“Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others.” — Paramahansa Yogananda
You’re crazy – that never happened.”
“Are you sure? You tend to have a bad memory.”
“It’s all in your head.”
“If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes accepted as the truth.” ―
Do you often start questioning what’s true – or even your own sanity – within your relationship? If so, your partner may be using what mental health professionals call “gaslighting.”
How to Recognize a GasLighter
If this applies to you then get out now, run and run fast. I recommend a book called “the Sociopath Next Door” by Martha Stout, Ph.D.
GasLighting is relatively new term, when it was happening to me my friends told me it was verbal abuse but my husband was so adept at gaslighting that I began to wonder and believe that I was the crazy one. If I could summarize my marriage I would liken it to the movie “Sleeping with the Enemy” only we weren’t rich, but I still had to arrange the towels and pillows and just about everything else in the house the proper way lined up perfectly.
Gaslighting is now recognized as psychological abuse whereby a perpetrator manipulates a victim into doubting his or her own sanity or reality. A Gaslighter literally makes you believe you are going insane you begin doubting yourself and feeling confused a lot of the time.
Gaslighting can take many forms but it is a twisting of reality that turns a person into a true victim. It’s about second guessing yourself or getting so far from reality that you don’t guess it at all, you just accept someone else’s interpretation of reality. It’s an experience that happens to many who are involved with very dysfunctional or personality disordered people. The perpetrators are most likely sociopaths or narcissists. If this applies to you I recommend a book called “the Sociopath Next Door” by Martha Stout, Ph.D.
This term comes from the 1938 stage play Gas Light, in which a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy by dimming the lights (which were powered by gas) in their home, and then he denies that the light changed when his wife points it out. It is a very effective form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity, which gives the abusive partner a lot of power (and we know that abuse is about power and control). Once an abusive partner has broken down the victim’s ability to trust their own perceptions, the victim is more likely to stay in the abusive relationship.
There are several different gaslighting techniques that an abusive partner might use such as:
Withholding: the abusive partner pretends not to understand or refuses to listen. Ex. “I don’t want to hear this again,” or “You’re trying to confuse me.”
Countering: the abusive partner questions the victim’s memory of events, even when the victim remembers them accurately. Ex. “You’re wrong, you never remember things correctly.”
Blocking/Diverting: the abusive partner changes the subject and/or questions the victim’s thoughts. Ex. “Is that another crazy idea you got from [friend/family member]?” or “You’re imagining things.”
Trivializing: the abusive partner makes the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant. Ex. “You’re going to get angry over a little thing like that?” or “You’re too sensitive.”
Forgetting/Denial: the abusive partner pretends to have forgotten what occurred or denies things like promises made to the victim. Ex. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” or “You’re just making stuff up.”
Gaslighting typically happens very gradually in a relationship; in fact, the abusive partner’s actions may seem harmless at first. Over time, however, these abusive patterns continue and a victim can become confused, anxious, isolated, and depressed, and they can lose all sense of what is happening. Then they start relying on the abusive partner more and more to define reality, which creates a very difficult situation to escape.
To overcome this type of abuse, it’s important to start recognizing the signs and eventually learn to trust yourself again.
According to author and psychoanalyst Robin Stern, Ph.D., the signs of being a victim of gaslighting include:
- You constantly second-guess yourself.
- You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” multiple times a day.
- You often feel confused and even crazy.
- You’re always apologizing to your partner.
- You can’t understand why, with so many good things in your life, you aren’t happier.
- You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.
- You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
- You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
- You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.
- You have trouble making simple decisions.
- You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
- You feel hopeless and joyless.
- You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
- You wonder if you are a “good enough” partner.
Gaslighting is a form of persistent manipulation and brainwashing that causes the victim to doubt her or himself, and to ultimately lose their own sense of perception, identity, and self-worth. Gaslighting statements and accusations are usually based on blatant lies or exaggeration of the truth. The term is derived from the 1944 film Gaslight, in which a husband tries to convince his wife that she’s insane by causing her to question herself and her reality.
In its milder forms, gaslighting creates a subtle but inequitable power dynamic in a relationship, with the gaslightee subjected to the gaslighters unreasonable, rather than fact-based, scrutiny, judgment, or micro-aggression. At its worst, pathological gaslighting constitutes a severe form of mind-control and psychological abuse. Gaslighting can occur in personal relationships, with verbal, emotional, and/or physical hostility from one partner to the other; at the workplace, when a supervisor regularly and unfairly berates employees; or across an entire nation, as when commercial advertising or public figures make pronouncements that are clearly contrary to the public good.
- You Are Constantly Reminded of Your Flaws
One of the clearest signs of gaslighting occurs when, in a personal relationship or at the workplace, you’re regularly subjected to reminders of your shortcomings, weaknesses, or undesirability. You feel like there’s always something wrong with you and what you do, and that you’re never good enough.
Many gaslighting charges are generalized disparaging remarks and negative stereotypes. The gaslighter makes these accusations not to discuss issues or solve problems, but to put the victim on the defensive. By attacking you on a personal level, and causing you to feel vulnerable, the gaslighter creates a power disparity in the relationship from which you can then be exploited to his or her advantage.
- You Feel Like You’re Walking on Egg Shells
“These picture frames in the living room are crooked. I TOLD YOU to check when you clean the house. Come on! Don’t be stupid!” ― Anonymous husband
Another sign of gaslighting is when you feel like you can’t freely express yourself in front of the gaslighter. Anything you say or do is not right. In his or her presence, you feel nervous and tense, never knowing when he will begin to pick on you, target your flaws, or launch another accusation. You may experience symptoms of elevated stress, anxiety, depression or trauma. You may begin to develop obsessive-compulsive symptoms — the need to monitor and correct yourself repeatedly — for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing and being ridiculed by the gaslighter. You might even feel like you’re going out of your mind. Significantly, you feel more confident, happier, and freer when you’re away from the gaslighters coercive influence.
- The Gaslighter Rarely Admits Flaws and Is Highly Aggressive When Criticized
The dynamic of a gaslighting relationship is one in which the gaslighter is frequently on the attack, and the gaslightee is constantly on the defensive. The gaslighter rarely, if ever, talks about his or her own flaws and shortcomings. If criticized even moderately, the pathological gaslighter will quickly use blame, excuse-making, and/or victimhood to cover up his own inadequacies, while creating misdirection by launching a new round of accusations and false claims.
Through this tactic, the gaslighter can take the focus off himself, avoid serious scrutiny, and get away with his own trespasses and inadequacies.
- You Make Self-Disparaging Remarks
Since the pathological gaslighters aim is to distort your perception and your identity, after a time of persistent ridicule, you may begin to question yourself and wonder if some of the gaslighters negative comments and accusations about you are true. You might begin to think and feel negatively about yourself, make self-depreciating remarks, and reject your own qualities, values, and background.
One of the most common types of self-disparaging remarks is saying “I’m sorry,” even when you’re clearly on the receiving end of mistreatment. It is a classic example of being gaslit.
- Despite Poor Treatment, You Look to the Gaslighter for Acceptance, Approval, and Validation
Some gaslighters manipulate the gaslightee with frequent negative hostility, combined with occasional positive bribery. The gaslightee, wishing to avoid tension and hoping for better treatment, may become ever more compliant. In this way, a codependent relationship is formed. The Oxford dictionary defines codependency as “excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner.” In a gaslighting relationship, the gaslighter has the power to grant acceptance, approval, respect, safety, and security. He or she also has the power (and often threatens to) take those things away. With this tactic, the gaslighter retains power, privilege, and entitlement.
- You Hide and Excuse the Gaslighters Coercion
In a typical example of the psychology of the abused, some victims feel ashamed about being overwhelmed or powerless in the presence of the gaslighter. They either cover up the psychological abuse by putting on a brave face, or go into denial and pretend that everything’s OK. When concerned family or friends inquire, the gaslightee may come up with a multitude of excuses—saying, for example, “It’s not that bad,” “He’s going through a lot of stress lately,” “It’s my fault, I made her angry,” “He doesn’t really mean it,” “I can help her, it will get better,” “I’m too sensitive,” or “At least I have what I have.”
- You Feel Stuck and/or Alone
For all of the reasons described above, victims of gaslighting often feel stuck and/or alone. Some gaslightees isolate themselves under the duress of the gaslighter, while others, even those with social contacts, may feel apprehensive about fully revealing their hardship, or pessimistic that things will change for the better. Many victims of gaslighting swallow silent tears within — knowing, deep down, that they deserve better.
- Lie and Exaggerate. The gaslighter creates a negative narrative about the gaslightee (“There’s something wrong and inadequate about you”), thereby putting the gaslightee on the defensive.
- Repetition.Like psychological warfare, the falsehoods are repeated constantly to stay on the offensive, control the conversation, and dominate the relationship.
- Escalate When Challenged.When called on their lies, the gaslighter escalates the dispute by doubling and tripling down on their attacks, refuting substantive evidence with denial, blame, and more false claims (misdirection), sowing doubt and confusion.
- Wear Out the Victim.By staying on the offensive, the gaslighter eventually wears down their victim, who becomes discouraged, resigned, pessimistic, fearful, debilitated, and self-doubting. The victim begins to question her or his own perception, identity, and reality.
- Form Codependent Relationships.The Oxford Dictionary defines codependency as “excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner.” In a gaslighting relationship, the gaslighter elicits constant insecurity and anxiety in the gaslightee, thereby pulling the gaslightee by the strings. The gaslighter has the power to grant acceptance, approval, respect, safety, and security. The gaslighter also has the power (and often threatens to) take them away. A codependent relationship is formed based on fear, vulnerability, and marginalization.
- Give False Hope.As a manipulative tactic, the gaslighter will occasionally treat the victim with mildness, moderation, and even superficial kindness or remorse, to give the gaslightee false hope. In these circumstances, the victim might think: “Maybe he’s not THAT bad,” “Maybe things are going to get better,” or “Let’s give it a chance.” Beware! The temporary mildness is often a calculated maneuver intended to instill complacency and have the victim’s guard down before the next act of gaslighting begins. With this tactic, the gaslighter also further reinforces a codependent relationship.
- Dominate and Control.At its extreme, the ultimate objective of a pathological gaslighter is to control, dominate, and take advantage of another individual, or a group, or even an entire society. By maintaining and intensifying an incessant stream of lies and coercions, the gaslighter keeps the gaslightee in a constant state of insecurity, doubt, and fear. The gaslighter can then exploit their victims at will, for the augmentation of their power and personal gain.
For more information on GasLighting you may want to check out the Dating Do’s and Don’ts EBook and Video which can be found and downloaded on the www.HelloBeautifulLadies.com website.