Have you ever felt trapped in the web of somebody’s words? No matter what you say, this person takes your words, spins them into something else, and uses them to get you to doubt yourself or do things you do not want to do. For example, a conversation might go something like this:
You: “I’m sorry, I can’t make it tonight.”
Them: “You told me you could.”
You: “I don’t think I said that I could make it.”
Them: “Yes, you did. You promised you would be there. Now, you’re backing out.”
The truth is that you did not say you would make the event. But, this person is masterful at spinning a lie to trap you and make you feel like you are the one who has done something wrong. This tactic is a form of manipulation called gaslighting.
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation in which your reality or experience is systematically and intentionally invalidated. It’s when someone uses lies and deception in order to manipulate you. Someone who gaslights constantly questions your word or your perception of reality.
Make no mistake: a gaslighter is not doing this in order to help you or as a collaborative effort to arrive at shared truth. Instead, they are questioning you in order to gain power over you. Their goal is not to help; it’s to make you feel crazy, weak, or dependent. A gaslighter wants something from you, and they use deceptive tactics to get it.
And, while the term is new, the behavior is as old as the sun.
Gaslighting in the Bible
In fact, the Bible has a very specific word for the person who consistently engages this strategy: Fool.
According to the dictionary, there are 2 key qualities that describe a fool:
- Fools are unwise.
- Fools are deceptive.
Let me be clear: fools are not necessarily unintelligent. They are unwise. There is a big difference. Instead of relying on honesty, sincerity, and healthy vulnerability to get what they need and want, a fool resorts to tricks, deception, and manipulation.
And, the Bible has more warnings against foolishness than almost any other topic. Here is a small sample:
- Fools care nothing for thoughtful discourse; all they do is run off at the mouth. (Proverbs 18:2)
- Fools are headstrong and do what they like. (Proverbs 12:15)
- Liars secretly hoard hatred; fools openly spread slander. (Proverbs 10:18)
- The words of a fool start fights. (Proverbs 18:6)
- The wise watch their steps and avoid evil; fools are headstrong and reckless. (Proverbs 14:16)
- [Fools] leave a wake of wrecked lives and lies about God, turning their backs on the homeless hungry, ignoring those dying of thirst in the streets. (Isaiah 32:5-7)
In other words, here is what the Bible says about fools:
- Fools don’t care about thoughtful discourse.
- Fools don’t care about respecting you.
- Fools will harbor bitterness and gossip about you.
- Fools are more interested in starting fights than in listening to you.
- Fools are reckless.
- Fools don’t care about those who are hurting.
Lesson #1 in today’s blog post is this: Do everything you can to not be a fool.
How do I Respond to Gaslighting?
If you’re dealing with someone who behaves in this manner, it can feel overwhelming and all-consuming. Typically, when I work with people who are dealing with gaslighters, they are consumed by the following question:
How can I get them to understand me?
The answer is that you can’t. Read through that list of what the Bible says about fools again. Someone who consistently behaves in this manner is not interested in understanding you.
So, what do you do? Well, thankfully, the Bible also has a lot to say about how to interact with fools.
1. Limit your words and interactions.
- Escape quickly from the company of fools; they’re a waste of your time, a waste of your words. (Proverbs 14:7)
- Do not speak to fools, for they will scorn your prudent words. (Proverbs 23:9)
- Don’t respond to the stupidity of a fool; you’ll only look foolish yourself. Answer a fool in simple terms so he doesn’t get a swelled head. (Proverbs 26:4-5)
In other words, “less is more” when it comes to communicating with someone who is consistently gaslighting you. You will not win a war of words. Instead, limit your communication to the necessary facts. Resist attempts to explain or get them to understand you. Actions speak louder than words.
2. Let the foolish person suffer his/her own consequences.
- Fools are undone by their big mouths; their souls are crushed by their words. (Proverbs 18:7)
- The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! (Galatians 6:7)
This is a hard one for those of who want to show empathy and care. But, one of the most loving things you can do for someone who is headed down a road of deception and destruction is to let them suffer the consequences. One of the best examples of this is the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke Chapter 15. In this parable, the father gives the son his inheritance, even though it’s a foolish request. Somehow, this father knew that his son would not listen to reason in this case. My guess is that he’d tried numerous times to reason with him prior to letting him go his own way. He finally decides to let him suffer his own consequences. There’s a lesson here for all of us who care for someone who is choosing whether to walk in the way of wisdom or foolishness.
3. Stay anchored in your own integrity.
- A fool lets it all hang out; a sage quietly mulls it over. (Proverbs 29:11)
- But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life. (Galatians 6:8)
Above all, stay true to the work of God’s Spirit in you. Focus on the activities and relationships in your life that ARE bearing fruit. Don’t let the fool rob you of the good works God has given to you to do.
4. Surround yourself with wise people.
- Wise people take advice. (Proverbs 12:17)
- Become wise by walking with the wise; hang out with fools and watch your life fall to pieces. (Proverbs 13:20)
If you have to deal with a gaslighter on a day to day basis, it is critical that you surround yourself with good people who love you and bring out the best in you. You will need reminders of who you are and whose you are. Wise people help you anchor yourself in what is true, noble, and good. They form a hedge of protection around you heart, soul, mind, and body.
5. Trust in God’s justice.
- No more will fools become celebrities, nor crooks be rewarded with fame. For fools are fools and that’s that, thinking up new ways to do mischief. (Isaiah 32:5-8)
- Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. (Galatians 6:7)
Read that again: No one makes a fool of God. It can be hard to know that someone is lying about you or gossiping behind your back. But, at the end of the day, the truth will win out. Take charge of what you can: limit your words and your interactions, keep your own integrity in tact. Stay wise. God will handle the things that you can’t.
The good news is this: while the Enemy of our souls is the Father of Lies (John 8:44), we have access to the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Armour up with the help of friends, God, the Bible, and possibly a good therapist. Anchor yourself in your body and pay attention to the cues.
So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good.
At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit.(Galatians 6:9)