Gaslighting: How psychopaths manipulate us

The following column was written by Dr George Simon, PhD for the Counselling website:

Gaslighting is a sophisticated manipulation tactic which certain types of personalities use to create doubt in the minds of others. Here’s how it works and what to watch out for.

In a stage play and suspense thriller from the 1930s entitled “Gas Light,” a conniving husband tries to make the wife he wishes to get rid of think she is losing her mind by making subtle changes in her environment, including slowly and steadily dimming the flame on a gas lamp.

In recent years, the term “gaslighting” has come to be applied to attempts by certain kinds of personalities, especially psychopaths—who are among the personalities most adept at sophisticated tactics of manipulation—to create so much doubt in the minds of their targets of exploitation that the victim no longer trusts their own judgment about things and buys into the assertions of the manipulator, thus coming under their power and control.

Photo: Sport Minister Anil Roberts (left) greets then National Security Minister Jack Warner. (Courtesy Trinidad Guardian)
Photo: Sport Minister Anil Roberts (left) greets then National Security Minister Jack Warner.
(Courtesy Trinidad Guardian)

Effective gaslighting can be accomplished in several different ways. Sometimes, a person can assert something with such an apparent intensity of conviction that the other person begins to doubt their own perspective. Other times, vigorous and unwavering denial coupled with a display of righteous indignation can accomplish the same task.

Bringing up historical facts that seem largely accurate but contain minute, hard-to-prove distortions and using them to “prove” the correctness of one’s position is another method. Gaslighting is particularly effective when coupled with other tactics such as shaming and guilting. Anything that aids in getting another person to doubt their judgment and back down will work.

Gaslighting is just one of the many weapons in the arsenal of personalities hell-bent on having their way, even if it means doing so by subtle and covert means of conning others. One of the most important points I make in all my articles, books, and other writings about the narcissistic and most especially, the aggressive personalities, is that they will do whatever it takes to secure and maintain a position of advantage over others. And some of the most effective means at their disposal are tactics that conceal their malevolent intent while simultaneously prompting their “target” to accede to their desires.

I outline the most common ones covertly aggressive folks use to manipulate others in my book In Sheep’s Clothing [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]. But it would be virtually impossible to fully list all of the various tactics expert manipulators use.

Deception is often the key ingredient in manipulation. Deception can be accomplished by outright denial, distortion of key aspects of events, and a variety of other methods, especially the more sophisticated lying techniques.

Photo: Sport Minister Anil Roberts stares down the local media.
Photo: Sport Minister Anil Roberts stares down the local media.

And, as I have mentioned in a prior post, a really accomplished liar can deceive another person by merely reciting a litany of absolutely true things—while deliberately and cleverly leaving out one or two crucial elements that would change the entire character of what they’re trying to make you believe. But a common element among all the tactics manipulators use is that they cause the person being targeted to doubt their gut instincts about what’s going on.

Their gut tells them they’re under attack or that someone is trying to get the better of them, and they intuitively go on the defensive. But because they often can’t find any clear, direct, objective evidence that the other person is merely trying to disadvantage them, they start doubting and questioning themselves.

This is the real secret of effective manipulation. If the “target” were solidly convinced they were in the process of being done in, they’d more likely put up more resistance instead of capitulating. Manipulators know this. They win by getting the other person to back down or give in.

Gaslighting has come to some prominence lately because several authors have highlighted it as one of the more crafty tactics psychopaths use to disadvantage their victims. But many character-disturbed individuals, most especially the aggressive personalities, are prone to using numerous tactics, including covert techniques, to get the better of their targets.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president Raymond Tim Kee (right) and Sport Minister Anil Roberts at the FIFA World Cup trophy tour in 2013. (Courtesy Wired868)
Photo: Port of Spain Mayor and Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president Raymond Tim Kee (right) and Sport Minister Anil Roberts at the FIFA World Cup trophy tour last year.
(Courtesy Wired868)

Their goal is always to win or secure whatever it is they want. And they’ll do whatever they have to do to get it.

Sometimes the most effective way to do that is to avoid red-flagging their intentions but rather get the other person to unwittingly but voluntarily surrender. Instill shame, instill guilt, instill fear, or instill great doubt, and the other person will likely back off the stance they really wanted to take.

I have written a series of articles on the manipulation tactics of covertly-aggressive and other disturbed personalities (see my Series on Manipulation Tactics).


Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read this piece at its original publisher, the Counselling Resource.

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  1. Warning: Undefined variable $userid in /www/wired868_759/public/wp-content/plugins/user-photo/user-photo.php on line 114

    seems that’s the whole administration!

  2. This article describes someone ‘I know’ to a T in T&T!

  3. what this article failed to mention is the expansive numbers of socopsychopaths this country has, and not all of them at the top. throughout the society, like melted ice in a cocktail

  4. Patricia Smart

    I never believed Jack at any point in time. I always knew he was a lying dutty ole tief!!!

  5. Ah thought i was reading abt Rowley here yes.

  6. they are psychopaths?? nah nope..but psychopaths do this though

  7. Me thinks the Man lies so much that he even believes his own lies. A pathological liar. Spent quite some time amongst one. They make you doubt yourself fus they’re convincing but eventually you see the light.

  8. Is it that they are all now laughing at us?

  9. PROBLEM: gasligthers …
    SOLUTION: light dey gas !!!!!!

  10. “I single-handedly got T&T into the World Cup”.

  11. U realise Jack ain’t watching him

  12. They missing a recent Zunty Sports Minister…

  13. Readers can attach whatever they like to it, Kendall.

  14. This article focuses on “a single manipulative technique frequently used by character-disturbed individuals” However, a more productive article would have been to look at the personality types, in particular the narcissist and sociopath typologies, and identify which of our politicians fall into these morbid types and draw distinctions as to what defines their personality. For instance Phillip Edward Alexander, Anil Roberts and Gary Griffith all seem to fit into the narcissist prototype but they distinguish themselves somewhat differently. Anil Roberts in particular seems to have an under-developed superego and as such displays little remorse. Consequently he may present more like a sociopath or he may also have a co-morbid sociopath typology. Philip Edward Alexander on the other hand when besieged and having to defend his earlier malfeasance uses his mother as a shield. Why should my mother have to hear all these untruths about her beloved son over the airways? Poor Me! Yet he deflects the causal pathway without addressing the charges. The fault is always with someone else particularly an underling. This segues well to Captain Gary Griffith we have also seen him blame others, those damn civil servants. Yet in terms of morality he may be the most developed but it comes at the price of others not being as moral as he. Note his spats with Anil Roberts – a moral discrepancy and Ralph Brown a discrepancy of reputation and competence.

  15. Great article, seems it suggests a great many politicians are psychopaths!

  16. When choosing a path in life, try to avoid the psychopaths.

  17. PM Kamla has said that she nor the UNC ever got funding from Mr. Warner. “pathological liar”

  18. Girl, that man have enough balls for all in T&T

  19. What’s the point you are trying to make in our political context?

  20. Lol Nicole! What history you know eh!…
    Oh that was the BBC interview. Have a look at the one where he sat down with his Executive….its mind boggling…I think I posted it here

  21. not sure Savitri Maharaj..the interviewer was a female with a British accent…but it was after he came out…I think I want to change my profession yes…I wanna be a history teacher

  22. A friend of mine said after seeing Jack being interviewed by BBC news, he just had to believe him cause he was so convincing…..straight face and all.

  23. Depends on his meaning of “bribe”. Remember the bin Hammam cash was a ” gift “.

  24. Nicole, was that the Press briefing? This man so damn convincing eh.

  25. well boy…I see Jack say in an interview with a STRAIGHT face he never take a bribe…i buss out laughing oui

  26. Yep. Ashamed to admit, but I personally have experienced that, and paid a high price for it. My ex (my son’s late father) was a master of manipulation. Cheating me on everything and anything he ever could, and never letting any of his thousand faces reveal him. Still have difficulties on forgiving him, though he died 6 years ago…

  27. “I have never faced a court or have an enquiry against me. Nobody has accused me, I never take money from anybody pocket and I have no allegations of any kind.”

    Maybe I’m too kind but I believe twisted minds eventually believe the lies they keep repeating. True doublespeak.

  28. Gaiven Clairmont

    Well said and informative and I am familiar with this process of manipulation, it is very clever. But I do agree the Government’s PR agents maybe but the members of the current Cabinet are not capable of this. But I loved this read a lot 🙂

  29. Very interesting and informative article. Enjoyed it immensely. This article reminded me of when I served as a juror a few years ago, the prosecutor referred to the defendant’s lawyer as using ‘argument by diversion’….meaning (if my memory serves me correctly) arguing things you cannot argue or things that have nothing to do with the issue being discussed. Further more, the minister was never identified in the media. Seems to me that the minister’s (Roberts) conscience is getting the better of him, hence his outburst about ‘voodoo’ and other such nonsense. If he had any decency he would resign.

  30. I have a personal interest in emotional bullying and I softened my version of your post 4 hours ago! 🙂

  31. hoss u beat me to my post about psychopathy.. dont worry.. it coming still tho lol

  32. After shaking hands with Jack he better check how many fingers he has keft

  33. Psychopaths for real! I believe they tend to gravitate to positions of power like politics. Would be interesting to do a study locally.

  34. Gaslighting and spiff lighting, this man not easy!

  35. Lol. Well, who has eyes to see… 😉

  36. Quite informative article Lasana Liburd, but I don’t think we are being manipulated. Our hands are tied for the time, yes. But delusional, narcissistic people only end up gaslighting themselves.

  37. Old stagers like me remember the movie Fanny by Gaslight!

  38. Love this, did not know there was a term for this: out right denial and lighting a flame under another to manipulate and divert attention from your wrong doing! Disgraceful!

  39. Very informative. I am a bit hesitant to ascribe such deliberate, complex, and well thought out actions to this administration. Their current PR agent maybe, but not the administration. If I had to attribiute their behaviour to anything, it would probably be the firetruck syndrome. This phenomena, is the observance of a dog aggressively chasing a firetruck. Once the firetruck comes to a halt, the dog doesn’t seem to have a clue about what to do next, and walks away seemingly bewildered. The difference in this scenario, is that on reaching the proverbial firetruck, the dog occupies himself with substance abuse, which would make sense if that was his pre firetruck activity.

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