We’ve all been told at one time or another “you’re crazy,” “you didn’t do that” or “I didn’t say that.” It can be a strange feeling to believe you did something or heard someone say something and then be told, no, you didn’t. Once and a while is normal. When it becomes something you hear frequently and from the same person, you could be a victim of gaslighting abuse and not realize it.
Dealing with abusive gaslighting can be very difficult as it’s truly insidious and the ultimate in manipulation, so it can be hard to recognize, especially because someone we trust usually does it to us.
Gaslighting abuse isn’t a new phenomenon, although many of us have never heard of it. The term “gaslight” comes from a 1944 film, Gaslight, and is a psychological thriller where a man is psychologically abusive to his wife to gain her inheritance by, along with verbal lies and manipulation, slowly and continually dimming their gas lights but telling her she is imagining it. He even convinced the housekeeper to play along.
More recently, the Manson Family used gaslighting tactics when they were practicing “helter-skelter” by moving people’s belongings in their homes. In pop culture, even the Brady Bunch gaslighted Bobby (with the best of intentions) in the episode, “Big Little Man” where he was hanging from the jungle gym to try and stretch taller and all of his siblings moved his marker down the wall to make it appear it was working.
What Gaslighting Abuse in Relationships Looks Like
What’s the purpose of gaslighting abuse? It’s to gain a psychological advantage over another person, to control another person, or even to hide something. It doesn’t have to involve theft like in the movie, or lead to murder like with the Manson’s, but gaslighting is the ultimate in deception (like with the Brady kids) to make someone doubt themselves and believe an alternate reality.
Abuse like gaslighting can be used to cover something up, like a spouse who's cheating or has an addiction, and is particularly effective when someone has low self-esteem. This comment from our blog is a great example:
“I believed I was married to the most wonderful man in the world. He was soooo good to me... swore he stopped porn.. He traveled for work all the time... And when he came home... I never felt desired by him... things just never made sense.. All the therapy I've gone through... I was told to look into GASLIGHTING.. CRAZY-MAKING... This is where I uncovered what was happening to me my whole entire marriage. THIS MAN NEVER LOVED ME... I'm not saying this is what is happening to anyone whose spouse is addicted to porn. But it is what was going on with me and I had NO CLUE... 4 years of marriage... My intuition was telling me something was wrong, but I couldn't put my finger on anything!! My husband is a high functioning workaholic covert emotional manipulating narcissist who has been gaslighting and manipulating me throughout our whole lives together. He sought me out (as I am a neurotic (low self-esteem, high anxiety, guilt-ridden, extremely conscientious person - so I am easy to manipulate) worked on me for these years so he could have his narcissistic supply… I am traumatized by this, but know I am better off without this sociopath/psychopath in my life... Covert Narcissist Emotion Manipulation Gaslighting Crazy-making... I originally wrote the comments above about painting the porch while the kitchen was on fire.... This was before I figured out what was happening to me...” –Katie
Not only did she feel she was an easy target, she knew something was off and felt her husband was covering up a porn addiction.
Things that aren’t even about you can also drive the deception. Gaslighting abuse can come from a need to cover up insecurities like this commenter wonders from our blog:
“Another time he left me standing in the street holding the grocery shopping to turn and follow a random woman who walked past us. He denied it happened when we got back home. Gaslighting anyone? I was not insecure when I first met him. I am young, attractive ... and constantly get hit on. I wondered did he do it to make me feel "less than".. so he could feel better than me.” –Jesenia
Here’s what Dr. Kurt said, “As a form of psychological abuse, gaslighting abuse can be really hard to recognize when you’re the recipient. It’s hard to accept that someone who is supposed to love you, and often tells you that they do love you, treats you in an unloving way. But, sadly, it’s not uncommon at all. So if you could be in such an abusive relationship, please get professional help.”
Still think it could be you who is crazy?
How to Deal With Abusive Gaslighting
If you feel something’s just not right or you find yourself full of self-doubt, and don’t feel you can yet call out the abuse, here are some tips on how to deal with gaslighting abuse in your relationship:
- Listen to your inner voice. If you feel something’s just not right, it probably isn’t. Listen to that voice, and start paying attention to details and what exactly is happening to make your intuition kick in.
- Write things down. Or tell someone that you trust just after it happens. This way, when you’re told something happened that didn’t or you know you had a conversation and your SO says you didn’t, you won’t doubt yourself and you’ll know the truth.
- Recognize it’s not about you. It’s really about the manipulator trying to successfully get you to doubt yourself.
As subtle and slowly as it can progress, being gaslighted is hard to recognize when you can’t put your finger on what’s not right. But knowing what it is can be really powerful in not just your starting to recognize it, but in beginning to stop it, too. Gaslighting abuse will only get worse if you allow it, so start today to take back your reality and your life.