Teen Magazine Names the Abusive Tactic Trump Has Been Using on Americans

December 12th 2016

Throughout the election, President-elect Donald Trump has been called a xenophobe, a misogynist, and a racist, among other labels. Now, Trump is being labeled as what is perhaps one of the most triggering of terms yet: gaslighter.

A recent Teen Vogue piece written by Lauren Duca, which has received quite a bit of praise online, has accused Trump's way of politicking as inciting a loss of reality for many Americans through a tactic of abuse called gaslighting. 

"Gaslighting" is a form of abuse that makes victims question their own reality, according to The National Domestic Violence Hotline. Duca noted the origins of the term gaslighting, which comes from a 1938 play titled "Gaslight" in which an abusive husband discreetly dims the gas light at home but tells his wife that she is imagining that the lights are dimmed and that she's losing her mind.

Psychoanalyst Robin Stern, Ph.D., wrote in a May 2009 piece for Psychology Today that gaslighting occurs in three stages:

1. Disbelief.

"You think of the gaslighting interaction as a strange behavior or an anomalous moment," Stern wrote, noting that gaslighting can take place in various types of relationships. "During this first stage, things happen between you and your partner, or your boss, friend, family member, that seem odd to you."

Writer Shea Emma Fett, who has written extensively about abuse for various publications, wrote in a July 2015 piece for Medium that victims know their abusers are being ridiculous, but argue with them anyway:

"You argue for hours, without resolution. You argue over things that shouldn’t be up for debate — your feelings, your opinions, your experience of the world. You argue because you need to be right, you need to be understood, or you need to get their approval. In stage 1, you still believe yourself, but you also unwittingly put that belief up for debate."

2. Defense.

When victims attempt to defend themselves against their abusers, their concerns are dismissed entirely, Stern wrote

Fett wrote in Medium that this stage entails trying to get the abuser to see your point of view:

"You continue to engage because you are afraid of what their perspective of you says about you. Winning the argument now has one objective — proving that you are still good, kind, and worthwhile."

3. Depression.

By this stage of gaslighting, victims experience "a noticeable lack of joy and, [they] hardly recognize [themselves] anymore," Stern wrote.

Fett acknowledged the emotional roller coaster of stage three in her Medium piece:

"In stage 3, when you are hurt, you first ask, 'What’s wrong with me?' You consider their point of view as normal. You start to lose your ability to make your own judgments. You become consumed with understanding them and seeing their perspective. You live with and obsess over every criticism, trying to solve it."

Duca argued that Trump is guilty of these gaslighting tactics: 

"To gas light is to psychologically manipulate a person to the point where they question their own sanity, and that’s precisely what Trump is doing to this country. He gained traction in the election by swearing off the lies of politicians, while constantly contradicting himself, often without bothering to conceal the conflicts within his own sound bites. He lied to us over and over again, then took all accusations of his falsehoods and spun them into evidence of bias. At the hands of Trump, facts have become interchangeable with opinions, blinding us into arguing amongst ourselves, as our very reality is called into question."

Other outlets have previously used "gaslighting" to describe Trump's behavior.

On Nov. 7, Washington Post reporter Ben Terris argued in a piece for the publication that he witnessed the Trump campaign gaslight both him and journalist Michelle Fields in March. He wrote that he witnessed former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski grab Fields' arm as she approached the then-presidential candidate for an interview at a news conference. Lewandowski tweeted Fields was "delusional" and that he had never met her, which led to a media storm that Fields claimed hurt her relationship with Fox News. Terris wrote that he, ultimately, started to question his own account of the arm-grabbing incident:

"As the story plowed through multiple news cycles, people kept asking me if I was 100 percent sure I saw it happen. I had my memory, and I had a record of my conversation with Fields after the incident. Still, absolute certainty is an uncomfortable feeling for a journalist. It should be hard to say something definitely happened, just as it should be hard to say something 'could not possibly have happened.'"

Fields told Terris in his November article that she felt Trump used gaslighting against her, and that she feared he's now "gaslighting the country.”

Read Duca's full Teen Vogue piece here.

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