As an abused child, I couldn’t understand how my very large extended family reacted to me. I felt puzzled by them. They denied me food as they binged on junk food, saying I was too fat. They put me in situations where I could not succeed. Sports without the proper equipment, out of date ill-fitting clothing, and social events where I did not belong. That’s bullying by proxy.
If I spoke to anyone in my family from a place of personal self-esteem, they would not hear me. It’s not that they argued with me. It’s that I was invisible if I liked myself at that moment. The only way I could communicate with the people supposed to love me was if I didn’t love myself. That’s gaslighting.
They treated me in this manner as a defense. They had organized a horrific abuse against me. Today I believe they wanted to make certain no one, no where would listen to my story. My speaking out. They made sure no one considered me a believable person.
These are examples of gaslighting and bullying by proxy. On the Internet, it’s called cyberbullying by proxy. Gaslighting and bullying by proxy are an inevitable part of abuse/rape/sexual harassment.
You can see it clearly if you know what you are looking for. On the Internet. In the media. And in the workplace. This is a skilled and talented form of management and control.
Gaslighters maneuver people to believe a harmful idea about another or group of others. The bullying includes malicious lies. Manipulating them into situations where they cannot cope. And setting the victim up to respond to some outrageousness. This, then, makes the victim look bad to others. Thus, proving the gaslighters point.
An example I used with my clients was that of a woman out on a date. It’s a lovely restaurant. Beautiful tablecloth down to the floor, fine china, and crystal glasses. He violently kicks her under the table. She hollers loudly. You can now hear a pin drop. Everyone looks at her. He acts like an innocent party. He kicks her again. She reacts again. All the people in the restaurant think something is wrong with her. Management asks her to leave the restaurant.
You see this today in the round of women and men speaking out about their abuse/sexual harassment experiences. Powerful figures don’t want to lose their status and power, so they trash the victim. Then they often set up scenarios designed to cause their target to react seeming to prove their point.
It’s easy to view on the Internet. Troll “A” comments on a post inappropriately. Or tweets something hurtful even when it’s untrue. It’s a natural impulse to react, and the game is on.
The success of bullying by proxy depends on the personal qualities of people in the community. How willing they or you or I are to believe a lie about someone we don’t know. How willing we all are to believe lies about circumstances we did not witness. How much we like gossip and innuendo true or not.
According to Gordon Allport (The Nature of Prejudice,1949), prejudice is a pre-judgment. A pre-judgment is a decision to dislike, hate or disbelieve made ahead of time about a person or group of people. He was referring to race, religion, and class. His ideas are classic and used today in psychology and sociology.
I think his ideas also refer to truth tellers. For truth-tellers, the pre-judgment would be a decision made ahead of time to not believe people who speak out about their sexual abuse. It goes further. Smearing them as liars, politically motivated, and people in a class or grouping that is not believable. That’s the gaslighting.
The bullying by proxy and cyberbullying by proxy begins when anyone predisposed to believe the lies attacks the victim. Demands evidence. Tweets at them. Follows them. Crank phone calls them. And all the other nasties available in our society today.
Allport listed motives for people who do this. These are common human failing motives: envy, hate, and a feeling of being mistreated. This morphs into a sense of entitlement and fear of being found out.
Once the bullying hits the cybersphere, the motives are more convoluted. According to the newest psychology research, people who troll others like to harm others for fun.
So, we can call this behavior gaslighting, bullying by proxy, cyberbullying by proxy and Internet trolling. The motives for this are things like envy, feelings of entitlement, hate, fear of others and a desire to hurt others for fun.
This is what happens to people who speak out about their abuse. I’d say it takes real courage to speak out. It’s difficult and, even in today’s climate, very costly.
I wish I had a magic wand to wave over everyone and anyone who is being maligned by their community. It’s a painful, devastating experience. I remember it all too well.
I vote instead for personal growth. One way I took my power back was to use whatever people did as an opportunity to learn some new skill, ability or understanding. No matter what they did.
I wrote about that here. How to Handle Being Gaslighted or When People Say or Write Mean Words About You
I wish you the best of all possible overcomings.
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