The Difference Between "Gaslighting" and Character Assassination
by Richard Boyd, Body Mind Psychotherapist, Energetics Institute, Perth, West Australia
In my work with the victims of Narcissism I often come across the deep psychological woundings that partners or parents have inflicted on my clients. There are numerous forms of psychological attack that one can undergo but they tend to fall into 2 key categories.
The first is that type of attack on a person where another person manipulates the mind, values, beliefs and reality of the victim toward some end that serves the agenda of the narcissist or attacking party. This is a personal attack against oneself by that aggressor and has been coined "gaslighting".
The term "gas lighting" comes from another old Hollywood movie called Gaslight where a narcissistic predatory husband plays mind control on his wife inside their home where she lies ill. The husband tries to make the wife go crazy by saying things and then later denying having said those things, shifts objects and then makes them reappear, and changes dynamics to make it look like the wife is going mad.
Each time this evil plays out we see the gas lit street light outside the home go dim. This symbolism is to signify the evil darkness descending over the home and also that the wife's consciousness was dimming through the continued mental and emotional abuse she was enduring.
The husband was trying to distort and twist his wife's reality to the end that she would believe she was mad and so as a result would actually go mad. The ultimate aim of a narcissist is either to break you down (have a breakdown) so they can dominate you completely or get rid of you in a way that you lose your credibility.
The reason they want you to lose all credibility is that they fear you may expose them for all their negative and callous deeds once you escape them. So what they try to do is to destroy you first in the process of disengaging from you.
In another context a controlling personality or control freak has a deep unconscious fear of abandonment and so will break down a partner's ability to be a healthy adult with free will and adult critical thinking. What they aspire to do is to break you down and then build you up again in their idea of what you should be, act, do, say and behave.
This "Stepford wife" outcome is how they can shape another person into an acceptable and submissive form of self that no longer triggers their paranoia, suspicion and rage. You become a compliant and slavish adorer of them and give them total control, total decision making and total ownership of your reality and happiness.
These sort of characters are extreme. If they lose control you will often see an extreme reaction. The courts are prone to hear about such a person who either stalks, pursues, attacks, kills or murder/suicides with an ex-partner once it's over and the partner tries to get on with their life.
This sort of psychological attack is not normally done in isolation but may form part of a group of strategies designed to control or designed to utterly cripple their partner. Over time the victim learns to doubt themselves, to no longer trust their own thinking or memory, and to start to look to their abuser for validation, direction and even their reality.
One of the most common outward expressions of psychological attack is character assassination. This is where the aggressor goes out to your friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, and any other people in society who will listen, and tries to defame you in certain ways.
The stealth of this strategy is that it is done behind your back when you are not around and uses a convincing combination of truth, half-truth and lies. What it does is to influence and affect the perception and belief system of the target in a negative way so that they no longer have positive feelings about the person getting character assassinated.
The idea is that the aggressor gets everyone on their side and gets them to cut ties with the victim, or at least to believe negative things about them. It may also be used to accuse the victim of many sins which in fact are the things that the aggressor has done. Aggressors tend to project their own sins onto the victim and scapegoat them through character assassination with others.
The sad fact is that many people will start to believe the aggressor as they cut down the character of the victim behind their back. Few who listen will approach the victim to confirm the facts or to get their version of events.
For this reason it is an effective and highly damaging process for the victim. Typically you find with narcissists that they will work gaslighting and character assassination together at the same time. What happens here is traumatising.
The vulnerable victim will tend to need a reality check and support in the face of constant attack at home by the aggressor. When they approach their friends they are unaware that the friends have been already primed that you are crazy or losing it.
When you show your vulnerability or make claims against the aggressor the listener maps those claims to what the aggressor has already told them which is that you are losing the plot somehow. The words coming out of your mouth tend to sound extreme and frantic and so confirm to your friend that indeed you are going crazy.
The friend will then feel affinity with the aggressor and will often distance themselves from you, so isolating you more. The friend may challenge, counsel or attack you and so this confrontation also then makes you more confused and assists in helping you to start to wonder whether maybe you are crazy after all.
The aggressor wins as their character assassination takes effect and they get support and you get isolated and lose friends. The aggressor can then move in for the kill as in your deeper isolation you feel trapped, overwhelmed, confused and so are liable to stop fighting them and accept that indeed I am the problem and need the help and support of the aggressor.
The aggressor at this point will show a change of face and claim that "they are there for you" and that they "only want the best for you". They will take you in your collapsed and broken down self and then coach you back into what they want you to be.
In a sickening outcome you will even appreciate and love the aggressor for "saving you". You will not have the ability to see through the deadly game being played out and you will go to your fate.
This may all sound incredulous but it is the reality of quite a few victims of narcissists, control freaks, toxic families, and cults have had to deal with in their life. The one's that see me get their reality back and their sanity returns along with a new level of clarity and wisdom.
One critical sign of a controlling person who may be attempting to control you is where they strongly oppose your outside relationships, memberships, associations and time spent outside the home. The aggressor fears that outside influences will offer a healthy alternative to themselves and that the victim will break the spell they are under.
In the film Gaslight the husband outside the home was character assassinating his wife by telling all her friends and contacts that she was unwell and her mental state was deteriorating. This created an overall scenario that the contrived perception now implanted in the wife and also those people in her life would become the end-game reality.
Sadly this type of behaviour exists in our society. We see the principle of control and domination enshrined in some religions, organisations, family systems and relationships. How bright is the street light out your place these nights?
Contact the Energetics Institute for more information about Depression, Anxiety, and other body-mind states of being that affect yourself or someone you love and interact with.
Richard Boyd is an experienced Body Mind Psychotherapist and the Director of the Energetics Institute in Perth, Western Australia
Mob : 0407577793