Gaslighting was not a term I had heard throughout the course of my most intense abuse. I was not myself anymore, and I didn’t know why. My abuser acted and said he loved everything about me and everything I was. But before I knew it, we were doing everything he wanted to do. His interests became my interests. I blamed it on my “easygoing” nature. He didn’t want me to be me anymore, but the more I became who he said he wanted me to be, the more disgusted he grew with me. I felt lost. I felt alone. I felt anxious, depressed, and sick, both physically and mentally. But most of all, I felt crazy. I didn’t know who I was, what was happening to my life, or what was true anymore.
I didn’t discover the term gaslighting until my abuser and I no longer lived together. I had been in counseling for a little while, but there was no mention of the term or even anything about any emotional abuse. I think this was because I was still making excuses for/protecting my abuser by not bringing up certain things and taking more responsibility than was mine to take. Just as every other step in escaping the abuse, I believe coming across an article on gaslighting was a Divine intervention. You can’t know what you don’t know, and God gave me the information I needed little by little to escape the abuse as safely as possible. Too much information right away would have sent my anxiety through the roof too, my physical and mental health needed time to process all of the information that was coming my way.
What You Need to Know About Gaslighting
The term gaslighting comes from the 1944 movie Gaslight. In the film, a man searches out a specific woman to marry, and purposely makes her believe that she is going insane. One way he did this was by dimming the lights, and when she mentioned it, he would tell her that she was seeing things, going crazy. Over time, she began to believe him.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological and emotional abuse that causes the victim to become anxious and confused to the point of not trusting what they know to be true anymore. They don’t trust their perception, judgement or even their memory once they have been gaslighted. It causes the victim to no longer function independently of the abuser.
Over time, the abuser subtly withholds facts, and cunningly replaces them with lies. After being exposed to gaslighting for a long period of time, the victim loses touch with reality, losing their sense of self. They question reality, second-guessing themselves, and losing any confidence they once had in making decisions. This causes them to withdraw as well as increases anxiety and depression.
10 Signs You are Being Gaslighted (From the Article that Opened My Eyes)
- You are constantly second-guessing yourself.
- You start to question if you are too sensitive.
- You often feel confused and have a hard time making simple decisions.
- You find yourself constantly apologizing.
- You can’t understand why you’re so unhappy.
- You often make excuses for your partner’s behavior.
- You feel like you can’t do anything right.
- You often feel like you aren’t good enough for others.
- You have the sense that you used to be a more confident, relaxed and happy person.
- You withhold information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain things.
Actions Associated with Gaslighting (From the Same Article Seen Above)
1. Withholding: Your partner pretends not to understand you or flat out refuses to listen to you. He or she might say things like “I don’t want to hear this again.”
2. Countering: Your partner questions your memory, even if you’re sure you know what happened. They say “You’re wrong, you never remember things correctly,” or “You’re imagining things, that never happened.”
3. Blocking/Diverting: Your partner changes the subject to silence you or questions how you’re feeling, saying things like “Is that another crazy idea you got from your (friend/family member)?”
4. Trivializing: Your partner makes your needs or feelings seem unimportant, constantly telling you that you’re too sensitive, or that “You’re going to get angry over a little thing like that?”
5. Forgetting/Denying: Your partner pretends to have forgotten what really happened, or flat out denies promises he or she made to you. He/she will say things like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about” or “You’re just making things up.”
The Difference Between a One Time Manipulation and Constant Abuse
All of us can be manipulative here and there. There are certain things that we want to control. Where is the line between abuse and this type of manipulation? Manipulation in any form is wrong, but is still common. We can’t go calling abuse every time someone is manipulating us. If they aren’t abusive, we can call them on it! That doesn’t mean that there won’t be a fight or argument about it because egos are on the line here. When someone’s pride is hurt, expect a reaction. When someone is abusive, the manipulation is more constant. If you even dare confront them on the manipulation, you will be paying in some way. That doesn’t mean that anger will always explode instantly. It may be something more subtle, and even more manipulative. Without holding one’s sins against them, keep a journal of behavior if you are questioning whether it may be abusive or not. You will begin to see a pattern. You will also start to regain you sanity if you keep track of the things that were said both ways, whether written down or recorded. I wouldn’t suggest letting the other person know for your safety and future sanity. My abuser would often go through my journals and texts, twisting my words, and using them against me.
Holding an Abuser Accountable
Many of us who end up in abusive relationships, being the ones on the receiving end of the abuse, seem to get there because of our tendency to see the best in others. Don’t change that about yourself, but instead, add a huge dose of truth, and never become oblivious to the bad just because there was once a glimpse of good. A little good cannot outweigh the bad if the bad persists, and the good only makes an occasional appearance. I have been there, I know it’s hard. I made excuses for my abuser for so long because I would remember the early days when everything was so great. I would get a glimpse of that person anytime he needed/wanted anything from me that he knew would be hard to get. I was embarrassed because I basically sacrificed my whole life for him. It was a mix of pride and oblivious love that kept me protecting him from the consequences of his behavior. I also knew if I held him accountable, my world would turn upside down in so many different ways. The change and the unknown were terrifying to me. But, it was the change and the unknown that I needed so much more than this relationship. Airing dirty laundry is frowned upon, and I get it, some things are sacred and need to stay that way. When constant lies, deceit, cheating, manipulation, and any other form(s) of this word are happening, the right people need to be brought in for help. It could be family, close friends, a counselor, etc. You will quickly see if the abuser is going to change or not (most likely not). Don’t be fooled by temporary changes in behavior. A true heart change is obvious, even if it’s gradual. God gives us a way to confront someone about their actions towards us:
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”
This way seems intimidating, especially once we get to the church part. It’s not a completely common practice anymore. I don’t know that it is saying to stand in front of the congregation so much as it is saying to grab a pastor, or two or three to walk you through the biblical steps, as well as confronting the abuser with/for you.
How to Get Out
To get out and stay out of abusive relationships, we must work on ourselves. I know it seems hard and unfair to work on ourself when we are the ones who have been abused. Just because we may have not been at fault here does not make us blameless in every other area of our lives. When we truly begin to seek God in everything, true wisdom will lead us to truth in every situation. It will help us heal, help others heal, and keep us from repeating this kind of relationship again. If we don’t do the work on ourselves, we will be jumping from one abuser to another for the rest of our lives. Break the cycle.
If you need support please comment below, shoot me an email, or reach out via social media.
If you want to share your own story, knowing that you could help others, please submit here.
Click here for a free download to find practical help discovering, identifying, documenting, escaping and healing from abuse.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1−800−799−7233