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.
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?
- 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
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 https://avalancheofthesoul.wordpress.com