Characterological evil of psychological manipulation | By Prof Tahir Khalily, Taj Nabi Khan


Characterological evil of psychological manipulation

SOME ‘characterological evils’ are immersed so deeply in the character of certain individuals that invisibly travel lifelong due to its hidden or subtle nature as ‘personality trait’.

The worst part of it is that it affects the life of others as it uses navel tactics to play upon the prey.

It couldn’t be easily detected either due to lack of profound understanding or failure to trace the pattern of it.

However, if we are not in a state of denial, this harsh reality has also recently surfaced in our society in a number of media reported cases. Thus this invisible yet harmful tribulation has been proved fatal in many cases.

In psychiatric enlightenment, this hidden characterological malady is known as ‘gaslighting’ — a form of psychological manipulation (mental game) to create a false narrative around the victim to blur the difference between right and wrong.

Thus the pattern of this ‘ill mental condition’ has become a recurring phenomenon in most abusive relationships.

The word gaslighting has actually certain agonistic characteristics of an individual — an established pattern embedded in a personality which usually remains hidden from the eyes of majority people.

This expression is used in many societies in a range of social, cultural and political perspectives.

However, in the context of human personality, there is less awareness in the general public and particularly in our society that it is also a form of emotional abuse which has been observed in abusive relationships.

Gaslighting is a tactic where one person attempts to gain more power over another person to make him or her prey which subsequently appears in many abusive relationships and toxic sexual encounters.

The expression of gaslighting originated from the title of a 1944 film where a young woman was driven to believe that she is mentally ill through the manipulative tactics of her partner.

In the film, for example, he strategically places items in her possession so that he can accuse her of stealing.

He sways her from her belief that the light goes dimming as he lowers the gas to the light which is clear from the title of the film.

His manipulation was so strong to question her mental health. This tactic involves psychological manipulation of another person to question his/her sense of reality.

This tactic has often been found in power laden intimate relationships with abusive manipulation of a person — for the purpose of questioning his or her identity around a sensual condition.

One of the studies on the subject (Wahl, 2020) has mentioned a narration that one person pursues another with the abuse of alcohol until she was unable to focus on her surroundings, at that time, he would go for an undesirable act — for which she would probably resist while being sober or in her senses.

However, when she becomes sober, on query, he blames her that she was responsible for this behaviour because she demanded it.

Actually, it is about controlling the victim and the gaslighter’s main goal is to reshape the identity of the victim and to dismiss the feelings and concerns of him/her.

The gaslighter usually minimizes the discussion and dominates the conversation to bring it to a swift end.

It also increases risks of health hazards and in case of perceived infidelity; gaslighter could be turned into toxic and fatal for the victim. If there are comorbid characteristics of narcissism, the problem can get worse.

Therefore, in worse situations, people need professional help, but evidence shows that the remedy of the problems contemplated with poor prognosis.

Similarly, for psychiatrists and psychologists, it is hard to treat as it is still considered a big challenge for mental health professionals.

However, currently, many therapeutic interventions claim their effectiveness to treat individuals with characterological problems or suffering from personality disorders.

Some are rhetorically propagating their efficacy by quoting few sensational case examples. Nevertheless, these changes in personality appear temporarily instead of long lasting and the relapse of such cases is noticeable.

However, such personality traits are hard to handle with traditional or conventional strategies.

This cannot be treated with customary approaches based on some behavioural modification or identifying triggering thoughts.

On the other hand, persona needs persistently far-reaching transformation in a conducive setting.

Contrary to the traditional strategies, historical evidence suggests that religious transformation has been found to be an effective approach in the amelioration of characterological problems.

Besides many renowned evidence-based cases in Muslims society, it was also observed in day-to-day experiences that those who were suffering from severe characterological problems have been improved due to religious transformation.

It has also been noticed that many individuals who were suffering from serious character issues, found totally changed, and now became productive individuals of the society as a result of religious transformation.

In fact, for bringing social regulation in society, it was essential to have an external robust regulatory system (such as law of the land) which could bring or maintain equilibrium in the society.

However, it is not possible all the time to provide per capita police to watch people with their day-to-day affairs.

The only system which can work 24/7 is to make social regulation sustainable.

Thus the internalized values system grounded in family norms, religious principles and educational systems could bring about a profound transformation — more effective than any other monitoring system or therapeutic regimen based on superficial changes.

—Prof Dr Muhammad Tahir Khalily is Professor of Clinical Psychology and Dean Faculty of social sciences, Shifa Tameer-E-Millat, University Islamabad)/Taj Nabi Khan is Islamabad-based journalist.


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