I’ve written about this subject before, but if you’re not familiar with it, gaslighting is just exactly like mindfucking. The difference between gaslighting and mindfucking, though, is that gaslighting is methodical and its intention is to utterly undermine the victim’s sense of reality so that they lose their ability to trust what they see with their own eyes and to function on their own.
Think, just for instance, of the classic case of marital infidelity, where a cheating spouse will deny facts that the betrayed spouse can plainly see, and will, further, cause the betrayed spouse to believe that he or she has the problem (insane jealousy “What? I can’t have friends now?”; ungratefulness, “I work my ass off till all hours of the night, to support you, and have to come home to your accusations?”; undesirability, “This is why I’d rather hang out with my friends than with you.”; insanity or paranoia, “What are you? Crazy? Of course I don’t smell like perfume.”; “That bra you found in the glovebox is yours! Don’t you remember I bought that for you?” You get the picture.
Gaslighting is more than just a mindfuck; it’s systematic psychic abuse, and a very effective way of preventing someone from making decisions for themselves.
Now, I’m struggling with this post, because the inspiration comes from a thread I looked in on at Sober Recovery. I don’t trawl over there, because, ugh… Well, I just don’t. But I had googled something, and landed there, and clicked on a random thread at the top of the page, and found myself reading through a classic demonstration of gaslighting.
This post difficult for me to write because the author of the original post seems to have really been through quite enough, and to compound that by using her humiliation as fodder for my post seems more opportunistic than I have the stomach for. I’m going ahead with this, though, because the responses to her post are the subject of this post, and I think that, if anyone doubts that gaslighting occurs as a matter of course in AA, doubt no longer… I mean, it’s important enough.
So, the general outline of this thread goes like this: An AA member has just received her 30-day chip, and during the presentation, her sponsor stands up and offers some information that the poster found painfully humiliating to her. She clearly felt violated by her sponsor’s inappropriate public revelations about her to the rest of the group, and wrote to ask advice.
What should be obvious to any healthy person is that if someone says that she feels humiliated by someone else’s treatment of her, then her humiliation is a true fact. Her personal boundaries are not up for public debate, any more than is the color she chooses to paint her bathroom. And, by any objective standard, her boundaries were not abnormal. But, since this is the 12-Step forum, it’s on. *
Gaslighting commences in 3… 2… 1…
This is not your real, rational self talking; it’s your alcoholic brain talking. It’s trying to get you to relapse. (You can’t trust yourself. You might actually die if you trust yourself.)
We shut up and listen. (And so should you).
Your sponsor is just bravely telling the truth. (So, what exactly is your problem with the truth?)
This isn’t humiliation, but a lesson in humility. (We’ll tell you where your boundaries should be.)
Our egos need deflating. (Therefore, your ego needs deflating, remember EGO = Edge God Out. None of that pesky self-respect, now.)
Besides, your family (husband and child) hasn’t been able to get you sober, now, has it? (You can’t trust them, and you can’t trust yourself. Trust us.)
Your husband doesn’t understand, because he’s not one of us. It doesn’t matter whether he likes your sponsor or not, and, really, it’s OK not to tell him what happens in AA; in fact, it’s probably wise not to. You’ll just get confused. (Isolate yourself with us. We’re your family now. )
God. God. God. Pray. Do what your sponsor tells you to do, even if she is batty, as long as it’s something that God wouldn’t “have a problem with,” (This is the AA God, of course. Because a different God might have a big problem with her giving second place to, and keeping secrets from, the man He joined with her.).
Clearly, you are harboring a resentment, not dealing with reality. Your boundaries weren’t violated, rather you are carrying a resentment that leads your alcoholic brain to the pitiful conclusion that you have a right to set personal boundaries when you are among us. You might want to check your unreasonable expectation of respect.
And all of this was couched in a giant tough love bomb.
If you aren’t sure that you’re seeing what you’re seeing here, have a look at how effective it was:
Maybe she meant that.
Maybe my husband is wrong.
Maybe I heard it wrong.
Maybe the problem is with me, and my alcoholic mind after all.
I will go forward, and let this go. (try)!
Thanks to all.
You see what happened there?
This is exactly why this blog exists. Well, to be more specific, the fact that this is what happens in AA, and that AA is what passes for “treatment” in this country, is why this blog exists. Let me be clear: This kind of thing happens everywhere, all the time. But it should not be – as it has been – institutionalized to allow, as you AAs (not a glum lot! Heh… snork!) like to say “the inmates are running the asylum.”
It’s a happy convenience for both AA members and the GSO to exist in this nebulous mutually parasitic state – some infinite loop of buck passing – where no one answers for AA. The GSO won’t standardize the program, provide benchmarks or oversight, and its members must offer disclaimers, announcing that they do not speak for AA, before they speak out as AA members. It’s a relationship designed very specifically to prevent any accountability or responsibility. And, of course, that’s bogus. You can holler your spiritual-not-religious head off about how “This Is Not AA!”, but the plain fact is that your opinion about what AA is or should be is not endorsed by AA; technically, AA is nothing. And no one’s got your back. AA is what happens in AA.
Just like refusing to make a decision is a decision, denying responsibility does not absolve you of responsibility. It just means that you refuse to accept it, which is also a decision you are responsible for.
Finally, I can’t honestly or rightfully apologize to the original poster on SR for exposing her here, because I’m aware of the violation, and I am choosing to proceed, anyway. An apology happens after the fact, and I’m still in the process of creating the fact as I write. So, an apology is inappropriate. If she happens to see this, I can only hope that she will understand that I am weighing the liberty I am taking with her thread in order to expose the liberty that others have taken with her very sense of self – which is indicative of everything that’s wrong with having AA be the Gold Standard of addiction treatment in this country.
* I do want to acknowledge the handful of responses that took issue with her sponsor’s behavior – one of our regular sparring partners included. They made the point that sponsors are not counselors and are there only to work the steps with you. Regretfully, these voices couldn’t penetrate the miasma, and were summarily ignored.