You’re crazy – that never happened.”
“Are you sure? You tend to have a bad memory.”
“It’s all in your head.”
The term “gaslighting” has gotten thrown around a lot recently, mostly in reference to people in power claiming something had (or hadn’t) happened, and refused, when confronted with contradictory evidence, to acknowledge otherwise. It is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders to make a victim question their reality.
The term Gaslighting comes from the 1938 stage play Gas Light, in which a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy by dimming the lights (which were powered by gas) in their home, and then he denies that the light changed when his wife points it out. In 1944, the play was made into a movie of the same name. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay; winning two for Best Actress and Best Production Design.
According to the National Domestic Abuse Hotline website, Gaslighting typically happens very gradually; in fact, the abusive partner’s actions may seem harmless at first. Over time, however, these abusive patterns continue and a victim can become confused, anxious, isolated, and depressed, and they can lose all sense of what is actually happening. Then they start relying on the abusive partner more and more to define reality, which creates a very difficult situation to escape.
In order to overcome this type of abuse, it’s important to start recognizing the signs and eventually learn to trust yourself again. According to author and psychoanalyst Robin Stern, Ph.D., the signs of being a victim of gaslighting include:
- You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” multiple times a day.
- You often feel confused and even crazy.
- You’re always apologizing to your partner.
- You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier.
- You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.
- You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
- You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
- You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.
- You have trouble making simple decisions.
- You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
- You feel hopeless and joyless.
- You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
- You wonder if you are a “good enough” partner.
If you are a victim of gaslighting, please call ACTS Domestic Violence Services at 703-221-4951. Advocates are here 24/7 to support and listen to you.