What is Gaslighting?
The Extremes of Emotional Abuse By Jeanne Sparks-Carreker
There is a type of pain a woman experiences when, after years of faithful marriage, she begins to witness changes in her husband that, when confronted, are then said to be the creation of the wife’s imagination, a plot to hide her own actions, or the perception of a woman in need of psychiatric help. To describe the pain endured by victims of emotional abuse with written words is like trying to explain what a person experiences when facing the realization of certain, impending death. It seems quite impossible. There are rips, tears, stabs and agonizing pain within her heart. Sometimes she panics, believing she is losing her soul mate forever. Sometimes her husband may actually tell her that the suspicion, the digging around for answers, or the accusations involved in the panic are the actual things causing the couple to have distance in the first place.
If a man does this, he is using a manipulative, cruel technique known as Gaslighting. Emotional abusers who partake in the horrific methods of Gaslighting have an agenda of which society may presently be unaware.
The term “Gaslighting” was introduced to the public in an old movie entitled “The Gas Light” (1940) and its remake of the same title (1944). In these movies, a woman who receives a large inheritance is courted by and marries a man who has a secret agenda. He intends to drive her crazy in order to obtain the hefty estate she has. “Gaslighting” is so called due to the story unfolding with the husband routinely igniting the gas lamps in the loft of the house, which causes the other lamps in the house to dim. Upon question from the wife as to why the lamps were dimming, the good husband would tell her she was imagining things. In the movie, it is obvious the man knew he was driving his wife insane.
Sometimes, however, this is not the case where intention is concerned. Some emotional abusers do not realize they are Gaslighting.Whether he intentionally chooses to actually drive his wife crazy or not, the statements and lack of concern a husband displays over them even after they cause pain are forms of emotional abuse. They are normally used to cover up actions for which he does not want his spouse/girlfriend to discover. A husband or emotional abuser who is Gaslighting may have something like this to say:
**How could you believe I would ever have an affair with your best friend?!
**You must be preoccupied with an affair, yourself!
**You’re just being suspicious!
**When you accuse me of things that I pride myself with always upholding, it makes me not want to be around you!
**That’s what our distance and unhappiness is all about, right there! You are always thinking I’m having an affair!
**Your disbelief in me is what has come between us!
**If you could just believe in me, everything would be the way it was before.
In the above statements, it is undeniably clear that genuine love does not demand complete trust without inquiry, test, or proof. A healthy relationship produces spouses who are more than happy to comfort and prove the amount of love they hold for their partner until there is complete clarity on whatever subject for which the questioning party needs the explanation and reassurance. I would be much more concerned with the pain my husband was feeling at the time than I would be with any offensiveness it may cause me over him having doubted my faithfulness. I would try everything within reason to make the uncertainty go away, while most likely blaming myself for having been too busy for him the week prior to that. I would not be overwhelmed with anger over the possibility that he may doubt my faithfulness to him.
Doubt happens, especially in a world where there is evil, hate and insecurity. As well, we live in a country where many channels on the television are trying to attract consumers to their wide range of products to create a perfect appearance. Although wise people know that they do not need to look like Pamela Anderson Lee or The Rock in order to be desirable, our society is obsessed with “Being Beautiful.” When one adds to that the notion that affairs are tolerated and sometimes even encouraged (especially on the Internet at certain “we help you cover up your affair” sites) in our society, anyone, especially the one who adores and loves you, should understand why there is doubt at times.
When no sympathy or support for the hurt feelings are available, more times than not it is due to the Gaslighting abuser not wanting to empathize with their spouse/girlfriend because he would then have to take responsibility as having been the one who caused the hurt. Gaslighting methods offer no solution to the problems between couples because only genuine love can comfort and understand, an intimacy that is a must in a relationship.
So when can you be sure someone is Gaslighting, whether voluntarily or involuntarily? I believe the method we will be using here will help: by studying the reported actions and words of those who have tried Gaslighting techniques (for whatever reason), and then comparing those usually quite similar Gaslighting methods against solid, true proofs of intimacy in a healthy relationship. My sincere hope is that you will not need the invaluable information below to sort out emotional abuse in the form of Gaslighting techniques juxtapose to love within your own relationship. Unfortunately, however, many people do.
Before we bring to light the different implementations of Gaslighting, we must first address a lingering, sometimes constantly thought upon (but absolutely always feared) question being asked within the minds of victims: am I insane? You are not insane (that is a huge “not”). If you believe you may be a victim of emotional abuse, particularly the manipulative cruelty we now know as Gaslighting, please begin this paragraph once more before proceeding. When you are certain you can be open-minded and not believe another person’s cruel “you need help, you are insane” monstrosities that have been damaging your spirit, mind and ego, and ability to rationalize between logic and “true love,” please continue.
Gaslighting is more commonly facilitated in an attempt to hide any actions or truths a person does not want brought to light. More often than not, a person does not want their spouse to be driven insane simply because they want to cover up a fling with their secretary. Still, using manipulation and lies to hide truth is always damaging to a loved one because, though they know their spouses’ usual behavior, likes, and dislikes, though they know their spouse has changed in some manner where the love relationship toward them is concerned. They begin to question their very opinions and acquired wisdom through instinct that they had formerly collected about surviving in the world. They may even begin to reassess instinctual wisdom they had formerly relied upon throughout life, of which they need to leave alone and in which they need to continue to trust.
We all know that healthy relationships need two partners who are both willing to listen, understand, share what is inside them. They decide early on what is most important between them. Without true caring for the other person, one cannot relate to the other in honest sympathy or heart-felt sincerity. Gaslighting, however, would involve a denial of these things. When an abuser refuses to listen, appears to misunderstand what he is completely capable of understanding, or declines sharing his emotions, he is “withholding” a part of the essential intimate actions of the relationship. (When a partner really does not understand the other, then at least the intent to understand and compromise should be there, with perhaps a request for the partner to help them understand somehow.) But when Gaslighting is the main technique and “withholding” is the tool, the abuser feigns confusion or a lack of understanding. A victim may be met with defiant, even accusatory words like:
**I don’t know!
**How do you expect me to remember that when I cannot remember this morning! (This and variations of this are familiar phrases for Gaslighting abusers who are using drugs or alcohol.)
**I’m not listening to this confusing crap again tonight.
**You’re just trying to confuse me!
When Gaslighting, the abuser will emphatically call into question the memory, thoughts, and ideas of his victim, and even further use that at a later date as a new “countering” point to make:
Think about when you didn’t remember things correctly last time!
You thought the same thing the last time and you were wrong.
This is declared even though the victim did remember things correctly, and even despite the fact that he knows she did (except in cases of extreme self-denial in the Gaslighting abuser). Even if it seems the cruelty cannot become worse, the abuser has been effectively “countering” by throwing the victim off the feared subject matter at the time, getting her to instead mull over why in the world her husband would decide for her what her memory should have been instead, and then even declare another circumstance as a relapse of memory confusion.
This is where the real struggle within her starts: if she hasn’t already started questioning her own opinions and ideas about life before this method, she will at this point. When constantly told that her memory, experience, feeling and instinct is emphatically wrong, chances are, she will eventually start to believe him, if not only to keep peace within what seems like a relationship of love.
**You’re jumping to conclusions.
**You see everything in the most negative way!
**You’re always nagging me about something all the time.
**You’re making things up in your head or blowing things out of proportion.
**Your imagination is working overtime.
**You have an overactive imagination.
**You take everything wrong.
**You see everything wrong.
**You have never believed in me, then!
**You probably never believed in me when we took our vows!
You heard that through a closed door! You cannot hear things correctly through a closed door! You should have come right up in the middle of us if you thought we were saying that! (Though he knows that had she been there, the conversation would not have been the same.)
Normally, the victim is never entirely clear what the abuser’s intentions are. Since the abuser responds quickly with anger, the victim starts to believe she may have “taken it all wrong,” which is why she was quickly met with his anger, much like the role of a daughter and father (i.e. if he’s that angry, I must be wrong.) After all, isn’t believing that better for the victim than believing he intended to make you lie to yourself?
“Blocking” and “diverting” is a method of Gaslighting whereby communication is controlled and manipulated. The abuser refuses to comment or answer (because he has already stated “I’m not going through this again tonight“) and closes the discussion on things he “has already discussed.” Also, when withholding information, the Gaslighting abuser prevents all possibility of coming to a fair resolution, or in giving comforting knowledge to his spouse/girlfriend.
By “diverting,” the Gaslighting abuser changes the subject, and even accuses her of accusing him wrongly or in the wrong manner in which one is supposed to accuse. He may continue into the lie of how her absolute gaul in accusing him is actually the growing problem between them. Gaslighting in this manner effectively dodges any resolute answer, much less shows a healthy concern for her feelings. The abuser diverts her attempts to gain clarity or sympathy, and “diverts” her from the actual subject by getting her to forget the topic at hand using irrelevant declarations in order to side-track her:
**You’re just trying to have the last word.
**You think you know it all.
**You always have to be right.
**Where did you get a crazy/stupid/weird/dumb idea like that?
**No. Stop, before you say another word, let me say this…
**I shouldn’t have to repeat myself.
**I don’t see where this is going.
**That’s just crap.
A Gaslighting abuser often accuses his partner of having done something wrong (to justify his actions or to give misleading ideas as to why he treated her a certain way when she questioned him). Healthy partners do not want to see their spouse feeling bad or hurt, and instead desires to comfort or heal their pain.
Alternatively, the goal of abusive accusations is to blame the partner for her anger, irritation, or insecurity, thereby proving the anger/abuse she is enduring is justified because she is at fault or in the wrong for the way she accused or reacted to something he did.
**You’re just trying to pick a fight.
**You’re looking for trouble.
**You’re not the woman I thought I married.
**You’re attacking me.
**You can’t leave well enough alone.
**I’ve had it with your attacks/bitching/complaining.
“Trivializing” is confusing to her because, if she doesn’t recognize Gaslighting by “trivializing” for what it is, she believes she somehow hasn’t been able to explain to her mate just how important certain things are to her. “Trivializing” can be very subtle, so that the partner is left feeling depressed and frustrated but isn’t quite sure why.
**That isn’t important to us.
**You’re going to let something like that come between us?
Abusive “forgetting” is also a method of Gas Lighting. The abuser conveniently forgets anything pertaining to what the victim has needed closure on. We all forget things sometimes; but this is not genuine oblivion; it’s denial that an event (interactions, usually) happened at all. These forgotten events usually have had great impact on a partner. Victims of Gaslighting often try to discuss incidents with their abuser to help resolve issues sometimes only in the hopes of avoiding the same hurt, explosion, or confusion in the future, though he will still deny it ever happened, with an accusatory comment like:
**What are you talking about?
**That never happened!
**It wasn’t me!
**They’ve confused me with someone else!
**I’ve never been there before/known that person before/talked to her before/called that number before!
**I don’t have to listen to you about something I didn’t do!
Some abusers consistently “forget” making the promises which are most important to their partner, thereby causing her more pain and confusion. Whether the Gaslighting abuser intends on the lies or not, the result is still the same, leaving the victim in emotional peril.Finally, the Gas Lighting abuser will also use plain old “denial.” The victim is forced to ask herself if she should even try anything as a next step because he listened to her logical, understandable, completely answerable question and simply said “Nope. Not me. Didn’t do it.”
The Gaslighting victim is also left to deal with the fact he knowingly denied this, and what else could possibly be unknown to her.Overall, the victim starts to realize she needs to be careful when relying on her own perceptions of life. Sometimes clarity will filter through the hogwash of her abuser and she feels she may need to stop having sex with him, as a protective means to herself; but sexual moments usually become the only time she is given his attention and what was “love” at one time. It is hard for the victim to let go of, and usually is prompted by the victim simply to have a familiar moment with her “soul mate.” Eventually a Gaslighting abuser wins the ultimate war, the final argument, when she begins to collapse mentally and emotionally. The worst Gaslighting abusers will then mock her, humiliate her by sharing her “wrongdoings” (of searching for a solution) with their mutual friends, hoping to get a response of “I wouldn’t listen to all that nagging, Man,” from them. Perhaps it better eases his conscious to have others tell him it is all her, or that she’s just a bitch, or just a nag. Hell, she’s not worth the effort it takes him to keep on living with her!
**I never said that!
**You’re making that up!
**I never told them anything!
**You’ve got to be crazy!
Though she knows she heard it correctly, has endured the looks on her friend’s faces, has been asked strange questions of which she was only able to give a confused look over as the shock riveted through her already weak mind.If you are a victim of Gaslighting, hang in there. Recognizing that it is emotional abuse is a very big step. Trust your “gut instincts.” They have been entrusted by folks since Adam and Eve, and I just don’t think it is credible that you could be the only person without credible, solid instincts.