Forgiving Those Who Gaslight Your Character and Ghost You

“It is difficult to truly defend yourself when your character is assailed.”

The theme of gaslighting has become popular in the psychological literature.  It now is well known that the word “gaslighting” comes from a 1938 play, Gas Light, in which the female character is continually falsely accused of wrongdoing, which causes her considerable emotional distress.  Gaslighting is present when there are false denials by the other or false accusations toward you by the other.  At least 4 kinds of gaslighting are described in the current literature: 

KuanShu Designs
Source: KuanShu Designs
1) The other person does a nefarious act and denies it.  “I did not steal your money.  You must be mistaken.”

2) The other person has a character flaw, an ongoing pattern that is denied.  “You keep saying that I neglect the children.  Look.  I am playing with them now.  You do have a way of exaggerating.”
3) The other person accuses you of an act or a series of acts you did not commit. “You skimmed funds from our checking account.”4) The other person accuses you of a serious character flaw.  “You are so continuously angry that I can’t stand it any more.  I am out of here.”

Ghosting occurs when the other ignores you, abandons you, and shuts off all communication with you.

I have had people approach me for advice when they are the victims of the 2 G’s, both gaslighting and ghosting, a particularly difficult combination because the victims cannot defend themselves as the  other accuses and then leaves.  The victims are left alone to wonder and to doubt their own perceptions of themselves.

 

The 4th kind of gaslighting above, the assault on one’s character, is particularly difficult because there is no one concrete piece of evidence as occurs in points 1 and 3.  Either the accused person did or did not steal, for example, in point 3.  It is easier to verify a one-time behavior as having occurred or not than to defend an accusation of an ongoing character flaw.  After all, if one is accused of being overly angry, the victim probably can remember once or twice being too upset or having a bad day.  These occasional imperfections, of course, do not constitute a character flaw, but nonetheless might lead to some level of agreement with the accusation, even though it is false.
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Martha sought help because her husband, Samuel, was constantly accusing her of being insensitive to his needs.  “You are always wrapped up in your own issues.  I try and try to make time for you and yet, when I do, you push me away,” he would say.  Martha was astonished by this because she truly tried to focus on him and his needs when he came home at night.  He used this accusation as an excuse to leave the home and stayed away for 8 months with no text, email, or phone contact.  Martha was left to wonder with no way of working this out with him.  “Was I insensitive?” she wondered.  “Might I have tried harder?”  Her self-doubt led to low self-esteem.  She started to lose weight and have depressive symptoms.

Josh approached me because his partner Abby was constantly accusing him of being overly angry.  She said that she cannot take all of the anger any more and so she is leaving, which she did. As in the above case, Abby shut off all communication with Josh.  Before she left, he asked her for instances in which he had been too angry to the point of fault.  She said this before leaving, “Do you remember two years ago when we were having an argument and you put your fist down on the car’s hood? That scared me and I just can’t take that sort of thing any more.” When Josh was about to rebut the accusation, Abby was gone.  He was left to think this through by himself.
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As Josh realized that his resentment was getting too high, he asked me for advice on forgiving Abby.

The preliminaries when forgiving involve:
1) seeing that as you forgive, you are not excusing;
2) understanding that you may never reconcile with someone who accuses and distorts deeply and consistently;
3) further understanding that you can and should seek fairness.  This is especially important if the abuse is ongoing or even deepens. 

A beginning part of forgiveness is to concretely explore the other person’s injustice.  What, exactly, is the injustice?  When did it occur, how frequently did it occur, and how serious is it?  As we explored Abby’s accusations, Josh realized the following:

  • Abby’s final accusation was of an incident that occurred 2 years ago, not at all recently.
  • His “putting his fist down on the car’s hood” was not a pounding of the fist at all, but a gesture of emphasis over yet another accusation she was making at the time.
  • Abby could not come up with even one anger-incident in the past two years other than the false accusation about the fist and the hood.

When Josh more clearly saw all of this, he realized how seriously unjust were Abby’s accusations.

Josh then began to explore more deeply Abby’s own life and the challenges she faced.  For example, when growing up, her mother faced serious healthissues and so the mother had little time for Abby, who felt worthless.  Next, Josh examined Abby’s earlier relationship which ended in divorce.  Abby back then was accusing her first husband in a way that Josh now was experiencing.

This exploration set Josh free from his own self-doubts, from his own subtle self-accusations of “if only I had done more.”  He could see Abby’s pained life which opened him to forgiving her, not because of what she did, but in spite of this.  The process of forgiving uncovered Abby’s gaslighting.  The process of forgiving uncovered Abby’s ghosting which was not Josh’s fault.  He was able to see her confusions, her pain.  Thus, he forgave her from his heart and, of course, he could not discuss this forgiveness with her because she had abandoned him.  Yet, the gaslighting and ghosting did not destroy his integrity and his psychological health.  Forgiving helped him to identify the problems and to find a healthy solution to the effects of those problems, the primary effect of which was unhealthy anger and a developing low self-esteem.

Martha had a similar outcome.  As she freely decided to forgive and as she looked more closely into Samuel’s life, she discovered, through talking with some of his colleagues and friends, that his accusations and abandonment were hiding a serious drug habit which started a year before leaving.  Her examination of his unjust behavior not only uncovered that he was gaslighting and ghosting but also that he was living a lie and was using the gaslighting and ghosting as a coverup.  As his drug habit continued, he asked Martha to be his partner again, which she refused given his lack of insight into his own behaviors.  Seeing his pain helped her to forgive.  Forgiving, which took many months, set Martha free from anxiety and self-recrimination.  Not everyone would be ready to forgive in this situation, but it was Martha’s choice to do this.

In both cases, reconciliation did not occur.  A person can forgive without seeking to reconcile if such reuniting could be very harmful to the victimized person.

If you are the victim of the double injustices of gaslighting and ghosting, consider the process of forgiveness if you choose to do so. It may help you see more clearly that, in fact, you have been treated unjustly.  It may help you to label the other’s behavior as unjust, to see the pain in the other that has led to the 2 G’s of gaslighting and ghosting, and allow you to escape the harmful effects of these dangerous behaviors.

Posted in Psychology Today May 08, 2018


 

When Evil Seems to Be Having Its Way

Lance Morrow: “Evil possesses an instinct for theater, which is why, in an era of gaudy and gifted media, evil may vastly magnify its damage by the power of horrific images.” If this is true, we need forgiveness all the more in our times.

Forgiveness is not justice and therefore focuses on effects, not direct solutions to injustice.  When injustice reigns, it surely is the duty of communities to exercise justice to counter that which is unjust.

Yet, what then of the effects of the injustice?  Will the quest for and the establishment of justice in societies suffice to cure the broken heart?  We think not and this is where forgiveness is needed for those who choose it.

Is there a better way of destroying the damaging effects of evil than forgiveness?  As a mode of peace, forgiveness is a paradox because at the same time it is a weapon, one that fights against the ravages of evil.  By destroying resentment, forgiveness is a protection for individuals, families, groups, and societies.

Robert

On Persistence for Well-Being

To grow in any virtue is similar to building muscle in the gym through persistent hard work. We surely do not want to overdo anything, including the pursuit of fitness.

Yet, we must avoid underdoing it, too, if we are to continue to grow. It is the same with forgiveness. We need to be persistently developing our forgiveness muscles as we become forgivingly fit. This opportunity is now laid out before you. What will you choose? Will you choose a life of diversion, comfort, and pleasure, or the more exciting life of risking love, challenging yourself to forgive, and helping others in their forgiveness fitness?

Enright, Robert D. (2012-07-05). The Forgiving Life (APA Lifetools) (Kindle Locations 5359-5360). American Psychological Association. Kindle Edition.

Persistence as a Way to Grow

To grow in any virtue is similar to building muscle in the gym through persistent hard work. We surely do not want to overdo anything, including the pursuit of fitness.

Yet, we must avoid underdoing it, too, if we are to continue to grow. It is the same with forgiveness. We need to be persistently developing our forgiveness muscles as we become forgivingly fit. This opportunity is now laid out before you. What will you choose? Will you choose a life of diversion, comfort, and pleasure, or the more exciting life of risking love, challenging yourself to forgive, and helping others in their forgiveness fitness?

Enright, Robert D. (2012-07-05). The Forgiving Life (APA Lifetools) (Kindle Locations 5359-5360). American Psychological Association. Kindle Edition.

This Is Our 400th Blog Post…..So It Better Be a Good One

400…….since February, 2011…..six years and counting.

Over that time, here are 7 impressions which I have formed about the world of forgiveness:

  • Forgiveness is not one more light entertainment in a world that is constantly screaming at you for attention.  In today’s frenetic world of marketing, unless there is a ton of adrenaline released by the recipient in response to any new marketing strategy, then that recipient might turn away.  This new attention-getting device—-increase adrenaline of the hearer—-will not work with forgiveness.  Why?  Because forgiveness takes place in the context of the wounded heart.  throbbing-heartWounded people usually do not seek the adrenaline high but instead the quiet encouragement and love that will help them to heal.  Forgiveness is at odds with the whirlwind, adrenaline-pumping world.
  • Related to point 1, we are easily distracted by the next “big thing.”  The early 21st century is not a time of quiet persistence, but instead a time of flinging oneself from one interesting idea to another.  A steady diet of one food is boring……..and so people come into the forgiveness arena, only to leave way too soon to follow the call of something new and shiny and exciting.  Forgiveness is at odds with the shiny as it is more at home with the strong will, the daily persistence in offering compassion to those who have had no compassion on the forgiver.
  • Forgiveness is a hard sell in contemporary education because,Back to school - set of school doodle illustrationsquite frankly, too many school systems have way too many requirements, sometimes taught too superficially just to get it all in, and so when an innovation such as forgiveness comes calling, there is not room for this innovation…….which can change lives.
  • Forgiveness can help each of us to leave a legacy of love rather than a legacy of anger and bitterness in this world.  Few realize this and so when they die, their anger lives on.  Being aware of this can reverse a family tradition of bitterness.
  • Anti-bullying programs need forgiveness therapy and it is very much off the radar of too many educators.  Anti-bullying Bullying2programs too often focus on bullying behavior (let us punish bullying; let us set up norms against bullying behaviors; let us try to discourage bullying; let us ask peers to help stop the bullying).  Yet, conspicuously missing is a focus on the broken heart of those who bully.  Give them a chance to forgive those who have broken their hearts and their motivation to bully melts away.
  • Still, too often people mistake forgiveness for what it is not.  To forgive is to move on from a hurtful situation, some say.    You can move on with indifference or even annoyance in one’s heart.  To forgive is to be more deliberately active in trying to be good to those who are not good to you.
  • In the final analysis, helping students learn how to forgive maystudent-forgiveness be one of the most important new developments on the planet.  We need to awaken a world that is still a bit too sleepy to understand this.  We sleep through this idea to the detriment of our young people…….who may grow up not knowing how to deal with cruelty……and that is not in their best interest.

LONG LIVE FORGIVENESS!

Robert

……….But…..Forgiveness Adds an Extra Burden to the Abused Person

“Forgiveness is fundamentally unfair.  Here we have a deeply abused person and now we ask her, in her woundedness, to reach out to one who hurt her.  She now has two burdens, the original abuse and having to forgive.  Please, let us first help her with the wounds from the abuse and put forgiveness on the shelf for her sake!”

So goes the most pervasive criticism of what forgiveness is and what it criticismsupposedly does in 2016.  This criticism is likely to change over time and a new one emerge because, well, that is the way it is with forgiveness.  There always seems to be one major criticism that is in season and acts as a barrier to forgiveness.

Thirty years ago, that in-season criticism was the equating of forgiving and reconciling.  Once the logic was worked out that forgiving cannot be forgive-vs-recon2the same as reconciling, that one faded.  After all, forgiveness is a virtue (as is justice and kindness and patience); reconciliation is not a virtue, but instead is a negotiation strategy of two or more people coming together once again in mutual trust.  One can forgive and not reconcile.  Thus, they differ.

Let us now turn to the current in-season criticism of forgiveness.  Yes, forgiveness is a burden if:

………we pressure someone into forgiving;

………we tell the person that the only motivation for forgiving is to be good—-very good—-to the person who was not good to the one who might forgive;

………we critically judge the would-be forgiver for not forgiving.

Yet, we can unburden the forgiver, as well as forgiveness itself, when we realize that:

………forgiveness is the forgiver’s choice.  It is not our place to pressure someone to forgive (or not to forgive).  Give the person freedom to make the decision;

………there are many motivations to forgive.  One healthy motivation that often exists early in the process is the desire to be free from emotional pain.  The forgiver is motivated to become emotionally whole.  The forgiver, at this stage of the process, is not so interested in doing wonderful things for the one who was not wonderful.  These are very different motivations and need to be distinguished, especially early in the process;

………it is wrong to condemn a struggling person who is ambivalent blog-4about forgiveness.  Maybe the person needs more time; maybe the person needs more information about what forgiveness is (and not the colloquial misunderstandings that cloud the understanding).  Again, it is the choice of the one who was abused.

When we unburden the abused person by clarifying these issues, then it is clear that we are not placing a new burden on the person by discussing forgiveness.  Notice that I did not say “suggesting forgiveness.”  Let us discuss and then let the person decide.

So, what will be the new criticism of forgiveness that could block, without justification, a person from exploring forgiveness?

Robert

Criticisms of Forgiveness: Forgiving as Disrespectful to the Offender

One argument states that when someone is hurt by another, it is best to show some resentment because it lets the other know that he or she is being taken seriously. If forgiveness cuts short the resentment process, the forgiver is not taking the other seriously and, therefore, is notresentment4 respecting the other. Nietzsche (1887) also devised this argument.
We disagree with the basic premise here that forgiveness does not involve resentment. As a person forgives, he or she starts with resentment.

We also disagree that resentment is the exclusive path to respecting. Does a person show little respect if he or she quells the resentment in 1 rather than 2 days? Is a week of resentment better than the 2 days? When is it sufficient to stop resenting so that the other feels respected? Nietzsche offered no answer. If a person perpetuates the resentment, certainly he or she is not respecting the other.

Robert

Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5092-5097). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5090-5092). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.