Gaslighting is a less subtle form of emotional abuse that seeks to control a partner through a pattern of over the top criticism and reality distortion.
The term ‘Gaslighting’ comes from the classic from the 1944 film Gaslight, in which a husband persistently torments his wife into doubting her sanity.
The kind of gaslighting seen in couples therapy is typically a relentless pattern of deception, unreasonable criticism, mean-spirited scrutiny, and contemptuous verbal aggression.
But gaslighting, like other forms of emotional abuse, occurs on a broad continuum. The milder forms often respond to science-based couples therapy, but extreme gaslighting typically is far more problematic.
Examples of Gaslighting
- Accusing their partner of being too sensitive, too needy, or unreasonable when he or she tries to express feelings thoughts or emotions;
- Denying that conversations, plans, promises, or events occurred and that the partner is making these memories up;
- Twist or change information in order to make their partner confused or seem irrational to themselves or others;
- Insisting that their partner is “crazy” or “paranoid;”
- Manipulating circumstances in order to make their partner unable to care for themselves;
- Controlling their partner’s access to money;
- Isolating their partner from friends and family members; and
- Changing the subject or refusing to listen when presented with evidence of such abuse.
Effects of Gaslighting
Gaslighting can be very insidious the longer it occurs. Initially, you may not realize you’re being affected by it, but gradually you lose trust in your own instincts and perceptions. It can be very damaging, particularly in a relationship built on trust and love. Love and attachment are strong incentives to believe the lies and manipulation. We use denial, because we would rather believe the lie than the truth, which might precipitate a painful breakup.
Gaslighting can damage our self-confidence and self-esteem, our trust in ourselves and reality, and our openness to love again. If it involves verbal abuse, we may believe the truth of the abuser’s criticisms and continue to blame and judge ourselves, even after the relationship is over. Many abusers put down and intimidate their partners to make them dependent, so that they won’t leave. Examples are: “You’ll never find anyone as good as me,” “The grass isn’t greener,” or “No one else would put up with you.”
Recovery From Gaslighting
Learn to identify the perpetrator’s behavior patterns, and realize that they’re due to his or her insecurity and shame, not yours. Then get help: It’s critical that you have a strong support system to validate your reality in order to combat gaslighting. Isolation makes the problem worse and relinquishes your power to the abuser. You could join Codependents Anonymous, along with seeking counseling.