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Gaslighting and Anger: What You Need to Know

What's 'gaslighting' really? And how can angry people avoid being a victim – or a victimiser?

Schedule Saturday 22 May at 4pm UK time in your diary for our Zoomcast ‘Gaslighting Workshop’. All welcome: click here to register and receive the Zoom call link.

‘Gaslighting’ is a form of coercive control where the victimiser insists that the victim is confused, confusing, or otherwise disconnected from reality. Once the victim’s confidence in their perceptions and sense of self are eroded, they can be more easily manipulated. 

The term derives from a 1938 stage play of the same name, popularised by a 1944 Oscar-winning movie adaptation, where an abusive criminal grinds down his wife’s mental faculties as a cover for his nefarious goings-on. But while gaslighting in the contemporary sense can sometimes be employed as a smokescreen, it’s often simply a matter of power and control. Gaslighting tactics fit very neatly within the patterns of destructive interpersonal defence mechanisms, such as narcissism and borderline personality disorder.

The term is most commonly referred to within abusive romantic relationships. But it can take place at work, during casual encounters, within families, or between groups. Gaslighting even occurs on a global level: ‘fake news’ and conspiracy theories toy with our sense of universal reason, while ideologies and politicians claim that they are the only rational way forward.

We can be both the victimiser and victim of gaslighting, even simultaneously. Within a long-term relationship, gaslighting can vacillate between partners, especially if the pair are given to power struggles.

Furthermore, gaslighting can be both extreme and very low-level – the latter to such an extent that we can all be a little bit guilty of employing it in our communication with others. 

Those of us with anger issues can find ourselves both indulging in gaslighting behaviour and suffering from it. The most obvious example of the former is blaming our anger on others and refusing to take responsibility for it. As for the latter, some of us can end up ‘beaten with the angry stick’ – having our anger issues used against us unfairly by manipulative individuals (indeed, ‘guilt trips’ in general are a gaslighting technique). We can even gaslight ourselves, especially when in denial of work we otherwise clearly need to do on our mental health. And we certainly might beat ourselves up with that angry stick.

Crucially, gaslighting can turn into an ‘anger style’ – a mode of expressing anger that is almost subconscious, and becomes characteristic. Take a look at this sometimes hilarious guide to gaslighting in the workplace by comedienne and writer Sarah Cooper to get an impression of how easy a habit it can be to slip into.

Insisting to a hurt partner that their feelings have no right to be offended “because I didn’t mean it like that”, or telling a child that they “have always eaten broccoli before” when you frankly have no recollection of how their palette takes to it, are modes of casual, ‘micro’ gaslighting that we may all fall into when feeling impatient or defensive.

Psychologically, gaslighting is ‘the pathologically insecure preying upon the conventionally insecure’. The difference between the types of insecurity in this case is intent. The pathologically insecure crave power, which psychologists call a ‘malevolent’ motivation. The conventionally insecure doubt themselves, which makes them prey to a forceful, immoral individual such as a narcissist. Often the two experienced similar issues in childhood, and are drawn to each other in relationships.

How can you defend yourself against gaslighting? This concerns one of the core aspects of anger management coaching – developing a strong yet mindful sense of self, gauging where we need to draw boundaries, then expressing our right and intention to do so.

And how do you stop yourself from doing it? Another pillar of BAAM’s anger management program is taking responsibility for our actions and emotions, being mindful of our behaviour, and striving to act with emotional intelligence. Often this requires a shift in perception. We must be slightly less concerned with experiencing our own feelings yet more aware of those of others; but simultaneously more confident in our instincts and motivated to take action when required, even if that includes a degree of conflict.

In addition to teaching anger management techniques, BAAM’s Beating Anger course examines difficulties in communication and relationships that can lead to frustration and rage, such as gaslighting. Book a Taster Evening or a Beating Anger course today to find out more and develop your emotional intelligence to a point where it can be life changing.

25th May 2021

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