Secondly, as time goes on, people within the spheres of influence of a person exhibiting SBCMB start to become increasingly confused about their involvement with the person or with the person’s plans and projects and groups. The person’s behaviour is, in other words, “crazy-making”. People in their sphere of influence start to experience cognitive dissonance: doubting themselves, doubting their own ability to discern reality, and feeling strangely guilty and wrong for ever criticising the person exhibiting SBCMB or questioning the culture of the group that surrounds the person.
For some, especially those who are themselves already emotionally vulnerable, or who are dependent children, or who have a high level of commitment to the person, or who have a long duration of involvement with the person, there can be increasingly serious spirals of emotional turmoil, guilt and self-doubt, sometimes involving clinical anxiety and depression. For some, these effects can end up being quite severe and in need of professional psychological help (note: if this describes you, you might want to check out the Blue Knot Foundation). This is the effect of the kind of behaviour that is often called “gaslighting”. In this case, the gaslighting behaviour may not be strictly intentional. That is, it is difficult to work out whether a person exhibiting SBCMB actually understands the effect they are having on others. Nevertheless, the effect is real and serious for a significant number in the person’s sphere of influence. Thus it ends up being similar to the effect of malicious/intentional gaslighting, whatever the label we give to it.
It is important to realise that not everybody in the person’s sphere of influence experiences such high levels of confusion and self-doubt. Some (perhaps many) people in their sphere of influence, especially those who value the person’s effectiveness and gifts or who have been specially helped by them, and who perhaps aren’t so emotionally vulnerable themselves, might continue to see the person’s inconsistencies simply as minor foibles. These people can end up being fiercely loyal supporters of the person, defending them even more vigorously as various criticisms begin to pile up over time. On the other hand, there may be others who end up realising there are significant issues with the person, and feel they need to call the person to account. Because such criticism will normally draw an extreme reaction from a person exhibiting SBCMB, this can end up being very complicated and time-consuming for all involved (we’ll explore more about why this is the case below).
This long-term confusion, self-doubt and emotional turmoil among a significant group of people in a close relationship with a person exhibiting SBCMB seems to be a consistent pattern, and is a general sign to watch out for. Note that if the person is a leader or an influential figure in a Christian ministry context, the person can project their slow-burn crazy-making behaviour onto their ministry, so that the whole organisation / church / ministry itself can start to exhibit the same kind behaviours corporately, and affect people in a similar way.
Read the next section: People in the person’s sphere of influence identifying their experiences as “abuse”
Copyright © 2021 Lionel and Bronwyn Windsor
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To read the whole paper: Slow-burn crazy-making behaviours
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