Gaslighting Stirring Up Doubt

There’s a psychological technique called gaslighting which is incredibly potent especially in persuasive situations.

A few nights ago I was watching TV, just flipping around aimlessly, and came upon an old episode of M*A*S*H. In this episode, BJ is bored and to entertain himself he cooks up a plan for amusement at Winchester’s expense.

BJ, the prankster, while Winchester is out, takes a pair of his pants and replaces them with a pair several sizes too large. When Winchester changes into them, BJ is there and casually makes a comment that he’s looking sick and that maybe he’s got a virus or worse.

After a while, BJ changes out Winchester’s pants again, this time for a much smaller pair, and when Winchester puts on this pair, BJ is quick to comment on how much weight Winchester has gained which sends the vain Winchester into a frenzy, prompting him to go on a strict diet.

Having observed this all, Hawkeye asks BJ, “What’s next?”

To which BJ responds, “Tomorrow he gets taller.”

BJ’s prank is a perfect illustration of gaslighting. He, of course, was engaged in a harmless prank. Yet gaslighting has a very nefarious potential. And the main reason I’m writing about it is so that if you find yourself at the receiving end of this technique, you’ll know how to protect yourself.

As with all the techniques I teach, I want to emphasize that these strategies are incredibly powerful and are developed to help with persuasion and should be used ethically with your prospects.

The term gaslighting came from the 1944 film of the same name and came to be defined as the ruthless manipulation of a person into believing something that isn’t true.

The plot of ‘Gaslighting’ involves a husband who wants his wife out of the way. He goes about this by trying to make her seem insane, which in those days resulted in an extended stay in a mental institution. He manipulated her into doubting her sense of reality.

Understanding and influencing how your affluent prospect interprets their reality is an integral part of persuasion.

The technique of gaslighting has five main strategies.

The first way to employ this strategy is through the use of repetitive questioning. When you do this, you plant seeds of doubt in the mind of the person you’re trying to influence.

You can see this tactic used on game shows, where the host will ask the contestant, “Are you sure? How sure are you? Is this your final answer?” This supposedly (though I can’t see it) raises the level of anticipation and sometimes causes the contestant to doubt themselves.

This can be accomplished without even speaking. Picture someone cocking their head, raising their eyebrow. This can install in the receiver that doubt putting them off guard.

It works all the better if you come off as having their best interest in mind.

The second step in this strategy is to point out things that aren’t there.

By using this strategy, you’re undermining a sense of reality. Conversely it can be used to point out qualities and assets in a person who has no idea that these qualities exist within them (especially if they don’t exist within them).

Appealing to someone’s sense of ego and vanity is one way to use this. Think of former bosses or clients or prospects or authority figures, whose egos needed massaging. This is a form of gaslighting.

If the ego massage is completely without merit and the compliments are baseless, then you’ll most likely be discovered. Use subtlety with tiny portions of reality.

Strategy number three is primarily for the use of experts–someone who has specialized knowledge or divine access to information which you haven’t the ‘connections’ to learn. . .i.e. think therapist, minister, psychics. They have very esoteric, mysterious or specialized knowledge that will give you the answer you seek. Rather, the answer that they wish for you to believe you seek.

This phenomenon causes the client to lower defenses and be more trusting and dependent. This may be part of the reason patients sometimes develop crushes on their therapists.

Strategy number four is to reveal the secret thoughts of others.

Another term for this: gossip. But it’s a specialized gossip, maneuvering the person in an attempt to give them ‘insight’ or a heads up about what others are saying and thereby establishing you as the one who cares enough to know the truth in driving a wedge between them and the others you name.

It helps to install positive behavior. Encouragement and praise are more powerful than derision and destruction.

The final strategy employed in gaslighting is to use the mighty power of the many against the fragile power of the one.

This is used by kids in the schoolyard, politicians, religious leaders, in the media, military and educational system. It’s basically an adult version ‘ganging up’.

It’s a group think straight out of 1984.

Being ganged up on is not fun. If you stand alone, it’s difficult to maintain your position.

As you can see, gaslighting isn’t necessarily a nice practice. It is designed into trick someone into doubting themselves and their own sanity. But there are ways that gaslighting can be used for a positive outcome. You have to decide whether it’s the right thing to use this technique and when it’s the right time not to use it.