You may not have heard the term, but if you are involved in an abusive relationship, it’s possible that you are very familiar with gaslighting. The term refers to a play from the 1930s where a wife is driven to the brink of madness by her husband’s manipulation of the gas-powered lights in their home.
For those who are unfamiliar, imagine being unable to trust your own perception of reality. Up is down and black becomes white due to the gradual escalation of the abuser’s tactics to render a victim helpless and confused.
Abusers may jeer, “That never happened. You’re crazy.” They present vastly different descriptions of events and question their victims’ abilities to remember the sequence of shared experiences. They dismiss valid concerns and tell their spouses that they are only imagining that something occurred.
For instance, suppose an abusive spouse promises his victimized wife that the family will spend a vacation at the beach. She packs and prepares the children for the upcoming outing. When the day and time to leave arrive, the abuser denies ever promising to go on a trip and accuses his wife of making it up.
You can imagine how damaging this is to someone’s mental and emotional health. Victims begin to question their own sanity and become even more reliant on their abusers and less on themselves to define their own realities. Coupled with the isolation from family members, friends and other sources of support, victims’ lives shrink down to whatever their abuser introduces into their worlds.
If you suspect that your spouse or partner has been gaslighting you, understand that help is available to you. Seeking legal guidance can help you navigate a path out of your dysfunctional, abusive relationship and into a better, safer life.
Source: The National Domestic Violence Hotline, “What is Gaslighting?,” accessed Feb. 16, 2018