4 Levels of Gaslighting: From Unconscious to Malicious

Gaslighting Levels: Gaslighting, a form of emotional abuse, brainwashing, and constant manipulation, can make anyone doubt themselves, their identity, their perceptions, 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, you need to read this now.

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

4 levels of gaslighting: from subconscious to harmful
Can someone “accidentally” make a person mad?

I’ve always thought of gaslighting as that deliberate malicious act where one person tries to gain more power while making the victim question their reality. At least, that’s what I learned about the term “gaslight,” which came from the 1938 stage play Gas Light. The husband manipulates his wife’s surroundings and insists that her perception, memory and mind are wrong. He willingly plans to drive her mad.

I have read this definition and, in my mind, have been assuming that the gasser always reacts willfully and brutally to the gasser. I also thought the victim must seriously feel insane after such an encounter.

A recent experiment has me rethinking the definition and considering the following:

What if someone could, inadvertently or unintentionally, gas another person? What if gaslighting was a spectrum, not an absolute? What if it’s more sinister and global than I imagined?

Not long ago, I found myself at odds with a colleague. I was in charge of the project and I needed to give my opinion. The company had a certain vision, and while my colleague created some great work, he veered slightly off track. Over the course of a week, we exchanged a few messages.

I continued to point out the problems I saw in his work versus the vision, but was met with incredible resistance. As a teacher with over 20 years of experience working with different ages (from six up to seniors), and cultures (I worked in Morocco and work mostly 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 feeling so frustrated with this particular experience? Why did I feel somewhat mad after each exchange and confused about what just happened?

I didn’t get it until I shared the experience with a friend, and he told me bluntly: You’re gassed. You won’t go crazy.

I firmly believe my colleague didn’t proceed to point it out to me, but just because he didn’t mean it doesn’t mean he didn’t. I think unconscious gaslighting is very likely very diffuse, but since it is unconscious and nowhere near the degree of malevolence found in gaslighting with malevolent intent, I would focus more on it than the well-known version.

“Victims of gaslighting become helpless when they are indoctrinated to be hopeless about the deeply troubling problem the warrior keeps reminding them of.” Ross Rosenberg

Read: 15 Effects of Being Raised by a Narcissist

Here are four levels of gaslighting:

  1. Unconscious gaslighting
  2. Awareness of something is off
  3. Intentional – more aware of the effect – but not intended to cause serious harm
  4. Malicious intent with a desire to harm.

Level 1. Unconscious gaslighting

The person is completely unaware that he is participating in it. In fact, they realize that they are very rational in their interactions because they have no idea what effect they are doing. They may even lack the ability or willingness to question their own point of view given the point of view of others. Here’s what it might look like:

Law “I do not understand”

Over the course of a week, I explained and re-explained the company’s vision to my colleague several times. I teach ESL for a living so I’m familiar with how to break down concepts, reformulate definitions, and give examples. This was a completely different issue. My colleague kept claiming confusion over and over.

When someone says they’re confused and doesn’t make any effort to dive into why they’re confused, they’re constantly putting the burden of explanation on your shoulders. Not only does it get boring, but it also makes you wonder what to say. I’m starting to wonder, why don’t I cross? How can he not understand these ideas that I am explaining?

Then it hit me: He actually didn’t want to understand but he probably didn’t know. A person who really wants to understand makes efforts in this direction.

Coexistence in parallel universes

Besides ignoring my words, my colleague took up the issues he claimed I had raised. It’s like if you mentioned ice cream, and his response was, well, when you talked about cheesecake. . . As you can imagine, this was very confusing.

What was he addressing? Who was he addressing? Was he addressing me? If he had added with words like, “This raised a different problem for me, X,” I would understand. Instead, he would say things like, “Your point on X . . . .” But when I referred back to my messages to see if I had discussed X, it wasn’t brought up.

I began to wonder if we exist in alien, parallel universes with alternate forms of ourselves. However, I really think he thought I had made these points, which was very confusing.

“The most effective form of catching narcissistic abuse syndrome comes from the persistent brainwashing and/or gaslighting campaign perpetrated by the pathological narcissist against the vulnerable, vulnerable, independent victim.” Ross Rosenberg

Read: 8 Deep Questions To Ask Yourself If You Keep Attracting Toxic Partners

Level 2. Realizing that something is off

In this case, I believe the gas attendant senses something is not working but is still unaware of the effect on the gaslight. Gaslighter likely had previous experiences similar to this one, he became uneasy about interaction but still walked steadily forward. Why would you change the approach if you think you’re right to get involved as you have been and still don’t fully understand why people aren’t interested in getting involved?

This is what it could look like:

Flood of words

I will send a short message to my colleague just to receive a deluge reply. One sentence will get a multi-paragraph response. It was overwhelming and had the effect of completely erasing anything I said. I understand that some people are lengthy while others are more succinct. I am married to a verbose man, so I am well acquainted with this torrent of words.

At the same time, I was constantly wondering, where did this come from? what was i asking? I didn’t ask for it, and so on and so forth. I really felt trembling. How did what I wrote necessitate a response that not only acknowledged my words but also involved a conversation I had never initiated before and was overwhelmingly overwhelming in terms of quantity?

Moreover, the flow of words did not appear to be my colleague’s attempt to understand me or make an exchange. Instead, he created a wall of interpretation from his own point of view, an endless tide of justification to deter what he probably saw as a challenge.

Level 3. Intentional – more aware of the effect – but no intent to cause serious harm

This is someone who has more awareness than Gaslighter #1 and #2. They know what they’re doing is harmful, but they would never describe themselves as gaslighted. This is for really bad people. They are not trying to hurt someone or drive them crazy, but rather they are in a power struggle and “win”.

This is what it looks like:

Refused to answer what was said. In fact, not only did my colleague not do that, he simply acted as if what I said didn’t exist at all. Letters would be exchanged, and I was left wondering if he had read my words. Did you get my message? I was sure he had it. Why was he so oblivious to what I said? How could each word have little or no effect? My words disappeared into the ether, never to be acknowledged again.

Whiplash Communication

The final straw came in one of our last communications. That was when the communication went from “I’m upset” to “I don’t have to respond” to “I was betrayed and said you would…” to “But you don’t have to.” At the end of the letter, I am left wondering if I should have responded, or not, or that I may have done something wrong, or inadvertently negatively affected him, but I need not say anything. . . ?

On the one hand, I think the gas player in this situation is likely to be confused by how he feels, and on the other hand, this isn’t his first rodeo. They’ve done this before, and know that other people end up hurt, angry, and upset because of their actions.

Sometimes, when the invader doesn’t understand, the Gassman simply tells them, “You don’t understand that.” In my case, that was true. The contrasting pieces didn’t make sense as a coherent whole.

“Brainwashing and gaslighting is just one of the many techniques used in narcissistic abuse syndrome. Gaslighting is an insidious method of mind control that pathological narcissists secretly use on vulnerable, codependent people who want to control and control them.” Ross Rosenberg

Level 4. Malicious intent with a desire to harm

This is a textbook for school education. In Stephanie Sarkis’ article, she outlines the warning signs: blatant lies, denial, manipulation, wearing the gaslight down, mismatching actions and words, aligning others against you, arming confusion, casting light, and so on.

Read: The 10 Types of Toxic Relationships You Should Avoid At All Costs

Gather the army

This was the most insidious piece I ever had with my colleague. He’s had other people look at his project and tell me they think it’s okay. I had to get away. If he’s going to rally the masses against me and continue to prove his point against mine—indeed, the corporate point of view—where am I going to go with it? Nowhere. One guy against a pointless army, and it sure made me wonder what I was suggesting.

Gas lighting is much more common than we think. Sometimes it comes in the form of microaggressions from people who don’t know they’re doing it. I imagine most people are guilty of this. Sometimes we know something is off, but we still follow the line of investigation.

Then, things take a turn for the worse, and we can be left feeling like our reality is starting to tremble, like a minor earthquake. In my particular case, it wasn’t until someone else pointed it out that I started seeing it. With this new perspective, I could let out a sigh of relief and understand that the furniture in my house had never been rearranged; Someone was just trying to make me believe it was him.