to Him in bringing that same comfort and healing to others.

Don’t take this to mean that I can now look back on the beatings and the screaming and the molesting and all of the other sordid things that were done to me and say, “Yippee! I am so glad s/he did that to me!” Not in the least.

But, what I can honestly do is look at each of the memories as they come to mind and see the benefit that God has been able to bring into the life of someone else as a result of how He has walked with me through it all.

The point is this: abuse is to be expected but not accepted. The misuse or abuse of one person by another is never okay with God. Yet, knowing it will come, He has determined to put these evils to work and to turn them from evil into good.

And, lest we forget, God brought redemption into this world and into our lives through abuse! Jesus of Nazareth suffered the most inhumane and torturous treatment any human being has ever experienced, and it is because of that abuse that salvation can be ours. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24 NASB)

I’m Tired of Your Excuses

Overheard:

            “It wasn’t all that bad – it could have been worse.”

I’m tired…so very tired.

Not tired of body, but tired in soul.

There is something troubling my heart that I have to speak, have to get out in front of those who call themselves “the Redeemed”.

For a great many years, I have been counseling survivors of abuse. Almost all of these survivors have come from within the church. And we are talking about hundreds upon hundreds!

Of late, there has been an ever-increasing number of women seeking help for what I can only describe as domestic oppression.

This isn’t new, by any means. But the heavy influx of women and children in need of freedom from oppression that falls just short of violence has been astonishing.

This isn’t a category of abuse you will find in any state codified list. It isn’t a category you will find in most self-help or counselor-advice books. Yet, it is one of the most prevalent forms of abuse experienced by wives, little girls, and little boys in the church!

And I am sick and tired of it!

Pastors: Get your Bibles opened and look up the 80+ references to oppression there and get God’s attitude about it, will you please?

And will you start teaching about it, looking for it, intervening when it rears its ugly head, and provide a safe place for the ladies and little ones to find escape?

If a woman comes to you and talks about how angry her husband gets, PAY ATTENTION!! This is her way of initiating conversation about the oppression she lives under and she NEEDS YOU TO LISTEN!! Take this seriously: do NOT minimize or deny what she is telling you. This is especially true if the man is any kind of “leader” in your church.

Also, get your men together and let them know that no man of God worthy of the name oppresses, dominates, controls, or terrifies his family. That is the job of the Devil, not those whom God has placed as servant-leaders within these families. Get them help if they need it, and keep them accountable – God will ask you about this one day, pastor, so be ready.

Men: Get on your knees, get your Bible open, and prayerfully saturate on Psalm 15. Allow the Holy Spirit to perform a spiritual MRI on your heart and soul, bringing the truth to the surface. Get it into the light, get it confessed, repent of it, and then start bearing fruit in keeping with repentance.

And remember: You will have an exit interview one day; and you will be asked about your treatment of your family.

Ladies: If you are in a church that teaches you are to subject yourself and your children to domination and control as Biblical leadership, ESCAPE!

You are being lied to and your church is creating the environment where abuse comes alive and thrives. Pray for God to deliver you and your children from the oppression He hates – He will do it. Grab hold of Deuteronomy 31:8 and make it your “Anchor Verse” as you walk into freedom and life.

Church: Get educated about abuse, talk about the reality and prevalence of it, and stop acting as if there is neutral ground when it comes to abuse – there isn’t. You side with either the abused or the abuser: there IS no middle ground.

Be open to opening your home to those among you who are being oppressed or exploited. In so doing, you are partnered with Jesus Himself who “came to set the captives free”.

Remember: The “law of Christ” is for us to love one another, just as He has loved us. Galatians 6:2 reminds us that we are to, “bear one another’s burdens [lift up from underneath],and thus FULFILL the law of Christ”. This is our duty, our call, our lifeblood.

 

If this has disturbed you, good!

If this has angered you, I have to wonder why.

If this has motivated you to become better informed and equipped, then I am proud of you (and so is God).

My prayer is that this post will cause movement toward God’s original design for the Church to be the safe-haven and place of rescue Christ Himself is.

Resources:

One of the best resources you can get your hands on about abuse in general is Mending the Soul, by Dr. Steven R. Tracy. Steve is a theology professor, former pastor, and he collaborates with his wife Celestia around the world bringing hope and healing to survivors of some of the worst forms of abuse imaginable.

For an understanding about domestic oppressors and their motivations, I recommend Why Does He Do That?, by Dr. Lundy Bancroft. Though not a believer, Dr. Bancroft is considered the leading authority on the minds and motives of men who oppress and abuse.

For an understanding of why people stay trapped in these situations, believing they cannot escape, I recommend The Betrayal Bond, by Dr. Patrick J. Carnes. Dr. Carnes. Despite a heavy saturation with worldly psychology and recovery models, Dr. Carnes has provided a very helpful tool for those who want to understand how people become entombed in abuse and unable to escape.

Forgiveness – Part 2

Overheard:

“But aren’t we supposed to forgive, forget, and move on?”

In Part 1 of this series on Forgiveness, I outlined how we have arrived at such a fractured and unbiblical view of what forgiveness is and is not.

In Part 2, I want to discuss the foundational aspect of forgiveness. The first of the three types of forgiveness in the human experience is JUDICIAL FORGIVENESS.

(Special thanks to Dr. Steven R. Tracy for his helpful paradigm in Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse.)

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