A man trapped on a sailboat with a broken mast, in rough waters, surrounded by sharks. Painting by Winslow Homer.

3. Gaslighting

Feb 8, 2022

I'm from Alaska.

In Alaska, there's no sharks, but the water will still kill you. It's super cold.

I didn't grow up swimming that much, in part because the water was always frigid, and because lessons at the highschool piss-pool are lame.

Obviously for lots of people, the ocean is a wonderful thing, and I don't begrudge them or disagree. Once I had an insane conversation with a deep sea diver who told me of his love for just walking into the ocean around the San Juan Islands. I think that's incredible.

But it's not for me. I love being on a boat, or the occasional trip to the beach, but I find the idea of being in the deep water a little bit terrifying. I know a bit too much about how little we know about what's down there.

As a big, masculine dude, I've faced occasional, subtle pressures to spend more time in the ocean. Invites to go on dive trips, jumping off a party boat into Halong Bay (that was super fun actually), swimming from the back of the sailboat just off Redondo, or going to the beach with my southern fried relatives. I avoid these situations, but they come up.

This has gotten worse as I've gotten older, and I will put up a decent resistance to diving into deep water, because no matter what the truth is, my brain believes that the ocean (and sometimes the lake) is scary.

When I put up this resistance, people push on it. My manliness is suddenly in question. The jokes come out and it puts me on the back foot.

The subcontext is that I'm a fool for believing that the ocean is dangerous. Two things. Yes it is, and I shouldn't have to go in the water if I don't want to.

To me, this is an extremely gentle form of gaslighting. I'm being told that my fear of the ocean is foolish and unreal.

I've experienced this subtle gaslighting in dozens of other ways (and much more serious stuff too, which I'll discuss in the future). It's easy to get most people to engage in lightweight gaslighting. Just challenge their beliefs.

People who love diving in the ocean can't stand that other people don't.

Gaslighting comes to me as a physical sensation. I feel it as a boiling in the lower esophagus. I lose my voice. I know that I am being stifled.

But what is gaslighting exactly?

Gaslighting is the effort to convince you to mistrust your own perceptions.  

I look at gaslighting on a scale of harm.

Whenever someone tries to invalidate how you feel, or refuses to consider or discuss your argument, that's gaslighting.

It can be something simple and relatively harmless, like telling someone they're an idiot for supporting the Dallas Cowboys.

It can also be something deadly serious, like spending decades trying to convince the world that smoking cigarettes was safe.

Gaslighting is a denial of reality. When you can keep people from seeing what's real, it's much easier to take advantage of them.

Awareness of gaslighting has thankfully exploded in recent years, largely because of #MeToo and Donald J. Trump.

The term 'Gaslighting' was taken from a play written in 1938 by British novelist Patrick Hamilton. Gas Light, as it is called, was written during a dark period for the author, who, six years prior, had been hit by a car and dragged through the streets of London, leaving him with facial scars and partial paralysis. Then his mother committed suicide.

I'd like to take a beat just to appreciate Mr. Hamilton. He turned his suffering into something that has resonated magnificently in the minds of many modern folk. Bravo my dear.

The dapper and dashing Patrick Hamilton, who wrote the original play, Gas Light

Hamilton's play is set in Victorian England in 1880, and focuses on an upper middle class married family. In the story, the husband tries to convince his wife that she is going mad, so that he can steal her money. He denies openly flirting with the house staff, and tries to convince her that the gas light in the house is growing dimmer.

And thus was born gaslighting.

When people try to convince you that your perceptions are unreal, without bothering to hear your side of the story, that's gaslighting.

It can be harmless, or terrible.

We all make fun of people who support the Dallas Cowboys, because they simply do not know any better, but once you catch someone gaslighting to gain access to any form of resources, my advice is to never, ever trust them again.

Here's looking at you, Fortune 500 companies.

"Who you gonna believe? Me or your lying eyes?"  - Group Effort
Who Ya Gonna Believe Me or Your Own Eyes? – Quote Investigator

Things Gaslighters Say

Each of these can be said in a 100 different ways.

  1. I did nothing wrong
  2. I can't remember
  3. You're too sensitive
  4. It's always about you
  5. I didn't say that
  6. You never listen to me
  7. I'm not upset (even though they're acting like it)
  8. It's not your fault, because you're not capable... you're broken in some way
  9. This is why nobody likes you
  10. You're being paranoid
  11. Why are you so petty?
  12. Why are you so insecure?
  13. No one could have predicted this...
  14. You have no sense of humor... you can't take a joke
  15. You're the problem. I'm not the problem.
  16. If you were loyal... if you really loved me, you'd do what I wanted...
  17. Trust me
  18. I'm telling you the truth
  19. This time it's different

Gas Light was put on film twice. In 1940 in Britain, and again in 1944 in Hollywood.  Here's the entire 1940 British version:

Please share the Occulted Ordinary with your smartest friends and colleagues.

This is well said and compassionate. Her name is Cristina.

We All Gaslight

You are not always right. In fact, you and me both always have an incomplete picture of what's happening around us, because our consciousness is constrained by these meat suits. You simply can't see the history or context that other people have brought to the moment, to say nothing of your own subconscious material.

Each and every one of us has reason to doubt our own perceptions. Our instruments are flawed. Eyes, ears, and particularly memory are all extremely unreliable records of events.

At the same time, we should work to cultivate our own personal powers of discernment, so we can see through lies and live life according to our own terms, not manipulated to serve the causes of others.

In your efforts to avoid being gaslit, make sure you aren't gaslighting others.

Listen to what people have to say.

Ask them questions.

Give them the benefit of the doubt.

If they don't reciprocate, bounce.  

I am a fool. I learned all this stuff the hard way.

I've been burned literally hundreds of times by romantic partners, business partners, scammers, companies, and cab drivers. But I've also been the manipulative one, and so have you.

We all get mistreated by this world. We've all got bad code installed in our heads, and it's my explicit intention to help you, dear reader, to remove as much of it as you can.

You must trust yourself to break the social contract.

Do not play along with someone's agenda just to be polite. Save yourself from the psychological pain and internal chaos that comes from habitual gaslighting.

When you meet people, engage them with an open heart and an open mind. If they don't do the same, LEAVE if you can.

No amount of money, sex, or power is enough to hand control of your life to someone else.

Common Methods of Manipulation

Most manipulation follows a basic formula. Governments, companies, churches, family, and conmen all use the same general strategy.

1. Credibility Hacking to gain your trust,

2. Plausible Deniability to hide and obscure their crimes,

3. Gaslighting to throw you off the scent and keep the scam going as long as possible.

Not all manipulation is conscious manipulation. Some people are just passthroughs for the manipulation of forces further afield. Some manipulators deserve pity. Some deserve anger. Some deserve mockery.