How to Deal with Gaslighting Abuse in Your Relationship

Gaslighting refers to tactics of abusive manipulation in a relationship and is actually a colloquial term referring to the film/play Gas Light by George Cukor. While this is a fairly common technique observed in certain groups (i.e. cults, companies, even politics) it is quite a disturbing experience to see your partner behaving in this way in a relationship. He may make you feel crazy, or make you doubt yourself, or even lower your self-esteem over time.

If you notice that your partner has been “treating you like you’re crazy” lately, you’re correct to assume this is no small matter and you should give this serious attention. Now, this is not to say that in EVERY situation, any suspicion of gaslighting should be cause to leave your husband/boyfriend and accuse of him being pure evil. You must use sound judgment in considering (A) his intentions, and (B) your state of mind.

To start, let’s discuss the movie Gas Light and talk a little bit about what the term means. In the story, the husband goes to great lengths to convince his wife that she is insane, by manipulating her environment. This way, he can convince her that she’s the one whose perspective is off. She remembers things incorrectly, suggesting she’s suffering from delusions. He actually is at fault but figures if the wife believes that she’s crazy he can get away with anything. The colloquial use of the word Gaslighting actually comes from the popular 1940s play and movie.

The reason why the film was called Gaslighting? Because when the woman notices that the lights are “dimming” in the house (because the husband is using gas lights in the flat while committing his crime), he convinces her that she’s imagining the change.

The movie plot well illustrates the psychosis of the Gaslighter himself. Rather than just admit the truth, he may go to great lengths to deny wrongdoing and actually create fake evidence just to justify his narcissistic perspective. The ultimate intent is not only to get away with the crime but also to convince the victim that their perceptions of reality are warped and she’s losing her mind.

If you have noticed some of these trends (particularly lying, denial, and trivializing your feelings by suggesting you’re losing your mind) then you’ve come a long way towards breaking out of this abusive cycle. In order to deal with what MAY be a gaslighting relationship, remember these steps, which could very well save your sanity:

1. Compile as much physical evidence as you can before determining whether his actions are intentional.

Remember that a gaslighter’s intent is to deny, contradict and lie. Proving to him, or more importantly to yourself, that he is emotionally abusing you is the first step in breaking free of this pattern. Compile evidence, focusing on facts and alibis. Once you see that he is clearly not admitting what you see (and what other people besides you see) you will know for sure that his intentions are malicious.

2. Focus on how he makes you FEEL.

Regardless of what can be legally “proven” in the eyes of your partner, the important thing to focus on should be how he makes you feel. Compare yourself now to the person you used to be before you met him. Are you always apologizing to him? Are you a nervous wreck, always trying to please him? Did you used to be a confident woman, but lately seem like you can’t do anything right—or that you don’t deserve anything better? Are you always confused and seem to have trouble making decisions without his approval? Do you make excuses for his behavior, regardless of how it makes you feel? Do you withhold information about your relationship with family and friends, knowing they would disapprove?

The fact of the matter is, if you’re with a good man, he will always make your comfort and happiness a priority.

3. Determine his motivation in using gaslighting techniques.

If you still love your husband/boyfriend even though you notice this unhealthy pattern, it’s time to determine his motivation and the severity of the gaslighting. For instance, there’s clearly a difference between a man who physically hurts you and then denies it happening or a man who repeatedly cheats on you but then convinces you that you’re crazy, versus a man who is ashamed of his secret sin and then lies about it to protect himself. Let’s say that man has an addiction to drugs, alcohol, or even viewing porn on the Internet, and that bothers you. It bothers you that he lies about these things and makes you feel crazy for doubting yourself.

One option is to confront him about these lies and see how he reacts. If you confront him in a calm but honest tone of voice, telling him “I don’t like how you make me feel stupid by lying to me. I know what you’re doing. Let’s please talk about the problem.”

If you confront him about this problem and then show him how it hurts you, he MAY try to work with you on changing, or even getting professional help in the case of serious addiction. It is possible that his gaslighting behavior is relatively minor and is done because he’s afraid to admit his personal flaws. If you confront him calmly and give him a way out—namely to be honest with you and stop keeping secrets—he may feel safe with you and be more willing to stop this behavior.

4. If he isn’t willing to change, then leave the abusive relationship.

However, bear in mind that in MANY cases the man is simply unwilling to change. Even though you try to meet him halfway and work on the problem, he may NEVER want to change, and he may never even admit what he’s doing. He will literally gaslight you until you lose your mind and become his own personal slave. In this case, there is obviously no way to reach him anymore and you must walk away.

Do not tolerate emotional abuse because it only gets progressively worse. If you want a good man, an honest man, and a marriage that will be strong enough to raise children in, you cannot afford to be linked with a man who has no concept of reality. A man who would rather abuse you than admit his own nature. Be good to yourself and aim higher—you will soon find someone worthy of your love!

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Talk soon,

Matthew Coast

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Matthew Coast

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