The Handbook: Recognizing When the Gas Lights Have Dimmed.

One of the worst problems in Christianity involves how its adherents–largely taught and modeled by their own teachers and authority figures–get this idea that they know best. This knowledge is sometimes couched in “a word from the Spirit,” like some supernatural birdie whispered in their ears some arcane bit of knowledge, but not necessarily; it may be presented as some nugget of wisdom imparted to some lesser mortal by someone who knows much better what ought to be done in any given situation.

When the target of this exalted wisdom doesn’t quite feel the same way, then gaslighting often comes into play.

Gaslighting is an abuse tactic whose name came from an old movie (Gaslight, 1944)in which a man sets out to deliberately drive his new bride insane so he can get her committed to a mental institution–which will give him control of her fortune. One of the ways he does this is to fool around with the house’s gas-powered lighting, telling his wife she’s imagining things when she sees them change brightness. When his wife tries to seek validation of what she’s perceiving, everybody tells her it’s in her head–nobody notices it but her, so she eventually succumbs to madness.

When someone is gaslighting you, they’re trying to convince you to use their version of reality instead of your own, to distrust your own opinions and perceptions, even to rewrite history in your own head. The result is that you’ll end up very dependent on the person doing it, because you will eventually start distrusting everything about your own mind. It’s a brilliantly effective way to abuse someone, partly because we–as human beings–rely in great part on others for feedback. We all need reliable feedback.

A gaslighter is someone who takes advantage of that very human need in order to manipulate a victim into dependence with false feedback. It’s a common enough form of religious abuse that I think that it belongs in our Handbook; I haven’t run into many ex-Christians who haven’t had this happen to them.

Women, especially, face this type of abuse from men in romantic contexts. We hear “you’re crazy” and a host of other demoralizing statements on a daily basis from the people around us. This site even mentions the prevalence of dating profiles that include phrases like “no crazy chicks” from assholes who don’t appear to realize they’re advertising that they are planning to gaslight the shit out of whoever gets involved with them. But I bet a lot of men can recognize these invalidating, negating, crazy-making statements as well:
* “Are you sure you’re remembering that correctly?”
* “That never happened.”
* “You’re totally blowing this out of proportion.”
* “You’re getting too emotional.”
* “Gyaaah, it was just a joke! Can’t you take a joke?”
* “Prove that happened.”
* “You just don’t understand what love is.”
* Pretending to be calm, rational, or affectionate when all signs point to the contrary.

This screenshot shows Ingrid Bergman being gas...

This screenshot shows Ingrid Bergman being gaslighted. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After a steady diet of this shit, a victim of gaslighting loses all faith in his or her own ability to judge anything at all, and comes to rely on the abuser for all that stuff. Even the most objective evidence gets tossed out in favor of the revised reality presented by the gaslighter. I watched a reality show some years ago involving a young wife who’d been caught red-handed cheating on her husband. Even after being confronted with the evidence of her infidelity, she claimed up and down that the recordings were wrong and denied straying. It was just mind-blowing how she could insist on her innocence when the show’s staff had put together not just videos but a host of other signs that she’d gotten involved very thoroughly with another man–at one point catching her on film doing the deed with this other man in the couple’s living room. She insisted to her husband that her version of reality trumped all this other stuff, and that he should believe her over all that lying documentation. When someone’s been that thoroughly caught, about all they can do is go balls-out on the offensive and throw a Hail Mary pass. The worst part? Faced with the loss of his marriage, the guy actually seemed to be wavering about accepting her explanation.

The point is, don’t expect gaslighting to be happening solely in the context of a romantic relationship, or to be the sole province of one gender. It happens whenever someone wants to imprint their own version of reality over somebody else’s version of it.

Religious indoctrination often uses gaslighting to keep people docile and compliant. I’ve mentioned before that I think the entire field of apologetics arguments are meant to paper over reality with Christianity’s weird, Bizarro version of it.

One of the prime ways religious leaders use gaslighting is in how love is shown. I’ve written about this self-serving redefinition of the word that Christians typically use before, but to just sum up, many Christians have redefined the word “love” to completely allow–even require, in some cases–the hateful, controlling, aggressive, hostile, discriminatory, manipulative, and dishonest things they really want to do to others. When we protest to such Christians that their “love” is hurtful and doesn’t feel loving at all, generally we get back a host of gaslighting excuses about how our big problem is that we’re not using the same loopy definition of “love” that they’re using, and if we’d only get on board with their religious indoctrination, it’d look loving to us too at that point.

The awful part is, they’re kind of right. When I was locked into that mindset, I honestly thought that loving someone sometimes meant treating them that way.

It’s always the victim’s problem, not the abusers’. And I’m not kidding here–I’ve heard Christians say, more often than I could ever count, that non-Christians don’t have any capacity to truly love anybody, while Christians, obviously, have the monopoly on it since they’re supremely intelligent or lucky or discerning enough to follow what they imagine is a real live God of Love. (Apparently nobody before 1CE ever felt love for anybody.) Sometimes they’ll couch this type of love in terms like “tough love”, as this site does, insisting that outsiders should view Christians’ savage attempts to control us as loving.

When we protest that their definition of “tough love” is wrong, we get told that no no, we need to let them control our lives for our own good–especially our private relationships and bedroom antics. We’re too stupid or too immoral to know what is best for our own lives. Christians know, so they should get the right to keep us from doing stuff they’re just positive we’ll regret one day. Of course, “tough love” is actually a term from the drug-addiction world, and it usually means the process by which parents and loved ones withdraw resources from addicts in a very particular way so the addict will lose his or her safety net and fail hard enough to realize just how bad the addiction really is–and seek help as a result. It does not in any way mean to control the addict’s life. To the contrary, it’s forcing the addict to live like an adult and take responsibility for the problem, rather than enabling the addict’s behavior by bailing him or her out all the time like parents might a child, protecting the addict from all the fallout of addiction. That’s not what Christians are doing here at all, and it certainly doesn’t say much that’s good about how they view non-Christians if they’re comparing each and every one of us to drug addicts and themselves to our parents. But we are expected to take this behavior as loving even if it doesn’t feel loving. We are expected to thank them for caring enough about us to control our lives and make our decisions for us.

And this bullshit parade just goes on and on and on. The other day I had a comment-thread conversation with a Christian who is convinced that Christians are being hugely persecuted for their “sincerely held beliefs” (which is of course a euphemism they’re using lately for “desire to legally discriminate against ickie gay people and women who have unapproved sex”). Their version of reality–as filtered to them through Faux Noise and a variety of right-wing media outlets like talk radio–is painted in very stark terms, but bears no resemblance whatsoever to reality. Still, it’s terribly seductive. When non-Christians protest and offer up our own view of the matter, patiently explaining that no, actually, what we’re objecting to is not the Christians’ faith but their unwillingness to show basic civil courtesy to others and follow the same laws everybody else has to follow, it’s like we might as well be quacking at them like ducks. The solution to this Christian’s imaginary problem, of course, was for the rest of us to just let Christians discriminate against whoever they liked, deny entire groups civil rights and roll back the rights of other groups, and control the lives of total strangers so Christians could continue to feel dominant and comfortably supreme in America. Then it’d All Go Back The Way It Was, and this Christian would be totally happy again. And he probably thinks the rest of us would be too. Who knows? “Separate but Equal” worked so well all the other times we’ve tried it…. oh wait, actually, no, it never has.

Just as with “tough love,” any time we try to protest, we get told that our definition of reality and our perception of the situation are just wrong. We’re “lost,” we’re just unsaved scum, so we can’t be trusted in any way to reliably gauge the situation. Only Christians, who are (they say) filled with the spirit of a living god, can possibly accurately tell what is and isn’t reality, what is and isn’t love, and what is and isn’t controlling. If our perceptions vary with their own, then we are the ones who must adjust.

The endgame of a gaslighting campaign is to make you feel uncertain about everything. Indeed, by the time I was done with Christianity, I was a shell of the person I’d once been. Once I’d been happy, confident, forward-thinking, optimistic, bubbly, and strong-spirited. By the time I left, I had a raging case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, was filled with anger and bitterness, was jumpy and timid, experienced panic attacks, apologized constantly and walked on eggshells because I wasn’t sure when I’d mess up again, was unable to make any of my own personal decisions, felt guilty about gainsaying anybody I considered in authority over me, and tended toward being terribly judgmental and condemning toward those who disagreed with me. I didn’t recognize these changes for a while, but I pretty much hit all of the symptoms on that Hotline link.

Gaslighting can do a real number on somebody’s head. It took me a long time to re-learn how to judge situations accurately, to assess information, and to make decisions for myself again and trust my own perceptions and intuitions. You can imagine my surprise when I got into a much healthier relationship years later and at one point mentioned that I had a terrible memory and was sorry about that. “Bullshit,” my partner immediately said. “I’ve never seen anything wrong with your memory. You have a really good memory, one of the best I’ve ever seen.” That’s when things fell into place for me. It had not even occurred to me, even years out of that mindgame, that my gaslighters might have been totally wrong about my sanity and memory.

Recognizing Religious Gaslighting.

* Any attempt to get you to accept a definition of “love” that is not loving.
“We show love by not letting gay people get married.”
“How can it be loving for me to let you have an abortion?”
“A child doesn’t always understand what its parent is doing.”
This includes but is not limited to: LGBTQ harassment and demonization; justification for the genuinely evil atrocities that are outlined in the myths of the Bible; attempts to justify mistreatment of non-Christians, harm them, or strip their rights away “for their own good.”

* Attempts to rewrite and revise history and legal systems with an eye toward getting power over you.
“Slavery in the Bible was actually totally loving. So we should construct society in hierarchies today.”
“Feminism isn’t making women happy, so the loving thing to do is wash it away and go back to the old ways.”
“It’s total persecution for a baker to be forced to treat all customers equally!”
This can include any attempt to make slavery sound acceptable; attempts to strip women of their rights to get them back under control again; turning Christians’ own acts of civil and criminal disobedience into examples of persecution so they can get their way. The tactic will end somehow with the victim firmly ensconced in the control of the abuser.

* Trying to convince you that their constant threats of Hell are actually very loving.
“If I thought you were in danger, wouldn’t it be loving to try to rescue you?”
“It’s not a threat, it’s the Bible’s promise. God loves us so much he warned us.”
If “God is a gentleman,” as these Christians assert, then he wouldn’t tolerate the torture of a human being under any circumstances. Extortion is not love, and neither is threatening people.

* Considerable pressure to adopt the abuser’s version of reality or else face heavy censure.
“Our group is the only group that has it right. If you disagree, then you’re totally wrong.”
“It’s not loving to let you backslide this way. I’m/We’re just holding you accountable.”
If you step out of line at all, questioning the dogma pushed onto you or the definitions you don’t quite agree with, then you can expect grief. This one’s subtle, but basically what it amounts to is the withdrawal of approval whenever you refuse to accept the gaslighter’s version of reality, and showering you with approval and praise when you get with the program. (As you fall into line more, the approval and praise will dwindle considerably.)

* Invalidation of your feelings and perceptions.
“God’s ways are higher than our ways.”
“How can you judge God?”
“We can’t possibly hope to understand how God works, and in the same way you won’t ever understand why I’m doing this.”
The abuser must sever you from your own feelings and perceptions, making you distrust yourself–and trust the abuser’s opinions instead.

Short-Circuiting a Gaslighting Attempt.

It’s actually pretty simple. Refuse to play along. Call it out if you see it. Offer objective evidence if you have it, but don’t get drawn into debating whether the evidence you have is objective enough (because it won’t be!). Disengage; walk away.

The people who deploy gaslighting are controllers. They use gaslighting because it is insanely effective. They probably learned first-hand how effective it is when they were much younger; chances are it was done to them when they were young enough to internalize the ideas behind it. They gravitate toward victims who crave validation and affirmation.

Gaslighters are generally aware that what they are doing is damaging and painful to their victims. Often they really think they’re doing all of it for the victim’s own good. And sometimes, a gaslighter might be both the abuser in one relationship but the gaslighted victim in another relationship entirely.

This is probably not a battle you are going to win. The only way to play is to walk away and not engage. I’ve only rarely run into people who used gaslighting who realized how bad it was and stopped doing it; none of them were Christians, though many had been at one time. The idea of gaslighting is written so thoroughly into toxic Christianity that I don’t think someone can be awakened to how destructive it is while still a member of a toxic sect. Indeed, toxic Christians will defend this behavior to the skies.

Online, the abuse tactics involved in gaslighting are a lot easier to spot–sometimes glaringly, dramatically so! When you notice that your life is getting rewritten before your very eyes or you’re being asked to prove that you can feel basic emotions or possess basic human qualities to some Christian’s satisfaction, chances are you’re dealing with a gaslighting attempt. Thankfully, online it’s also much easier to deal with.

Trust Your Intuition, Perceptions, and the Objective Evidence Before You.

Know this, as well: it gets a lot easier over time to notice gaslighting–and to resist it. Once you find your voice the first time, you’ll find it easier to find the second time. It’s that first step that is the most difficult here.

Aren’t a lot of things like that?

We’re going to talk about Creationism on Saturday, and I’m planning to talk about some basic links I use to educate myself–and also some modern medical miracles that happened to me this week thanks to the scientific community’s overwhelming rejection of Creationism. Seriously, it’s some neat stuff. I hope you’ll join me–and bring your own links and book recommendations, if you want to share! See you then!

About Captain Cassidy

I blog over at Roll to Disbelieve about religion, culture, cats, and tabletop RPGs.
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27 Responses to The Handbook: Recognizing When the Gas Lights Have Dimmed.

  1. mirrorgirl says:

    I strongly agree. Thinking you know best is dangerous.


  2. ElectroMagneticJosh says:

    Great post. I knew what Gaslighting was but didn’t know the origins of the term (and I like to think of myself as a bit of film-buff; for shame).

    My own family was a very loving family who believed that Christianity just made sense and was self-evident (they prefered to let apologists tell them why their faith was “true”. As a result I never encountered attempts at Gaslighting until I was in my early-twenties when a couple of elders called me and some friends for a serious talk about our “Christian walk”.

    They were concerned because we liked to meet at pubs and try craft beers and, because of others in the church complaining, thought we needed to address it. They proceeded to explain why needed to shape up with a combination of bad psycho-analysis and contradictory accusations. I still remember being told that were leading youth astray and, at the same time, going to places with age restrictions to avoid handing out with the younger crowd*. We were told we might as well be taking drugs, organizing porn viewings, and were blamed for problems in the church’s youth group by setting a bad example. We were told that drinking a couple of beers was the same as getting plastered and causing public disturbances.

    We all nodded politely and said we would try to do better, shape up, etc. But the next night we met at our favorite pub and realized that we had done nothing to be ashamed of and that this was a control tactic by the leadership. And, as young adults just leaving university and entering the work-force, it felt jarring to be treated like kids again.

    Today only one of us four are still Christians. I am not saying this is a direct result of that meeting (my own de-conversion was driven by other factors) but it can’t have helped much. The person who stuck with it has become even more “fundangelical” and has little to do with the rest of us today (even though we were all very close friends). The last time I had a conversation with him he explain that we shouldn’t let gay people marry for their own good (despite having two gay siblings and a gay uncle) – so he has totally embraced the ways of the gaslighter.

    While this was a very mild version it did make me realize that a lot of things churches file under “discipline” are just ways to ensure people don’t think for themselves. For me this incident was strange not because of the leader’s disapproval but because of the motives they attributed to our behavior.

    Anyway – enjoy that ramble. I’ll sign off here.

    *There was an aspect of truth in that nice, quiet pubs, were a good place to hang out with people our age and away from the teenagers who liked to tag along.


    • You can do that any time. That really sounded eye-opening to me, too. You had every right to be indignant over being treated that way, for what it’s worth. That is incredibly controlling-sounding behavior!


    • I’ve run into the same thing as ElectroMagneticJosh was discussing. The Thing they want to scold us about doing isn’t “bad” in itself, (they say,) they are just worried that:

      a) We don’t know it’s the first step on the path to becoming something awful!

      b) It might be okay for us, but Weaker People will see us doing it, set off on the path to something awful, and it will be our fault!

      c) The fact that we do it at all is a disturbing sign we want the Wrong Things.

      Aaaaugh! I have come to realize it’s part of their control to not let anything pleasurable happen unless it’s under “church blessing.” Everything and anything else, even if we do the same exact thing in church, is somehow wrong and we should give it up.

      Constantly telling someone they really shouldn’t want the artistic, social, and self-expression outlets they crave really undermines a person.


      • ElectroMagneticJosh says:

        Oh yes, the “weaker brothers/sisters” argument got trotted out as well. I completely forgot about that one.

        “Constantly telling someone they really shouldn’t want the artistic, social, and self-expression outlets they crave really undermines a person.”

        Even without knowing the specifics this sounds terrible and extrememely controlling – much more than my situation.


      • karenh1234567890 says:

        ah, the slippery slope… It reminds me of my favorite Thomas de Quincey quote

        “If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination. Once begun upon this downward path, you never know where you are to stop. Many a man has dated his ruin from some murder or other that perhaps he thought little of at the time.”
        ― Thomas de Quincey

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The "Eh"theist says:

    I’ve always had a hard time wrapping my head around the application of this idea. I’ve seen the movie and understand the concept in theory, but then actually seeing it tossed out so much on the Internet in so many different situations it starts to look like a debate tactic rather than an actual accusation.

    In the movie we have the 3rd person perspective that gives us objective evidence that gaslighting is taking place. When we’re in the midst of a discussion and someone tells us we’re mistaken about something, it might be gaslighting or it might not. Your suggestions in the “Recognizing” section go a long way to making that clearer.

    Likewise, gaslighting as I understand it needs malicious intent. I think there are lots of times when people do try to convince you that your understanding is wrong, but they truly believe it is wrong and are trying to be helpful, rather than attempting to unethically short-circuit your certainty and self-confidence. This is the situation I see so often on the Internet that concerns/confuses me.

    Your example of someone speaking about hell to be “loving”, some cases can be someone using it as a tactic to manipulate you to give into them and go along with what they want, and in other cases they can truly believe and have an honest (but mistaken) concern for you. I currently consider the first situation gaslighting, but not the second. Am I mistaken about that, or should we consider the latter situation mistaken understanding with good intentions and respond to it differently than we do to the manipulator?

    Or taking it from the opposite point of view, with your next topic of creationism. Our understanding is definitely different from that of the creationist. How do we present our perspective so that it doesn’t appear that we are gaslighting the creationist when we question their assumptions and conclusions, and suggest alternative ways to understand the facts we are discussing?

    For those reasons I’ve tended to give the term a wide berth, although I was immediately interested when I saw your post title to see your treatment of it, given the clarity you’ve shown in the other topics. I’ll also reread tomorrow after a good night’s sleep and see how much more I take in.


    • To a certain extent what makes the difference is external corroboration, first. Someone can be gaslighting but be very sincere and think they’re doing it out of the very best of intentions for the target’s own good. We don’t want to just strong-arm someone into accepting our viewpoint; we want to demonstrate why a verifiable, testable viewpoint is superior to one created by a religious mind eager to find any answers at all that make sense.

      If a Christian tells us we’re wrong about something, we can certainly ask how that person knows this thing, then deal with the raised fallacy from there (assuming that that’s what’s going on–like a Bible verse claiming that we secretly believe deep down, which would be its own sort of problem). If I say that the sun will rise tomorrow, then I’ve got a lot of reasons to say that. If I say that I’m not afraid of Hell, I’ve got a lot of reasons to say that. If the Christian thinks I should be afraid of Hell, then there are certainly objective ways that such a person could demonstrate that Hell’s a real place that people need to fear. In the movie Gaslight, the wife doesn’t have any way to verify what’s going on; she’s been separated from any way to get proof of what she’s seeing and hearing in that creepy house.

      Second, there’s an element of negation going on with a real gaslighting attempt. The victim targeted must be made to distrust their own judgment and perceptions. In the movie, to refer to it again if that’s okay, the husband very carefully made the wife all but helpless, not trusting anything she saw or even her own sanity.

      We want to show Christians that what they’re doing lacks external corroboration of any kind. There just isn’t any proof of Creationism at all; there’s no credible, observable support for any of their supernatural claims; there’s just no way for the “wife” in this situation to figure out what’s true and what isn’t–it’s all subjective stuff based on a very quirky interpretation of the Bible.

      Does that sound like we’re on the right track?

      You’ve helped me crystallize some of my thoughts :) Thank you.


      • The "Eh"theist says:

        I wish I’d seen Matt and Beth’s comments earlier when I was breaking my brain over this, but I think I’ve got some clarity. While I’ve always put the emphasis on the intent of the person to make the actions gaslighting, it seems that others including you place the emphasis on the controlling nature of the actions.

        So the preacher who cranks up the hell fire during an altar call is gaslighting even though he really believes you are lost because he is trying to control your actions and make you walk the aisle.

        Or the significant other who wants to have an open relationship is gaslighting by trying to break down your objections and get you to go along even though they honestly believe openness to be a better thing. It’s the controlling aspect that takes precedence.

        Working from this definition more of the comments I’ve read online make sense to me, and it does justice to the fact that whether I believe in hell or not, if I’m using psychological tactics to try and make you walk the aisle, the practical outcome for you is the same, fear and manipulation, whether I’m doing it to make a buck or out of genuine concern for you soul.

        Applying this definition to my question yesterday about talking with a creationist, the evidence for not trying to gaslight them would be in how you approach the discussion. If your focus is on sharing information with them that may cause them to reflect and rethink their conclusions without insisting they do so or making that our objective, you aren’t gaslighting.

        I’ve had many discussions with Christians where when it didn’t seem helpful to continue the back and forth, I’ve let it go rather than moving from an outcome of sharing information with them that I think is helpful to one of getting them to change their mind no matter what.

        (In all honesty there have been times when I’ve been guilty of the latter, and labelled the hard sell “concern” for the person. It would have been better to have simply shared with them and stayed free of insisting on a particular outcome from the sharing. Yay personal growth moment!)

        I think I have a better understanding of the concept, but would appreciate knowing whether I’ve described what you were trying tell me or if I’ve created some novel heretical definition and gone into schism. :)


      • OneSmallStep says:

        In a lot of ways, though, the “victim targeted to distrust their own perceptions” really does describe Christianity. The whole “heart is deceitful above all things” or “God’s ways are higher than our ways” or the multitude of other familiar quotes really encourage the believer to not trust themselves. Christianity can only present itself as a cure if it first convinces you that you’re sick. It punishes imperfect people for failing to be perfect.


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  5. Matt says:

    The thing I find most interesting about this topic is intent. Gaslighting is an attempt to control someone psychologically. However, behavior can be very similar when a well meaning person truly thinks someone else is insane or delusional. For instance, if my wife insisted our house was haunted, and after considering what she has to say I see no evidence for a supernatural agent acting in our home, I might very well say “Are you sure you’re remembering that correctly?”. Or “Maybe you need more rest”

    I think gaslighting really only applies to a couple specifics circumstance:
    1) Using it to avoid actually considering the other person’s point of view. Dismissing it out of hand without giving them the benefit of considering their evidence, even if they sound crazy.
    2) Purposely dismissing a persons beliefs and ideas to control them.

    The problem for me, is many people accused of “gaslighting” are the delusional ones themselves. They fully believe they’re correct and that the person who is their victim IS crazy or delusional. Because of this consideration, I think it mainly applies in the more psychopathic relationships, where the dominant person is clearly obsessed with control over truthfulness. Such as cult leaders, (or a head of a family who controls it like a cult) but isn’t drinking the kool-aid themselves.

    They have to be aware that what they’re telling the other person isn’t true themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Beth Caplin says:

    I’m not so sure that gaslighters know they are trying to manipulate others. My friends fro Campus Crusade for Christ truly believed they had to use “tough love” if it meant saving others from hell. They truly believed the threat was real.


    • When we tell people like that they are hurting us, and they refuse to stop, then that is where it becomes gaslighting–and we can tell them so. It’s not okay to hurt people, especially not after being told so. If they really did love us, they’d find credible proof that this threat was real. Otherwise it’s no more pressing of a threat than anything an insane person might conjure up. Misunderstood “tough love” doesn’t justify deliberately hurting people.


      • davewarnock says:

        The “tough love” approach used in evangelism is still manipulation- no matter how the user might want to redefine it. This tactic is being used on me right now- by my daughters; so I understand the motivation behind it. But that doesn’t excuse it. What I wish these people had the FAITH to do is just trust their god for that unsaved loved one and leave it at that- instead of trying to coerce them into the kingdom via strong-arm tactics. I just fail to see how anyone can call that love.
        (on that note- I think this will be some of my first subject matter when I do begin to blog.)

        Liked by 1 person

  7. wscott00 says:

    “tough love…does not in any way mean to control the addict’s life. To the contrary, it’s forcing the addict to live like an adult and take responsibility for the problem.”
    Thank you! I’ve been struggling for awhile to articulate the difference between *actual* tough love and the license-for-bad-behavior that goes by that name in many Christian circles. That’s it exactly!

    I do think Matt and the “Eh”theist (awesome handle, BTW!) have a point about the term gaslighting being mis/over-used. In the movie, the husband *knew* the lights were flickering, and was deliberately messing with his wife’s head. If the deluded wife had then told someone else “No, there’s nothing wrong with the lights, we’re just seeing it wrong” that wouldn’t have been gaslighting on her part, because it’s not an intentional deception. Maybe we need a new term for secondhand gaslighting?

    Granted the effect on the receiving end may often be the same. But I do think it changes how you approach the problem. To mix our metaphors, if the person telling you there are 5 lights knows there are really 4 lights, then yeah they’re trying to control you and the most you can do is try to escape. OTOH, if they have themselves been convinced there really are 5 lights, then they are victims too. Accusing them of gaslighting is not only unfair, but inferring malice where none is intended seldom helps the conversation. If anything, we could/should be trying to help them with their own next roll to disbelieve (to use a term I picked up somewhere…).

    Of course, telling the difference when you can’t read the other person’s mind is the tricky part. I agree with you that external corroboration is key, but of course that begs the question of who do you trust to provide that corroboration? I think both Christians and secularists think they’re getting outside corroboration from sources they trust – the question is whether or not those sources are truly reliable or not. Cuz let’s face it: sometimes our perceptions ARE wrong. (As my Dad used to say “No matter how sober you *feel*, if everyone else is telling you you’re drunk then maybe you should go lie down.”)


  8. Because of my own mental infirmities, gaslighting has a pronounced effect on my thinking. Being told that I’m not remembering things correctly, or that I have misunderstood certain aspects of the faith I held consciously for two decades, does send me through some loops of irrational thought. Even though I know it exists, it’s difficult for me at times to know when it’s being done.

    I think gaslighting has been so systematized in Christian thinking that it genuinely doesn’t have to be done with specific intent. It’s just another tool in the toolbox from where I’m sitting. Any time there’s concern over someone that left the faith, I think there’s going to be more gaslighting than normal. This is how they treat people that leave. We’re poor lost souls that are either too damaged, ignorant, or some other flaw that just needs the “right push” to go back to Jesus.

    Because it’s always someone else’s fault for leaving, and never their fault for staying.


  9. hedonix says:

    I have been following “The Handbook” topics since I first ran across them (thanks to seriusbiziness) and will be searching for more such rare but important information. I do appreciate the clarity of your writing and the way it holds my interest. If you develop the handbook as an actual book, I will definitely buy a copy for my Kindle. I will reblog this so others will (maybe) discover it. Please write the book.


  10. hedonix says:

    Reblogged this on Hedonix's Weblog and commented:
    I felt very impressed by the way this blogger presented such rare information.


  11. Jon says:

    Steely Dan used the term in their song ‘Gaslighting Abbie’ —

    It’s not clear exactly what’s going on, but it’s clearly not very pleasant.


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