Many of you know that domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over their intimate partner. One common tactic — “gaslighting” — is a type of psychological or emotional abuse …
Many of you know that domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over their intimate partner. One common tactic — “gaslighting” — is a type of psychological or emotional abuse a perpetrator of domestic violence uses to make the victim doubt their own memory, reality and, ultimately, their sanity. (The term comes from the title of an old movie in which a husband slowly manipulates his wife into believing she is going insane.)
Victims who are being gaslighted — overwhelmingly women — often appear to be nervous, unsure of themselves and may appear to be having a nervous breakdown. Their self-doubt may lead police, prosecution, family members and service providers to dismiss their reports of abuse.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline lists the following tactics to watch out for as signs of gaslighting.
• Withholding: The abuser pretends not to understand or refuses to listen, saying things like “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 like promises made to the victim. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” “That never happened” or “You’re just making stuff up.”
Like any form of domestic abuse, gaslighting usually escalates slowly, with the abuser’s forgetfulness or denials seeming harmless at first. Victims may think their partner is behaving strangely by denying events that obviously happened. Gradually, the victim becomes more confused, anxious and isolated. They may lose a sense of their own reality and have to rely on the abuser to define reality for them.
Many perpetrators of domestic abuse are especially good liars and often appear very charming. When a victim reports their abuse or confronts the abuser about it, the abuser lies so convincingly that even their victim may doubt reality. For those of us who do not have experience with such convincing liars, it is hard to believe people can lie so boldly about reality. Even when the victim was injured, the abuser will claim that the victim pulled out her own hair or hit herself in the face. And all too often, authorities do nothing because they see this as “he said/she said.”
In “Are You Being Gaslighted?” by Robin Stern, she outlines the following signs of being a victim of gaslighting.
• 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 friends and family.
• Withholding information from friends and family 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, more fun loving, more relaxed.
• Feeling like you can’t do anything right.
Williams is the executive director of Community Against Violence (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; shelter; transitional housing; and a community thrift store. To talk with someone or get information on services available, call CAV’s 24-hour hotline at (575) 758-9888 or go to taoscav.org.
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