Gaslighting. This term comes from the 1938 stage play Gas Light (and later, the 1940 movie, and later remakes), in which a husband tried to drive his wife crazy by dimming the gas-powered lights in their home. When his wife points out the change in light, he denies that the light changed at all.
It’s an excellent movie in and of itself. I was going to just link to it as a point of reference, but changed my mind because the movie is so good. If you have some time, watch it.
Gaslight: The Original 1940 Movie
Moving along, I know you are eager to see some actual examples of what this looks like to see how it fits into the framework of what you may be experiencing or have seen.
An Example of Gaslighting in a Relationship Looks Like This:
- “Why are you making things up?!”
- “You are so jealous!”
- “Are you sure? You tend to have a bad memory.”
- “It’s all in your head.”
Gaslighting makes the victim question their own feelings, instincts, sanity. Yes, sanity: it makes people think they are crazy. Because of this, it is a form of abuse, heavily favored by narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths.
This is the thing: when or if an abuser can get the victim to fundamentally doubt themselves, or once an abusive partner has broken down the victim’s ability to trust their own feelings, instincts and sanity, they’ve won on so many levels. They can manipulate the victim, obviously, the victim thinks the problem is with the victim (and apologizes to the abuser). The victim is also likely to stay in the relationship for a long time – it takes a tremendous amount of will power to leave the manipulations that are behind gaslighting and the people who gaslight.
This is where it’s helpful to understand that the people who gaslight are often from the narcissistic/sociopathatic/psychopathic spectrum.
There are a lot of different examples of gaslighting in relationships, because there are more than one type of gaslighting.
Gaslighting Techniques & Examples of Gaslighting in a Relationship:
Countering: this is the classic example, like what the husband did with the wife in the original “Gaslighting” – this is when the abuser makes the victim question what happened with statements like,
- “huh? that’s not how it happened!”
- “your memory is so crappy!”
- “it didn’t happen that way!”
Withholding: when the abusive partner pretends they don’t understand or just won’t listen. They say things like,
- “why do you keep saying things like this?!”
- “I don’t want to hear this again”
- “you are making stuff up!”
Diverting: the victim’s thoughts are questioned, or the abuser diverts the subject. It can go like this:
- “you are imagining things”
- “oh great, this is what you got from (friend/family member)”
Repetitive Questioning: the abusive partner makes the victim doubt what they think or feel. The key her is the insidious intent, and the repetitive nature of the questions, questions like:
- “are you sure?”
- “do you really think so?”
Trivializing: the victim is made to feel like their needs or feelings are out of whack. The partner says things like,
- “you are too sensitive!”
- “you are so jealous”
- “you are going to get all upset over something so small?”
Revealing Hidden Thoughts of Others: where the abuser will “reveal” what other people are “really” thinking about the victim. This is effective in making the victim doubt themselves and their fundamental sense of what reality is. Examples in this technique include things are said in a well-meaning way:
- “I know you really want to make people laugh, but I just want you to know that a lot of people feel like they have to listen to you and I can see them rolling their eyes at you behind your back…”
- “people have been saying ~ (insert hurtful lie)”
Many components within gaslighting are normal
There are many things in gaslighting that are normal – we try and change other people’s opinions all the time, right? We try and get what we want all the time, too. The difference between what is ‘normal’ and what is gaslighting lie partly in the effects.
Signs that You are Being Gaslit:
(taken from the National Domestic Violence Hotline)
- 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 apparently 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.
People who are prime fodder for being gaslit tend to be empathetic, compassionate people. People who feel things, and who care about others. When they feel something (intuitively) or see something blatantly in their face and are made through their interaction with their partner to start doubting themselves, their reality, and their sanity, they are being gaslit.
My Own Example
I was gaslit for years. I truly thought that I was bi-polar, and went so far as to take medication for bi-polar disorder.
While I have Complex PTSD, I am not bi-polar. I know that now without a doubt because the moment that I received the text message that proved that my husband was being unfaithful to me, a fog lifted off my brain. It was like a weighted blanket had been lifted – I could see everything so clearly for the first time in years.
I also experienced a powerful sense of relief, knowing that I had been correct all along, realizing that my intuition had been serving me well for years. My husband had simply gaslit me into thinking that I was crazy, that I was wrong. I was led into self-doubt at each and every turn.
I have not taken bi-polar medication since July (it has been 5 months) and have experienced nothing but clarity. It’s almost as if I have come home to myself.
Gaslighting is a real form of abuse. If you recognize any of these signs that I have talked about here, or if any of this resonates with you, REACH OUT.