Gaslighting: you are NOT mad or bad!

It’s not you, it’s him (I promise!)

On my blog post about trauma bonding, the lovely Nimue Brown recommended finding out more about gaslighting. So, I did! What I discovered switched on a load of halogen-lightbulbs.

Copyright orangeacid

Copyright orangeacid

During my first abusive relationship, my wonderfully insightful grandmother cut out a newspaper article for me. It was about gaslighting. Being still in the stages of denial, I scanned the cutting then swiftly shelved it. Now, having recently gotten out of my second abusive relationship, I really wish I’d paid more attention.

All those years ago, it would have really helped me to have informed myself about gaslighting – otherwise known as ‘ambient abuse’.

What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of abuse, where the abuser deliberately does or says things to make us doubt our memory, perception, or sanity. It was coined from the 1938 stage play ‘Gas Light’, where a husband systematically attempts to convince his wife that she is crazy.

Gaslighting is a tactic frequently used by sociopaths, and its effects occur gradually over time. Its insidious nature can mean many people who are being gaslighted find it impossible to accurately identify what has gone wrong.

Are you being gaslighted?

Copyright desi.italy

Copyright desi.italy

  • Does your husband lie to you, even about small things? My ex used to tell me he was going to the local shop to buy milk. A ten minute trip often took up to two hours. When I called him to check he hadn’t been knocked down by a bus or kidnapped by aliens, he was always just a couple of minutes away. When he finally arrived home, he would argue with me about the time he set off on his epic journey. He’d only been gone twenty minutes! I was mistaken with the time, because I was distracted by the baby.
  • Do odd things happen around you – a lot? Maybe the kettle was left in the fridge last night? You are sure that you didn’t put it there, but then he reminds you that you made a cup of tea at 10pm and were certainly the last one in the kitchen. It takes a lot of energy to try to figure it out – you will spend a lot of time turning over everyday events in your mind trying to work out what you did, what he said, where you were, and what actually happened.
  • Does your significant other tell you that you are over-tired, stressed, or depressed? When you challenge him about his behavior, does he try to convince you that you are confused or paranoid? My ex used to put on his caring tone of voice, and sympathetically offer to take me to the doctor.
  • Do you doubt your own judgement? The effect of gaslighting on me was that I started to continually second-guess myself. Maybe I was confused, tired, suspicious (of course I was – but that was because he made me feel that way!). Surely, that was the only ‘explanation’ because why would he lie to me about trivial stuff?
  • Do you work harder than before to make things better? So, you are confused, tired and suspicious. That’s why you have a problem with him watching porn until 2am every night. So, maybe you should just let him watch Busty Babes without letting your confusion, tiredness, and suspicion get in the way of an otherwise blissful relationship!
  • Do you apologise a lot? There’s nothing wrong (and everything right) with saying sorry when you have done something wrong. But, if you find yourself apologising for generally-perceived faults such as ‘being a bad girlfriend’ or ‘not being good enough’, you need to reassess
  • Have you stopped challenging him? I was eventually too worn-down to try to unpick the layers of lies he spun me. I stopped asking. I (almost) stopped wondering. It was easier and less exhausting just to accept whatever I was being told.
  • Do you lie to others to cover up for him? Of course, you can’t figure out why a ten minute trip to the shop actually takes two hours – so, you’re not about to try to explain to your mother why you were late getting over for lunch.
  • Do you feel down or fed up, but can’t quite put your finger on why? According to Robin Stern, depression or unhappiness is felt by all gaslighting victims, as we (wrongly) accept responsibility for being mad or bad and the cause of everything that’s wrong in our relationship.

The good news

Copyright patapat

Copyright patapat

Armed with the facts, you are in a much stronger position than before to survive this crazy-making behavior with your sanity and self-confidence in-tact. Go ahead and smash that gas-light, you firecracker!

© Avalanche of the Soul, 2013-14

22 responses to “Gaslighting: you are NOT mad or bad!

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  2. My ex learned this from being in the military, and now I have a supervisor who does this; at least I learned to recognize it!!


  3. These are all things I’m getting clarity on now, almost on a daily basis as I am revisiting, reconstructing my history…you laid this out extremely well, thank you


  4. my significant other would tell me I didn’t remember things properly, that I misunderstood or misheard, that I didn’t see things correctly, that he never said or did that, that I was making things up. His mother was a master manipulator and enabler and would feed into it and do the same thing to me. I have a high IQ with an excellent memory… nothing was adding up.
    He would be high or drunk and still make these claims and I would be sober as a church mouse.
    I questioned myself daily, hourly, confused as hell trying to re-piece the situation together even though I was positive I knew what happened.
    It really became obvious when I became pregnant and I wasn’t having glasses of wine with him at social events or dinners etc. and could remember every detail finitely while he would get sloshed. He would later say things that never happened, manipulate or misconstrue on purpose or I would remind him of something and he would tell me I was completely wrong. It started to come together that maybe I wasn’t confused. The cycle still continued later on as the relationship and baby grew… so insidious.
    My girlfriends would look at me and be amazed at how I would try to relay stories as if I had amnesia when I would try to explain these events and how I knew he was manipulating me.
    This article cut to the bone for me. Amazing how the patterns do not change.


    • You are so right, Trying.

      Those of us who do not abuse, and do not understand the abusive mindset, can really struggle to get our heads around this. I mean, why on earth would someone lie so blatantly, frequently, and about small things as well as big issues?

      Fact is, abusive people use gaslighting ruthlessly to help them establish and maintain power. It is another tactic in the strategy. And you are spot on to say that the pattern doesn’t change – the only way to achieve change is to take ourselves out of the relationship!


    • Doesn’t really help I know, but you definitely aren’t alone. My ex boyfriend did this too, and same with his mother.


  5. Hi i would like more information and. Would like to know how to relieve the uneasy uncertain feelings i have been dealing with for the last 6 years we have 2 children together which makes it ten times harder to wrap my mind around my situation…


    • Hi Alana. I’m not sure what your situation is, but if you suspect your partner is gaslighting you it is inevitable that you will feel uneasy. Gaslighting is damaging because it is designed to undermine us and to cause us to doubt our own judgement. I found writing things down helped me to keep track and be confident that I wasn’t going crazy – I’d then have ‘cold hard facts’ to compare against his gaslit version of events.


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  7. Thank you for sharing. I went through so much denial and apologetic behavior with my abusive ex boyfriend. Even today, five years and happily married, the memory haunts me. The first year of my relationship with “Roger” was wonderful. Roger went out of his way to please me, showering with attention, devotion gifts, etc. He drove through a flood zone to my house to bring me a change of clothes while I was stranded at work. He quit drinking liquor. He quit smoking. He cut off relationships with his exes. I felt blissful. And then things started to change as he became more and more controlling and distrustful. He immediately started online fights with any men who had complimented my Facebook – even cousins, church acquaintances, photographers, etc. He forced me to delete the “offenders” from my friend list. He encouraged me to stop visiting my friends and family without him. Eventually, it got to the point where he would make plans with me, pretend to blow them off, and watch me through the windows to see if I was doing anything inappropriate. He started becoming physically abusive when he would see me speaking to men without him present, even waiters or coworkers. But each episode was immediately followed by a rush of emotion, crying on his part, reminders of his deceased father, boxes of chocolates, elegant dinners. Every argument ended with me in apologetic tears. For three years, I dedicated my life to my abuser, believing his lies. He wrote salacious stories of our sex life to my family members, and sent slanderous letters about my drinking to my friends. But the whole time, I believed I was in love. I believed I was in the wrong for making him cry. I believed there was something I could do to be a better girlfriend. When I finally chose to leave, he pointed a loaded gun at my face. To this day, I must thank God for saving my life that day. I never knew how dangerous “Roger” was.


    • Hi Lindsey

      I’m so sorry that you went through all that. Without doubt, you went through a big trauma, so it’s perfectly natural you will feel the after effects still. For me, gaslighting is one of the hardest abusive tactics to recover from, precisely because it causes us to second guess our own judgement and perception of reality. It is only really once we are away from the perpetrator that we can begin to get a handle on it all. It looks like you’ve done a marvellous job in recovering and building a happy life and a healthy relationship. Massive kudos to you, and thank you for sharing your story here.


  8. Pingback: Gaslighting: you are NOT mad or bad! | The Powers That Beat·

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