“Gaslighting is a slow, unconscious loss of reality…[it] is mind control to make victims doubt their reality.” — Tracy A. Malone
Some of us grew up in an environment of gaslighting, one where observations, recollections and experiences were often not only routinely undermined and dismissed but denied. If you grew up in that kind of household, especially if you’ve become educated about how it works and aware of how it registers, you can begin to notice how gaslighting manifests in other relationships, in other settings.
Most people are probably aware of this but in case not, the term comes from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film Gaslight centered on a recently married couple, played by Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, and the strange goings-on in their home, including the dimming and brightening of gaslights, which are observed by the protagonist and consistently denied by her husband — who is actually responsible for the strange happenings — leading her to doubt her observations and fear that she is losing her mind. To gaslight is to psychologically manipulate or abuse another person to the extent that their thoughts and perception of reality are invalidated and the victim can experience deep confusion over time, often leading to crushing self-doubt.
I’ve long been aware of gaslighting, how it is utilized and how it feels, but only recently did it occur to me how it is used against vegans who are trying to speak honestly about ecocide. Forms of gaslighting are waged against everyone who dares to speak on this topic in an honest way, but there are particulars that are unique to the vegan experience that I feel are worth disentangling.
According to sociologist Paige L. Sweet, gaslighting “…entrenches existing power imbalances while fostering new [power imbalances].” If the existing status quo says, for example, that there is nothing wrong with eating animals and it is irrational or dishonest to connect it to climate change despite mountains of evidence, then we are being gaslit even as the planet gives us every possible warning that things are not okay in order to serve the existing structure that tells us to carry on and keep consuming as we prefer without worry.