Ambient Abuse: Gaslight Effect and the Diabolical Personality

This is so so so important!


*This week has been a marathon of activity in which I have accomplished much but produced little in terms of writing. Continuing ed., a precarious work schedule, and Spring Break for two of my kids have made the challenges of deadlines even more difficult to meet. My intention was to post a piece regarding Borderline Personality Disorder by week’s end. Unfortunately, that post must wait until Monday for completion. (Don’t ask… it’s complicated.) However, as a precursor to my up-coming post on BDP, I have decided to re-post a short and to-the-point piece that I wrote over a year ago regarding a manipulative tactic used by emotional abusers referred to as “The Gaslight Effect.” My hope is that the reader will gain not only knowledge of this diabolical technique but also gain effective tools of response to combat pervasive psychological warfare perpetrated by those who wish to control them and do them…

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almost remembering

Inspired by “Gravity” by Danny Pool


Fading to a shadow, husk of the man I used to be

the swirling blackness inside me came to agree,


your words are the cold gust I flutter in,

struggling towards you, like a banner for sin –


torn by promises and pleas… Not enough, not free.

Forgotten by love, I’m oarless floating on the sea.


A shadow dissolves into the darkest night

if it forgets that there was warmth and light…


I’d breathe but the leaden black on my chest,

adds the weight of your memory to my breast.


Midnight’s coming, and I know I’m flawed.

Storm’s coming and I’m the lightning rod


Spiderweb of Understanding, a Puny Guide to Writing Emotions

So you made up a character you are fond of? Well done!

Let your character come to life. You know the drill: a face, a body, a CV, a past, jobs, families, friends, past lovers, nick names (cool and nasty ones), pets, favorite drinks, tattoos, scars, allergies and whatnot. The being of the character forms gradually in front of your mind’s eye. Mannerisms give a vivid stroke. Borrow them from people you know, if you must.

Almost there! Your character is fleshed out, but still a bit flat. Facts and habits do not add up to a realistic figure. The whole is more than the sum of the parts. The magic potion to add depths, is labeled – no, not unicorn tears – the character’s emotions.

Make the character damaged goods. Give them anxiety, traumas, awkwardness, short fuses, disgust with themselves/the world, or melancholy. Give them contradicting feelings. It’s even better, if you give them your contradicting feelings. Why? If it’s your heart throbbing with your past’s poison and hurt, your writing voice becomes raw, natural and authentic.

This is the delicate spiderweb of understanding between the reader and your character (and you as a writer).  That’s when the bonding begins. This fundamental comprehension of interactive emotional responses is the key to a caring reader.

e·mo·tion (ĭ-mō’shən), noun

  1. any strong agitation of thefeelings actuated byexperiencing love,hate, fear,etc., and usually accompanied bycertain physiological changes, asincreased heartbeat orrespiration, and oftenovert manifestation, as crying orshaking.
  2. in Science and Medicine: Apsychological/mental state thatarises spontaneously rather thanthrough conscious effort and issometimes accompanied byphysiological changes; a feeling
  3. Word Origin and History: 1570s, “a (social) moving, stirring, agitation,” from MiddleFrench émotion(16c.), from Old French emouvoir “stir up” (12c.), from Latinemovere“move out, remove, agitate,” from ex- “out” + movere “to move”. Sense of “strongfeeling” is first recorded 1650s; extended to any feeling by 1808.

Thanks Thesaurus, that’s kind of helpful. You noticed? The semantic use of the words emotion and feeling? Are they the same thing? Are they interchangeable? Not exactly.

The Difference: Emotion, Feeling

Antonio D’Amasio, professor of neuroscience at The University of California and author of several books on the subject, explains it as: “Feelings are mental experiences of body states, which arise as the brain interprets emotions, themselves physical states arising from the body’s responses to external stimuli. (The order of such events is: I am threatened, experience fear, and feel horror.)” – (from Thebestbrainpossible, they have lots of interesting stuff.)

The Lowest Common Denominator

If we talk about emotions, we have to talk about the twelve core emotions common in, and understood by, all humans. It’s our inbuilt basic software for recognizing, expressing emotions, our fundamental tool for communication (and deception).

Interest, Joy, Surprise, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, Contempt, Self-Hostility, Fear, Shame, Shyness, andGuilt.  Isn’t that a good starting point? Twelve emotions everybody has and equally understands.

So, how do we perceive these emotions?

We observe. For those who observe for breakfast, try cold reading.

The facial play, the body language, the tension in the voice tells us far more than the actual spoken information. And that’s the way to write it.

These three components (face, body, voice) give you a whole array of descriptive information to  paint a suitable picture. You might feel tempted to carefully describe everything, or hinting too much. DON’T! Pick one or two – at most three – leading indicators, from different modalities, and let the reader work out the rest.

Why the bother?

Why is it important to have, and to understand emotions? Events occur. We perceive them. We process them. They have meaning to us, depending on our temperament, mood, personality, and motivation. Eventually we react, or act: emotionally, physically and intellectually. Molded out of our brain, our characters do the same.

Show, don’t tell. A practical guide:

  • Don’t use emotion words.

We usually call a spade a spade. That’s good in efficient conversations in business, at work, but it’s painful in a short story. Actually in any story/poem/song whatsoever. You lose your emotional momentum and impact on the reader. Is your character angry, happy or sad?

  • Example: ““He fell all by himself. Clumsy, like a child.” The other man on his right and the policeman, I gave my forms to, laughed. The smell of ethanol and urine hit me. It was a roaring filthy laugh, a laugh you laugh at a salt covered foaming snail, or at a cringing burning spider. The man on his left pulled a lighter out of his pocket. Benny whined and jerked back as far as he could. I had to swallow hard, clench my teeth, so no reaction escaped me. ” – from “The Lion Roars“, part 2, by Ramona Darabant
  • Aaaand Action!

To show how a character feels, use his/her actions. It’s maybe the easiest way. Orient yourselves on what you do, when you are angry, in love, sad, or scared. Observe others coping with their emotions. If the character is angry, show tight lips, pale face and hands balled to fists. You can try sudden forceful (unbalanced) movements too, or heavy breathing.

  • E: “From somewhere outside, they dragged Benny in, hands cuffed behind his back. He stumbled forward, face pale and bright, eyes wide, shining with terror and relief. He was scared to death. From the stains on his clothes, I could tell he had wet his pants. This was, what a man on death row looks like. Nausea greeted me. God! I had to push that thought out of my head fast.” – from “The lion roars ” part 2, by Ramona Darabant
  • Perception in Writing Emotions

Usually everyone tries to simplify complex information. We filter the unusual, the not fitting information out to create meaning. Emotions, feelings change the way we see the world, the same way. They put filters between the world and our eyes, they change the lighting and the sound. Suddenly we notice details, we never had before. Or we do not notice what’s important…

  • E:”Thick grey clouds rush down the western slope of the mountain. They soften the lights and the sounds. The wind turns the air in the tea house cold and damp. Bolin worries about the pain the coming season will bring for his father, and closes the screen door. The crickets chirp into the clacking of the whispering bamboos, but they grow tired rapidly and stop. The governor sits by the fire, lighting his pipe, listening to the hints coming from the garden. Bolin prepares the cups and the tea, pours the hot water. He hands one cup to his father, but doesn’t seem to notice the growing silence.” – from “Tiger, burning…“, part 2, by Ramona Darabant
  • Setting

Easily applicable to show the mental and psychological state of your character. It mirrors the feelings, the general mood. Prepare the stage for the plot.

  • E: “I stared out of the living room window. Snowing. I didn’t bother to switch the lights on. No need for electric light chasing away the shadows in the room. It couldn’t chase away the shadows that mattered most. The grey wooly darkness of the late winter afternoon bloomed forth into the room. My old tattered shelves went up to the ceiling. The spines of the books crowded the space on the planks. They sucked up the rest of the light seeping in.” – from “The Stain“, part 1, by Ramona Darabant
  • Dialogue

Speech patterns, pacing and the choice of words change with the emotions the character is experiencing. If the character is angry, the words are strong, mostly correct and sharp, the pacing fast, the sentences short and crisp. Words behave like bullets, hitting the target. Try to match the racing heart with the racing exchange of verbal slaps. Or let a seemingly careless slowness wind up the danger

  • E: ““Your boss says, you are a capable man. A bit soft, but capable nevertheless. We’ll see about that.” He looks at his manicured nails with interest. He nodded a tiny bit, and the men shoved Benny into my back. I felt him bump into me, grab for my jacket and going down unto his knees. The man chuckled and waved a hand. “So collect your garbage and go.”” – from “The Lion Roars“, part 2, by Ramona Darabant.
  • Now overdo it!

Humans feel. They go over the top. They are fascinating and illogical creatures. In highly emotional situations, positive and negative feelings simply override the intrinsic logic of a character. Be aware, that this also means that the character has a low ability to think things through. Make them kiss harder, break down sobbing, kick, scream, throw and break stuff, knock out some teeth.

  • PRACTICE! Practice, practice. Go do it now. Go, gogogogo.

The Lunatic And The Moon

I submerge in the silvery flood
of the dark whisper in my blood
past’s poison floats to the surface
full in shape, the moon rises too
midst the sclera of midnight blue –
“Observing, my dear! Observing
your fate and redemption…”
All those tiny human things
I wished to lose, not to suffer,
not to hunger, nor to feel pain.
I´d give you my love, my hate,
my body, my pain, my thoughts,
my everything, just to be free.
-Free from my humanity.
She quietly observes, maybe pondering.
The enormous eye rests on a rooftop,
blinks eventually. Once… Twice…
“As you wish, my love.”
Night’s cold I don’t feel anymore
Power surges through my bones
Rises like water over volcanic stones.
Wounds on my skin all healed,
my soul’s grim just a bad dream.
Only hunger keeps me company.
I lick my muzzle starvingly,
scratch my ear, with a paw-
But my scream’s just a howl… 



I’m not superstitious.

It is only the lack of proper information, or some crap to influence other’s decisions. 

Got the lighter ready in my hand, spitting sparks. It starts to snow with big fluffy feather like flakes. My cig is the only hot thing on me now.

Ira wastes my time, again. He’s late. Stressed X-mas shoppers bump into my shoulders, trample on my feet. Not one of them mutters a ‘sorry’. Ugh, so many nauseating songs filter through the shop entrances. It’s my third time round his block, and my toes are ice cubes. I need a hot coffee.

He’s supposed to show up forty minutes ago. The entrance to his  apartment building is a desperate kind of shabby. Not at all what you’d expect from an actor on the fast lane. He isn’t answering the bell. He isn’t answering his phone either.

It’s not that he wants to be picked up, or something… I walk him down to the theater, cause he gets mugged. The first couple of times he goes on his own, he gets beat up and robbed. Not good showing up with a bloody nose and a black eye, when being the lead.

Theater folk is superstitious. He’s jinx. That’s what everybody says. I say, he sticks out like a blinking neon sign for disaster. But nobody gives a damn about what a janitor says. So they pay me instead. I get him safely to the rehearsals. Easy bucks, really.

Finally! His brown jacket and red cap would fit any hobo around.

Ira says he’s cursed.

Bullshit! His grave look stops me from laughing my head off. His nervous hands run around his chin and breast to hide in his pockets.

So I ask him, I ask about his bad luck, ready to burst in disbelief. He says, it’s his old man’s fault.

One day, him being a toddler, he wanders off and disappears into the woods. They can’t find him, for three days. They are about to give up, when a huge white crow appears. His granddad shoots that bird. It falls to the ground. They go look for it, and that’s where they find him. Unconscious. Hurt.

He shows me. He pulls down his zipper, tugs his long orange scarf away. His T-shirt slides down, revealing his pale chest.  A small circular snow-white scar flashes on his breastbone. Grievous look settles in his otherwise young face.

I almost fell for that. An actor, I remind myself. He’s pulling my leg. White crow, my ass!

His granddad taints his destiny that day. He says to no one in particular. He can’t fly away from trouble anymore. Ira believes it. He really believes it! I can only pity him for such nonsense. He’s disappointed, I don’t swallow his bogus story.

I offer him a cig instead.

The tortured howl of an engine and shrieking tires roar right behind us.

Greater Good Protocol (2)

Part 1 – “SAFE ATMOSPHERE” – here

Part 2: published here


It’s no fun,  being tied up and dragged behind a vehicle at breakneck speed.

In case you’re wondering, and want to try it yourself – DON’T! Contain your beer-fueled impulses, folks! Don’t kid yourselves, I only make this look easy and enjoyable!

Continue reading “Greater Good Protocol (2)”