“Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them, cognitive dissonance and other changes including low self-esteem.” (Source: Wikipedia)
Just like many other concepts in psychology, Gaslighting is a term that still hasn’t made it to the Indian public. Even worse, the idea that a person can manipulate them into doing things that they otherwise won’t do or believe is still talked about as though something impossible. However, this pretension has not helped the thousands of people who have fallen victims to Gaslighting. And, keeping itself on par with other problems in India, the victims of Gaslighting also reflect the gender bias, a considerable number of victims being women.
For a society that has an extensive history of shaming and blaming victims, Gaslighting is nothing new. Even if the victims manage to speak up, which is a difficult task considering the post-traumatic issues most of them go through, they are faced with the herculean task of justifying their actions as to satisfy the social morality. But, almost no one takes an effort to understand how our culture has contributed to the growth of these Gaslighters — by creating potential victims who have lower self-esteem and self-respect and by encouraging people to prioritize material success over mental wellbeing and happiness. That is no tough task when the typical Indian parents are concerned about good grades, higher education in premier institutions and a high-paying job in an MNC.
One question that many people ask the victims of Gaslighting is how on earth they believed what the Gaslighter was talking about, how they let someone take control of their lives, how they were led to believe that another person can make better life decisions for them and why did they do many inappropriate things when they were allegedly being controlled by the manipulator. One of the many things that a potential Gaslighter does is to understand your utmost weaknesses and the low points in your life. There have even been instances when this potential abuser could make your life a mess — often involving others’ lives — if they cannot find a loophole strong enough to make that entry. But this extra effort is often unnecessary, thanks to the lower self-esteem scenario that we mentioned earlier.
And, should I emphasize on the fact that a Gaslighter is good at choosing the most gullible people out there? They are good at finding out people with low self-respect, broken familial relationships, toxic romantic relationships, lower self-confidence and with traumatic experiences in the past. If you happen to be one of those gullible people and don’t have any of those issues mentioned above, a skilled manipulator can make you question normal things.
Provided that a lot of Gaslighters are doing these for fulfilling their sexual fantasy, we have to ask the question: what happens to the concept of consent?
One of the ways to make a victim say Yes is through a level of other-worldly persistence. Now, this isn’t the normal streak of ‘would you have sex with me?’ questions. Instead, the Gaslighter may label you as non-progressive if you say you say No to them. There could also be other labels, such as when you are called as someone who doesn’t have personal growth. There have even been many personal accounts where victims were convinced that they should become polygamous or polyamorous if they want to attain personal growth and ‘modern’ outlook.
One of the alternative methods is to remind the victims about a traumatic event in the past — something they had during their childhood or in a toxic relationship. Then, it becomes easy for the Gaslighter to convince the victim that there are some parts of trauma left inside them and that they should have a new sexual experience to overwrite that traumatic experience. I want to iterate here that, by the time a Gaslighter does this to you, the victim would have come to the stage of taking their opinion as the word of God.
So, the victim agrees, thinking that everything this God-like person does is for the victim’s good future and personal growth and a bright future. That is how corruption of agency works. For the record, the victim said Yes and that’s enough for the Gaslighter to escape legal action. Of course, the judiciary that doesn’t give a damn about mental issues actually helps these kinds of manipulators.
Now, that was the deal with sexual abuse and the corruption of agency. When it comes to gaining monetary benefits, the narrative could be entirely different. A typical narrative of this sort would start with estranging the victim from their family and becoming the *other* family in their life. The victim could be even convinced to an extent that no matter how much money they spend on the Gaslighter, it will be done with complete consent and even happiness.
Also, I don’t think we need to mention again that these Gaslighters are good at making stories about their own financial issues, health problems and childhood poverty that can induce some sympathy. Once again, I’d like to draw the line between these pricks and the people who have genuine issues. However, the latter would not probably go to the extent of taking the source of help for granted.
Full disclosure, though: this isn’t an attempt to compile a few traits that make a gaslighter. It is, instead, a humble effort to spread a few ways in which a manipulator could sabotage your autonomy and mental health for their personal benefits. While the methods vary according to the victimizer and the potential victim, the negativity surrounding the whole discourse has to remain the same.