If you have never seen the movie “Gaslight” with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, I strongly recommend it! The movie is a tale of a man who marries the niece of a famous performer, in the hopes of stealing the jewels her aunt left her when she passed away. He tries to drive his pretty young wife insane in the process. He even searches the attic of their home for the jewels, and when turning on the gaslights in the attic makes the ones in the rest of the house dim some, he denies the change. When watching the movie, you will be surprised how much you hate Charles Boyer’s character! His methods are insidious and evil.
The methods he used to drive his wife insane inspired the term “gaslighting.” It is also known as “crazy making,” but for convenience sake, we’ll refer to it as gaslighting here.
Simply put, gaslighting is possibly the most sinister form of psychological abuse in existence. The purpose is to make the victim doubt her perceptions, memories, and even sanity to accomplish the goal of the abuser. Being a victim of gaslighting can mean that you believe you are insane, there is something deeply flawed and wrong with you for not remembering things or believing things the way your abuser does.
Some signs that you have been a victim of gaslighting include:
- Constantly second-guessing yourself.
- Difficulty making decisions.
- Making excuses for the behavior of others.
- Constantly asking yourself if you are too sensitive.
These are NOT normal behaviors! They show some damage has been done to you by someone using gaslighting tactics! Wondering what those tactics are? Here are a few examples:
- Changing the way events happened when discussing them with you. Phrases like, “That never happened!” or, “That’s not how it happened!” are some common phrases used. Using deep conviction when discussing their version of the event, even though you know things happened differently. The conviction is so strong, you begin doubting your memory.
- Instilling doubt in you. “Are you SURE you want to do that?” “Are you SURE that is what happened?”
- Using shaming and invalidating phrases, such as, “You’re such a drama queen.” “You’re too sensitive.” “You always overreact.” “You’re imagining things.”
- Relocating your belongings.
- Talking around a question instead of answering it directly.
- Their words and actions never match up. For example, he says he wants to spend the holidays with your family, but when the day is at hand, he suddenly says he wants to spend it at home or with his family instead.
- Denying they did or said something, even if they just did or said it.
- Isolating you from others. Abusive people isolate their victims, and those who use gaslighting are no different. They isolate because that reduces the chances of their victim learning what is happening.
- Questioning your sanity, or suggesting you need psychological help, often.
- Periodic acts of kindness. This keeps a victim off-balance. When a person is evil 24/7, it is easy to know what the person is all about. When a person is capable of great acts of cruelty and kindness, it is harder to figure a person out. It makes a victim doubt the abuser’s cruelty.
As damaging as these behaviors are, there is a way out. You do NOT have to be as your abuser wants you to be! It is not easy at first, but it is possible to recover from gaslighting! Some tactics I have learned are:
- Spend time with God. Know Him, and what He has to say about you. Allow Him to strengthen your mind and heart. If you do not know Him personally, please consider a relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus. Please read click here for more information: Salvation Through Jesus Christ
- Know yourself. Learn to trust your own instincts. Start listening to them, and the more you see they are right, the more easily you can believe them.
- Trust your memories. When you know something happened a certain way, do not let yourself be swayed into believing otherwise. If it helps, find pictures or talk to others who were there.
- Keep a diary. Writing things down will help you to be sure what is true.
- Remember, the person trying to gaslight you has serious problems. He or she may truly believe the lies that they are saying, but that does not mean that you have to as well. Sometimes, people use reinventing the past in particular as a way to cope with difficult situations rather than facing the painful truth. That being said, it does not make the behavior right, nor does it mean you have to tolerate it. You have every right to protect yourself from all forms of abuse!!
- Limit your exposure to your abuser, or end the relationship. If you are considering severing ties with this person, you can read this link for more information that may help you make the right decision for you: Should I Go No Contact?