Manipulation 101: Gaslighting

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Instructionals

From Kenrick E. Cleveland of

snake-oil-salesman200.jpgGaslighting: Stirring Up Doubt And Positioning Yourself As An Ally
August 12th, 2007

Here”™s a great example of a powerful strategy called gaslighting and how to use it in your persuasive situations with the affluent”¦

I was flipping through the channels a few nights ago and I stopped on an old episode of M*A*S*H. It was the episode where BJ is bored and in an attempt to entertain himself he decides to have a little fun at Winchester”™s expense.

He takes a pair of Winchester”™s pants and replaces them with a much larger pair. When Winchester puts them on, BJ casually asks if Winchester is feeling okay, mentioning that lately he”™s looked a little sickly. Maybe he”™s not eating enough to keep up his energy, and oh boy, does he look way too thin!

A few scenes later BJ replaces the pants with a much smaller pair and when Winchester tries them on, BJ again casually “notices” how much weight Winchester has gained, which sends the vain Winchester into a dieting frenzy.

Having observed this all, Hawkeye asks BJ, “What”™s next?”

BJ simply responds, “Tomorrow he gets taller.”

This is an example of gaslighting as a harmless prank, but the technique has far more nefarious potential and conversely when used ethically, some positive potential as well.

As with all the techniques I teach, I want to emphasize that these strategies are incredibly powerful and are developed to help with persuasion and should be used ethically with your prospects.

From the 1944 film Gaslight the term “gaslighting” acquired the meaning of ruthlessly manipulating an individual into believing something other than the truth.

The jist of the movie is that a husband tries to make his wife seem insane in order to get her out of his way by getting her admitted to a mental hospital. He does this in subtle ways that cause her to doubt her own ability to interpret reality.

Understanding and influencing how your affluent prospect interprets their reality is an intregal part of persuasion.

There are five main strategies employed in the technique of gaslighting and you can use each one to your advantage when persuading your affluent prospects.

The first is repetitive questioning and this is used to plant the seed of doubt in a person.

Game shows employ this tactic in order to heighten anticipation by causing the contestants to doubt their decisions – asking and reasking, “are you sure?”

A simple cock of the head, a raising of the eyebrow, and a comment such as, “really?” can install in the recipient, the necessary seed of doubt needed to set them off guard.

With this strategy, it is most effective to come from a non-threatening or non-challenging position. After all, you only have their best interest at heart, so go ahead and make them aware of it.

The second strategy used in gaslighting is to point out things that aren”™t there.

This is a particularly useful strategy in undermining a sense of reality. On the flip side, this can be used just as effectively in pointing out a person”™s assets and qualities, especially if the person has no idea that this quality exists within them (and even if it doesn”™t actually exist within them).

In interactions with a boss, a client, a prospect, someone of authority, or someone we”™d like to sell to, this can be an effective tactic. Appealing to a sense of vanity or ego, when done correctly, can work phenomenally.

Warning: if the compliment is completely without merit, an obvious fabrication, then one is sure to be discovered. Subtlety and at least a small nugget of honesty works best here.

The third strategy may be employed by various professionals, experts and/or authority figures. For example, a therapist (or minister, or pychic, or doctor) has specialized or divine access to unseeable information about you – deep, mysterious information that only they know how to reveal and which gives them “the answer” that you seek.

This phenomenon causes the client to lower defenses and be more trusting and dependant. This may be part of the reason patients sometimes develop crushes on their therapists.

With these “mysteries” it is implied that the authority figure or expert is really the only way.

In sales, this technique is employed when the customer says they can get the product or service elsewhere.

For example, I really love music and not too long ago I went out to update my stereo system, specifically to find new speakers. A really knowledgeable sales lady in the store said, “Oh, you look like a person who really is a connoisseur of music.”

I replied, “Yeah, I am.”

And she said, “Well, you gotta hear this”¦ Now, let me warn you. You”™re going to hear it and you”™re going to love it. And they”™re expensive, so should we start with something less?”

Well, I loved them. Immediately. Could I have bought it cheaper elsewhere? Probably. But you know what, the great thing was, she said, “I”™ll stand behind this and if anything goes wrong, we”™ll fix it for free. And if you need any help, I”™ll come and help you.”

And then came the specialized knowledge. She said, “Are you good at positioning speakers?”

Positioning speakers? I had no idea what she was talking about.

I said, “You mean like other than setting them on the floor?”

“Oh, not with Martin Logans. They have to be positioned. They have to be so far from the wall and even then, it”™s an art. It”™s not a science.” She continued, “Like you”™ll put it about so far from the wall, but there”™s a sweet spot and you have to turn it and adjust it and all of a sudden they sound like they”™re worth double what they are.”

Specialized knowledge.

Well, I wasn”™t maneuvered into buying the speakers because of this, but let me tell you something, it didn”™t hurt that she had really excellent information that I wouldn”™t have been able to get had I ordered my speakers elsewhere.

The fourth gaslighting strategy involves revealing the secret thoughts of others.

Another term for this: gossip. But it”™s a specialized gossip, maneuvering the person in an attempt to give them “˜insight”™ or a heads up about what others are saying and thereby establishing you as the one who cares enough to know the truth in driving a wedge between them and the others you name.

This can be used to install insecurity and destroy relationships, so be aware that others may use this on you. When you understand how it works, you can counteract it.

When you are the one performing the strategies, remember to use the utmost integrity with all of these.

To use this positively, you can “gossip” about the good things people are saying. “Confidentially, so and so says you”™re doing an amazing job, but she didn”™t want me to tell you this because she”™s afraid of losing you.”

It helps to install positive behavior. Encouragement and praise are more powerful than derision and destruction.

The final strategy employed in gaslighting is to use the mighty power of the many against the fragile power of the one.

Kids do this all the time. It”™s employed in politics, religion, and suburbia, through the media, the educational system, and society-at-large in varying degrees.

It”™s a groupthink straight out of 1984.

Ganging up on others is a very powerful tactic. If many others confront you, telling you your position is wrong, it”™s very difficult to maintain your belief.

This one also has a positive use”¦

Bring the power of social proof to bear before you are challenged.

Show how studies or polls indicate that your position is overwhelmingly supported. A tremendous amount of people are not what I”™d call “independent thinkers”. When shown how, “overwhelmingly” a product or position is supported, they want to belong, agree and buy.

As you can see, gaslighting isn”™t necessarily a nice practice. It is designed into trick someone into doubting themselves and their own sanity.

But there are ways that gaslighting can be used for a positive outcome. You have to decide whether it”™s the right thing to use this technique and when it”™s the right time not to use it, but just know this:

There may be other people out there who are using it on you. At least if you know how to think like this, you”™ll know also how to defend against it.

Listen, this is just the tip of the persuasion iceberg. For more information on persuasion, and how you can strengthen your power of influence, please go to for a course on the details of persuading the affluent.

For further reading specifically on the subject of gaslighting, try Gaslighting, the Double Whammy, Interrogation and Other Methods of Covert Control in Psychotherapy and Analysis by Dr. Theo L. Dorpat and Gaslighting: How To Drive Your Enemies Crazy by Vistor Santoro.