America is being gaslighted by Donald Trump. Since beginning his campaign last June, we have repeatedly reeled in shock at offensive comments that have come from his mouth. And when we pushed back in disgust, he met us with condescending denial and spinned the facts leaving us doubting our own perceptions of the events. These are common tactics of skillful gaslighters. What is gaslighting? Read on!
The term gaslighting stems from a 1930’s play titled Gas Light, in which a scheming husband tries to convince the wife he no longer wants that she’s losing her mind. Gaslighting is a subtle and gradual form of psychological abuse and manipulation, often used on unsuspecting spouses or personal relationships, that is characterized by 3 distinct stages affecting the targeted person:
- Stage 1 – Disbelief. During this stage, the manipulator begins behaving in a shocking and egregious manner that sends the victim into disbelief. They will say insensitive, hurtful things that any sensible person would find offensive, and then create doubt in the victim’s mind of what really happened. This is often accompanied by righteous indignation where facts are intermixed with distortions to shame the victim and “prove” they are innocent.
- Stage 2 – Defense. In this stage, the target begins defending herself against the gaslighter’s manipulation. She will push back and demand an apology, telling him his behavior is inappropriate and he needs to stop. Her gut instinct tells her something is wrong with the situation and she must confront it. Unfortunately, he deflects her defenses with demeaning condemnation, telling her she’s too sensitive. Or as Donald Trump asserted, America is too politically correct and he “doesn’t have time” for that.
- Stage 3 – Depression. At this stage, the victim has surrendered to the manipulator’s tactics, feeling insecure and cut off from society. She has spent so much time fighting accusations of selfishness and sensitivity that she ends up believing the manipulator must be right, though deep inside, her gut still says something is wrong. This internal struggle between her gut and his manipulations leads her into a deep depression as she surrenders in defeat.
Now, let us examine gaslighting further. Diminishing is the first tactic these adept manipulators use to plant doubt into their victim’s minds, such as when Trump said we took Megyn Kelly’s “blood” comment all wrong and he actually meant her ears or nose. Or when he insulted Carly Fiorna’s face then said he was talking about her persona. Diminishing is usually followed up with a blame-the-victim statement that is designed to deflect the bad behavior onto the victim and exonerate himself. In Megyn’s case, he blamed America for thinking things that only a “deviant” would have thought, that he was referring to her menstrual cycle.
According to Dr. George Simon of Counseling Resource, narcissistic and aggressive personalities will do whatever it takes to secure and maintain a position of advantage over others. Gaslighting and other tactics are used to conceal these malevolent intentions while prompting their targets to accede to their desires. Deception is the name of this game, and narcissists are adept at causing people to doubt their gut instincts. When pushed back, they will escalate their arsenal of deceit to make their victim back down, in order for them to “win” the game, and that’s what it is to them. A game. Gaslighting is an effective tactic for those with narcissistic personality disorder. In addition to lack empathy, a sense of entitlement and grandiosity, and the need for excessive admiration, people with narcissistic personality disorder are also preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited power and brilliance and they will achieve this by using any and all means available.
Americans have been walking around in collective disbelief ever since Trump called Mexicans rapists and murderers. And our allies are now trembling in fear of what may happen to them if he is actually elected. Will Muslims be banned? Will free speech and a free press be curtailed? Will he build a wall separating Mexico from its friendly northern neighbor? Will he drop a nuclear bomb? Will he direct American troops to commit war crimes? These are all things he has promised to do with reckless abandon.
Donald Trump’s expertise in playing the gaslighting game cannot be disputed. He is undeniably a world class professional. Since June he has offended complete classes of Americans and ethnicities, and went as far as teetering on the fence of sanctioning genocides. He demeaned women in the most vile and reprehensible fashion, yet somehow escaped repercussions. He diminished a military hero’s gut-wrenching POW experience, then blew off our dislike of his behavior as a meaningless inconvenience. And in Naziesque fashion, he promised to look into rounding up people of a different faith to “get rid of them.” After every one of these shocking incidents he denied wrongdoing and deflected his behavior onto his ever-growing list of targets, never acknowledging his faults which is common with narcissists.
Apologizing is not in his nature because his over-inflated ego tells him he is never wrong. We saw this in his recent attacks against the Gold Star family of a Muslim soldier killed defending this country. His defective personality prevents him from feeling empathy for others, and provokes him to constantly declare how great and big and smart he is. In his mind everything he does is bigger, better, faster, smarter, than anything humanity has ever seen. And these thoughts enable him to take his gaslighting skills to new heights; con America into voting for him so he can fulfill this sick and twisted fantasy of global admiration and power at the expense of the rest of us.
Trump has successfully accomplished all 3 gaslighting stages during the primaries, outplaying 10 opponents to become the Republican party’s nominee. Now he’s actively reevaluating his tactics to see which ones will work for the general election. Some of the tactics he used against his primary opponents, such as name-calling, won’t work against Hillary, so he’ll try to find ones that will because gaslighting is all he knows.
You may wonder why a rich man like Donald Trump needs to resort to gaslighting to get what he wants, and you’re not alone. The reason is simple: it works. In his business and personal affairs Trump has successfully utilized gaslighting manipulation to con people, threaten people, and scare people from getting in his way. And as long as it keeps working he will keep doing it.
The election is now weeks away, and the stakes are at an all-time high, but there is still time to stop this skilful manipulator in his tracks. I believe there are enough intelligent and intuitive people on both sides of the aisle to put an end to his dangerous and destructive scheme. But, truth be told, he can only be stopped when, in his narcissistic mind, he is no longer getting the admiration, power, and attention his disorder needs to thrive. When his superego isn’t fed what it craves, he will find other ways to satisfy this need. The good news is we can expose him for what he is and when he finds his tactics are ineffective his spiraling descent will be swift and predictable.
Knowledge is power and as Americans begin understanding the psychology behind Trump’s actions, they can reclaim this political process and send him a clear message that America is not for sale and cannot be won in a dirty deal by a mentally defective con artist.