Am I a Gaslighter? Or Simply Afraid of Dropping Folks Over My ADHD?
In the 17th century, hysteria gripped the village of Salem when local outsiders were systematically branded as “witches” – a powerful label that accused a person of being a malicious actor in confusing and emotional circumstances. The characterization of the beautiful but scheming evil antagonist has survived in popular culture; Every Disney stepmother seems to be proving this point. And while it is easy to hate and fear Snow White’s archenemy, real relationships seldom come down to witches versus princesses, evil versus good, evil versus pure.
I would argue that outsiders who were misunderstood more than 300 years ago with “witch” were falsely condemned, but today the term “gaslighter” is tossed around far too carelessly and largely without context.
By definition, a gaslighter is someone who knowingly and intentionally manipulates another person through lies, tricks, and psychological warfare. Gaslighters methodically develop a false narrative to make another person (usually a partner) question their own perception and sanity.
All gas lighters are liars. But are all liars also gas lighters? No.
Sometimes those of us with ADHD lie almost out of reflex. Our symptoms of impulsivity, inattention, or forgetfulness cause problems, and sometimes we just want those problems to go away and be in control of our lives, so we lie. It is the fight, flight, or fib phenomenon and almost all of us have experienced it, although we seldom consciously make the decision to lie.
This is true for me. I’ve lied to people who are important to me. And at least one of these people responded by calling me gas lighter; the subtext of the allegation read: “You lied to me and let this lie get out of hand instead of facing or exposing the truth for my sake. You made a deliberate choice not to make me aware of something that is important to me, so that I would act as you wanted me to. You’re selfish and now I don’t think I can trust or respect you and what you say. “
[Read: Why People with ADHD Lie]
In my case, that person really felt like they had been hit with a jet of gas, which added an extra layer of disbelief and confusion to the pain of being betrayed by someone you loved (e.g. me). For those feeling turned on, it’s a struggle to believe that a trusted partner or friend has purposely manipulated you and to come to terms with the fact that you don’t stand up for yourself because you trusted them and sacrificed everything, including beliefs and values that you thought you shared.
Usually something bad happens that no one can fully explain, trust problems grow as the situation escalates and someone’s views inevitably dominate. Then allegations and suspicions creep in.
This is terrifying for both the prosecutor and the accused if they really care and don’t gaslighting on purpose. If the defendant believes he is telling the truth, the label “Gaslighter” may arouse anger and resentment as he feels attacked and is forced to explain and adequately resolve chaos, uncertainty and confusion that may not be entirely attributable to him or her understanding are . Suddenly you’re the wicked stepmother, everyone is on Snow White’s side and you see no way out except over a cliff.
It boils down to the intention: well-intentioned people often also lie because they don’t know all the facts, make assumptions, combine disjointed memories or perspectives into a more logical narrative, are simply afraid to face the truth, or they just don’t know and feels pressured to give an answer. Sometimes they try to adjust both perspectives and come out with something that is no longer right. They can feel profoundly insecure (consciously or not) so say what makes the most sense to them, what they will acquit or solve the problem, or what they think they would like to hear. Then, under observation, they double up until the narrative is a mix of lies and truth, especially when their mind is pure panic. This has been the case with me, and while this perspective doesn’t absolve me of my wrongdoing or make me right, it helps explain it.
[Related Reading: ADHD Self-Doubt, Shame & Gaslighting: My Anything-But-Perfect Storm]
It takes a lot of courage to step back when you thought you were right or to give up a “safe” narrative when the stakes get high and you risk losing someone else’s respect, trust, or love. Nobody wants to lose that, but many people lack the maturity and courage to admit their wrongdoing; They also fear the consequences of getting clean, when the objective truth becomes clear. But consequences follow us no matter what; It is much better to admit your mistakes and lies early on than to be mistaken for a gas lighter when even you are no longer sure what is true. It’s okay to honestly say that you really don’t know instead of trying to fill in the blanks.
Who is the most beautiful of them all? Maybe it’s the one who can admit their mistakes and say, “I’m really sorry,” and take the risk that they will never be forgiven.
Gaslighter allegations: the next steps
Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider registering. Your readership and support help make our content and reach possible. Thanks very much.
Save on computer