Trump: Expert at Gaslighting

Maureen MurdockMental Illness26 Comments

“What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” President Trump

“Gaslighting” is a form of persistent manipulation and brainwashing that causes the victim to doubt her perception, her memory, and ultimately her sanity. The term is derived from the 1944 film Gaslight, in which a husband tries to convince his wife that she’s insane by causing her to question her reality. Gaslighting creates a subtle, unequal power dynamic in a relationship, with the gaslightee subjected to the gaslighter’s unreasonable, non-fact-based, words and hostility. At its worst, pathological gaslighting constitutes a severe form of psychological abuse.

Gaslighting can occur in personal relationships, at work, or over an entire society. Donald Trump is an expert at gaslighting and that is exactly what he is doing to our whole country. In his comments during a press conference with Russian President Putin in Helsinki on Monday July 16th, he said that he saw no reason why Russia “would” have been behind the hacking of the 2016 election. The next day, July 17th, after tremendous backlash in Washington, he “walked back” that statement. Reading from a prepared statement, he claimed he had misspoke and meant to say “wouldn’t” instead of “would,” meaning he would not accept Putin’s assurance that Russia did not interfere in our 2016 election.

This, in spite of the fact that anyone who watched him toady up to Putin, saw and heard Trump deny that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Trump’s comments Tuesday contradicted not only his remarks on Monday but months of previous ones. They are not simple corrections of minor details or word slips.

The reaction to Trump’s Monday denial of Russian interference from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and former intelligence chiefs was outrage. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich called Trump’s performance in Finland “the most serious mistake of his presidency,” the conservative editorial page of The Wall Street Journal called it “a national embarrassment” and former C.I.A. director John O. Brennan called Trump’s performance “nothing short of treasonous.”

Yet, the president’s defenders call this latest reaction “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” They argue that the fact that Trump drives his critics to such extreme reactions says more about them than it does about the President. This is exactly what happens with gaslighting. We, the citizens, become the gaslightee, subjected to Trump’s lies, contradictions, and reversals and are made to feel crazy.

When asked if he accepts the findings of his own Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, that our national voting infrastructure is vulnerable, he said, “No,” meaning he still refuses to accept that there is on-going meddling of our election system. Then Sarah Huckabee Sanders rushed out to reporters to clarify his words, saying he didn’t mean “No.” He meant, “No, I’m not taking more questions.” Sarah Sanders is contaminated with gaslighting. Gaslighting is a powerful tool. It causes  the inability to know one’s own truth.

While Trump’s acknowledgment of Russian interference is a 180-degree reversal from what he said on July 16th, he has repeatedly denied– for the past two years– that the Russians had anything to do with the 2016 election . He says different things to different audiences and sometimes different things to the same audience. But one thing is true: his lies, reversals, obfuscations and blaming of others (you’re just crazy) is effective in keeping people off kilter.

In recent tweets, Trump has shifted from blaming American institutions for a bad relationship with Russian to telling people not to believe the facts of what they have seen or heard. “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening” he said at the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Kansas City, MO. last week.

The crazy-making, mind-bending, massive confusion-inducing effects of Trump’s recklessness with the truth and disregard for facts is creating an emotional and psychological whiplash. We can’t wait two years to learn what’s behind his obfuscations. We have to confront him with his lies every time he opens his mouth. Recognize there will never be accountability; be vigilant and speak your mind.


26 Comments on “Trump: Expert at Gaslighting”

  1. Thank you for an exceptional article Maureen. This is such a frightening time and I wonder who is listening when we call the Gaslighting Trump out. I agree with you. It is important we continue to speak our mind and call out the lies, the deceit, and the inherent evil of this narcissistic man who has brought hate and division to our country. We as women need to use our voices and our words for what is right.
    Laura L Engel

  2. Maureen, I am touched by your clarity and your courage to so accurately articulate what is becoming the zeitgeist of our times. So many of us feel frightened and helpless as we watch the Kool-Aid being passed around. And, we know that speaking out, in every channel available to us, is the antidote. Thank you for standing up and voicing this so clearly. I will definitely re-post it and look forward to the next offering of your thoughts.

  3. Not that it negates any of your strong points, but Gaslight was first a play, written by Patrick Hamilton (a novelist as well as a playwright) in the 1930s. And the term arose from the play along with the two films made from it in the 40s. Hamilton earlier wrote the play Rope, which later became a Hitchcock film So it seems Hamilton was good at psychological thrillers. I’d rather not be living through one in real life, though.

  4. Great explanation Maureen! Also see my piece: POTUS’s Reptilian Brain–

  5. Excellent Maureen I definjtely have been a victim of gaslighting.Hope you and Bill are well Thanks for your blog.It keeps me sane.

  6. Maureen, thank you for this important analysis. Your clarity and bravery are deeply appreciated.

  7. Thank you, Maureen, for naming the disease we are suffering from. The sense of impotence so many are feeling comes from the gaslighting you describe. Trump is a master of creating a cloud of confusion and lies. Where to begin when trying to counter what he says.? His cloak of lies is smothering our democracy.

  8. Spot on Maureen. You have articulated the danger for us if we pretend this could not be happening in our democracy. It is happening in some European countries and Turkey. We have to support our independent journalists who are continually pointing out the falsehoods. We have to challenge anyone we know who supports this President to see him for what he is and is doing, as your writing does so well.

  9. Thanks, Maureen, this is powerful. This sentence struck me: “Sarah Sanders is contaminated with gaslighting.” We are all in danger of such contamination. It’s like nuclear fallout – invisible yet deadly.

    1. You’re absolutely right; we’re all in danger of being contaminated by Trump’s gaslighting. I think that’s why so many people at this time feel a sense of discouragement and lack of safety.

  10. Thank you Dr. Murdock for your always clear, clarifying, and pointed essays. Your essay illuminates Trump’s treasonous “gaslighting” of not only our country, but also the foundational tenets of Democracy, through the intense reverberation of his daily psychological violence via his spoken words,, tweets, & actions upon the mind, body, and psyche of our Nation and all its peoples. —-in Solidarity — J McCart

  11. Exactly Maureen. Great article. And now, of course, he is saying Russia “will be pushing very hard for the Democrats” to win at the midterm elections because “no President has been tougher on Russia than me.” Sheesh.

  12. Thank you, Maureen, for your insightful and important article on our president’s “gaslighting.”
    It boggles my mind that so many of his Republican followers are willing to be silent, because unlike the helpless wife in the 1944 movie,, they are only too aware that their leader, in spreading confusion, attacks and lies, is placing his own narcissistic needs above the welfare of our country, but I guess that getting the environmental regulations cut, women’s rights abolished, and minorities and our allies demonized, is worth selling their soul.

    I agree with you that we should all be speaking up and I am grateful for your clear voice.

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