4 Levels of Gaslighting: From Unconscious to Malicious

levels of gaslighting

Levels of gaslighting: Gaslighting, a form of emotional abuse, brainwashing, and persistent manipulation, can make anyone doubt themselves, their identity, their perception, and even their self-worth.

Survivors of narcissists are often familiar with this term and if you think your narcissist is using this strategy to manipulate you, then you need to read this right now.

“Gaslighting is mind control to make victims doubt their reality.” – Tracy Malone

4 Levels Of Gaslighting: From Unconscious To Malicious

Can someone “accidentally” make a person feel crazy?

I had always thought gaslighting was this intentionally malicious act where one person is attempting to gain more power while having the victim question their reality. At least, this is what I learned about the term, “gaslight,” which comes from a 1938 stage play Gas Light. The husband manipulates his wife’s surroundings and insists on her perception, memory, and sanity are wrong. He willingly and maliciously sets out to drive her insane.

I had read this definition, and in my own mind, I had assumed a gaslighter was always deliberately and viciously interacting with the gaslighter. I also believed the victim would need to seriously feel crazy after such an encounter.

Read: 15 Signs You Are A Victim Of Gaslighting

A recent experience had me rethink the definition and consider the following:

What if someone can unconsciously or accidentally gaslight another individual? What if gaslighting is a spectrum and not an absolute? What if it’s much more pernicious and global than I had thought?

A short while ago, I found myself at odds with a colleague. I was the one in charge of a project and needed to give him feedback. The company had a certain vision, and while my colleague had created some great work, he had also gone slightly off-track. Over the course of a week, we exchanged a few messages.

I continued to clarify the issues I saw with his work vis-a-vis the vision but was met with incredible resistance. As a teacher with over 20 years of experience working with different ages (six years old through adult), cultures (I worked in Morocco and mostly work with Asian students now, along with a few years teaching Latinx students)

I consider myself well-versed in the ability to communicate with different people. Why was I walking away so frustrated by this particular experience? Why was I feeling mildly crazy after each exchange and confused as to what had just happened?

I didn’t get it until I shared the experience with a friend, and he told me point-blank: You’re being gaslighted. You’re not going crazy.

I firmly believe my colleague did not set out to gaslight me, but just because he didn’t intend to doesn’t mean he didn’t do it. I think unconscious gaslighting is likely very prevalent, but because it’s unconscious and nowhere near the degree of malevolence found in gaslighting with malicious intent, I’m going to focus more on it more than the well-known version.

“Gaslighting victims are rendered helpless when they are indoctrinated to be hopeless over the highly upsetting problem about which the gaslighter keeps reminding them.” – Ross Rosenberg

Read: Toxic Coworkers: How To Deal With The 7 Most Dangerous Work Personalities

The following are four levels of gaslighting:

  1. Unconscious Gaslighting
  2. Awareness Something Is Off
  3. Intentional—More aware of an Impact—but no Intent to Seriously Harm
  4. Malicious Intent With Desire to Harm.
4 Levels of Gaslighting: From Unconscious to Malicious
levels of gaslighting

Level 1. Unconscious Gaslighting

The person is totally unaware they are engaging in it. In fact, they perceive they are being very reasonable in their interactions because they have no clue about the impact of what they are doing. They might even lack the capacity or willingness to question their own viewpoint in consideration of another’s viewpoint. Here is what it can look like:

The ‘I Don’t Get It’ Act

Over the course of a week, I explained and re-explained the company’s vision to my colleague numerous times. I teach English as a Second Language for a living, so I’m intimately familiar with how to break down concepts, reword definitions, and give examples. This was a totally different issue. My colleague continued to claim confusion over and over again.

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