As we have discussed in previous columns, people who commit domestic abuse use many tools to gain or maintain power and control over their intimate partners and family members. Whatever tool the …
As we have discussed in previous columns, people who commit domestic abuse use many tools to gain or maintain power and control over their intimate partners and family members. Whatever tool the offender feels is needed is what they will use, at whatever level of intensity needed to keep control.
Tools used range from emotional, psychological, financial and verbal abuse to sexual coercion or assault, physical assault and murder. "Gaslighting" is a common psychological and emotional abuse tactic used to make the victim doubt their own memory, reality, and ultimately, their sanity. (The term "gaslighting" comes from the title of a 1938 play and then a 1940s movie in which a husband gradually manipulates his wife into believing she's going insane.)
Victims of gaslighting, typically women, often seem anxious and unsure of themselves, sometimes appearing to be having a "nervous breakdown." Their self-doubt may lead police, prosecution, family and service providers to dismiss their reports of abuse and to think of them as "imbalanced" or emotionally fragile.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline lists gaslighting tactics to watch out for:
• Withholding: The abuser pretends not to understand or refuses to listen, saying things, such as "I don't want to hear this again," or "You're trying to confuse me."
• Countering: questioning the victim's memory of events even when the victim remembers them accurately. "You never remember things right."
• Blocking/Diverting: changing the subject or questioning the victim's thoughts when the victim tries to bring up the gaslighting. "Is that another crazy idea you got from your mother?" or "You're imagining things."
• Trivializing: making the victim's needs or feelings seem unimportant. "You're too sensitive," or "Don't get upset over something so dumb."
• Forgetting/Denial: pretending to forget what actually happened or denying things, such as promises made to the victim. "I don't know what you're talking about," "That never happened," or "You're just making stuff up."
Many domestic abuse offenders are exceptionally good liars and manipulators, often appearing charming. When a victim reports abuse or confronts the abuser about it, the abuser lies so convincingly that even their victim may doubt reality.
If you do not have experience with this, it is hard to believe people can lie so boldly and convincingly about reality. Even when the victim is injured, the abuser will claim the victim did it to her or his own self. And too often, authorities do nothing because they consider this as a "he said/she said" situation.
In "Are You Being Gaslighted?" Robin Stern shares signs of being a gaslighting victim:
• Constantly second-guessing yourself.
• Asking yourself, "Am I too sensitive?" multiple times a day.
•Often feeling confused and even crazy.
• Always apologizing to your partner. Often, the gaslighting abuser ends up somehow transforming themselves into the victim.
• Frequently making excuses for your partner's behavior to others.
• Withholding information from others, so you don't have to explain or make excuses.
• Knowing something is terribly wrong in the relationship, but never quite knowing what it is.
• Lying to avoid the abuser's put-downs and reality bends.
• Trouble making simple decisions.
• The sense that you used to be a very different person: more confident, fun-loving, relaxed.
• Feeling that you can't do anything right.
Like other forms of abuse, gaslighting usually escalates slowly, with the abuser's denials seeming harmless at first. Gradually, the victim becomes more confused, nervous and isolated. They may lose a sense of their own reality and have to rely on the abuser to define it for them.
Malinda Williams is the executive director of Community Against Violence, Inc. (CAV) which offers FREE confidential support and assistance for adult and child survivors of sexual and domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking; community and school violence prevention programs; re-education BIP groups for domestic violence offenders; counseling; shelter; transitional housing; and community thrift store. To talk with someone or get information on services available, call CAV's 24-hour crisis line at (575) 758- 9888 or contact TaosCAV.org.
You can read the Spanish version of this story here.
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