You have probably heard the word ‘gaslighting’ but most of us are not clear about what it means.
I walked to a mall this morning, to get a haircut. On this busy day, the lady who usually cuts my hair, let me in without an appointment. That was nice. In the chair, I listened as she talked about a problem in her life, and I could relate. We all have the same issue, sometimes.
She was being gaslighted.
She and her husband are divorced, I think, recently. I don’t know the reasons, but he has accused her of many things and blamed the marriage breakdown on her. It gets worse when he drinks.
It’s all her fault.
She is sure that she did not do the things he accuses her of, but he has spread the stories to all their friends. Now, she is avoiding people because she is tired of defending herself. If she proves that she is not guilty of something, he can easily make a new story.
I don’t want to take sides; I’m sure they have problems to work out, between them. It does seem that she has a concern that he invented; he is solving his issues by gaslighting her. He is trying to make her guilty, so he can be innocent.
Imagine if someone accused you of doing something bad, and you argued back. At the beginning, you were sure that you were innocent. Also imagine, that everyone you knew heard the stories, and they all started treating you oddly, as if they knew you were guilty. Over time, you might start to feel guilty, and believe that you did something wrong, even if you didn’t.
That is how gaslighting feels, to the victim.
Years ago, I read about a young girl who was molested by an older man. I think she was about twelve years old. The man was arrested and charged, and taken to court. During the trial, the judge sentenced the man, but he also accused the girl of provoking the abuse. Somehow, she was seductive, and the man could hardly help himself.
That really happened.
Wherever that girl is now, as an adult, she probably feels guilty. A judge told her she was responsible for what happened, in a courtroom.
Gaslighting is abuse, and it happens to us all, and to our friends. Also, we are all capable of doing this to other people. For a Christian like me, gaslighting is a problem with my spiritual life.
If you want a definition:
There are common flags for gaslighting, in the way people speak. Here is a short list of my favorites:
- It’s your fault, you made me …
- You are crazy – stressed – weird – lying – sensitive – etc.
- I don’t have this problem with anyone else.
- Why are you so upset?
- You should have known …
- Do you know what that says about you?
So, what should we do with this spiritual problem? It can ruin our lives, or we can use it to abuse others.
There is a simple solution: Be guilty.
I am guilty. I follow someone named Jesus, who had to die for me. That’s how wrong I was.
When I was a boy, about eight years old, I was a gang leader. Really. Some of us got tired of paying for things, so we started stealing. We shoplifted toys from shops, until that day when we got caught. My parents were old school, and the punishment went on for months.
They cured me.
I just confessed my fault to you, and I have also confessed to God. I am sorry for what I did, and I believe God has forgiven me, forever. If I am a good person, it’s because I am forgiven.
I am guilty and forgiven.
If someone wants to falsely make me feel guilty, so they can be free, they have a problem. I am too busy confessing my real sins, and I love the freedom I have because I am forgiven. False guilt just doesn’t stick.
That is my solution, and it works well for me.
If you, or someone near you, is being punished with ‘gaslight’ accusations, I hope we can all find freedom. And if you are doing this to another person, have a conversation with God. The freedom from being forgiven is so much better than blame-shifting.
The Bible promised us a fix for gaslighting:
The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53: 5 and 6)