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Entries categorized "Gaslighting"

Describing the Capitol Siege Like a Performance Piece

By Elayne Savage, PhD
#173 Gaslighting:Alternate Universe:.jpg Can Stock Photo Inc. © teravector - Can Stock Photo Inc. © teravector


I had a powerful reaction listening to Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson using his questioning time at the Congressional insurrection hearing to read into the Congressional Record a first-person piece from the Federalist describing the march and storming of the Capitol.  

I Saw Provocateurs At The Capitol Riot On Jan. 6

Sen. Johnson’s choice of passages made everything sound like a performance piece describing the “jovial, friendly, earnest demeanor of the great majority.”


Johnson read “families with small children; many were elderly, overweight, or just plain tired or frail—traits not typically attributed to the riot-prone. Some said they were police officers from around the country. Many wore pro-police shirts or carried pro-police ‘Back the Blue’ flags.”


The passages Johnson chose to read appear to place blame for most of the ‘trouble” at the Capitol on “agent-provocateurs and fake Tramp protesters.”


What a huge visceral reaction I had! I watched much of the storming of the Capitol that day. What I observed was far different than the select parts of the opinion piece that Ron Johnson chose to read into the Congressional Record.

I guess you could say I took it personally.


Johnson encourages everyone to read the entire article. When I did, my visceral reaction got much worse from these observations of the writer:


“Almost everyone seemed talkative and happy.”


“On the Senate lawn, the mood was more like an outdoor rock concert gone out of control. “


“A circus awaited us on the East Front of the Senate Wing. A semi-naked man in what looked like a fur caveman outfit, with a Braveheart-painted face and Viking horns, struck a weirdly heroic pose as people took pictures.”


There is much more to the article that Ron Johnson read only a small part of. The observer begins to become more aware of the anger of the group. “People were talking about how the Capitol had been invaded. A rumor spread that “the cops shot and killed a woman inside.”


The observer ends his piece with: “We didn’t know what to say or do. It didn’t seem real, but it was. The time was 3:32 p.m. We went home in silence.


So Ron Johnson told a half story emphasizing the good spirits of the “diverse” crowd, and describing scenarios I knew from my own eyes were not true.


And it sounded to me Johnson was blaming the siege and desecration of the Capitol on a very small band of provocateurs.


That’s not what I saw: I saw many hundreds of folks charging the Capitol. Many with Trump banners, MAGA hats, white supremacist slogans, and even Confederate flags.


I saw them strike out at Capitol Police with flagpoles and use a barricade as a battering ram.


How did Ron Johnson miss all of this?


Clearly one of us is living in an alternate reality, and I felt he was telling me that his version was the only true reality.


I know exactly why I got so upset. This is exactly the kind of selective seeing and hearing I grew up with.


Everything Up is Down


Being in my family was like walking through the Looking Glass where "Everything Up is Down. Everything Down is Up." A surreal Wonderland-ish quality with a parallel universe, an alternate reality. And definitely crazy-making.


As the Cheshire Cat said, “We’re all crazy here.”


I remember how members of my family seemed to speak garbled sentences, not making much sense, discouraging any clarification yet expecting me to understand their meaning.


And yet there seemed to be an unspoken family rule against asking questions to clarify and define.


If you asked a question you most likely would not receive a straight answer. The subject was changed and the issue was skirted. You were expected to pretend you understood the meaning of a statement. Expected to play guessing games with each other because being specific was simply not okay. 


Many years later when I was able to put words to it, I realized it was a combination of Vague Generalities, Concealment, Misrepresentations, Nonsense reasoning, Evasiveness, Deflections, Secrecy…. and Gaslighting – a total denial of my own observations and perceptions.


There was also the accompanying drama and chaos to distract from goings-on that really needed attention and clarification.


There were all kinds of confusing family rules and admonishments: 

"you are imaging it,"

"no, you don't really think that,"

“you didn’t really  have a nightmare..”

"that really didn't happen, It’s all in your mind " 

 "I didn't say that."  


I didn’t really realize or understand any of this until I was in my mid 40’s and in my PhD program. I was introduced to the amazing work of R. D. Laing, a Scottish psychiatrist.


Laing observed communication styles in highly dysfunctional families. 


OMG! This is My Family!"


As soon as I read his article, I recognized it. "OMG! This is my family!" I had never before seen our communication style described so aptly. And phrases and warnings I had not thought about for years came flooding back.

Laing calls this communication style 'mystification' . . .  an attempt to "befuddle, cloud, obscure, mask" what is really going on.


These days this behavior is referred to as 'gaslighting.'


Connected to mystification is obfuscation - the willful concealment of meaning in communication, making it ambiguous, confusing and hard to interpret. 


Interestingly, Laing's article begins with: "You can fool some of the people some of the time... " 

I don't like being fooled. I don't like being lied to. And I especially don't like being told I'm imagining things.  


Just like it did when I was a child, Ron Johnson's selective reading of the what he determined happened on Jan. 6  feels like I'm being force-fed these impressions. This behavior brings back uncomfortable childhood memories of manipulation and exploitation and reminds me how rejecting it feels when perceptions and feelings are invalidated.

Clearly I am still hugely affected when it feels like there is no room for my own perception.


Have you, too, had this experience in your early years or in the present?


© Elayne Savage, PhD


Note: The term ‘gaslighting’ comes from the 1940’s film Gaslight with Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotton, about a woman whose husband, in order to distract her from his criminal activities, manipulates her into questioning her perception of reality, He deliberately dims the gaslights in the house, and when his wife comments on it he tells her she’s “imagining it.“ She begins to believe she is going insane.

#126 gaslight 1944 movie

Gaslighting has become a popular term used to describe techniques now prevalent in The White House and Congress and I’ve blogged about it many times in the last 14 years.


Here are a few:

On a Fast Moving Merry-go-Round 

I really Hate Being Lied To!  

Gaslighting –– the Ultimate Alternate Reality 


Until next month,



Elayne Savage is the author of ground-breaking relationship books published in 9 languages.
Both books are now available on Kindle!


You can use the articles in 'Tips from The Queen of Rejection'® as long as you include an attribution and, whenever possible, a live link to my website. I'd appreciate if you'd notify me where and when the material will appear.

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