Written by Shahida Arabi
How do you convince someone that something they know to be true isn’t? In psychology, what is known as the “illusory truth effect” is a phenomenon in which a listener comes to believe something primarily because it has been repeated so often. When an abuser continually tells you that you are oversensitive or that what you are experiencing is in no way abuse, you begin believing it, even if you know deep down it isn’t true.
In other words, a lie that is repeated long enough eventually can be seen as the truth. Researchers Hasher, Goldstein and Toppino (1997) discovered that when a statement (even when it is false and readers know it to be false) is repeated multiple times, it was more likely to be rated as true simply due to the effects of repetition. This is because when we’re assessing a claim, we rely on either the credibility of the source from which the claim is derived or familiarity with that claim. Surprisingly, familiarity often trumps credibility or rationality when assessing the perceived validity of a statement (Begg, Anas, and Farinacci, 1992; Geraci, L., & Rajaram, 2016).
The illusory truth effect can cause us to become susceptible to the effects of another dangerous form of reality erosion known as gaslighting. Deliberate manipulators who gaslight with the intention of eroding your reality and rewriting history tend to use the “illusory truth effect” to their advantage. They will repeat falsehoods so often that they become ingrained in the victim’s mind as unshakeable truths.
When this is done repeatedly to override what was truly experienced, it can leave an immense dent in the fabric of someone’s perceptions and ability to trust themselves. When used chronically to control a victim, it becomes a damaging aspect of psychological abuse, placing the survivor at risk for depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicidal ideation and even what is called by some therapists as “Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome” (Van der Kolk, 2016; Walker, 2013; WolfFord-Clevinger, 2017; Staik, 2017).
What is Gaslighting?
The term “gaslighting” first originated in Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play, Gas Light, in which a manipulative husband drives his wife to the brink of insanity by causing her to question her own reality. It was also popularized in the 1944 film adaptation, Gaslight, a psychological thriller about a man named Gregory Anton (played by Charles Boyer) who murders a famous opera singer and later marries her niece, Paula (played by Ingrid Bergman) to gain access to the rest of her family jewels.
Gregory erodes his new wife’s sense of reality by making her believe that her aunt’s house is haunted in the hope that she will be institutionalized. He does everything from rearranging items in the house, flickering gas lights on and off to making noises in the attic so she feels as if she’s becoming unhinged. He isolates her so that she is unable to seek support for the terror she is experiencing. The real kicker? After manufacturing these crazymaking scenarios, he then convinces her that these events are all a figment of her imagination.
Gaslighting has become a well-known term in the abuse survivor community, particularly for the survivors of malignant narcissists. Unlike more vulnerable narcissists who may possess more of a capacity for remorse, malignant narcissists truly believe in their superiority, are grandiose and lie on the higher end of the narcissistic spectrum. They have antisocial traits, demonstrate paranoia, bear an excessive sense of entitlement, show a callous lack of empathy and display an egregious liking for interpersonal exploitation.
Gaslighting provides malignant narcissists with a portal to erase the reality of their victims without a trace. It is a method that enables them to commit covert psychological murder with clean hands.
Read the rest of the article and more about gaslighting here.
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About Shahida Arabi, Bestselling Author
Shahida Arabi is a summa cum laude graduate of Columbia University graduate school, where she studied the effects of bullying across the life-course trajectory. She is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of three books, including Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself, featured as a #1 Amazon Bestseller in three categories and as a #1 Amazon bestseller in personality disorders for twelve consecutive months after its release. Her most recent book, POWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse, was also featured as a #1 Amazon best seller in Applied Psychology.
She is the founder of the popular blog for abuse survivors, Self-Care Haven, which has millions of views from all over the world. Her work has been shared and endorsed by numerous clinicians, mental health advocates, mental health professionals and bestselling authors. For her undergraduate education, Shahida graduated summa cum laude from NYU where she studied English Literature and Psychology. She is passionate about using her knowledge base in psychology, sociology, gender studies and mental health to help survivors empower themselves after emotional abuse and trauma. Her writing has been featured on The National Domestic Violence Hotline, The Huffington Post, MOGUL, The Meadows, Thought Catalog and Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Monica O’Neal’s website.