Updated: Jun 22, 2021
Am I really crazy?
Did that really happen and I just don’t remember it?
I could have sworn I saw/said/did ______ but I guess I was wrong.
Have you been accused of being too sensitive? Forgetful? Hysterical?
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
If yes, you have been the victim of gaslighting.
Before I go any further, we ALL have the capacity to gaslight. What makes it destructive and becomes emotional abuse is a consistent pattern for the purpose of bringing confusion to you and deflecting blame or responsibility away from the gaslighter.
Bob Hamp has said that at the core of abuse is the redirecting of responsibility.
Typically, one who is being gaslit consistently by a significant other, is the one who is most invested in the relationship and is, not only willing to take responsibility, but also is working diligently to fix the relationship. Seemingly, at all costs. Mostly to themselves.
So what exactly is gaslighting and how can I know if I’m involved in a relationship where it’s a consistent pattern?
Deborah Vinall, PsyD, LMFT, in her recovery book, ‘Gaslighting, a Step by Step Recovery Guide’, defines it as follows:
“Gaslighters follow standard patterns of psychological control. They deny what you have clearly observed, make unfounded accusations, and punish you for supposed infractions. They control the narrative about your sanity to those around you.”
“…by nature, gaslighting causes you to doubt yourself and your intuition.”
She also gives an assessment tool to help you know if you are being gaslit. A few of her questions are:
Do you often question yourself, wondering whether your memory is accurate?
Do you feel you can’t trust your emotions?
Do you feel most or all conflicts are your fault?
Does talking to that certain someone leave you feeling “a little crazy”?
Do they never seem to admit fault?
Gaslighting can literally be crazy-making. The one who gaslights does it so often, is so skilled at it and is so convincing, it’s really hard to know what is true anymore. Again, it’s the pattern and the consistency that makes it abusive.
Before we go further, I want to let you know about two movies that give you a very good idea of what gaslighting looks like within a relationship.
The first one is called, Gaslight. It’s the 1944 movie that gave us this term. This movie outlines a VERY severe case of gaslighting. This husband is deliberately turning down the gaslights, and when his wife asks him if it’s happening, he denies it. She begins to question her reality. His goal is to make her crazy. He ultimately knows that she is worth a lot of money and he wants it for himself.
While situations like this can and do occur, I don’t think that most are this blatant.
A more current example would be from the movie, Surprise Me. For me and some of my clients, this movie has ben very triggering. It shows a man who is very persuasive about dating a beautiful woman. In the beginning, all is well. He’s charming and sweet and caring. And then things change. He’s very smooth with his words and his actions and she becomes extremely insecure, feeling unsure of herself. And then it all comes to a head...this is the point where she actually sees what has been going on.
With both of these movies, the underlying desire is control, as is the case with any gaslighting or emotional abuse. The one who gaslights can’t stand to not be in control of those around them, so they manipulate in order to get and maintain control.
What do you do if this is happening in your life?
Recognizing this truth is half the battle.
Beyond that, setting boundaries that will keep you safe if you choose to stay in the relationship, or if you have to for a time.
Understand that this is a cyclical pattern. It may not be a daily occurrence, which again, makes it very insidious and confusing.
Implement some self care in order to rejuvenate and refresh yourself.
And most of all, KNOW that the abuse was not your fault. You did nothing to perpetuate it. The responsibility lies with the abuser, no matter what they may try to tell you.
However, if you are able to get away, that is best. I will tell you that very often people who control and manipulate don’t change. There are times you may not be ready to leave the relationship. Not yet, anyway. That is okay and there’s no judgment here. You know what you can handle and only you know when the time is right for you to go, or if you will ever leave. I would suggest that you have a support system that you can process through things with who can help you know when it’s time to go, or continue to support you if you need to stay.
I will also tell you that gaslighting can happen in any relationship. Here I am referring to an intimate relationship, but it can happen in friendships, parent/child relationships, and employer/employee relationships. Again, it’s about consistency and pattern of behavior.
Gaslighting is an insidious form of emotional abuse that is destructive to intimate relationships. More often than not, the abuser does not change. Change requires self reflection and examination, things abusers don’t like to do for themselves, but are quick to do in others.
My prayer and desire is that you will seek help for yourself if this describes your situation. A qualified coach or counselor can walk with you towards healing, as well as a support group, as you gain strength to make the best decision for yourself.
How have you been able to determine the places you are being gaslit? What has been the biggest lie you have needed to overcome as a result?