DV – Part III – Gaslighting

“Gaslighting” is to manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.

What can be more cruel than that?

The term “Gaslighting” comes from a 1938 play Gaslight. In it, a man tries to convince his wife that she is going crazy. One of the ways he does it is to dim the lights (gas lights at the time) and then tries to convince his wife that they aren’t dimmed.

This happens all the time when abusers try to manipulate the victim into believing that they didn’t actually see or experience something that they know they did. After this happens time and time again, the victim starts to question their own sanity. Of course, it doesn’t help that the abuser is flat out telling them, “You’re going crazy.” As the victim feels less and less secure about what they perceive as reality, they lose confidence and end up not trusting themselves. Then the abuser steps in and usurps more and more control over them. The victim eventually feels that they really can’t make it on their own, that they need the abuser’s guidance and direction and the abuser then has total control. The victim literally can’t leave because they don’t believe they can make it without him.

The abuser will insult the victim and then tell them they are too sensitive. They will blame the victim for things that they had nothing to do with, but they are so convincing, the victim will find themselves apologizing for it. If the victim tries to explain themselves, the abuser won’t listen, or worse yet, will twist the victim’s words around so badly, the victim gives up, exasperated that they seemingly can’t make the abuser understand. They do understand, though, and are deliberately trying to confuse the victim and make them feel crazy. The abuser will trivialize the victim’s ideas and the beliefs that they hold dear, making fun of them, as if they are of no consequence.

During a discussion when the victim is trying to sort things out, the abuser will throw in irrelevant information to change the subject and distract the victim from the point she’s trying to make. They turn the conversation around and loop the blame back on the victim or someone else, never apologizing or taking responsibility for their actions. They will minimize the situation to make the victim feel like she is blowing things way out of proportion and is making something out of nothing.  Once again, the victim will wonder if they are imagining things or becoming paranoid.  They will question their thought process and feel stupid or regret even bringing the subject up.

This whole scenario happens so gradually and smoothly that the victim has no idea what is happening to them. The victim ends up confused, depressed and isolated, not knowing what to do. They begin to question themselves constantly and don’t feel confident to make their own decisions, because, after all, they have been told for so long that they are losing their mind, they actually begin to believe it’s true.

Once again, the victim’s support system is very important in gaslighting situations. There needs to be a counter balance to the abuser’s brainwashing. If you see this happening to someone you know, reinforce to them the fact that they are not losing their mind, that they are being manipulated. Constantly encourage them and try to make them see how the abuser is playing with their mind. Be there for them when they need to talk, listen patiently and support them in any way you can.


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