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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Paulsen, MA, LMFT, RPT-S

Gaslighting: A Form of Domestic Violence

Updated: Jan 30, 2022

“Changed behavior is the only apology, otherwise it’s manipulation.” – Unknown.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and gaslighting is a form of domestic violence.

You may have heard the term “gaslighting” and have a general idea of what it means but we’re going to talk about it a little more in depth because according to YouGov, 3 in 4 US adults do not know what gaslighting is. Since so many do not know what gaslighting is, it’s hard to know the prevalence of how common it is. However, since gaslighting is a form of emotional or psychological abuse,this statistic is worth sharing: 4 in 10 women and 4 in 10 men have experienced at least one form of coercive control by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation and most commonly occurs in intimate or romantic relationships but can also occur in relationships with family or friends. It is also commonly used by dictators and cult leaders to maintain control.

Have you ever been upset about something and when confronting the person you’re upset with, they somehow turn it back around on you to where you feel confused, question why you were mad in the first place, and now feel like the bad guy? That’s gaslighting.

Encyclopedia Britannica defines gaslighting as “an elaborate and insidious technique of deception and psychological manipulation, usually practiced by a single deceiver, or ‘gaslighter,’ on a single victim over an extended period”.

According to The Lancet, the term gaslighting originated from “Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play, Gas Light, known in America as Angel Street.” The play is about a man who tries to convince his wife she’s insane so he can have her inherited jewels. In 1944, this was turned into a movie by George Cukor called Gaslight. You can read more about the movie here.

Here’s what gaslighting can look like:

  • Incongruent actions and words. Words mean nothing, behavior is everything. The quote on the top of this article is a perfect example of this.

  • A cycle of praise and criticism. A gaslighter will often tear you down and make you feel horrible about yourself and then try to redeem themselves by saying things to make you feel better about yourself. Again, actions overrule words. The goal here is for that praise to make you think the gaslighter isn’t so bad so you’ll stay.

  • Power. The gaslighter / abuser wants power. They will slowly isolate you from others so they are the only person within your support system. This is very methodical by design. If you’ve cut off everyone else, you won’t leave me, because you wouldn’t have anyone to go to. Everyone else is the problem, I’m the only one who’s really here for you. “It’s us against the world, babe!”

  • Crazy. You will question whether you’re crazy and your gaslighter will affirm you’re right and tell everyone else you’re the crazy one too. “Gaslighters are masters at manipulating and finding the people they know will stand by them no matter what—and they use these people against you.”

  • Lying & Denial. Once confronted, the gaslighter will lie. The denial and lying will leave you believing you’re the problem. A gaslighter will often ask for proof but because the proof is mostly based on memory, it will be hard to prove and leave you feeling more uncertain and doubting yourself even more.

  • Using what you love as ammunition. Whether it’s your job, your children, your family of origin, or your hobbies, a gaslighter will find a way to get you to get rid of these things. A gaslighter wants to be all that you have so you can’t leave because you have nothing else.

On the surface, it may seem like these signs would be easily recognizable but these tactics happen so slowly and methodically that it’s hard to notice what is happening.

What to do about it:

  • Gather evidence. Since most of the time it’s your memory that provides the proof, any tangible evidence you can use to feel confident in your belief that you’re being gaslit will be helpful.

  • Practice self-care. Spend time with your support system, exercise, practice yoga or meditation, journal, or engage in other hobbies and activities you enjoy to counteract the gaslighter’s goal of making you believe you have nothing outside of them.

  • Elicit feedback from your support system. Having an outsider’s (somewhat) unbiased perspective can be helpful. If the gaslighter finds out about this they will definitely blame the outsider and try to make it so you no longer trust, believe, or interact with that person.

  • Seek professional help. It can be incredibly difficult to tease out the nuances of gaslighting. A licensed professional can help you understand what’s happening and support you in working through possible solutions and next steps.

  • Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling, texting, or chatting online.

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