A woman, for the sake of my story, is in a marriage with a partner who does not respect her. He insults her regularly, belittles her efforts to improve herself or her situation, and minimizes her feelings.
In fact, when she tries to stand up for herself, things get even worse. The partner calls into question her memories of the event. He dismisses the way things made her feel, calling the emotions “ridiculous” or “stupid.” He convinces her she’s overreacting and that he was only trying to do what was best for her. When she brings something up, he completely rewrites the event, causing her to doubt what actually happened because she’s in a vulnerable state due to the constant abuse.
In a situation like this, the abused partner often feels powerless, confused, and unable to leave the situation. They are at a disadvantage because they’ve been influenced to doubt their own reality. This leaves them trapped deeper and deeper in the abusive scenario. They feel unable to escape because they’re really not sure what actually happened. Were they blowing things out of proportion? Are they, in fact, stupid, forgetful, and inept?
Abusive relationships follow a pattern. There’s a period of breaking the victim down, isolating them from their support systems, and making them dependent on the abuser. Then, the abused partner is maneuvered into the belief that she can’t get by on her own.
This master manipulation is how people become trapped in abusive relationships.
And, as I’m about to show, not all abusive relationships are one-on-one romantic relationships.
What is gaslighting?
Medical News Today defines gaslighting.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which a person or group causes someone to question their own sanity, memories, or perception of reality. People who experience gaslighting may feel confused, anxious, or as though they cannot trust themselves.
The term “gaslighting” comes from the 1944 classic film (and before that, the play), Gaslight. In the story, a husband tries to make his wife believe she is suffering from a mental illness. Starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, it’s well worth a watch.
Gaslighting is a form of narcissistic abuse. For a quick refresher on the definition of a narcissist and the techniques they use, go here.
Forbes offers the following signs you are being gaslit:
Signs to watch for include:
The “Twilight Zone” effect. Victims of gaslighting often report feeling like a situation is surreal—like it’s happening on a different plane from the rest of their life.
Language describing you or your behavior as crazy, irrational or overemotional. “When I asked women about their partners’ abusive tactics, they often described being called a ‘crazy bitch,’” Sweet writes in “The Sociology of Gaslighting” in American Sociological Review. “This phrase came up so frequently, I began to think of it as the literal discourse of gaslighting.”
Being told you’re exaggerating.
Feeling confused and powerless after leaving an interaction.
Isolation. Many gaslighters make efforts to isolate victims from friends, family and other support networks.
Tone policing. A gaslighter may criticize your tone of voice if you challenge them on something. This is a tactic used to flip the script and make you feel that you’re the one to blame, rather than your abuser.
A cycle of warm-cold behavior. To throw a victim off balance, a gaslighter may alternate between verbal abuse and praise, often even in the same conversation.
Again, let’s look to the experts. Medical News Today provides these examples of how gaslighting might take place:
Countering: This is when someone questions a person’s memory. They may say things such as, “Are you sure about that? You have a bad memory,” or “I think you are forgetting what really happened.”
Withholding: This involves someone pretending they do not understand the conversation, or refusing to listen, to make a person doubt themselves. For example, they might say, “Now you are just confusing me,” or “I do not know what you are talking about.”
Trivializing: This occurs when a person belittles or disregards how someone else feels. They may accuse them of being “too sensitive” or overreacting in response to valid and reasonable concerns.
Denial: Denial involves a person refusing to take responsibility for their actions. They may do this by pretending to forget what happened, saying they did not do it, or blaming their behavior on someone else.
Diverting: With this technique, a person changes the focus of a discussion by questioning the other person’s credibility. For example, they might say, “That is just nonsense you read on the internet. It is not real.”
Stereotyping: An article in the American Sociological Review says that a person may intentionally use negative stereotypes about someone’s gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, or age to gaslight them. For example, they may say that no one will believe a woman if she reports abuse.
Read More: Gaslighting: The American People Are Trapped in a Textbook Abusive Relationship