We are currently living in a world of “alternate facts.”  Can someone please define this for me?  What is an alternate fact?  Isn’t that called an opinion or a perception?  I want to make something very clear in this blog.  I want to make sure that you are able to define the difference between facts and beliefs and understand why some people try to convince you that their belief is a fact despite there being no evidence.  Our current world is full of so many examples.  Instead of compiling a list and then working through them, I am going to help you arm yourself with information that will allow you to put “alternate facts” into their rightful place; the garbage can.

I always like to start by defining terms.  So, let’s start with a trusted resource that I have been using since I started school.  What is a fact?  The Meriam-Webster Dictionary defines a fact as:

1: (a) Something that has actual existence

(b) An actual occurrence

2: A piece of information presented as having OBJECTIVE reality.

The operative word in the second definition is “objective.”  Objective reality is when subjective viewpoints are not interfering.  A fact is one that is not open to interpretation.  Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.  Metal is a conductor of electricity whereas rubber and plastic are insulators.  The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.  The author of this blog post is inherently very attractive.  Please confirm this by checking out my bio.  We accept these as facts because there is no potential interpretation. They are actual occurrences that are replicable and reliant.

A belief is based on what you have been told and what you personally hold as true.  A belief doesn’t need to be supported with factual evidence in order for it to exist and be powerful.  We hold beliefs close to our hearts.  Some people sacrifice their lives in order to preserve and promote a belief that they possess.  When you learn a belief as a young child, you integrate that belief into your life.  When someone presents you with an alternate belief, there can be a visceral experience of that alternate belief as being inherently wrong.  Even if that person provides you with factual evidence that supports their belief, you can easily and blindly state that their facts are incorrect.  Your adamance of them being wrong even flies in the face of you not even having any factual evidence that supports your own belief system.

I would love to believe that chocolate cake has zero calories and is great for rebuilding muscle.  No matter how much I want to believe this idea, there is no, and will be no, factual evidence that will ever support this wonderful notion.  The bottom line is, no matter how much I want to believe something, it will never become a fact just because I want it to be.  I want to believe that I’m not going grey.  No matter how many times I tell myself that I am not, the fact of the matter is, I am.  Beliefs do not need factual evidence to exist.  They just need a participant to buy into them despite a lack of evidence.

We can’t discuss the concepts of belief and factual evidence without entering the idea of gaslighting.  The problem with our current society is that people are participating in the behavior on a regular basis.  One of the hallmarks of gaslighting is the act of someone trying to convince you of something that has no basis for existence.  They are trying to get you to believe what they want you to believe, and when the facts don’t support their message; they lie, blame, project, deflect, and confuse you.  All of these behaviors are designed to make you question your version of reality.  The false information is repeated continuously, sources to support this falsehood are manufactured, and you are told that you have previously been misinformed until now.

What is the purpose of this behavior?  The purpose is to create a sense of dependence on the one who is gaslighting.  Ultimately it is to gain power and control over the relationship.  If I were to gaslight you, I want you to believe that what I am telling you is a fact.  I am attempting to rewrite your sense of reality and influence you to question what you once believed as true.  If that is successful, then I have the power and control to alter your perceptions and influence your belief structure, therefore manipulating your behavior.

The best way to counteract this practice is to educate yourself.  Learn about your resources and find out if they are supported by other resources.  Don’t just take someone’s word for it.  Here are a few suggestions of what to do if you are being subjected to gaslighting behavior and are being told that beliefs are being presented as factual information:

  1. Do your own research. When it comes to social media, do some fact-checking.  Google is a great way to begin the fact-checking process.  If you are finding resources that are supporting the new information that is being presented to you, then there may very well be a basis for what you are reading.  If you are being presented with information that has no basis, choose whether you want to engage, and how to do so.  Since social media is being inundated with unsubstantiated claims, it might also be best to limit your association with such websites.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the Duluth Power and Control Wheel. Theduluthmodel.org is a good resource that educates you on the multi-step process that someone who is attempting to gain control over you will begin to employ.  The tools of a someone who is gaslighting include; intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, minimizing, denying and blaming, using children as influence over your decisions, using male privilege, economic abuse, and coercion and threats.
  3. Psychology Today has published an article on gaslighting that I find to be incredibly informative (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-warning-signs-gaslighting). It lists the following 11 “Warning Signs.”
    • The telling of blatant lies.
    • Denying they ever said something despite you having proof.
    • The use of what is “near and dear” to you as ammunition against you.
    • The process of wearing you down over time. Slowly but surely stoking the embers of your self-doubt.
    • Not having their actions be congruent with their words.
    • To throw you off balance, positive reinforcement is used at times to confuse you.
    • They harbor the knowledge that confusion weakens others, and they exploit that angle.
    • They project their behavior onto you. They lie, and they accuse you of always lying.
    • They try to align others to their cause to work against you.
    • They tell you and/or others that you are crazy.
    • They attempt to convince you that everyone else is lying and can’t be trusted.
  4. Use well researched and concrete resources to create a stance. Try not to allow yourself to be distracted with “whataboutisms” and measure your choices about attempting to engage in discussions where “alternate facts” are being used.  Decide if you have or want to expend the mental and emotional energy in such a discussion.  Also, keep in mind that no matter when you present your stance or how well researched your stance is, it may never change the viewpoint of the other person.  Be willing to accept this potential outcome.
  5. Have a support system with whom you can reconnect with and who you trust. Use them for regaining a bearing on your belief structure.  In the midst of false information, it can create a sense of being lost in a storm.  Find a group that will help ground you, keep you focused, and strengthen your sense of self.
  6. Remember that your beliefs are your own. You are the only one with the power to change them.  This means that you can attempt to influence others into believing things, but they ultimately have the choice to follow that path or not.  That rule also applies to you and your relationships.  The power of your beliefs and your choice to alter them resides in your hands.
  7. If you find yourself in a relationship with someone who is exhibiting any of the previously aforementioned behaviors, and you are struggling to find yourself, please call The Center for Trauma, Stress, and Anxiety, LLC at (443) 567-7037 to speak with one of our therapists.