sarahpessin@sarahpessin.com

Geometry of Gaslighting

Gaslighting is an insidious form of manipulation where targets are made to feel disoriented–often like they are losing their minds. This can happen in a range of personal, professional, and political contexts. On the smaller scale, this can damage a target’s emotional, mental, and physical health. On the larger social scale, this can threaten democracy–e.g. when leaders use gaslighting to exert power, it can override people’s ordinary good sense and can awaken what Emmanuel Levinas describes as “elemental” forces and with it an increased capacity for inter-human violence.


“Geometry of Gaslighting” is a creative (not clinical) project that lays out some of the intersecting logics and motions–or “vectors”– at play in this malignant form of abuse. “Vectors” indicate magnitudes in motion–bits of reality catapulting through space with an aim, with a direction.


The project stems from my desire to honor conversations shared with me by friends and colleagues over the years, while also honoring some of my own lived experiences. The project is something of an act of catharsis – intervention – defiance, and is “dedicated” to the hiring manager who mercilessly gaslit me daily when I worked briefly during grad school in (of all places to be gaslit mercilessly) a toystore: Thank you no thank you to you, toystore gaslighter, good day.

Some signs of gaslighting:

From the National Domestic Violence Hotline

Gaslighting can cause tremendous suffering and damage to emotional and physical health. Here are some signs you are being gaslit. Here are some strategies. And here are some resources: Mental Health America | National Domestic Violence Hotline | 800-799-SAFE (the website also has a live chat option)


Vectors of Gaslighting, Political:

Unfortunately there is no shortage of political gaslighting examples (and in some respect all the examples below–even the professional and personal ones–are already political). But here’s a classic from 2017–perhaps the earnest start of a new Era of Alternative Facts as a new Era of Political Gaslighting in the US.


Vectors of Gaslighting, Professional:


Vectors of Gaslighting, Inter-Personal: