Gaslighting Across the Spectrum
Information on gaslighting has exploded in recent years. This has made recognition of gaslighting as a denial, deception, manipulation, or abuse tool more easily accessible to those who are living the traumatic impacts of it. It has become easier for those trying to heal from it to recognize it, practice damage control, prevent, and heal from it. However, the abundance of information, opinions, etc. has also created confusion – ironic given confusion is the byproduct of gaslighting. Most confusing can be what gaslighting is and isn’t – or at least isn’t always. Before beginning, let me issue a disclaimer.
The following represents my opinions about gaslighting. The opinions, for the most part, are not research-based. In fact, there is very little actual research on gaslighting. These opinions are based on over 30 years of clinical work as a victim advocate, psychologist, and group collaborator on the Multidimensional Partner Trauma Model which includes gaslighting, and as a specialist in working with those in recovery for sex addiction and partner betrayal trauma.
Gaslighting can occur across a spectrum, with various levels of intensity, impact, and features. This series examines gaslighting from 3 different dimensions: Part 1 – Gaslighting on the Continuum, Part 2 – Gaslighting x Level of Intensity, and Part 3 – Gaslighting x Primary vs. Secondary Feature. Note that all parts focus on the type of gaslighting that occurs in sex or porn addiction and the associated recovery process.
Gaslighting on the continuum is easiest to understand by examining Figure 1. Gaslighting is depicted on an increasing continuum addressing the level of awareness – unconscious, subconscious, to full premeditated awareness, and degree of intent to harm or control.
Gaslighting on the Continuum
Impact of Gaslighting May Be Abusive, But Intent May Not
The continuum moves from – a) no awareness and no intent to harm, to b) subconscious awareness, where there is intent, but the intent is in service of compartmentalizing what the gaslighter wants to avoid dealing with, and the control is about avoiding discomfort, not the partner, to c) control as the outcome but there is not necessarily the conscious intent to control or harm to the recipient. This might include a parent minimizing or denying problems in the marriage.
The primary goal is to protect the child, the secondary gain is to protect the self from experiencing feelings of helplessness at the child’s distress. If there is no harm, there is no foul in this type of example. However, often when this occurs over a stretch of time, there may be harm in the child’s slow disconnection with his or her own reality – perhaps resulting in a future level a or b gaslighter.