Gaslighting is one of the most insidious forms of abuse, it is done in such a way that most victims don’t even recognize it is happening to them. An abuser has a way of twisting the truth and the circumstances to make it appear as if you are the one in the wrong.
According to an article at domesticshelters.org, some signs of gaslighting are as follows:
- Withholding. Your abuser pretends he or she doesn’t understand what you said or simply refuses to listen, shutting you down when you try to confront him or her about abusive behavior.
- Countering. Does your abuser tell you that you aren’t remembering things correctly, even when you’re sure you know what happened?
- Diversion. If your abuser keeps changing the subject each time you bring up their abusive tactics, or blocks you from even talking about it in the first place, such as by saying, “Let’s talk about that later,” or “You know your memory isn’t the best,” this is yet another gaslighting technique.
- Trivializing. Your abuser might call you “too sensitive” or raise a skeptical eyebrow when you try to complain about his or her behavior, asking you why you would get upset over “something so dumb.”
- Forgetting. How convenient that the abuser seems to constantly forget the sequence of events that occurred. If he or she consistently says things like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” or “That never happened,” this is gaslighting.
My ex used to regularly counter and forget events. We would have entire conversations about something, or around an upcoming event and he would deny ever discussing it with me. He frequently accused (and still accuses) me of not communicating with him. I only communicate with him by email now to leave a trail of evidence. He even tried to gaslight my lawyer one time by telling her she hadn’t communicated some information to him. She had emailed it, and decided that she also would no longer communicate with him by telephone after that incident.
I remember one time when I had discussed with him, in front of friends, that he would need to put the children to bed alone on a certain day because I had an event I couldn’t be late for or miss. The next week I reminded him, again in front of the same friends, and he proclaimed that I had not mentioned anything about it before. Even in light of our guests confirming we had discussed it just the week before he insisted he hadn’t heard me. It wasn’t the first time, or the last. I had to be very aware of our conversations, and even began to doubt myself… did I say it or not? Was I the problem?
The abuser wants his victim to believe they are the problem. They purposely work to confuse you and make you question your sanity, your memory, your honor. If they can convince you there is nothing wrong with them but there is something wrong with you, they can trap you in the relationship longer. They can manipulate you to get what they want faster.
Many abusers will also project mental illness onto their victims. Gaslighting is a term derived from the movie “Gaslight“, in which the husband sneaks around playing with the lights, lying to his wife in an effort to convince her she is going crazy so he can make off with a treasure and get away with an old murder. My ex used to “confidentially” talk to my friends and tell them he thought I was mentally ill, that he was worried about me. It was a great way to isolate me, to separate me from my friends. He did not talk to them in an effort to aid me, he did it to disparage me. He would then turn around and tell me that my “friends”, whom he refused to name, were talking to him worried about my mental health and stability.
It’s not easy to recognize when you are being gaslighted. It is a subtle, psychological and slow method of abuse. Often, the first signs are a fear of things you never used to have, fear of social encounters, confusion about things you know (or should know) to be true. Sometimes it takes someone else to notice these things are happening. Sometimes it takes an awareness of a worsening relationship. Sometimes it isn’t recognized until the relationship is long over.
Gaslighting is a dangerous form of abuse. It can lead a victim to suicide and, like other forms abuse, it can be a precursor to physical abuse and murder.
You cannot reason with an abuser who is gaslighting. You can only document conversations. If you are out of the relationship and have to continue communication regarding children, do it by email. If you are in the relationship and are beginning to recognize abuse, journal important conversations. Write it down. Send a text. Believe in yourself.
I am a Christian. I firmly believe that God helped me through and out of my abusive marriage. He will help you too if you only ask. He will give you clarity of mind to see the truth and a pathway free. He did it for me, and He did it for many of my friends. Just ask for His help.