This type of psychological abuse leaves survivors questioning
every memory they have.
You’re overreacting. It wasn’t that
You’re just being emotional
That never happened—you’re imagining
When these accusations are a part of a regular barrage of criticism
aimed at controlling an individual they’re more than rude—they’re
Called ‘gaslighting,” this type of abuse uses statements
like the above to create doubt in a person’s mind by making
them think, basically, that they’re going insane says,
Janie McMahan, licensed marriage and family therapist.
The name comes from a ‘30s play called Gas Light in which
the main character attempts to drive his wife crazy by dimming
the lights in their home, which were powered by gas, and then
denies the lights are changing.
“This type of psychological abuse is part of the power
and control found in domestic abuse,” says McMahan. “Gaslighting
makes (survivors) doubt themselves and not see the real issue,
which is that they’re being abused. It’s not uncommon
that, after a while a survivor will start to think, ‘Well,
is this right? Am I really not justified in feeling this way?’”
Gaslighting is often found in conjunction with other types
of abuse, such as physical or verbal. Abusers may try to convince
the survivor that what they remember happening, in fact, never
did. Or, abusers will ask their partners. “Why can’t
you just get over it?”
McMahan says gaslighting may also come at the start of a relationship.
Abusers want their partners to begin doubting themselves from
the get-go. “They (survivors) begin thinking they’re
a little bit ‘off.’ Emotionally and mentally,”
says McMahan. Essentially, they begin thinking they can’t
trust their instincts. Their self-esteem can plummet. They feel
less than the other person—less intelligent, less capable.
McMahan says it can lead to the survivor not having a sense
of self, believing they no longer have an identity or a voice.
“It keeps them in these relationships,” McMahan
What to Do
First, seek support and guidance or simply talk to an advocate
about what is happening by calling the Safehouse Crisis Line
Next, try to document what is happening. Write abusive incidents
down in a journal that you can hide in a safe place (such as
your office or a friend’s house so that your abuser can’t
find it). This can help you recognize a pattern of gaslighting.
If gaslighting comes early on in a relationship, know that
the relationship is not good and get out before other types
of abuse follow.
Lastly, know that gaslighting is a type of manipulation and
anyone can fall victim.