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Lauren founded this blog in 2001.
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179 Responses

  1. sad_fuzz
    sad_fuzz November 16, 2011 at 12:31 pm |

    I understand that this might be too stressful of a subject for this kind of post, but Steely Dan should brighten anyone’s day. This is where I first heard the term, incidentally, and the song describes the phenomenon pretty accurately.

  2. smash
    smash November 16, 2011 at 12:50 pm |

    There was an interesting example of gaslighting in today’s Ask Prudie (under “Bad Breath”).

    Everyone at work tells a man he has bad breath, but he goes to several doctors who tell him there is no problem.

    Thanks for highlighting this important tactic.

  3. Grace
    Grace November 16, 2011 at 1:21 pm |

    I dated a guy for 3 years, who told me that no one would ever love me as much as he did, and every time I heard that, I thought ‘oh, I guess we can’t ever break up, because then where would I be? Unloved.’ So I stayed with him, even though I didn’t want to. A trip to California eventually broke his hold over me, and we broke up a couple months later. I brought it up once in an argument with him after we broke up, after he said something like ‘I’ve been cutting myself since we broke up! Why don’t you feel bad about that?!’ (and apparently I’m the crazy one? Is there something broken in you that makes you think by telling me you’re cutting yourself that I’ll actually WANT to get back with you?), I said to him ‘You told me no one would ever love me as much as you! What else was a young girl supposed to think?!’ and he said ‘But it’s true! No one will!’ Good one. I don’t believe you anymore. Obviously there were other reasons we broke up as well, and I can’t shove all the blame on him (I did some pretty stupid stuff in the relationship), but there’s my example :) Hope that helps. And I hope that no girl ever falls for that trap again :(

  4. laf
    laf November 16, 2011 at 1:34 pm |

    THis is my first introduction to this term, but I think it might describe something my father used to do to me. When I was in fourth grade, he pulled me aside while we were swimming and told me I was starting to get fat. From that point on, he regularly commented on how much I ate, how big my butt was becoming, how much prettier I would be if I was thin and on and on. As an adult, who can look back with a little perspective, I was never fat. I wasn’t even a chubby kid who would later stretch out. I was a thin kid, but for some reason he made it his mission to convince me I was overweight. He always presented it as him trying to help me, and trying to make my life easier, and I believed him. I spent a ridiculous amount of time as a child and young adult trying to be good for him. To exercise and diet, pretty much constantly. And it wrecked me. Predictably, I developed all kinds of disordered eating patterns and body issues. Some of that may have happened anyway, given the pressure so many of us feel to be thin, but his campaign against my body was intense. This may be a poor example, but it’s what came to mind when I read your post. Thank you for allowing a space to share stories.

  5. Bridget
    Bridget November 16, 2011 at 1:41 pm |

    An ex of mine had a serious drinking problem. When he was drunk, he would go from happy to obnoxious to downright mean sometimes. When I would bring up things he did or said the next day, he not only “didn’t remember” any of it, but would say that he did not say/do that thing, because he would never say/do that thing, because that was not the kind of person he was. He even did this if there were other witnesses, not just me. And he’d tell me he hadn’t even been drunk. Even though he was stumbling around. He’d tell me everyone else thought he was just so much fun and the life of the party. I was a prude and a control freak for questioning his drinking.

    To make matters worse, I started to get really upset whenever he drank too much, because I was afraid of what would happen (and because he’d often promised me beforehand that he wouldn’t get drunk). Sometimes I even had panic attacks. This gave him the perfect ammunition, because then it became all about me being “crazy.” In fact, he claimed he was helping me work through my issues by continuing to drink around me (!!!) It all seems so ridiculous now that I’m embarrassed I fell for it.

    My sister pointed out to me that I actually did not have panic attacks on a regular basis before I’d started dating him, so it was clear that he was not helping me at all. I finally left him, and miraculously have not had a panic attack since.

  6. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub November 16, 2011 at 2:04 pm |

    Oh, I can’t think of one–it happened so much the incidents have become one big blur now that I look at it from the vantage point of so many years later. He’d say something, but then would deny it later. And if it was in writing and I showed him, then *I* was the one with the problem for being obsessive or petty or whatever. Or he’d rewrite history–he’d deny doing certain things he always freaking did.

  7. Merely Academic
    Merely Academic November 16, 2011 at 2:22 pm |

    I certainly ran into the “no one will ever love you as much as I do!” line, but that never struck me as gaslighting as much as just, you know, lying desperately to keep me hooked, about some future hypothetical world in which I was all, all alone because I’d had the temerity to cut him loose. But the real “gaslighting”, for me, was one old boyfriend with whom I spent nearly four years, who was given to constant rewriting of the past. Events that I knew damn well had happened, conversations I knew we’d had, things I knew he’d said – never happened; he never said that. IIRC – it’s been a long time now, thank heavens – the events and statements were all abusive. He would say astonishingly abusive things but once the fit was over, it never happened. He never said that, he never did that, how did I come up with this stuff? And he would, of course, accuse me of rewriting history – *I* was the one inventing stuff because HE never said that.

    The worst part of all this – well, there is no good part of all this – was that I could never assume that a conversation was going to be friendly, or that we were on the same page about anything at all. I was constantly braced for him to deny not only my interpretation of an event, but my perception and my memory of it. There was never any room, in his world, for me to exist as I believed myself to be; and he was happy to rewrite everything including history in order to crush me into the mold of what he thought I was. I probably don’t need to add that what he thought I was was very unflattering – I wasn’t that bright; I wasn’t that perceptive; I was a persistent liar; I wasn’t very likable. It took me a long time to stop believing all that.

  8. Andie
    Andie November 16, 2011 at 2:45 pm |

    One guy I dated, on an occasion near the time we ended up breaking up, initiated sex (enthusiastic consent a-go-go) then later claimed that ‘he wasn’t really into it’ and I made him feel like a piece of meat, etc etc…

    He’d also make comments about getting married, and later when I called him on it, he’d claim that he never said it.. we were never ‘together’ just friends, and it was “My own fault if I read too much into the situation.”

    For a long time after that I was kind of fucked up in regards to being pro-active sexually – I felt like if I was enthusiastic I was pressuring – and I had a hard time taking anyone seriously when it came to dating.. I required constant reassurance about boundaries, would not consider myself anyone’s girlfriend unless they had stated it very specifically.

  9. dependingonthelight
    dependingonthelight November 16, 2011 at 2:54 pm |

    This probably isn’t a huge deal, but one of the quirks of my OCD is that I feel like I have to experience physical sensations equally around my body. For example, when touching a blanket to feel how soft it is, I have to touch it with the fronts and backs of both hands. This extends to when I’m touching other people- if someone kisses me on the left cheek, I’ll ask them to kiss me on the right cheek [Generally I only touch people I'm super close to]. I’ve integrated this need into my life so well that no one really ever notices- even during more extreme instances such as having to trip with both feet if I’ve stumbled over a rock or whatever. Anyway, my first partner knew about my OCD, and when I was beginning to think about leaving him, he said no one else would ever put up with my ‘weird touching rituals’. Six years later, I’ve been in multiple loving longterm polyamorous relationships, and all of my partners think it’s endearing and not annoying at all.

    After I ended things with my first partner, he also said I had been emotionally abusive, but would never specify how- just that I was horrible. I have examined every single aspect of that relationship from every side; I’ve been to therapists and psychiatrists; I’ve asked everyone who I’ve dated or been close friends with since- and all of them say that there are no abusive or manipulative aspects of my personality. To this day, I’m terrified that I’m hurting the people I love the most without anyone saying anything, despite logically knowing that isn’t the case.

  10. jane
    jane November 16, 2011 at 3:15 pm |

    This is definitely a powerful term and unfortunately, this exist in my workplace I remember my first or second day, my director pulled me aside to warn me of difficult personalities. I thought nothing of it. Its a job and I will get paid. Sooner than later the gaslighter(s) started to get comfortable around me and I started hearing the annoying comments like: “What you don’t know your job hey newbie?” “Didn’t you go to school?” “So what that’s not my issue” “Its no surprise there’s mistakes you’re female” And it goes on and on. And what is so surprising is that this behavior is accepted since it has been happening for so long. Incredible! So, the ladies I work with feels the same way but what are they going to do? Obviously nothing. Actually, my particular position here has had a high turn over due to the gaslighter(s).
    I like this awareness because it teaches me that its not me and it is actually these people who have the issues. And in other ways I am rather dissecting relationships in past and current, personal and professional regarding these behaviors that has affected me.

  11. Mo
    Mo November 16, 2011 at 3:22 pm |

    I’ve heard of the play and the term, but never applied them to myself until now. From age 0-11, the male parental figure in my life (I refuse to call him father) did this very subtly. When I drew the typical house/tree/sky/sun/bird pic with crayons, my birds were simple “M” shapes. I remember several occasions where I gave him these pictures, and his response was “Birds don’t look like that.” So I stopped drawing.

    I am now 41. It took me until my late 30’s to realize birds don’t have to look like what someone else wants, that I can draw, that I am creative and artistic, and that it was a cruel thing to say. I spent nearly 30 years telling myself I sucked at art and couldn’t draw a straight line for the life of me, and certainly nothing realistic. Sometimes I’m a little ashamed that it took me so much time to realize he was totally wrong.

  12. Esti
    Esti November 16, 2011 at 3:25 pm |

    To me, gaslighting is a very specific term — as the wiki entry suggests, I think of it as only encompassing things designed to convince the target that their perception of reality is wrong. Not just subjective judgments about your worth as a person (which can of course be terrible and abusive), but changing or denying objective facts. I have definitely had men do the former (trying to convince me I was overreacting, or was a bad person in some way, or that I didn’t deserve to be treated well), but I don’t know that I’ve experienced the latter. I think the closest I’ve come was when a boyfriend’s friend told me he had cheated on me, and the girl he’d been with (who didn’t know he was dating anyone) confirmed it, and then the boyfriend kept denying facts and changing his story every time I learned something new. I got to a place of feeling completely unable to tell reality from fiction, and it was a really scary and untethered feeling. But even there, it wasn’t about denying things I had personally seen and knew to be true, so it still doesn’t fully fit what I think of as gaslighting.

  13. jen
    jen November 16, 2011 at 3:37 pm |

    Reading this made me realize I had the exact same experience – for my whole childhood my father told me I was fat, and I really believed I was. (And I had all the disordered eating stuff as well.) I was shocked when as an adult I looked at some old photos and saw that I’d been completely average-sized.

  14. zuzu
    zuzu November 16, 2011 at 3:38 pm |

    Oh, I have another example. I briefly dated a guy a couple of years ago with more issues than National Geographic, though I didn’t realize that at first. On the first date, he was charming and funny and really into me. We met at Lincoln Center, near where he lived, walked all over the Upper West Side, had dinner, and then I got on the subway at Lincoln Center to go home. At least that was the plan — even though he lived only a few blocks from Lincoln Center, he came into the subway with me, and kissed me on the platform. He initiated the kiss, to which I was receptive, and in fact, I was standing with my back to a column as he kissed me.

    Then, when several trains had gone by and I said I really needed to get home, he came on the train with me “for a few stops.” That wound up being all the way back to Brooklyn. He kissed me on the train. He kissed me on the platform in Brooklyn. I finally had to extricate myself by telling him I really, really needed to get home because I had to pee.

    On our second date, which happened a week or so later, and during a time when I thought he was planning on going back to LA (he was in the process of relocating and had been looking for work when I met him), he insisted on picking me up at my apartment though I had suggested we meet at the park. Much snogging ensued, again at his initiation and with me having to end things by insisting on dinner. Oddly enough, when we went back to my place after dinner and I mentioned sex — which is what I thought he wanted, given that he was coming on so strong — he freaked.

    And he instantly rewrote our entire history so that I was the aggressor and he was the innocent boy I’d tried to seduce. It was a bit bewildering, and it wasn’t nearly as clear as that (some of it came out later, after we tried being friends for a while), but I finally had enough of him and this weird insistence that he hadn’t kissed me from Lincoln Center to Carroll Street. At least I met some cool people through him.

  15. zuzu
    zuzu November 16, 2011 at 3:39 pm |

    Also, I think one of the reasons I let things go on as long as I did with him was that I kept wondering when the sweet, funny, charming guy from our first date was coming back. Turned out he never existed, and the guy I was dating was really neurotic and insecure and just put on a front on that first date.

  16. Bridget
    Bridget November 16, 2011 at 3:42 pm |

    Oh, and an interesting side-note: I acted in the play “Gaslight” while I was dating the aforementioned ex. Ha.

  17. saepe
    saepe November 16, 2011 at 3:48 pm |

    I can’t count how many times (and this spans several different relationships) I’ve wished I could have audio-visual evidence of discussions or arguments with a partner. There’s that feeling that you just KNOW that things happened one way, but you’re constantly being told they didn’t and your head just gets so muddled.

  18. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan November 16, 2011 at 3:49 pm |

    I had a live-in landlord try to do this to me, telling me that I was “fucking crazy” and “overreacting” etc. when I told him he was being a creep and needed to stop coming into my room without my permission. He started going on about what a weird crazy bitch I was, and how I had trust issues, and asking if I’d been abused as a kid, and saying that obviously I had been molested by my dad, and so on… But luckily he had completely jumped the gun on his attempted gaslighting, because not only were none of his claims remotely true (I’d had a lovely childhood, and my relationship with my parents is very good) but he’d failed to establish a relationship with me beforehand so I knew right from the start he was trying to bullshit me.

    Seeing him go from zero to evil in the course of a few days made the gaslighting attempt super obvious, thank goodness, but it was still very disconcerting and I did end up double-checking with friends and family (and the police) that I wasn’t overreacting by telling him to GTFO of my room — I wasn’t, in fact; that is trespassing and is illegal.

    Even when the gaslighting is like an inept game of Battleship, with wild attempts at guessing insecurities that are way off-base, I think women in particular are sensitive to this tactic because we’re trained to gracefully and agreeably take input from anyone near us on our behavior and personalities. If the landlord had managed to identify something I did take to heart or had been a little more subtle it could have been much worse.

  19. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan November 16, 2011 at 3:53 pm |

    To me, gaslighting is a very specific term — as the wiki entry suggests, I think of it as only encompassing things designed to convince the target that their perception of reality is wrong. Not just subjective judgments about your worth as a person (which can of course be terrible and abusive), but changing or denying objective facts.

    I agree with this — just saying mean things to you is assholish but I think it isn’t “gaslighting” exactly. My example above was maybe a mix of the two… my landlord was partly just saying douchey things, and partly trying to convince me that I was entirely wrong about whether my reactions to his behavior were sane (trying to suggest that some childhood trauma had made my perceptions unreliable.)

  20. catfood
    catfood November 16, 2011 at 3:54 pm |

    Her: “I’m tired of having to cover for you all the time!”
    Me: “What?”
    Her: “Around friends and family, when you embarrass yourself or insult people and I have to go around later and explain and make apologies.”
    Me: “I have no idea what you’re talking about. When have I done that?”
    Her: “Lots of times. It’s almost normal.”
    Me: “So if I’m insulting people all the time, why don’t they say so to my face?”
    Her: “Ah, that’s just the thing, they’re afraid of hurting your feelings or getting you upset.”
    Me: [wondering how to stop doing this thing I don't know that I'm doing]

  21. Cayt
    Cayt November 16, 2011 at 3:58 pm |

    I feel like a lot of incidences of the tone argument are this. Even the mildest, politest disagreement can be met with, “Stop attacking me! You’re so angry!” After that, there’s no way to deny that you were attacking someone without it looking like you’re proving them right. A very successful silencing technique.

  22. CurrerBell
    CurrerBell November 16, 2011 at 4:01 pm |

    This was present during almost every parent-child interaction between the ages of 5-25. As a result, I subconsciously selected dating partners who also used this type of manipulation (in different forms, however!) to control me, my actions, lower my self-esteem, and make me more compliant.

    Examples? Sure. My mother often overreacts and throws wild, furious tantrums over small infractions. Her response is almost always disproportionate to the “offense.” At one time, I had an inherent understanding of this knowledge. I remember being younger and thinking, “What the heck is the big deal about leaving a few towels on my bathroom floor? Why is my mother ripping stereo speakers from their sockets and throwing them around the room, taking articles of my clothing and throwing them in the trash, and screaming and crying for my father to come spank me? Isn’t this…excessive?” I would fervently deny the severity of the offense to my father, but he would spent hours telling me that I was wrong. How I was wrong. Upsetting Mom was The. Worst. Thing. Ever. and so anything that triggered her was, in fact, The. Worst. Thing. Ever. I remember trying to get him to understand that it was her response that was the true issue, and being told that he didn’t understand why I just didn’t “get it,” how I couldn’t understand after upsetting her so many times what to do differently in future, etc. He would spank me (for leaving towels on the bathroom floor…not kidding, I got spanked for EVERYTHING) during these talks. This happened all the time. No, really. All the time. Several times per day, in fact. I used to be decent at logically arguing my position (“I disagreed with her politically– why is she screaming and yelling and calling me horrible things?”) but the spankings would continue along with a point-by-point dissection of why I’m wrong, why she’s right, why he’s so frustrated with my inability to understand how I’m wrong, how it was so simple but I’m just not “getting the bigger picture here”…As discipliner, he had the ultimate authority. If the sky was blue, Mom said it was purple, and I argued with her that it was blue…well, I’d get punished for disagreeing and not seeing the bigger picture, which is that agreeing with whatever Mom said was always the right thing to do.

    And my ability to see truth and logically argue a position was slowly eroded. They wanted a compliant child, but all they got was a depressed child who retreated to her room and avoided conversations in an attempt to hold on to the smidges of truth she could.

    I dated an alcoholic narcissist (but oh, he was so charming…) a while after that. He initially validated my childhood perceptions of truth/rightness by observing my mom/dad gaslighting me and then privately telling me later that I was right. Oh, the validation was intoxicating. I still didn’t have the tools to perceive these things for myself, however, and so I relied on him to interpret real/not real for me whenever I interacted with my parents. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that this was an excellent setup for a large-scale manipluation once he realized that I couldn’t fight back against shifting reality in any meaningful way. He drank heavily and denied its severity. I was exhausted from being caretaker to a drunkard and so I started failing classes, but it was just because I was “lazy” and “wanted to sleep too much.” He would do drugs and then try to deny it, even when confronted with evidence to the contrary. I remember being shocked when once or twice he’d admit it (when presented with irrefutable evidence) because I wasn’t ever really sure that the small plate with white powder on it next to the rolled-up dollar bill was ACTUALLY drugs unless he admitted it.

    Long story short, I’m in my late twenties and I have large gaps in my life where I don’t know what actually happened. Truly. Not being able to use your past as a basis for future decision-making is so, so hard. Not being able to trust any of your perceptions is excruciating. I believe I can develop some self-confidence and improve my self-esteem with therapy, but I know I’ve internalized so many negative beliefs about myself over 20 years (due to gaslighting) that I’ll never be able to fully overcome their effects on my personlity and mental health.

  23. Rae
    Rae November 16, 2011 at 4:01 pm |

    Here is my experience with gaslighting.I promise to try and keep this to the actual gaslighting and not just all the crazy bad stuff.
    It actually took me a LONG TIME to even understand he was doing anything at all, but he did it alot. All the typical experiences; that I was stupid, inferior, slutty, weak minded on and on and on. He would do this thing that made me crazy and hurt for sure, one day he would say something for example ( not actual example)

    People who like blue are the stupidest people on the earth blah blah blah the reasons why they are stupid on and on. Ok.

    Then the next day or week or so he would say I WAS A PERSON who liked blue but not mention anything else, to which I would become hurt eg: you’re calling me stupid? He would say No, where would I get that from, I never said that etc.

    I got so hyped up by this I was ALWAYS raw, anytime he started talking about anything negative I would instantly worry he was talking about me, so I would ASK HIM are you talking about ME?! He would sometimes even do it over things I SAID and then totally deny everything.

    I didn’t know how to deal with this, I still probably don’t – just no one does it anymore. If I got a whiff of this kind of thing I’d like to be able to say I’d flip a wig, but I probably wouldn’t. I would probably just internalize it.

    Here is a specific example that to this day I do not understand. ( actually I don’t understand any of it, but it’s too horrible to think about what happened and how stupid I really was for staying in that situation for so long, much less vocalize in any way. Just can’t do it.)

    Him: I would LOVE to be a bee keeper!
    Then weeks or months later something about bees comes up and I mention about how he would like to be a bee keeper, and he says

    I never said that. I would NEVER want to be a bee keeper.
    Ok. But you said that.

    Then MUCH later again, over months some how bees come up, discovery channel show or some such, and he starts to muse, hmmm bee keeping, that might be alright.
    AND THEN I remind him YOU SAID YOU HATED BEES, “No i didn’t.
    AND THEN BEFORE THAT you said you LOVED bees, “haha, youre crazy.” Is probably a literal thing he said about that exchange.
    F WORD.
    I have a memory like a lock box so this particular activity he insisted on perpetrating just made me feel crazy, it really did.

  24. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub November 16, 2011 at 4:09 pm |

    I think the tone language/”crazy” accusations/hysterical charges reinforce the gaslighting. Like, you react to someone’s denials/lies, and they tell you you’re crazy or manipulative or whiny or overreacting or hysterical, etc.

  25. lyn
    lyn November 16, 2011 at 4:14 pm |

    I was reading this thinking “my ex was abusive, but not into gaslighting”…and then I remembered the time I dragged him to couples counseling and I talked about things that were upsetting me in the relationship (as you do) and when we got home he went off, yelling at me about how I didn’t really love him and that I was a terrible and mean person. When we went to the next session the ex started talking about what I had said in the last session, and how terrible and mean they were. The therapist replied, “uh, that’s not what Lyn said at all.” Mmm. I wonder how much of this went on that I didn’t realise because his reality became indistinguishable from my own?

  26. Robotile
    Robotile November 16, 2011 at 4:19 pm |

    I had a boyfriend who did this in all aspects of the relationship. He would tell me he was in love with me, then that he had never told me that, that he told me he had qualms about the relationship before he ever did. .Just generally either overstating his emotions or making statements he later didn’t feel, then trying to convince me that he never said them or that I should have picked up on. This all happened after he cheated on me as a post-hoc justification. He was also a master at the “neg” and all sorts of other mindgames. He would compliment me in a vaguely insulting way that would make me feel insecure. If I called him on the hidden insult, he would tell me I was too suspicious or too sensitive. At the time, I put up with it because it never occurred to me that people would be dicks for no reason, so I took him at his word that he really meant only “good things for me”. Now, as soon as I spot that shit, I RUN away. I don’t even want to have conversations with people who use those tactics. So pernicious.

  27. Brian
    Brian November 16, 2011 at 4:26 pm |

    I can’t count how many times (and this spans several different relationships) I’ve wished I could have audio-visual evidence of discussions or arguments with a partner. There’s that feeling that you just KNOW that things happened one way, but you’re constantly being told they didn’t and your head just gets so muddled.

    Yes, I know that feeling completely. I know my memory isn’t great – I forget a lot of stuff, but I don’t think I misremember things often, but I’ve had two ex-girlfriends who often told me I was wrong in what I’d thought had happened. I didn’t, at the time, think much of it (nobody’s memory is perfect), but in the context of this discussion, both were also physically abusive – fuck, it’s a hard thought on the brain.

  28. WanderingWhim
    WanderingWhim November 16, 2011 at 4:30 pm |

    Iwasconstantlybracedforhimtodenynotonlymyinterpretationofanevent,butmyperceptionandmymemoryofit.Therewasneveranyroom,inhisworld,formetoexistasIbelievedmyselftobe;andhewashappytorewriteeverythingincludinghistoryinordertocrushmeintothemoldofwhathethoughtIwas.P>

    This, so very much of this. In my experiance, it was my first long-term girlfriend. It got to such a point where I started to believe her version of events over mine. I still add “Sorry if I am over-reacting, but…” to any beginning discussion of an issue with a partner. Now I am hyper-vigilant and make sure to have “re-cap” discussions the next day.

  29. Bridget
    Bridget November 16, 2011 at 4:31 pm |

    Lauren – yes, being in the play did open my eyes a bit! That was my first attempt to break up with him. Unfortunately I didn’t stick to my guns at that time (one big issue was that he was always broke and pretty much had me convinced that he would be starving and homeless without my financial assistance). It was a few more months before I split with him for good.

  30. anon please
    anon please November 16, 2011 at 4:34 pm |

    A relative tried to convince me that I was sexually abused by my parents. When I said that wasn’t true, my denials were evidence that I was in denial and perversely was evidence that it had happened. That the accusations were upsetting to me was, again, evidence that they were true.

    What seems especially tragic to me was that he was more effective at making my parents doubt reality than he was at manipulating me.

  31. Karynn
    Karynn November 16, 2011 at 4:41 pm |

    I have not heard of the term “gaslighting” before. Thank you for sharing. Reading all these comments on its effects is both heart wrenching and revealing of the damage others’ perceptions of us can cause.

  32. Merely Academic
    Merely Academic November 16, 2011 at 4:45 pm |

    (Blockquote isn’t working for me, so can’t quote, I’m sorry) –

    re: wishing I had a recording of the event/conversation? I remember wanting that ALL the time. Because there were so many thing I knew I hadn’t said or done, and so many things I knew he HAD said and done – but when you’re faced with someone who constantly rewrites, how do you prove that?

    One essential part of gaslighting in my experience is that these rewrites never put the victim in a flattering light or a good position. It’s been a long time, but I remember one small incident. We had gone out with a bunch of his friends (he didn’t like my friends, so over time I never saw them). We were at a bar. Conversation was interesting and I was actually having a good time,, which wasn’t allowed. He got colder and angrier and sulkier. After a couple of days of refusing to talk to me at all he told me how embarrassed he’d been to be around me because I was so selfish and self-centred and talked all the time (because I’d said anything at all, I guess) – and when I poured myself beer from the pitcher I never poured for anyone else.

    And I would have believed that I was talking too much if it hadn’t been for that detail; because I remembered clearly that I had poured for everyone all round the table EVERY SINGLE TIME, for everyone who wanted more. But how to prove it? And it’s such an insignificant detail – except that it contributed to his picture of me as a horrible, self-centred, selfish, nasty person that he was embarrassed to be seen with. And of course I spent a lot of time thinking that I must be that person, because that’s what he told me, all the time.

    Oh, the “initiating sex and then claiming later he wasn’t really into it and I pushed him and was insensitive” line? I remember that one too.

    This is why I can see how Yashar Ali might confuse emotional abuse and gaslighting – because gaslighting is one of the many techniques of abuse, whose point is to destablize the identity of the victim and make them vulnerable. Gaslighting is always abusive and I bet always happens in the context of a relationship that is abusive in other ways. But there are, in fact, other ways to be emotionally abusive, that aren’t exactly gaslighting. Perhaps it’s a spectrum.

  33. Amanda Marcotte
    Amanda Marcotte November 16, 2011 at 4:46 pm |

    One that particularly burned me was when a now-ex-boyfriend told me no one likes me.

  34. Thomas MacAulay Millar
    Thomas MacAulay Millar November 16, 2011 at 4:50 pm |

    Sometimes my thinking about everything is influenced by what I do (litigator), but to me, one of the best tactics when dealing with slippery people, whether gaslighting abusers or weasel bureaucrats, is to document, document, document. In the case of, for example, school administrators or human resources, this can take the form of letters, but with an abuser, the real audience is one’s self. Journaling what one was told and when can counteract the unmooring effect of the gaslighting: if you wrote down what [he] said shortly after, you’re not misremembering. It’s in the notes. He said it, and even if he lies and pretends he didn’t say it, even if he can convince others, he can’t convince you because you can trust your notes as an accurate record. Emails and chat logs to friends serve that purpose, too. And, of course, all these things can help convince friends and relatives, unless they’ve simply decided not to be convinced.

  35. catfood
    catfood November 16, 2011 at 4:57 pm |

    @Merely Academic #35:

    We had gone out with a bunch of his friends (he didn’t like my friends, so over time I never saw them). We were at a bar. Conversation was interesting and I was actually having a good time,, which wasn’t allowed.

    Oh, don’t I know the one about not being allowed to have a good time. But the bit about not liking your friends reminded me of the times I was told that one friend or another of mine was rude, or was disrespectful, or actively disliked her, or was arrogant, or whatever. And all of those times I went “Huh? Explain the rudeness to me again because I really didn’t see it.”

    But just as in my little story about my supposedly having offended all our friends and family members at #21, I was inclined to believe her interpretation because I do have some blind spots when it comes to reading other people. I’m probably a little bit out on the Aspie spectrum. So when someone tells me I said something inappropriate, I usually trust their reading more than my own.

    And that’s another thing gaslighters will do: They’ll figure out the ways you already don’t trust your own perceptions, and hammer on them.

  36. KB
    KB November 16, 2011 at 5:38 pm |

    Oh, my stars yes. So-called marriage #1 to a serious manipulator and control freak was full of gaslighting episodes. Fortunately I’m out of that now and it’s long in the past. But picture these:

    – He asks if I want to hear yet another dirty or mysogynistic joke. I say no. He tells it anyway and looks at me for a reaction. If I get upset, he says, “It’s funny! Why don’t you laugh? You never laugh at my jokes! You’re too sensitive.” If I don’t react and try to ignore him, he starts pushing my buttons. He starts with repeating the punch line and says, “Get it?” If I give no reaction, he gets angry. It escalates to him screaming that I ignore him all the time, I hate him, and so on, until I break out into tears. Then he calms straight down and says, “You’re so emotional. I don’t know why you get so upset over a simple joke.”

    – He gets so angry he hits or pushes or throws something. Not hard, but still physical involvement. He immediately says, “I didn’t hit you. I barely tapped you.” He continues denying, denying, denying, until he has totally convinced himself that I made the whole episode up just to be mean to him.

    – I want a pair of sunglasses. He keeps a tight fist on the money and doesn’t want me to spend money on sunglasses because “we could use it to pay the bills.” I insist and finally get a cheap pair. Within days he wants to borrow them, insisting he “needs” them and “why buy a second pair when I can just borrow yours?” Days later, he’s broken them. I get upset, and he says, “You’re so materialistic.”

    – He demands sex every evening, even if I’m sick or exhausted, because, “All you have to do is lay there.” If I need to get up early the next day and tell him to go to bed early, he says, “Okay, I’ll be in real soon. I just want to finish watching something on TV.” Hours and hours later, and after coming in the bedroom several times during that time, switching on the light, and saying, “Oh, sorry, I forgot you were in bed, just needed to get something,” he comes in and demands the sex that I “promised” him. If I say no, he throws a temper tantrum until he gets it. And says, “You so selfish. All you had to do was just lie there. Now stop being so upset. You’ll still get enough sleep. Five hours is pretty close to eight. Or four hours. Whatever it is.” One of the worst sounds in the world is the sound of bird song in the morning when you haven’t slept all night.

    – He has his “special” way to shop, to drive (especially when his car wasn’t working right and was tricky to drive), to do just about anything. He’d carefully explain all his reasoning behind his “special” way, and emphasize that I didn’t “understand” how to do things “right.” He didn’t want me to drive because his car had to be driven a special way. He criticized me when I shopped because I didn’t do it “right.” Sometime this was followed with, “You know, you’d never make it in this world if it wasn’t for me.”

    – We’re in the middle of breaking up and he wants to go to a marriage counselor (finally). On the way there he coaches me on what I should say to make us look good. While there, I go ahead and talk about the things that bother me the most. He looks innocent and surprised and says, “Oh, I never did any of those things. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” The counselor can’t tell who to believe. On the way home, he screams at me for making him look bad. His whole idea of counseling was that we were supposed to make things look good so that the counselor would say I had to go back to him, and then I’d have to go along because the counselor said it.

  37. Inspector Gadget
    Inspector Gadget November 16, 2011 at 5:50 pm |

    Two points:

    1. I think behaviors should still be considered “gaslighting” even if the person doing it isn’t deliberately making stuff up. In fact, I suspect the majority of gaslighters genuinely believe the things they say–that doesn’t make it any less damaging, but makes it even harder to address.

    2. One of the key facts about many kinds of gaslighting is that it’s self-reinforcing. For instance, suppose that the narrative being established is “your memory is unreliable, so when we disagree about what happened we should use my version of events.” Every time you disagree about what happened but agree to accept the other person’s version of events, you create another piece of evidence that supports the bad-memory narrative. It’s one more case where you remembered things differently but agreed that you were wrong, so the next time around it will be even harder to believe that _this_time you’re right. Both people can end up convinced that one person’s memory is so faulty and/or biased and the other person’s memory is so reliable that the reasonable thing to do is to simply always trust one person’s memory over the other’s. Once that dynamic is established, insisting that your memory of something is correct becomes evidence of defensiveness, since the only reason you would insist on your version of events is because you’re unwilling to take responsibility for what really happened. This process can happen even in relationships where neither person is deliberately making things up or deliberately being manipulative, as long as the power dynamic is screwed up in the right way.

  38. AshleyLynn
    AshleyLynn November 16, 2011 at 5:57 pm |

    catfood: @MerelyAcademic#35:Oh, don’t I know the one about not being allowed to have a good time. But the bit about not liking your friends reminded me of the times I was told that one friend or another of mine was rude, or was disrespectful, or actively disliked her, or was arrogant, or whatever. And all of those times I went “Huh? Explain the rudeness to me again because I really didn’t see it

    THIS. Oh lordy. I could talk for hours on this. My husband still does this at times…but after about two months of putting up with it, I sat him down and talked to it, and we realized that his mother has actaully been gaslighting him and putting said thoughts in his head and convincing him that my friends are rude to him (and to her, when she’s met them). And I’ve noticed that after we spend time at family functions his criticisms of my actions and decisions gets worse, he continually tries to tell me that I’m rude, overly aggressive, and inconsiderate of others, and that is because his mother has been at it again, and making him think these things.

    (For the record: My husband was raised and homeschooled in a strict, baptist Christian home – even though he was mostly independent when I met him, the emotional manipulation his mother put him through is still trying to this very day. She has actually told me (at our wedding, no less!) that she hates me, and that I am the devil’s influence on her son and will burn in hell for encouraging him to venture outside the home she’s made for him. It is difficult, but he really is working on recognizing how his mother uses words and actions to make him think that he is a bad person for marrying me, and that I am a terrible person myself. We also, thankfully, spend a lot less time around her.)

  39. Kathleen
    Kathleen November 16, 2011 at 6:02 pm |

    Does anybody have any insight as to whether gaslighters know what they are doing? I mean, in some cases (cheated, lying about it), of course they do. But how about dealing with someone who constantly amends history in their *own* heads, such that you could never really get them to “admit” anything? Because in their own minds there isn’t a gap between “how it happened” and “how I now say it happened”. Not to derail, hopefully just to add on, but which do people feel like they are mostly dealing with, and any particular insight about it? The first seems more straightforwardly manipulative, the second like a real can of worms. Or do people think gaslighters always deep down do know they are not being accurate / fair?

  40. Amanda Marcotte
    Amanda Marcotte November 16, 2011 at 6:14 pm |

    Reading this thread brought back memories. Two mainly:

    1) Sulking because I was having fun and inventing reasons to get mad at me and ruin it for everyone, so that he could blame me for it? Check. “Talking too much” was a favorite, actually. Is there an abuse victim alive who doesn’t, in the eyes of her abuser, talk too much? What’s great about “talking too much” is that it makes you get quieter and quieter and more withdrawn in hopes of avoiding conflict, making other people feel distant from you and unwilling to reach out. I remember very clearly one night when he misfired and didn’t warm me up enough to the notion that it was my fault. Instead, we were sitting at a table and someone was quite literally still laughing at a joke that I had made, and BOOM! he runs out the door in a temper tantrum, because I’m “ruining” everyone’s good time with my big, fat mouth. And all I could think was, “But they were laughing, like truly laughing.”

    2) Denouncing the very idea that I had competence. Two boyfriends in a row were fond of this one. I was never going to be a writer, since I didn’t work hard enough. I was also told that I shouldn’t join Pandagon because that was too big an audience for me and I was going to fail, and don’t I want my small, intimate blog anyway? Mostly it was small stuff, like telling me I couldn’t do simple things like hold the cat right or perform simple household tasks. I spent a lot of time after my second break-up proving to myself that I wasn’t crazy and that I was worthy and competent by going out of my way to make things with my hands.

  41. Amanda Marcotte
    Amanda Marcotte November 16, 2011 at 6:15 pm |

    Oh and #3: blowing minor flaws way out of proportion. I think it’s a form of gaslighting to claim, repeatedly, that being mildly clumsy is so embarrassing that the person afflicted should be afraid to leave the house for fear of shaming herself and her abusive boyfriend.

  42. Aydan
    Aydan November 16, 2011 at 6:16 pm |

    I was going to preface this by saying, “It didn’t happen frequently enough to be gaslighting.”

    And then I thought, “I am tired of making excuses for this person’s behavior, and happened enough to make me question my perceptions and my memory.”

    I dated someone with whom I had a lot of arguments, and who criticized my character, my personality, and my ability to reason when we disagreed. I would try to implement logical consistency from argument to argument, but I got a lot of “I never said that, you’re making it up.” At one point I told him he was gaslighting me, and he was insulted.

    The worst things he said to me, I have in writing. I know I did not make them up.

  43. whichWayIsUp
    whichWayIsUp November 16, 2011 at 6:16 pm |

    My experience with gaslighting happened with a ex-boyfriend from a few years ago. Dating him was very confusing. He would have conversations with my friends and family and then swear up and down that he’d never spoken to them. At one point, he shared my younger sibling’s sexual history with our mother, and then he flew into a rage when I asked him why he’d betrayed that confidence. He shouted that he would never tell those things to our mother, that she must be lying when she said he did.

    He’d re-write events (both from our relationship and from his own life) to the point that our entire personal histories started to feel a bit like a Lewis Carroll novel…stories morphed, people were saying things out of character that didn’t make sense, he was always a hero except when he was a victim, and everything was bigger and brighter than I remembered it…he was so sure of his versions that I started to believe he just had a better memory than I did…

    I got him a job with a friend of mine (he was barely employable for several reasons). After 2 weeks, he was let go. He came home and told me that he was laid off due to budget cuts. My friend told me he’d been fired because their coworkers had reported him as being verbally & physically abusive. He’d been formally warned by the manager and their coworkers had sat him down to ask him to knock it off. When I asked him about these accusations, he looked at me as if it was the first he’d heard of them. He told me he was a model employee and that they’d even promised his job back if business picked up. (Years later, I finally came across someone who told me stories about him shouting at customers and throwing coworkers against the wall.)

    I eventually ended the relationship after he stole money from me by using my debit card & pin number at an ATM. I confronted him about it the next day, and he swore me there was no way he’d taken the money out of the ATM. He even suggested i took the money despite the fact that he had the only debit card for that account (why did I ever give him my card and pin number? Well, because if I didn’t, it meant I didn’t trust him, and then it wasn’t a real relationship. Obviously). We had a huge fight about it where he was crying and begging me to believe him. By the end of the fight, I wanted to. I wanted to believe that the money had been stolen by someone other than the only person who had the means to steal it. I wanted to believe I’d blacked out and gone to the ATM myself. With him, I literally couldn’t tell what was real. More than that, i wasn’t really sure he could either. Was this a guy who was lying to me to have his way, or was this a guy who genuinely believed every word he said? I still don’t know that answer. But I finally broke up with him.

    It took four years of lying, abuse, and gaslighting (is it still gaslighting if the perpetrator also believes in the false reality?) before he did something concrete enough that I could even be a little sure that I’d lost my bearings. It’s been years now, and I still really have no idea what happened during that relationship. I’ve had to make peace with the fact that I probably never will. That period of my life is lost down a rabbit hole. And for the most part, I say good riddance.

  44. Robotile
    Robotile November 16, 2011 at 6:25 pm |

    Kathleen,

    But how about dealing with someone who constantly amends history in their *own* heads, such that you could never really get them to “admit” anything? Because in their own minds there isn’t a gap between “how it happened” and “how I now say it happened”.

    I think my husband does this actually. Usually it’s stuff like me asking him to do something, him saying yes, then forgetting, then telling me I never asked him. I don’t think it’s intentional, I think he honestly forgets. But it’s gotten to the point where I sometimes go back through gchats to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. The truth is that we all have imperfect memories, and sometimes we can be positive we remember things a certain way when they didn’t actually happen that way. That’s what makes intentional gaslighting so awful: it exploits a natural quirk of our memories and then stretches it and stretches it until it encompasses much of your perception.

  45. Jadey
    Jadey November 16, 2011 at 6:34 pm |

    Esti: To me, gaslighting is a very specific term — as the wiki entry suggests, I think of it as only encompassing things designed to convince the target that their perception of reality is wrong. Not just subjective judgments about your worth as a person (which can of course be terrible and abusive), but changing or denying objective facts.

    Hm, putting it this way actually leads me to feel that it’s a bit of an epistemological problem – not all of us agree that there’s a gap between “objective” and “subjective” experiences. Someone else also asked the question about whether anyone knows if these things are done deliberately and consciously or through an unconscious motivation. More and more, I think that these things don’t matter so much – *what* is being denied or *why* it is being denied – compared to the outcome of feeling like you are crazy and detached from reality because the feedback you’re getting from another person doesn’t match your own perceptions (again, subjectively or objectively, as some of us would argue that the supposedly objective reality is subjectively mediated anyway and subjective experiences are as real as their consequences)

    So I’m having trouble grasping the relative value of saying to someone who resonates with the description of the effects of gaslighting that what they experienced was some other thing that is bad but doesn’t have a name. Because part of the awesome thing about being able to name something is that then you can start to deal with it, which is why I think people are so glad to learn from these sorts of definitional posts. Does it undermine or overshadow the experiences that fit the more classic definition? Is the process more relevant than the outcome?

    I was on board with the criticism of Ali’s definitional sloppiness because I think it reflected the sloppiness of his approach to that article as a whole, but I do wonder where the wiggle-room on ‘gaslighting’ as a term is (because language is all about wiggle room!) and what the most useful definition is to capture meaningfully similar experiences.

    (Genuine questions, and I am open to being wrong here – I just think it’s worth exploring.)

  46. Angela
    Angela November 16, 2011 at 6:51 pm |

    Kathleen:
    Doesanybodyhaveanyinsightastowhethergaslightersknowwhattheyaredoing?Imean,insomecases(cheated,lyingaboutit),ofcoursetheydo.Buthowaboutdealingwithsomeonewhoconstantlyamendshistoryintheir*own*heads,suchthatyoucouldneverreallygetthemto“admit”anything?Becauseintheirownmindsthereisn’tagapbetween“howithappened”and“howInowsayithappened”.Nottoderail,hopefullyjusttoaddon,butwhichdopeoplefeelliketheyaremostlydealingwith,andanyparticularinsightaboutit?Thefirstseemsmorestraightforwardlymanipulative,thesecondlikearealcanofworms.Ordopeoplethinkgaslightersalwaysdeepdowndoknowtheyarenotbeingaccurate/fair?

    I’m pretty sure my Mom falls into this category. Gaslighting? Happens all the time! Even when I have evidence in writing, that she signed! (That was a good one.) But my Mom genuinely doesn’t seem to remember the things she doesn’t want to remember. For a long time it had me scratching my head thinking “Am I crazy? Mom’s a terrible liar. I’d know if she were _lying_, so…” But no. Pretty sure my Mom is just exceptionally skilled at editing her own reality, and maintaining that memory structure necessitates editing mine too.

  47. Kat
    Kat November 16, 2011 at 6:59 pm |

    I have a wealth of stories about my father’s gaslighting of me throughout my life, but I will tell you of the absolute worst. When I was around 14, my father added a new kind of abuse to his repertoire. Dragging me out of bed in the middle of the night, he would beat the hell out of me and scream until dawn, usually over some minor slight on my part (it could be as simple as me forgetting to leave the remote in the exact location he preferred, and that would be reason enough to declare me disrespectful, inconsiderate, and disobedient and warrant a severe beating). One night, though, he dragged me out of bed and delivered the worst beating I had ever endured (up to that point), and claimed it was because he had hired a private investigator to follow me and he had photographic proof that I was constantly ditching school to go prostitute myself and use drugs. Of course this was untrue, but he was so adamant that it was, over time, I began to believe it myself. This went on for weeks. Each time he would drag me out of bed for a “punishment session,” he would tell me about new things I had supposedly done, even at one point telling me he had a copy of the beastiality porno that I had supposedly starred in. When I had a moment of courage/insanity, I demanded to see the proof myself, and he forgot all about his personal rule of not hitting in visible places. I went to school with two black eyes and a split lip the next day. The fact that not a single teacher or administrator said anything about it is a story for another day, but the fact that no one seemed to care about what was going on contributed to my belief that I was, somehow, responsible for this happening. Even after the grading period ended, and I saw my perfect attendance record for that semester (proving I was not ditching school to do anything, much less do porn), I still didn’t entirely believe that I hadn’t. That is how powerful gaslighting can be.

  48. Angela
    Angela November 16, 2011 at 7:02 pm |

    And as to my own experiences: My Mom did this to me all the time, especially when I was a teenager. She’d give me permission to do something and then get angry when I did it. She’d say something or do something and then when I got upset would hotly deny that she could EVER do such a thing. This went on constantly, for years. It got to the point where I was reluctant to talk to her because I never knew which parts of the conversation would be ‘true’ the next day.

    This left me in a lovely double bind: on the one hand I kept wondering “Am I crazy? Am I really such a hateful child that I’d make all this up?”; and on the other, I really was angry and resentful because she’d do all this stuff and she’d never acknowledge it, let alone apologise.This meant that Mom was free to portray me — to friends and most importantly to HERSELF — as a difficult, sullen, ungrateful child who just didn’t love her. Which gave her free rein to react to me in exactly the ways that had made me so upset in the first place.

  49. Me
    Me November 16, 2011 at 7:20 pm |

    reading this is really cathartic. shockingly so.

    I sent you an email.

    But incidentally: I actually had heart irregularities due to anxiety relating to him. I think that the most damaging thing was that I doubted my instinct, and that was a major source of anxiety. I’m actually getting anxious now.

    I think it keys in on two things: a) the knowledge that your memory is imperfect and b) the idea that all aspects of a relationship are a give and take.

    I don’t know that he was actively abusive, but my ex was emotionally neglectful. I still don’t know whether or not I was over-reacting to everything. More precisely, i could see that I was on-edge, and thus more likely to interpret potential cheating actions as indications of cheating. Maybe I did attack him unfairly, when he was innocent? But he was definitely not innocent at other times, and unwilling to admit it, so how can I judge that perception? In both incidents I was told I was wrong and previously overreacting. So I still don’t know if my perceptions of that time are correct.

    To answer Kathleens question:
    My ex was aware that he was manipulative-he couldn’t handle disagreements and would do whatever necessary to get out of them. I’m not sure if he was aware of the gaslighting specifically. My mother is not. Her reality is her own, and she tends to accuse the rest of the family of gaslighting her (me: mom, you said this mean thing. mom: I did not! my sister: I *heard* you. mom: why are you two ganging up on me? ) . I think that this means I’m somewhat more perceptible to it – am I making this up and over-reacting to an imagined slight? Did I unintentionally do something rude/mean/whatever?

  50. zuzu
    zuzu November 16, 2011 at 7:22 pm |

    Lauren: Exactly. And insisting that your reality is real only “proves” that you’re crazy because the gaslighter is holding up the lie as reality.

    You know, when Adam Savage said, “I reject your reality and substitute my own,” he was joking because he knew he got busted making a prediction that didn’t turn out, and he couldn’t deny it because it was on tape. But really, that’s gaslighting in a nutshell — only the person who does it knows no one was filming.

    Lauren: What was reinforcing of this abuse was the belief by so many around us that “it takes two” and “there are two sides to everything”. So I’d say, “He cheated on me, here’s how I know, three people back me up, here’s the person he cheated with,” and he’d say “No, I didn’t. I would never do that!” So automatically it’s a he said-she said argument, and there are two sides to everything, and it takes two in a relationship, rinse, repeat. What’s worse is that my hyper-vigilance to prove the truth did make me appear off-balance, and my indignant disbelief that anyone would side with his lie made me look worse. I mean, I had proof, right?

    This explains so much about the way that politics operates. Republicans are master gaslighters, and the media happily plays the “both sides do it” role that lets them get away with it.

  51. SR
    SR November 16, 2011 at 7:41 pm |

    I think it is certainly true that many gas lighters are rewriting it in their own heads to deal with the cognitive dissonance. They believe they are good and right and they would never do something that is wrong or bad so it must have been you.

    My father and my ex both did this, extensively.
    Anyone else now really want to rely on online forums for everything because of this? If I have an email conversation with someone I can check back to make sure that I really did say that. If we were on chat I can examine the logs. I would really prefer if all my interactions with people were in a quickly searchable format so I could verify the veracity later.

    I do know that I make a lot of recall errors but when he said he didn’t come over and I have his jacket and then he tells me I must have broke into his house and stole it, I just don’t know how to interact with that and he is so very sure and I’m wrong so often right and he is always right and he is so sure and do I recall every detail, what time exactly did he get there, what was he wearing, how long did he stay, what did he drink, did we watch this show, well then why doesn’t he remember that, clearly I must be wrong and just inventing it. And each time it was easier for me to be wrong.

    So give me an online relationship any time. I know what is real, I can check the logs.

  52. Me
    Me November 16, 2011 at 7:46 pm |

    I think that it’s important to recognize that gaslighting is part of the abuse. Because it’s part and parcel of it, it’s hard to sift out this specific tool that abusers use from what unspecified emotional abuse. I still don’t think my ex was actively abusive, he was neglectful. He thought I was smart and beautiful and was actually the one who pushed me to go counselling when it became obvious I was extremely depressed. All of the emotional abuse that experienced from him came from me attempting to confront him about his neglectful behavior. He was trying to avoid those confrontations, and rather than fix them, he manipulated me so I wouldn’t argue with him. But because he was able convince that my perception of his behavior was incorrect (he wasn’t neglectful, I just expected too much/didn’t want to acknowledge what he *did* do for me), my general perception of myself started to erode. Was I doing poorly in school because I was preoccupied with the failing relationship, or was it because I was too lazy? Maybe I was just focusing on the relationship to avoid work? I know I was a hard worker in high school and undergrad, but maybe somehow my perception for that whole time was *wrong*.

    Even though he wasn’t actively telling me I was lazy and stupid, I think it still had a lot of those effects. However, I think I was more able to break free of it because I didn’t have the other abuse wearing me down as well.

    So, I think it’s important to identify the tool, but I don’t think that one person saying “well, this that you experienced is *actually* gaslighting, but this is just regular emotional abuse” is helpful to someone else. Unless, maybe, if you’re trying to break down the abuse and identify what all was done to you.

  53. Aydan
    Aydan November 16, 2011 at 7:48 pm |

    KB: He has his “special” way to shop, to drive (especially when his car wasn’t working right and was tricky to drive), to do just about anything. He’d carefully explain all his reasoning behind his “special” way, and emphasize that I didn’t “understand” how to do things “right.” He didn’t want me to drive because his car had to be driven a special way. He criticized me when I shopped because I didn’t do it “right.”

    Or the inverse– “You have such weird ways of doing things. Why do you have to make everything so complicated?”

    >.<

  54. Esti
    Esti November 16, 2011 at 7:50 pm |

    Jadey, that’s why I was very careful in my comment to say that gaslighting has a certain meaning *to me* and to interpret only my own experiences according to that meaning. I don’t find the term helpful when applied more broadly (primarily because I think that in doing so it loses some of its descriptive force for the more specific and less common subset of actions to which I apply it), but I recognize that other people do and I’m certainly not saying that other people shouldn’t use the term however is most helpful for them.

    (And while the subjective/objective distinction may be a bit of a derail, I’ll just say this: yes, subjective experiences are both valid and valuable and the objective label is often applied in ways that are anything but. That being said, there’s a pretty clear distinction to me between (1) whether or not your partner hit you yesterday (something I would term an objective fact), and (2) whether or not you’re a nice person, or whether or not you’re attractive, or whether or not you’re too sensitive (things I would term subjective facts).)

  55. f.
    f. November 16, 2011 at 7:52 pm |

    @Thomas MacAulay Millar:

    I just escaped a roommate situation in which one of the roommates was verbally abusive and manipulative in many ways. Probably the most hilarious (in hindsight) things she did was try to make me feel bad for not ever going grocery shopping, when we had all saved our receipts in order to figure out who had bought what for the apartment. So I took the receipts out and calculated who’d spent how much.

    I had spent $5 less than her, yet she repeatedly continued to accuse me of never buying anything for the apartment! It was so bizarre that I really did try to make excuses for her in my head, trying to figure out how and why that could be her perception, and how I might be able to “prove” that I wasn’t being lazy about shopping. But then I would remind myself I had documented everything and she STILL didn’t care. Attempting to reason with her was useless, as any disagreement would lead to a violent fury.

    Re: the ongoing conversation about whether or not gaslighters believe their own bullshit, I really couldn’t figure it out when it came to her. She certainly either believes the things she says about other people, or is an amazing actress. Yet it takes some real detachment from reality to actually believe the opposite of what is black and white, on paper – can anyone really, truly, honestly think that way?

    It’s a mystery that still bothers me, even though I’ll never have to see or deal with her again. Meeting a person who either acts in completely bad faith, or is so extremely convinced of provable untruths, is a really unsettling experience.

  56. MH
    MH November 16, 2011 at 7:56 pm |

    Happened to me with my ex-landlady (rooming house). I was financially vulnerable, without a man (father, husband) in my life at the time, fat, and of a different ethnic background. And this was enough to make me an ‘ideal’ target. I was told I was a thief (while she had stolen things from me), a liar (she lied to me constantly), greedy (I was living like a penniless monk, basically), stupid (I have multiple post-secondary degrees), and worthless (though she claimed to follow a religion that believed everyone is ultimately divine). And I really did start to question my reality, and, for a while, sought constant reassurance from friends and family that her version of reality was not accurate.
    Even now, years later, it still haunts and angers me. This is the way that real evil is performed in the world, everyday, quietly and unnoticed.

  57. f.
    f. November 16, 2011 at 7:58 pm |

    Ugh, I just remembered the way she would gaslight both of us other two girls in the apartment regarding things the other one had said and done. Trying to make each of us think the other one was being a “bad” roommate in some way, playing us off of each other. It’s frighteningly effective, and kept us from teaming up against the abuser because we would never know whether one of us was lying to the other, or the abuser was. I mean, after 2 weeks or so I could personally pretty much guess, but the other girl has been friends with her for years. Of course she wants to believe her friend, right? Ugh.

  58. Jadey
    Jadey November 16, 2011 at 8:02 pm |

    @ Esti

    Sorry, by using just your quote, I made that too personal to you, when I really meant to be talking about a more general theme. I used yours because it was the first to use the objective/subjective terminology explicitly, but I definitely didn’t want to suggest that you personally are policing people’s experiences. Sorry for my carelessness.

  59. Anne
    Anne November 16, 2011 at 8:22 pm |

    I’m not sure if my ex used gaslighting. I’ve been trying to remember but I don’t have any concrete examples – if he did, he was very subtle about it. The reason I’m wondering is that I realised shortly before I broke up with him that I was having trouble remembering actual things that happened between us.

    Later, a friend loaned me the amazing graphic novel Dragonslippers by Rosalind B. Penfold, which clarified a lot for me. Near the end, there’s a section where Roz visits her counsellor, Saje, who tells her that human brains deal differently with happy and bad memories. Happy memories are organised like in a photo album – you can take them out and look at them in order, and they make sense. Brains, however, do not like to deal with bad memories, so it’s like instead of a photo album you’re left with a bag of jumbled up negatives. Hard to look at, hard to organise, very hard to remember.

    I had to start journalling my experiences with my ex in order to realise how bad things were, that they were actually things he was doing, not me, and that they entirely justified breaking up with him. Before I started writing things down, and putting the memories into categories, I couldn’t hold on to any of the reasons behind why I felt so awful.

    So, I’m not sure if there was gaslighting in that case, but I thought the memory thing is probably a pretty common experience. Does that make sense to you all?

    Also: here’s a link to a page from the website for Dragonslippers where it shows warning signs for abuse. A few near the end are related to gaslighting, although it isn’t named as such. http://www.dragonslippers.com/learn.html

  60. A.L.
    A.L. November 16, 2011 at 8:25 pm |

    like @CurrerBell – 23

    This was present during almost every parent-child interaction between the ages of 5-25. As a result, I subconsciously selected dating partners who also used this type of manipulation (in different forms, however!) to control me, my actions, lower my self-esteem, and make me more compliant.

    soc. gaslighting (aka crazy-making, emotional abuse, emotional vampires e.a.) has been part of my Pawlow-like-conditioning esp. by my mother (but also my father and grand-parents)
    i cannot recount incidents and situations – it was “my life” for decades.
    too . much . to . put . anywhere .
    // ah advanced hindsight //

    until 3 yrs. ago when my soc. husband left the shared “home” without any communication (after an argument/fight). this gave me my chance to start looking into/at myself and trying to “name it – change it” because i was finally living alone (with cats ;)
    and since i couldn’t find a trustworthy therapist i started “self-therapy” – thanks to the internet. so mine’s a story of recovery and finding myself. it is ongoing and i feel now that i can “do/be myself”.
    and actually cutting contact with with soc. family (both my parents divorced and remarried, so for the past 20 years i had 2 + 2 gaslighters/crazy-makers getting at me) – a NO-Contact-rule has quasi-liberated me (aka “baggagereclaim”)
    unfortunately my husband came back (financial crisis; co-owned property) so unfortunately i have 1 gaslighter/crazy-maker back in my life. this is my next challenge : taking care of myself in spite of this until i can resolve this situation at “my pace” (“healthy boundaries are healthy”).
    so i actually want to encourage you to “name it and change it”.

    let me thank “ya’all” for sharing your experiences and comments here – like Amanda Marcotte, Thomas from “yes means yes” and especially to you Lauren for giving this space.

  61. A.L.
    A.L. November 16, 2011 at 8:29 pm |

    sorry, the b-quotes are wrong in my comment.

  62. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan November 16, 2011 at 8:34 pm |

    Someone else also asked the question about whether anyone knows if these things are done deliberately and consciously or through an unconscious motivation. More and more, I think that these things don’t matter so much – *what* is being denied or *why* it is being denied – compared to the outcome of feeling like you are crazy and detached from reality because the feedback you’re getting from another person doesn’t match your own perceptions

    I personally prefer some level of precision with the use of the term, honestly; there are plenty of forms of abuse that aren’t gaslighting, and even many instances in which your version of events might not match another person’s but that’s still not gaslighting. Trying to sweep any event that made a person feel bad or doubt themself into the term doesn’t seem helpful. Being precise is not questioning a person’s experiences, or invalidating the pain of them, it’s sticking to a (loose) definition of a term in order to facilitate communication. Other forms of abuse or manipulation have terms, too, I don’t think that those should be conflated with “any bad thing” either.

    For example, if someone calls me “stupid” that is both a mean thing to say and it conflicts with my perception of myself, but I’d hardly consider that gaslighting because while we obviously disagree on my smarts it’s not casting entire chunks of my life or my sanity into question. I would say gaslighting would be more like claiming that I consistently did poorly on tests even in the face of good scores, or saying that my coworkers always agree I’m a dumbass when they have in fact commented that I’m quite bright, or something where the narrative of the abuser conflicts with the victim’s narrative and conflicts with objective reality (or the closest approximation to it.)

    As for whether this is necessarily a conscious tactic, I don’t know. If it’s not happening in front of any witnesses then I’d be inclined to say that yes, it’s a purposeful action because the gaslighter isn’t just flailing around detached from reality in a way that is obvious to everyone, they are targeting a particular person and trying to undermine that individual’s reality. (My little sister, for example, can be told things or asked things in the middle of reading a book, and then later will have no memory of that once she’s done reading because she wasn’t really paying attention — that’s not gaslighting, that’s just her brain being in a different place than everyone else’s.)

  63. vanessa
    vanessa November 16, 2011 at 9:35 pm |

    I first heard this term in analysis, when my shrink discussed it with me. Our theory is/was that my parents were a bit gas-lighting–actually very gas-lighting–in that because of the way I was raised I had/have a very hard time figuring out what is and isnt real. But the thing is, their gaslighting was never DESIGNED to confuse me–it was unintentional. I dont know if this still counts as gaslighting or not.

  64. alynn
    alynn November 16, 2011 at 9:35 pm |

    @KB

    He has his “special” way to shop, to drive (especially when his car wasn’t working right and was tricky to drive), to do just about anything. He’d carefully explain all his reasoning behind his “special” way, and emphasize that I didn’t “understand” how to do things “right.” He didn’t want me to drive because his car had to be driven a special way. He criticized me when I shopped because I didn’t do it “right.” Sometime this was followed with, “You know, you’d never make it in this world if it wasn’t for me.”

    Yeeeeah, that’s my dad, to a tee. He had a precise way for absolutely everything he did and if you didn’t conform to his way you were wrong, stupid, going to fail at life, etc. And if you tried to point out that his way was at all special or unusual then you were also wrong or stupid because his way was clearly the ONLY way.

    And when it comes up if this behavior is intentional or not reminds me of him too, because as a paranoid schizophrenic his mind would actively rewrite history. (Like other people are discussing.) I would experience something with him (like a harmless conversation w/ a third person) and later, he would have an entirely fictional story where everyone in the situation was insulting him, lying to him, or generally out to get him. So I know that’s the mental illness, but I think it treaded into gaslighting when he would try to very hard to make me feel foolish/stupid/naive/like a liar when I corrected him. Perhaps he felt backed into a corner when confronted with his mind betraying him.

    My dad had a lot of abusive behaviors raising me and I’m always trying to understand what were things that he could control vs. the things that he couldn’t. It’s a daily struggle trying to understand and make sense of everything I endured along with the fear of becoming him.

  65. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub November 16, 2011 at 10:18 pm |

    Gaslighting is always abusive and I bet always happens in the context of a relationship that is abusive in other ways. But there are, in fact, other ways to be emotionally abusive, that aren’t exactly gaslighting. Perhaps it’s a spectrum.

    Think of it as a tool in the abuser’s tool box. They may not think to themselves, “Ah! I shall gaslight my target by doing/saying X” but they do know on some level what they are doing. (And honestly? If they don’t I still don’t give a shit. Having been through that and more, I’m all out of nice.)

  66. Hugh
    Hugh November 16, 2011 at 10:38 pm |

    A girlfriend of mine once told me I’d agreed to have kids with her, and acted betrayed when I told her I didn’t. Subsequently whenever we agreed on something she would, in a very over-the-top way, confirm it a day or two later, just to make sure I wasn’t going to have one of those crazy brain aneurysms I apparently had immediately after agreeing to do something I’ve never wanted to do.

  67. Anonymous
    Anonymous November 16, 2011 at 11:09 pm |

    When I started university, the health center accused me of having an eating disorder based solely on my BMI from the past year’s physical– just the one, outdated number.

    Although perhaps it wasn’t gaslighting per se, it was a really frustrating to carry the burden of proof. How exactly does one “prove” they don’t have an eating disorder? I’ve always been underweight and lost more from a difficult surgery last year, but I have a very positive body image and would NEVER try to make myself thinner! In fact, besides the weight loss from surgery, I have an unbroken pattern of purposeful weight gain.

    Even though I submitted documents from my physician (since childhood) and had my parents call the center, however, student health still tried to require me to attend weekly weigh-in sessions. At one point, the director of student health tried to insinuate that both my parents and I were “too close to the issue” to see the truth. BS!

    When I showed up to the center for my initial evaluation, my BMI was .1 away from “normal,” and the doctor admitted that I “clearly don’t have an eating disorder.” Exact words. The whole time, however, they have treated me with distrust and a mild condescension that I hate. And, inexplicably, I’m still required to attend monthly weigh-ins.

    I remember just sobbing many times because I felt so violated and mistrusted. I’m still reluctant to share the story with people, because often they size me up and I can tell they’re wondering whether to trust me or not. I do look thin, and eating disorder patients often try to cover up their disease, right? I always get a sick sense of relief if someone says “That’s terrible!” or “How could they do that?!” I worry that people will always trust the health center more, even if I’m the one telling the truth…

  68. mac
    mac November 16, 2011 at 11:13 pm |

    My parents were exceedingly talented at gaslighting, to the point where I struggle all the time with the intense terror that I’m going insane, even when there’s nothing remotely unclear happening around me. It took a lot of talking with my current fiancee to begin to get something like order in my mind and memory (which has never been that good, even on objective things). The worst of it is, so much of it is so subtle that I’m still picking up the pieces months after moving halfway across the fucking world from them.

    I mean…I have arthritis (I’m pretty sure; just starting to get the diagnosis on the go). My hands shake all the time, and on the bad days I can’t grip things or use any real fine motor skills. My mom told me repeatedly that my hands shook at mealtimes because I was greedy and wanted to eat more than anyone else, and that I refused to write for long periods because I was lazy and lying. All this, with visibly fragile fingers, intense pain (that I wasn’t allowed to use pain medication for, because I was a “junkie” for taking 200mg of Ibuprofen about twice a week) and a family history of the disease. I still can’t eat without feeling horribly guilty for being hungry, I still can’t eat if anyone in the house hasn’t eaten or isn’t able to eat, and I had to train myself out of having anxiety attacks because I bought the last cookie in the store because I’m GREEDY GREEDY and a horrible person, and my fiancee has had to literally sit me down, hand me ibuprofen and demand I take the pain meds right fucking now before I could do it without feeling guilty as sin. And fuck, all of this even though I knew intellectually that there was something wrong with my hands, that I wasn’t greedy or lazy. Even though I knew. That’s how powerful it can be.

  69. Zaleplon
    Zaleplon November 16, 2011 at 11:14 pm |

    This hits really close to home for me because I’m still sort of in the same relationship except I did leave and am living with my friend now (who he hates). One of the things I’ll always remember is when i was knitting a hat and working on a new design and part of my process for doing that is knitting up something and then undoing it and trying a different technique until I have the right gauge and pattern and everything worked out, then I’ll knit up the pattern. Anyway, he was watching me do this over a few days and kept saying look at you, you’re crazy! You’re never going to make anything. Can’t you see how crazy you’re acting? Stop doing that you’re making me angry, and he would slam the door and throw things at the wall near me. The thing is, knitting is one of like, the one things I’m good at so I was just so surprised that he was reacting that way and when I finally finished the pattern and he saw it, he said oh that’s really good. And that was the one time he’d ever actually admitted that he was wrong about something (that he was saying made me look crazy) and stupid me it really meant a lot to me that he said that. But then whenever I would bring that up like, that really meant a lot to me when you told me you liked my knitting he would get angry and say stop bringing that up. Anyway, I don’t know if that’s gaslighting or emotional abuse but I just remembered that.

  70. r
    r November 16, 2011 at 11:38 pm |

    my last boss did this all the time. he would “forget” what he had told me to do, demand that i redo everything, claim that the meetings he had arranged to go over designs/decisions never happened and, of course, any decisions that had been made really hadn’t so the work that i had done in support of that was garbage. it got to the point where every time i talked to him, i would have to go look at my calendar just to double-check that i wasn’t completely losing it. the situation kept getting worse, where people would publicly call me stupid, belittle my work, yell at me (and certain other women) any time we tried to make a contribution (for example, i said once that i thought the colors clashed on a design and was berated for twenty minutes by no less than three staffers) and my supervisor’s response was to laugh at me, tell me those were “nice, hard-working guys” and to shut up and do my job. it got so bad that i had chest pains and headaches every day. when i went to the appropriate hr contact, i got stuff like “it’s not really discrimination and there’s nothing we can do about bad management” and, my personal favorite, “it’s not really affecting anyone else (i.e. no spouse, no kids), so it’s no big deal.” i quit. i had to.

  71. Skye
    Skye November 16, 2011 at 11:45 pm |

    THANK YOU. I’ve been trying to think of the one word that explains what my ex did to me for three and a half years. It is a relief to know such a term exists.

    Gaslighting? Oh hell yes. My ex took things a step beyond simply telling me I was hopelessly flawed in every way. It was “You’re too lazy/too bad a driver/too nervous/too unfocused. Yes, you are. And here’s how we’re going to fix it.” Then he’d tell me of whatever therapy/training activity/self-help book he wanted me to do. Very clever: it switched the argument from whether I was flawed or not to whether I was willing to work on the “flaw” or not. If I balked at whatever therapy he wanted me to try, it was me who was unwilling to work on the relationship. And he could paint himself as a saint for trying to “help” me.

    I have a lot more to say about this but it’s late where I am…so I’ll share more tomorrow.

  72. queenrandom
    queenrandom November 16, 2011 at 11:50 pm |

    My mother took pains to try to convince me I’d never attempted suicide, I was just being “melodramatic” (I had twice in 7th and 9th grades). It worked briefly, just briefly enough for me to tell the school staff and doctors I hadn’t really and get them to back off. This is why I have never told her about the childhood sexual abuse I experienced. I also experienced, as brought up by KB, her having “right” ways of doing things, mostly cooking, and if I did them “wrong” I was screamed at and kicked out of the room, house, etc. As mentioned by others, this relationship was (is) emotionally abusive in other ways – and at times during my childhood physically abusive as well.

  73. librarygoose
    librarygoose November 17, 2011 at 12:31 am |

    I’m not sure if what my sister did was gas lighting. I remember though when I was little, my nephew was about 1 and I was about 7 and she wanted me to get him off the steps, and I declined because i couldn’t pick him up. She freaked and said if I really hated her and him so much why did I bother to talk to her? So I went to get him and he just bite the shit outta my shoulder. At which point she said it was fine and I was overreacting. At other points in time she would tell him that I never loved him because I wouldn’t play with him, or that I was a terrible person because I never wanted to help her (I was never older than 11 when this occurred). And now she denies any of it happening. If you ask her she raised me herself. She never deliberately locked me in hampers knowing I’m claustrophobic and that I would cry and hyperventilate. She just doesn’t remember this.

  74. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. November 17, 2011 at 12:37 am |

    @Anon,

    You are not alone and I’m so sorry that happened. My best friend was involunarily hospitalized for the same reason. She once asked me to stay with her for 48 hours (including bathroom breaks) to “prove” to her family/drs that she did not have an eating disorder. She obsessively cateloged everything she ate. Years later drs discovered she had a food allergy to certain fats that made her lose weight. So when she would try to put on weight by eating X, it would conversely make her progressively skinnier. I still want to smack her drs for that and the anxiety they caused her.

    @ Lauren

    I’ll email…I’m struggling to put everything into words.

  75. maura
    maura November 17, 2011 at 12:48 am |

    My partner of three years always tells me that I’m stupid. I’m at a top 5 professional school in the top 10% of my class. But I am deeply convinced that I am stupid.

  76. zuzu
    zuzu November 17, 2011 at 1:02 am |

    r: it got so bad that i had chest pains and headaches every day. when i went to the appropriate hr contact, i got stuff like “it’s not really discrimination and there’s nothing we can do about bad management” and, my personal favorite, “it’s not really affecting anyone else (i.e. no spouse, no kids), so it’s no big deal.” i quit. i had to.

    Here’s what I did when I had a boss like that: after every phone call, meeting or other nonwritten contact, I would shoot her a memo (she didn’t use email, but email is better because you can confirm it was sent to someone) which very professionally summed up my understanding of what we had just discussed and asked her to contact me if my summary did not comport with her understanding. And then I put that memo into a file, along with any responses (and if she responded by phone, I followed up in writing).

    It worked, too; the very next time she pulled the “I never asked you to do that” routine, I pulled out the memo I sent her documenting her request. She got a much better memory after that.

    And the best part is, even though you’re document, document, documenting, it’s absolutely nonconfrontational as long as you keep your emails brief and professional. What can a boss say, “Don’t send me email”? They may even help with your workflow, since you have documentation of work requests and dates.

  77. MH
    MH November 17, 2011 at 1:07 am |

    “They may not think to themselves, “Ah! I shall gaslight my target by doing/saying X” but they do know on some level what they are doing. (And honestly? If they don’t I still don’t give a shit. Having been through that and more, I’m all out of nice.)”

    The way I think about it is, if someone has reached adulthood without having made the effort to examine their own psyche and emotional life, to self-consciously formulate a personal value system, and to critically examine the motives of their own behaviours and how those behaviours do or do not coincide with their values (and actively work toward remedying any disconnects), then it doesn’t matter if their abusive behaviour is ‘intentional’ or not. They’ve neglected to perform the core tasks associated with developing into a mature human being, and so they are guilty by negligence, even if not by intent (analogous to ‘manslaughter’ charges). People don’t get a pass from me for *choosing* not to develop self-awareness.

  78. Anonymous
    Anonymous November 17, 2011 at 2:47 am |

    You are not alone and I’m so sorry that happened. My best friend was involunarily hospitalized for the same reason. She once asked me to stay with her for 48 hours (including bathroom breaks) to “prove” to her family/drs that she did not have an eating disorder. She obsessively cateloged everything she ate. Years later drs discovered she had a food allergy to certain fats that made her lose weight. So when she would try to put on weight by eating X, it would conversely make her progressively skinnier. I still want to smack her drs for that and the anxiety they caused her.

    Thanks for understanding, and I’m so sorry that your friend had a similar experience. Hers sounds even worse than mine!

    Fortunately, I don’t seem to have any underlying medical issues– just a naturally thin build. And I really am trying to let go of the anger and anxiety now, even though it’s difficult. No one at the university has apologized. I tell myself that at least it has motivated me to try even harder to keep gaining weight– at a certain point, I can just cuss out the doctors and run to the media if they try to bother me again.

  79. ellid
    ellid November 17, 2011 at 7:09 am |

    My former husband didn’t gaslight me at the time, but he’s sure trying to do it now; there was an article in the Boston Globe a couple of years ago about “runaway husbands,” men who simply walk out with no warning, and by God he left a comment that took every single thing *he’d* done (deny sex, lie, deny me children, cheat, threaten divorce) and claimed that *I’d* done them. And when I left a reply defending myself, either he or his second wife flagged the reply as abusive and the rest of the commenters spent the thread saying what a horrible bitch I was, and how brave and noble he was to put up with a child hating, sex denying, screaming, hysterical bitch.

    It was like he had his own version of reality…and I’ve run into people who knew us both who stopped associating with him because he tried it on *them*.

    Really weird.

  80. debbie
    debbie November 17, 2011 at 7:51 am |

    Bridget: An ex of mine had a serious drinking problem. When he was drunk, he would go from happy to obnoxious to downright mean sometimes. When I would bring up things he did or said the next day, he not only “didn’t remember” any of it, but would say that he did not say/do that thing, because he would never say/do that thing, because that was not the kind of person he was. He even did this if there were other witnesses, not just me. And he’d tell me he hadn’t even been drunk. Even though he was stumbling around. He’d tell me everyone else thought he was just so much fun and the life of the party. I was a prude and a control freak for questioning his drinking.

    To make matters worse, I started to get really upset whenever he drank too much, because I was afraid of what would happen (and because he’d often promised me beforehand that he wouldn’t get drunk). Sometimes I even had panic attacks. This gave him the perfect ammunition, because then it became all about me being “crazy.”

    It sounds like we have the same ex. I also would have panic attacks.

    The thing that really screwed me up, was that my ex would only get abusive and mean when he had been drinking around me. Our mutual friends didn’t believe me when I talked about how awful he could be, and of course, he would deny it completely. He finally slipped and lost it in front of some friends and family after some heavy drinking, and other people saw how scary he could be.

  81. saurus
    saurus November 17, 2011 at 8:43 am |

    maura: My partner of three years always tells me that I’m stupid. I’m at a top 5 professional school in the top 10% of my class. But I am deeply convinced that I am stupid.

    :(

    I had a partner of a few years who made me feel like shit. When I ended that relationship and began a new one, one which was actually supportive (which, despite seeming like an obvious trait one would expect in relationships, was totally new to me – my past relationships were either competitive or downright antagonistic) I realized that for me, a new dealbreaker is that the emotional space I inhabit with my partner must feel like a sanctuary. I get enough shit outside of my relationship; if my relationship isn’t functioning as a sanctuary from that crap then why the hell am I in it? Not to say that relationships must be problem-free, but if the overall vibe is of toil and danger and unhappiness instead of rest and safety and joy, then it’s just not worth it to me. Even if we’re both in love.

    Anyway, do you want to talk a bit more about your situation?

  82. Anonymous
    Anonymous November 17, 2011 at 9:16 am |

    laf:
    THisismyfirstintroductiontothisterm,butIthinkitmightdescribesomethingmyfatherusedtodotome.WhenIwasinfourthgrade,hepulledmeasidewhilewewereswimmingandtoldmeIwasstartingtogetfat.Fromthatpointon,heregularlycommentedonhowmuchIate,howbigmybuttwasbecoming,howmuchprettierIwouldbeifIwasthinandonandon.Asanadult,whocanlookbackwithalittleperspective,Iwasneverfat.Iwasn’tevenachubbykidwhowouldlaterstretchout.Iwasathinkid,butforsomereasonhemadeithismissiontoconvincemeIwasoverweight.Healwayspresenteditashimtryingtohelpme,andtryingtomakemylifeeasier,andIbelievedhim.Ispentaridiculousamountoftimeasachildandyoungadulttryingtobegoodforhim.Toexerciseanddiet,prettymuchconstantly.Anditwreckedme.Predictably,Idevelopedallkindsofdisorderedeatingpatternsandbodyissues.Someofthatmayhavehappenedanyway,giventhepressuresomanyofusfeeltobethin,buthiscampaignagainstmybodywasintense.Thismaybeapoorexample,butit’swhatcametomindwhenIreadyourpost.Thankyouforallowingaspacetosharestories.

    This same thing happened to me, except my mother was the abuser. She told be constantly how I needed to lose weight, how I would never be able to do want I wanted in life unless I lost weight, how I would be so much prettier if I lost weight, and how I was extremely unhealthy. I was not fat at all as a child or adolescent. Because of this, I developed an eating disorder. Any time I would tell her how her comments hurt me she would just reply with “I only care about you. If I don’t tell you who will? I’m saying these things because I love you so much. Don’t be so sensitive!” She made negative comments about other areas of my life as well, but the weight comments were constant, no matter how little I weighed. Now as an adult, if I talk about my eating disorder, she denies it. She tells me there is nothing wrong with me. She also blames my eating disorder on my husband, and refuses to take any blame at all for my extremely warped sense of self. Ironically, My husband is the only one in my life who has ever known the truth about the abuse, cared enough, and helped me find help and begin recovery.
    She told me for so long she was the only one I could trust, so I have an extremely hard time really trusting anyone. She has completely shaped how I view myself and my world, and that view is completely false.
    This form of abuse is awful. It is a silent killer. It’s my mother’s distortion of my self-image that initiated my eating disorder, made me attempt suicide, and lead to my depression. I had to move across the country and change my contact info to get away from her and her abuse. I hate that side of my mother and I am working very hard to rebuild my reality.

  83. Jen in Ohio
    Jen in Ohio November 17, 2011 at 10:07 am |

    My mother gaslit me throughout my entire childhood. In the beginning, I don’t think it was intended to be malicious, although it definitely ended up that way. I think the origin of it was that she had a fairly serious personality disorder, and so sometimes I think the early-life gaslighting was “merely” an effect of that, and other times it was about her trying to cover up any evidence of the personality disorder/the ways she self-medicated it. Eventually though, the downward spiral of it all made her turn really mean, and her behavior became overtly manipulative, ugly, and hateful.

    Gaslighting 101. During the years before I figured out wtf was going on (I started buying used psychology books at book fairs at age 10), my mother and I had what she taught me to describe as “a lot of arguments”. My experience of these “arguments” was this: she’d verbally abuse, berate and demean me until I couldn’t take it anymore (eg “you’re as worthless as your father, I should’ve aborted you, you’ve ruined my entire life”), I’d finally snap and call her an evil bitch or something uglier, she’d beat me with hands/fists/feet/whatever object was handy, she’d go away, I’d sob a while and sit there and berate myself for it, she’d come back and apologize for “getting upset” but also give me this whole repetitive, “It’s just you and me against the world, {petname I always hated}, and we’ve got no one else but each other” narrative, ultimately coercing me into reassuring her that “even though we have trouble getting along sometimes”, she really was a “very good mother, the best in the whole world”, now let’s hug it out. This entire cycle always took at least four or five hours to run complete, sometimes as long as a couplefew days. Because no one else was close to us and I had no other relatives with whom I regularly/closely interacted, until I was about 12, I actually thought this was what an “argument” was, and I thought this went on in everyone’s house when no one else was looking because “everyone has arguments, arguing is normal”.

    As soon as I could, I spent as much of my time as possible outside of that house, and by the time I was 16 I had a rough understanding of what was wrong with my mother. At least, I understood that she had serious addiction problems as well as serious mental health issues, neither of which were likely to be addressed, let alone resolved. By then her ability to gaslight covertly had been gravely diminished by her addictions and alcoholism going late stage. One day that spring she came home stumbling drunk and utterly furious about Mystery Issues which may or may not have had fuckall to do with me, and she tried to “start an argument”. I was too battered and exhausted to take the bait and play my part in the whole melodrama of it, and I told her exactly that. Pro tip: telling the truth or anything remotely resembling the truth is always a felony in this sort of household.

    My mother looked at me, narrowed her eyes, picked up the phone, and called the local police. She began to fake-cry and whisper while she told them that her “out of control teenager” was threatening her with a gun and could they please send an officer over immediately. (This was only the first time she did this to me; she did it again years later with a witness standing there watching her, which was traumatic but also validating.)

    I assume she was drunk enough to believe that she could manipulate the cops once they arrived. My mother had previously been very skillful at abusing people by proxy via the manipulation of authorities, plus which she’d gone to high school with/dated roughly 1/3 of the local police dept so whenever she got a cop she didn’t know she’d always just ask for another one. But that night she wound up passing out before they arrived and the ones who showed up were not familiar with our context, so I got to answer the door to cops hiding behind our shrubbery and porch walls with their guns drawn, peering out at me like I was a fuckin’ threat, and then I got to walk out, slowly, hands up, introduce myself as “the out of control teenager” while I invited them inside so I could explain that my mother “had problems” but that she was presently sleeping off a drunk in her bedroom and they were welcome to verify that she was fine and I was unarmed.

  84. saepe
    saepe November 17, 2011 at 10:08 am |

    saurus: :(

    I get enough shit outside of my relationship; if my relationship isn’t functioning as a sanctuary from that crap then why the hell am I in it? Not to say that relationships must be problem-free, but if the overall vibe is of toil and danger and unhappiness instead of rest and safety and joy, then it’s just not worth it to me. Even if we’re both in love.

    You’re so right, saurus. Quoted for truth – mind-blowing truth. So often I get caught up in wanting to be better, thinking that I have to work to make sure things stay happy. It’s exhausting.

  85. Wonderkitty
    Wonderkitty November 17, 2011 at 10:21 am |

    My second-to-last relationship was filled with examples of my ex making me feel like I was utterly crazy. He’d tell me something and then an hour later if it turned out to be wrong or disadvantageous he’d claim he never said it at all. Other times he’d claim he previously told me things that he hadn’t. If I got upset I was being irrational and it was my perceptions and feelings that were wrong, not his actions. At the time I had no idea there was a term for it.

    He particularly liked to do this in front of others because I was much less likely to fight back and gave him an opportunity to make others see me as crazy, forgetful, overly emotional, etc.

    In hindsight it was almost textbook control, isolation and abuse behavior. If I hadn’t lived so close to my parents at the time such that not going to see them was patently ridiculous I imagine it would have taken even longer to get out. My self-confidence is still fractured from three years of being convinced I was crazy and forgetful and always misunderstanding others, but it’s a lot better than it was. I moved out of the state we’d lived in together and went to law school (I graduate in May).

  86. Valency
    Valency November 17, 2011 at 10:41 am |

    My early introduction to gaslighting came at the hands of my mother. Jealous and bitter about motherhood, she would remind me constantly whilst hitting on my boy (and later, girlfriends) that I was “no fun,” a real party-pooper. That is why my relationships would always fail…my romantic partners would rather be with someone like her: a carefree party-girl.

    This set the stage for the most insidious gaslighting I would experience in my life. I dated a woman that I thought I would marry, but it turned abusive. I still have a hard time talking about the abuse, because I doubt my own experience, her gaslighting of me so complete and effective. In the end, I am left feeling as if maybe *I* was the abuser, for I am certain that the script has been entirely flipped. Afterall, who could believe that a hospice nurse could do the mentally cruel things that she did to me for 4 1/2 years? That a volleyball coach could torment me through my own children, calling them horrible names, then later denying the whole event even happened? That a church-goer could intimidate and threaten me and then insist that I was, in fact, crazy and should seek help, when I confronted her with her outrageous behavior? At times, I have felt that I have become unglued, as she insists. But trusting my intuition, I have reached out to friends and done what I need to do to protect myself from this soulless woman, blocking her from all contact. I’m glad to have a chance to share my story, and to have a name for this experience, and to know, for once, that I am not crazy. Thank you.

  87. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers November 17, 2011 at 11:08 am |

    My partner tries this shit, but it doesn’t work.

    I was the first child, the first grandchild, the first and only daughter and granddaughter. I was a child prodigy. I grew up being told I was smart, I was special, I was talented, I could do anything. I idolized Mr. Spock and adopted a self-image of hyper-intelligence and calm rationality and self control. I also grew up being told I had no sense of humor, I was unaffectionate, I was aloof, I was cutting, I was socially inappropriate, I was obsessive about things no one cared about, I was not grooming myself correctly… so I have this very powerful, very consistent self-image. I’m the smart one, the rational one, the one who does the right thing but isn’t very likable because I lack social skills. I have no investment in myself as a “friendly” or “lovable” person because I don’t believe I am, but I am strongly invested in myself as a “smart” and “rational” person… and I tend to think that the whole world is over-emotional and that, if I disagree with anyone on rational facts, I’m right.

    So when he tries this “You did blah blah” and I didn’t, I say, “I didn’t do that, I did blah blah blah”, and no matter how many times he tries to argue with me, I stick to my guns, and I use the evidence of all the other times he tried to claim that I did something I didn’t as proof that I’m right this time, too. So then he tries “You’re crazy/hysterical/overemotional” and I’m like “WTF, dude, I’m a Vulcan, if I’m upset about something it’s for a logical reason — you’re the one who started shit because of your random human irrational hyperemotions,” and it doesn’t work. It doesn’t make me question myself. It doesn’t make me feel lower self-esteem. It makes me stronger, and angrier, and more convinced that he’s wrong, stupid, and a generally bad person for attacking me this way and trying to rewrite reality, and I’ll derail whatever the argument was about (which is almost always one he started, about something he didn’t like that I did) to discuss the fact that he doesn’t remember how these things really went down. And then he accuses me of doing anything to be right, and I’m like “I can’t help it if you’re always wrong!”

    And what I don’t get is *why* he *ever* tries going to the “You’re crazy/hysterical/overemotional” box. He knows my self image; he knows that in a conflict between other people’s perception of reality and Alara’s, Alara always wins, unless there’s proof (which there isn’t, because he refuses to allow me to record anything on the grounds that he don’t think it would prove anything; I argue that it would prove that I’m right about what it was he said that he says he never said, and he argues that that would just make the argument worse and wouldn’t solve the underlying issues and is only something I want because I want to prove I’m always right. Which, dude, correct you are, because I’m always right, so I’d really like you to stop living in fantasyland.) He also knows that I think I’m smarter than everyone else, and that when there’s a conflict between me and an equally smart person, even if I normally respect their intelligence, the very fact that they addressed me with anger in the first place and challenged me means that I think they are not rational and I’m pretty much throwing out any possibility that they’re right. And he knows that I am well known by him and myself and everyone we know to be “unemotional” and “aloof” and “not good with people” and “a master of rationalizations” and “reluctant to show any emotion, ever”, which doesn’t jive with crazy/hysterical/overemotional.

    So it doesn’t work. It never works. Those words come out of his mouth and I immediately start disregarding everything he says. Or I challenge him angrily with “I’m not the hysterical one, I’m righteously angry because you accused me of something that didn’t happen” and then *I never back down.* I never apologize first, I never allow the possibility that his version of reality might even have a grain of truth until *after* the argument is over, and even then I’ll still say that mostly I was right.

    So why does he do it?

    I’ve got a huge, glaring weakness he could use to break me in a short period of time — I think I’m unlikeable, I think people don’t understand me, I think people are incapable of perceiving the way I show love and incapable of giving me love in the way I perceive it, and it doesn’t matter that I think they’re the broken ones, they outnumber me and I know they think I’m the one with a problem. You can get to me with “unlovable”, “bad in bed”, “cold”, “robotic”, “emotional cripple”, “no one would love you”… but he doesn’t go for those things. And it’s not because he’s trying to spare my feelings; there’s no depth of viciousness he won’t go to when we’re having a really bad argument.

    I think it’s because, as much as he isn’t particularly sexist in regular life, at the point where we’re having a nasty argument and he becomes particularly irrational, he’s just grabbing stuff out of the bag of tricks he’s had with him for forever, and our society has amply filled that bag of tricks with “stuff you say to women to make them doubt themselves”, and the fact that it just can’t ever work on *me* would be a rational thing to think, but he doesn’t think rationally in the middle of an argument. He just goes for the weapons he knows. And they don’t work — at least, they don’t work at what they’re for; they certainly make me angry, but they don’t make me weak and they don’t make me more inclined to agree with him and they don’t make me less inclined to argue any time he challenges me.

    I understand rationally that the problem with my protective strategy is that it would make it damn near impossible for anyone to bring something I really *am* doing wrong to my attention, if I haven’t already recognized it as a problem myself, if it makes them angry and they can’t avoid showing their anger; you can get me to recognize a problem in myself if you do it in a calm and reasonable way, but if you address me in anger, you have just lost your argument, permanently, and nothing you say after that point will be right until “I’m sorry” comes out of your mouth. So if we lived in a world that was fair, I would probably be unfairly defensive and the degree of my emotional shielding and belief in myself would probably be counterproductive. But we don’t live in a world that’s fair, and I live with someone who both attempts to rewrite his personal reality when he’s angry *and* goes for sexist insults that have no bearing on reality, so, you know, all’s fair in love and war. I’m justified in believing that I’m pretty damn near always right when I’m up against someone who uses tactics like that, because even if he was right once in a while, the fact that he *does* try to rewrite reality makes everything that comes out of his mouth when he’s angry into meaningless noise. You can’t ever believe in someone who rewrites reality when they’re angry, or it will do you enormous damage… so I just never believe *anything* he says when he’s angry, which means he can’t break me and he can’t win arguments.

    We’re going to couples counseling now. Not sure how well it will work, but he had a come-to-Jesus moment recently where he recognized that he had to change, so, you know, I have some hope.

  88. Mamie
    Mamie November 17, 2011 at 11:33 am |

    I don’t recall this happening in my childhood. I do recall mom being mad that dad ‘never told her things’ about family events, and dad would swear he did. Half the time I believed each of them ;-) As an adult, I can see that dad was under a lot of stress, mom was diabetic and had mood swings and memory loss associated with that and I don’t know what to believe about things that went on in childhood.

    However, I have had these things happen with a sibling. I sent a copy of the article by the man to my siblings, A sister is amazed at the term ‘gaslight’ and has never had this behavior happen before’ ARGH. I sent it hoping she’d see herself there, but of course she didn’t. I’ve been “shut down” so many times in things she has said, by the way she’s said it and then later it’s “I didn’t do that” or “I never said that”. She use to be a closer sibling but as I get older and read more works about behavior, psychology and how we come to terms with things, we have grown apart–or at least I have.

    ***I used a fake name for display, but you may contact me at my email if needed. I’d prefer to remain anonymous with the display name if you choose to use any of this.***

  89. debbie
    debbie November 17, 2011 at 11:39 am |

    Lauren: Debbie and Bridget: Do you participate in any family and friends of addicts communities? Addiction and gaslighting go hand in hand because of the need of the addict to cover up using behaviors and consequences…

    I haven’t, actually. In the course of our relationship, he began to admit that he had a problem (after losing two jobs as a result of his drug and alcohol abuse), but it never went much further than that. It hadn’t really occurred to me at the time that I could access support services, even if he wasn’t. I was also pretty much a basketcase at that point and just had way too much of my own shit to deal with.

    At this point, heavy drinking/heavy drug use are relationship deal breakers for me. Years after that relationship ended, I still find myself tensing up around drunk people, especially men, because my ex was so unpredictable and downright scary when he was drinking.

  90. Thomas MacAulay Millar
    Thomas MacAulay Millar November 17, 2011 at 11:46 am |

    “until I was about 12, I actually thought this was what an “argument” was,”

    Yeah. I was in high school, and my parents were sober, before I realized that “argument” isn’t synonymous with thrown glassware and dishes and overturned furniture and screaming unforgivable things so that the neighbors could hear. And when I realized that, for a long time I was just really, really angry.

  91. Merely Academic
    Merely Academic November 17, 2011 at 12:28 pm |

    maura:
    My partner of three years always tells me that I’m stupid. I’m at a top 5 professional school in the top 10% of my class. But I am deeply convinced that I am stupid.

    Maura, obviously I don’t know your whole situation. But based on that one comment, this person is not your partner. This person is your abuser. I hope you can find the strength, courage and support to deal with this relationship appropriately. It is very hard to see clearly when you’re in it, I know. If you can find others to witness what is being done to you, it will become much easier to figure out what to do.

  92. Jen in Ohio
    Jen in Ohio November 17, 2011 at 12:37 pm |

    Thomas, I had a similar emotional reaction in that I was absolutely furious from approx 13-21. It’s mostly burned out now, but every once in a while, I still feel like I have a belly full of smoldering coal.

    Anyway, I’m sorry that your parents created that kind of nightmarish childhood atmosphere for you, but I’m glad to hear that they eventually got sober, and I hope it was a good transition to long-term, psychologically healthy sobriety.

  93. catfood
    catfood November 17, 2011 at 12:39 pm |

    saurus: :(
    …the emotional space I inhabit with my partner must feel like a sanctuary. I get enough shit outside of my relationship; if my relationship isn’t functioning as a sanctuary from that crap then why the hell am I in it? Not to say that relationships must be problem-free, but if the overall vibe is of toil and danger and unhappiness instead of rest and safety and joy, then it’s just not worth it to me.

    THIS. Hell yes.

  94. ashleepinto
    ashleepinto November 17, 2011 at 12:52 pm |

    My father is the biggest gaslighter I know. One prime example, I just moved to Washington DC, I left an old laptop at my parent’s house until I could come back and buy an external hard drive back it up and give it to my father. I get a call the second week I’m here, with him saying “hey, give me your password, I want to get on the computer”. I immediately refused being that I have private and sensitive writings on there. He then proceeded to get angry and yell saying “give me your password or I’m just going to have my guy come over and get into it the back way”. And still I refused. He got even angrier asking me over and over again why I wouldnt give him my password. I hung up. Called back hysterically crying, and he responds to me that I’m making mountains out of molehills and acting crazy, that it’s not a big deal. When he is the one who called me, screamed and threatened me to HACK into his own daughter’s computer?

    I then started to feel bad like maybe I was overreacting, but I’m not. Any respectful father would respect his Daughter’s privacy, not try to manipulate and control it.

    He didn’t talk to my mother for the next week because she took the computer, got it all backed up and erased and gave it to him. He was mad she “took my side”.

    It just proves what his true intentions were in wanting to get on my computer.

  95. ashleepinto
    ashleepinto November 17, 2011 at 12:54 pm |

    What’s even worse, when responding to him why i didn’t want him to have access to my computer, he told me to “stop talking to him like I am equal to him”.

    Wow. Equal to him? That’s right I’m not, because I’m not a misogynistic asshole.

  96. Junebug Jones
    Junebug Jones November 17, 2011 at 1:05 pm |

    My girlfriend just yesterday came home from band practice upset because another woman musician in the band was repeatedly “calling her out” on her rhythm playing, in front of the other (male) musicians. My girlfriend is a pro, with 20+ years of experience, a talented band leader and multi-instrumentalist. She felt intentionally undermined and felt that the woman musician did this to improve her position with the men in the band. Thanks for introducing me to a term we can use for this type of behavior.

  97. wl
    wl November 17, 2011 at 1:59 pm |

    *trigger warning*

    1) This example is really awful and at the same time I’m worried that people will wonder how I could possibly have let something so blatant and obvious could have worked so well – how it could have made me actually feel crazy when what had happened was so obvious and clear. I was a teenager and I had just started seeing this guy (before I came out) and he was already abusive – he had already raped me once, in his car, and I had convinced myself I just needed to be more clear with him, and that it was partially my fault. He did it again, and when I freaked out and managed to push him off me he claimed he was just fingering me (and moving up and down under the covers, and hanging out of his undone shorts, and I can tell the difference FFS). But it worked – I thought I was crazy. I was “with” this guy for *two months* because I thought I *had to be*. That’s how strong the effect of his crazy-mongering was on me. He was really manipulative in other ways too. He tried to get me to bring my younger friend over for a “threesome” without telling her anything about it. THAT, I’m happy to say, I did not do.

    2) My stepfather’s emotional and mild physical abuse being framed by him and my mother as “arguments.” She eventually almost left him for it twice (the physical stuff), but early on it was all “arguments,” and equally as much my fault.

    3) I used to be in a relationship with a trans woman who got misgendered a lot, which was really hard on both of us. I think of this as a form of gaslighting, because people are telling you that your reality is false, her gender is false, and in my case, my identity as a queer woman dating a woman was false.

    4) My father did this. Unfortunately the only examples I can think of right now are about how he fucked with our heads about my mother and stepfather after the divorce, but I’m certain he’s done worse.

  98. Linus Figg
    Linus Figg November 17, 2011 at 2:49 pm |

    My mom did this. She had me convinced I was an abusive monster. If I got into an argument with her, she’d cringe and say loudly “don’t hit me.” It didn’t matter if I was on the other side of the room, sitting in a chair at the time or if I threw my hands in the air in frustration. I never hit or harmed my mom. She often, literally, referred to herself as “poor little mommy”.

    She’d go on and on about my anger issues to other people and my teachers, despite me being a pretty calm person. She’d tell me my friends’ parents had called her wanted to know why I had made their kid cry or to complain about my outbursts. I didn’t have a fight with a friend until I was 16 and that was really minor – just a bit of shouting. I didn’t have a ton of friends at the time and when pressed for details, she could never say who said what, claiming they were too afraid of me and that she promised to never tell.

    Her favorite thing was to tell me that she would call the police and have me sent to a foster home if I couldn’t control my violent outbursts at home. The last time I had a fight with my sibling was when I was 10 and she was 7.

    A group of kids tried to beat me up when I was in high school. I came home, freaked out. She told me that now I would understand how it felt to be threatened with violence and that maybe I wouldn’t be so awful to her and my sister. My sister and I were best friends.

    As I got older, she would tell my then fiance about my rages and outbursts, that I would throw things and get violent. She would tell anyone that listened that she pitied the person who ended up with me. She would also go on and on to them about how unpredictable I was and I seemed to snap for no reason. I didn’t know this until I noticed some friends were acting really, strangely careful around me.

    I could go on and on. In the end, she had me and everyone around me convinced I was violent, abusive, and mentally ill. I’m still working through the issues. It makes dealing with conflicts as an adult very hard because I’m so worried that I’m an abuser.

  99. Thomas MacAulay Millar
    Thomas MacAulay Millar November 17, 2011 at 3:12 pm |

    It got a lot better when I realized just how weak and flawed my parents were, and that they didn’t know any other pattern either. It’s all in the misty past for me; I’m nearing forty and my family and my household are the ones I’ve made, where nobody throws things except in fun.

  100. Another Anon
    Another Anon November 17, 2011 at 3:13 pm |

    I had a really good (ex) friend who did this. I’m an English Jew. I was with a group of friends at college talking about history and one person wondered aloud whether the UK government knew enough to intervene sooner in the Holocaust. I said something very mild like, “I wonder if more could have been done to save those lives.” My friend, a Wasp, was enraged – he leant in and hissed with real venom, “If that’s how you feel then you and your whole family can fuck off back where you came from.” I didn’t even reply; I simply couldn’t process how that had come out of the mouth of my so-called best friend – who had even stayed at my home a bunch hence he knew my family. Also, Jews are a minuscule minority in that part of England and sometimes there’s a fashionable anti-Semitism in academia and the middle/upper class so if I spoke up in that environment and people took his side I might be completely isolated. The next day he acted like it never happened. I didn’t confront him and I didn’t dare rock the boat so I put it out of my mind and stayed in that group of friends. He went away to study abroad for 6 months or so. When he got back I avoided him. A mutual friend asked why so I told her. It got back to him and he kept calling to try talking to me in this faux-benevolent way about why I would make up something like that, saying I should go to therapy or maybe I’d been drunk or was mad, and when I insisted on my account, he said OK maybe he’d been joking around but OBVIOUSLY his remark couldn’t have possibly been so hateful because otherwise why would I wait 6 months to call him out on it? He of course expressed these sentiments to everyone else too.

    Fortunately it didn’t work on me because a) I don’t drink, b) I had solid self esteem and c) I told my sister about it the day it happened so there was no question mark over my memory since she could recite my contemporaneous account unprompted. However it did make me wonder if any other friends were only tolerating my being a Jew. In retrospect he did that sort of thing a lot, like he would say that some girl had been hitting on him, and “She knows she’s cute and she’s a manipulator” when clearly she was just friendly, and then the girl would wonder if she WAS like that when people accused her of it.

    When I think how hurtful it was from a friend with no power to get me to give in, I can’t even imagine how awful it would be from family/partner/boss who can truly fuck up your life. I’m really sorry for everyone who has to put up with this.

  101. saurus
    saurus November 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm |

    Linus Figg: My mom did this. She had me convinced I was an abusive monster.

    Whoa, I was raised really similarly. Really, really similarly. It’s horrible. It’s horrible being a kid who brings her first boyfriend home, only to have her mother warn him that he’s dating some kind of abusive person and deserves better. I still have the sneaking suspicion that there’s some kind of monstrous person underneath; that no matter how good I “act” it’s just cosmetic enhancement of my rotten core. She’s been suggesting I’m abusive since I was nine – maybe even earlier. It was a therapist who told her with some bafflement, that no you can’t send your A-student, Scrabble-playing, straight-edge daughter into a group home even if she does have a messy room.

    Interestingly, she herself is a victim of domestic abuse, and I suspect she sort of over-applied the things she’d learned about abuse to anyone who remotely challenged her – or anyone’s – authority.

  102. Skye
    Skye November 17, 2011 at 4:33 pm |

    *Trigger Warning*

    This became longer than I thought it would; this thread made me realize a lot more about my abusive ex than I’d ever considered.

    He was manic-depressive and a suspected borderline schizophrenic, so I do believe his gaslighting was unconscious. That being said, there’s no excuse for it, and by the end he nearly had me convinced I was crazy.

    Whoever mentioned being made to feel completely incompetent every day, all day-this happened to me, too. There was nothing I did right-and, of course, his way of doing things was the ONLY way to do them. It started subtly, with things about myself that somewhat bothered me, too (the way that I mix up my left and my right, my mediocre math skills). But eventually, it evolved to the point where there was NOTHING I did right: the way I walked, the way I threw the ball for the dog, the way I picked up the cat (YES, I GOT THAT ONE TOO), even the way I breathed. He even tried to control the way I BREATHED, something that would eventually play out in a much more sinister way. When his abuse turned physical, the gaslighting would turn into what I can only call metagaslighting. He’d say I’d triggered him or I’d made him mad on purpose, of course-and when I cried, he’d say with disgust that I was acting like a little girl; what a turn off I was, he didn’t want to be in a relationship with a little girl because he was no pervert. So not only was the abuse my fault, I was the one whose behaviour was twisted and perverse and ruining our relationship. He’d then conclude with telling me to stand up for myself. Or he’d demand I try some new therapist he’d read about. Oddly enough, he would frequently demand I sign up for martial arts lessons. He was convinced that martial arts would make me focused and present and, of course, fit (it never occurred to him that any training in the martial arts could be used against him if he continued to abuse me). In the end, I’d be convinced that if I just tried whatever therapy he wanted, then I could “fix” our relationship and make him be loving and wonderful. It was a long, long time before I started to think “but you shouldn’t have hit me in the first place!!” Therapy soon became just another gaslighting opportunity. When it didn’t produce the results he wanted, he could just say I was lying to the therapist or that I wasn’t focusing during the sessions. Example: we went for couples counseling, using the therapist he’d been seeing for years. This actually worked in my favour, at first: she was also a counselor for abused women, so she saw what was going on right away. To his chagrin, she told him repeatedly what he was doing was wrong and that I needed to decide on my own what I needed to improve about myself. I’m certain he thought his therapist would back him up on everything he believed and then I’d have no choice but to accept it. Not the case. I’d feel so good during the sessions…but after, of course, he’d say I had lied to her or that I’d interpreted what she’d said all wrong. It was “no, she never said THAT, she said THIS!…you’re not listening, you’re not trying, you don’t want our relationship to get better!” And, of course, that I’d turned his very own therapist against him. (The therapist eventually called me in for a private, solo, no-charge session where she said point-blank I was being abused, it would not get better, and if I needed help to leave she could give me the names of several shelters. By this point, though, I was so determined to “fix” the relationship that I brushed off her warnings). By the end, I was such a nervous wreck that my arms, legs and face broke out in hives. I developed a nervous twitch, where I’d scratch them all day long. This just gave him more chances to gaslight me: see, you’re not stable! You’re scratching your skin off! God, you’re a mess. What’s wrong with you? You’re lucky I put up with you. “No other guy would’ve put up with you for as long as I have.” I didn’t even get “no other guy will love you like I do”. I just got “no other guy will put up with you like I do.” I wasn’t even someone who could be loved. I was just someone who could be put up with. And of course, the hives would get infected from the scratching, so I’d need antibiotics. This caused even more gaslighting: I was ruining my nervous system with all the drugs, and ew, the antibiotics were going to give me a yeast infection. Ew, I don’t even want to share a bed with you. Two days before I left him, I ended up in the emergency room because my eyes had swollen shut. But the worst episode of gaslighting came at the very bitter end. That’s when he freaked out on me for letting some broccoli go bad, chased me into our bedroom, and choked me until I nearly passed out. You could say he tried to control the way I breathed in the most extreme way. That’s when I got fed up and called the cops-but not before 20 minutes of being chased around the house, another strangling episode, and then having the phone yanked away from me as soon as I reached a 911 dispatcher (you could say that 911 recording was a little dramatic). When 911 called back (because he’d hung up on them) he told dispatcher exactly this: “Look, my girlfriend is distraught. She’s been in the hospital, she’s on meds, she doesn’t know what’s going on!”

    And, of course, this made me so angry and terrified that I screamed “he’s lying! Help!” over and over, which, of course, only fed into the malicious story he was spinning. Who was the dispatcher supposed to believe? It was his word against mine.

    I am so lucky the dispatcher was having none of it. And never was I so grateful to live in Ontario, where the police are required by law to make an arrest if they suspect domestic assault. And I am very, very grateful the cops arrived in five minutes, because once the call was over, my ex told me the police would see how hysterical I was and commit me to the psych ward. Who knows what he could have convinced me of if they’d taken longer?

    Thanks for listening…I know this was long.

  103. DaisyDeadhead
    DaisyDeadhead November 17, 2011 at 4:45 pm |

    I was married to a biker for two years, and that fact alone, has made me reticent to talk about the abuse. (First thing you get from feminists is, well, what did you expect? Not sure, but it wasn’t that.) I don’t think I fully realized that his subculture of bikers made the rules he lived by, not “regular” life, what bikers call “the citizens” (or the citizenry). Regular rules did not apply, and I think I found this very cool and revolutionary and romantic. At first. Later, I realized it basically gave him permission to do whatever he pleased. To anyone.

    I am still not ready to fully go there, and my hat is off to the women here who dare to say these things out loud. There will always be a part of me that thinks I brought it on myself, I should have known better. I was warned, didn’t listen, etc. I know a lot of my rage at men (which I would not have called “rage” before knowing him) is because of his lies and his games, his use and abuse of me, his mother, my mother, and everyone and everything in his path. The gaslighting was just one of many methods, but he was just so good at it.

    Thanks for the thread.

  104. roo
    roo November 17, 2011 at 5:12 pm |

    Hm. This sort of thing has happened to me my whole life. I have more examples than I could write– romantic relationships, “friends,” work relationships, my parents, my sister.

    It makes me feel tired to think about writing out any of the more telling examples.

    I’ve known that I let myself get victimized– it wouldn’t have happened so often if I weren’t somehow complicit ( I’m not saying I deserved it– just that sometimes, if you’re not fully aware you do something, you keep doing it. And I’ve always been a little too eager to please.)

    Gaslight is a useful term, though– it’s crystallized my awareness of a dynamic I’m all too familiar with, and let me know it’s something that happens to a lot of people.

    All right, here’s my example:
    I was having a heated argument with my parents, about college, I think, when I was a senior in high school. My father grabbed me and pushed me to the floor, and pinned me down with his body while I begged to be let go. My mom was there, but she just sat and watched. I thought he was going to rape me.

    Suddenly he let me go. I felt like I wasn’t in my body anymore.

    He told me he was holding me down to calm me, because I had been so out-of-control and angry.

    I didn’t understand how anyone would find that calming. But I didn’t say anything.

    Later I called my sister, who was away at school, to tell her what had happened. She didn’t believe me. She said I must have done something to upset them.

    After all, my parents were always talking about my mean streak.

    Blech. Okay. There’s my story.

    Hope it helps.

  105. roo
    roo November 17, 2011 at 5:26 pm |

    What I’d like to know, though, is how the hell you show you’re not crazy, when you are in fact mentally ill? I mean, I have a mental illness that is in treatment and controlled, but the fact of my diagnosis makes me pessimistic that anyone would believe my testimony in a gaslighting situation.

  106. Florence
    Florence November 17, 2011 at 5:33 pm |

    “What I’d like to know, though, is how the hell you show you’re not crazy, when you are in fact mentally ill?”

    To be honest with you, this is one of my fears as well. I have a long documented history of depression that is completely manageable with medication, but it’s something that he used against me. When it ended up in court (because it ended up in court, sigh), the judge was not so much interested in my history of depression so much as my treatment compliance and history, which was good, so his accusation that I was TOTES CRAZY was a non-starter. For people who don’t have a medical record to show, or who can’t afford regular treatment, I have absolutely no idea what the outcome would be.

  107. Jess
    Jess November 17, 2011 at 5:37 pm |

    I haven’t read through everyones, but I had to post because I had issues with this in my first marriage.

    Long story very very short, I deployed to Iraq for a year. I came back with PTSD. I know that I wasn’t easy to deal with during that time, but my husband did not attempt to make it easier. He often told me, very matter-of-fact, that he and the kids would have been better off if I had been killed over there. I accepted this as fact. And then things got really weird…

    While talking to coworker of his, he mentioned a mutual friends wedding, and then said to me “Remember that hun?” I said “No, I wasn’t there I was in Iraq.” Later he was furious with me, telling me that I should go along with what he had said, that we should never mention Iraq again, and we would pretend it never happend.

    For over a year, I did it. I acted like it hadn’t happened, claimed to have been at events when I was actually in a bunker in Baghdad, and would deny having ever been gone. Small wonder I was half out of my mind by the end of it. It was amazing how well I recovered once I finally threw him out (not, sadly, due to his abuse. I caught him in bed with a friend).

  108. Andrea
    Andrea November 17, 2011 at 5:59 pm |

    Oh my goodness. I had never heard of this term before today, but knowing that it exists has helped me immensely. I am 20 years old, and most of the adults in my life have constantly done this to me in order to free themselves of all responsibility for their actions. I am quiet, introverted, and have been constantly bullied and abused by people my entire life, and just about all of it has been belittled and dismissed entirely I have basically learned to accept that others can hurt me in whichever ways they want, and I just have to lie down and take it, because they’ll just tell me it never happened, and I’ll only get more abuse if I try to defend myself or fight back.

    The most traumatic experience of my life happened when I was 18, and my college forced me to live with an abusive roommate for several months. When it first started, I went to the residence hall director in charge of my building for help, and she told me I was a drama queen and was “delusional.” According to her, it was just a silly roommate squabble, and any real problem was in my head. Well, I believed her, and I tried to live with it. Five months later, I was on the verge of a breakdown; I bypassed her and went to the housing director for help.

    According to him, everything that happened to me those five months did not happen. It was all “crazy ranting,” and the only reason I was having the problems I had was that I was mentally unstable. He and the residence hall director literally invented an alternate version of events in which I was a brat who was trying to control my roommate (because I was the crazy one, remember?) and then used it to place the blame of the situation on me. They repeatedly yelled vitriol at me about “crazy” things I supposedly demanded of her, all while I was still in the situation, and told me these were facts. They had me so convinced that I started to doubt my own sanity. When I became suicidal, they used it as further proof that I was just “mentally unstable.” (My parents had to threaten them with legal action before they moved me out of the room.)

    After this, I went to the school president to file a complaint. And guess what? None of this ever happened. I’m just exaggerating stuff and being a ridiculous child who makes it up for attention. I also, obviously, have some serious mental problems, because of my behavior when I was breaking down. So why would he believe me? He laughed at my PTSD symptoms and told me I’d be on my own if anything bad ever happened to me on campus again.

    I have given up on humanity. Of course, when I say that, people laugh at me and tell me I’m being “melodramatic” or whatever, apparently missing the irony…

  109. Jawnita
    Jawnita November 17, 2011 at 6:05 pm |

    My story is not nearly as tragic as some of yours (I wish you all peace and recovery!), and it’s not about a parent or love interest: I have a former housemate (now the boyfriend of one of my good friends, who simply will not hear bad words about him unless she’s the one saying them) who does this.

    The most memorable occasion for me occurred one evening when it was time to head home from campus. This housemate was one of my few friends with a car, and I would occasionally get rides to/from school with him, if he happened to be heading in that direction anyway. I was always very careful to not take advantage of his car, and would usually help pay for gas when I could. On this evening, I ran into him near the campus parking garage, on my way to the bus stop, and I asked, “oh, are you heading home now? Could I get a ride?” He looked straight at me, told me to fuck off, and kept walking. I was startled, but assumed he’d been having a rough day (perhaps that he had a lot more work to do before he could go home, and was sensitive about that) and continued on to the bus stop. When I got home, he was there and playing computer games. I asked him if anything was wrong, and if he was mad at me for some reason. And he totally denied that he’d even seen me on campus.

    Lots of other little incidents: promising to come to various events, then not showing up and claiming either he didn’t know about them or that he didn’t know why I thought he’d want to go in the first place. Playing fast and loose with “I can’t believe you don’t like this [band/movie/whatever]” paired with “I never said I liked that [same band/movie/whatever]!” Constantly hauling out that feminists’ favorite, “calm down.” (“Oh, I should probably head out now, if I want to make it to that movie on time.” “Whatever; there’s always 20 minutes of trailers first anyway and you have plenty of time.” “Nah, not at the tiny arthouse theatre I go to, and anyway, it’s a long walk.” “Well, yeah, but if you leave now, you’ll make it on time. It’s not really that hard!” “…That’s why I said I should leave now.” “Ugh, calm down!”)

    The few times I’ve mentioned these kinds of incidents to mutual friends, they shrug in a “maybe you’re just misremembering?” way. And I believed them for a while, until I realized that all of these “misremembering” incidents seemed to involve just this one friend. Statistically unlikely, no?

  110. roo
    roo November 17, 2011 at 6:23 pm |

    Mamie:
    Idon’trecallthishappeninginmychildhood.Idorecallmombeingmadthatdad‘nevertoldherthings’aboutfamilyevents,anddadwouldswearhedid.HalfthetimeIbelievedeachofthem;-)Asanadult,Icanseethatdadwasunderalotofstress,momwasdiabeticandhadmoodswingsandmemorylossassociatedwiththatandIdon’tknowwhattobelieveaboutthingsthatwentoninchildhood.

    However,Ihavehadthesethingshappenwithasibling.Isentacopyofthearticlebythemantomysiblings,Asisterisamazedattheterm‘gaslight’andhasneverhadthisbehaviorhappenbefore’ARGH.Isentithopingshe’dseeherselfthere,butofcourseshedidn’t.I’vebeen“shutdown”somanytimesinthingsshehassaid,bythewayshe’ssaiditandthenlaterit’s“Ididn’tdothat”or“Ineversaidthat”.SheusetobeaclosersiblingbutasIgetolderandreadmoreworksaboutbehavior,psychologyandhowwecometotermswiththings,wehavegrownapart–oratleastIhave.

    ***Iusedafakenamefordisplay,butyoumaycontactmeatmyemailifneeded.I’dprefertoremainanonymouswiththedisplaynameifyouchoosetouseanyofthis.***

    Actually, I wrote a little about something similar with my sister, here:
    http://rooful.typepad.com/my_weblog/2011/10/i-never-learned-to-swim-well-not-formally-anyway-i-hated-my-swim-teacher-i-thought-she-was-mean-i-told-mom-tha.html

  111. anonym
    anonym November 17, 2011 at 6:37 pm |

    Scene one: Dad turns to young daughter and says, “so and so thinks such and such relative molested you. Can you believe it? They never molested you, did they?” Young daughter, embarrassed and recognizing the easy way out, says, “No, of course not!” Dad reminds her not to tell anyone he disclosed this information to her. Daughter is furious and sad but not sure why. She carries this secret, but it is heavy.

    Scene two: Some years later, Dad, Daughter and Son are eating pizza at a mall restaurant while out holiday shopping. In the course of some discussion, Dad turns to daughter and casually says, “Remember that time so and so thought such and such molested you!” He laughs. Daughter blushes, confused at why this is something to laugh at.

    Scene three: Years later, daughter’s older relative discloses that such and such molested her, and that she was forced to take the stand as a child to talk about it during a custody dispute. Daughter finds out Dad called older relative a liar. Silently, in her own head, she begins to realize that Dad knew about such and such’s “problem” all along, yet still put Daughter in such and such’s care, still laughed off the possibility of abuse, would call Daughter a liar if she told him about it today.

  112. anonymous as well
    anonymous as well November 17, 2011 at 8:09 pm |

    Hey, thanks everyone for your stories. It still shocks me we live in a world with so much pain, but I am glad so many like you are fighting to overcome the circumstances you have been placed in.

    My experience with an abusive partner is that gaslighting is totally part and parcel of the whole deal, and I still wonder, like many of you have said, if this is conscious on their part. I think that is a big part of how people come to believe their abuser; the things that occur are SO patently absurd that it seems no-one could possibly be capable of such cruelty or, in the case of gaslighting, lies and entire lack of memory and/or logical capabilities. Combine this with low self esteem, and the next step is doubting yourself, your own perception of reality as the only way of explaining the inconsistencies.

    *trigger warning*

    My abuser used both short and long term gaslighting. Short term is the usual sort of stuff – like denying he had said something in an argument, or denying that he had hit me, and actually insisting I had been the agressor by pushing past him to escape through the doorway he was blocking after he had shoved me around the room repeatedly and screamed at me.

    An example of long term – for many years he would scream at me if the house was messy when he came home (it was sometime, after i had managed to form some social contacts, that i recognized that having small children did, oddly enough, equate to mess at times and that it was pretty reasonable to expect that. but not reasonable to define ‘unacceptable mess ‘as a few clothes on the floor and the dishes not done’). Then, a year or so later, when i was working I would come home from work and begin to tidy the house and get dinner ready for the kids (because asking him to clean on the days i was at work resulted in a tirade about how he never had any time off and he was working too hard). He would tell me to stop, to come sit and play with him and the kids. I would say no, if i don’t do this now it means staying up late and doing it. Finally one day, I admitted that I feel anxious when the house is untidy due to his years of verbal abuse over my housekeeping. He looked hurt and shocked, and totally denied ever, EVER having done this.

    So what can you do with that? How can you address an issue the person denies it ever having happened?

  113. Elsa
    Elsa November 17, 2011 at 8:35 pm |

    And the best part is, even though you’re document, document, documenting, it’s absolutely nonconfrontational as long as you keep your emails brief and professional. What can a boss say,“Don’t send me email”?

    Funny story, my boss explicitly has told me NOT to send him emails when I want to request time off, have my time card corrected, etc. He also constantly lies about everything, from the amount of time he has worked as a supervisor (some days it 20 years, but he isn’t even 40 so that isn’t even possible) to claiming he has worked jobs it is impossible for him to have worked do to all of the other things he has said he has done. He also frequently calls meetings to warn/complain to us about things that aren’t being done – but he won’t say who needs to step up or what really needs to be changed; this really infuriates me because most of his complaints are about things that I know I don’t do (like not entering data promptly). He will also give direct instructions for something and then claim that he never said that or that he said the opposite.

    He also loves to make snide comments about his employees in front of them about things he has never said a word about previously. For example at a recent meeting he implied a didn’t dress professionally, although he has never said he had a problem with my dress before and has complimented me on how I look. Working for him is making me feel crazy.

  114. Bridget
    Bridget November 17, 2011 at 9:47 pm |

    Reading all of these stories makes me so mad that this behavior is so widespread. Many of the examples shared here are horrifying.

    And Debbie, I’m sorry you had to go through some of the same things I went through.

    Lauren, I never have sought out that type of help. I actually thought about it at the time, but that ex really pushed for us to spend as much time together as possible, so I had little time to do my own thing (outside of work). Now I’m married to someone else, thankfully!

  115. MTR
    MTR November 17, 2011 at 10:15 pm |

    He would question me in a way that made me think he was suspicious that I was cheating on him, but he was really trying to find out how much I knew about his cheating on *me.* So while the questions weren’t *intended* to make me feel crazy, they did(!)

    Is lying in general, “gaslighting”? b/c a liar does intentionally impose unreality onto the lied-to party, which affects everything. But their intent isn’t to make you crazy. “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.” (Ha.)

  116. RootedInBeing
    RootedInBeing November 17, 2011 at 11:19 pm |

    I remember an ex saying “you’ll never find someone like me again” and I said “good, I hope you’re right.”

    But that was at the very end, after wasting a year of my life trying to figure out how phenomenally I was being mind fucked by him.

    Lesson learned.

  117. orangedesperado
    orangedesperado November 17, 2011 at 11:19 pm |

    I think this discussion about gaslighting, which has really broadened to encompass many facets of emotional abuse is so important. I had a succession of abusive boyfriends — from mildly abusive to one who was/is a complete terrorist. I was really unaware of what emotional abuse was — like the specific names and patterns of behavior — even though I had a horribly abusive older brother who I have not spoken to in over two decades. It just seemed to be a given in much of my interactions with the opposite sex — and I thought that because none of them actually called me names to my face or were screaming at me — that was was happening was not abuse, exactly. I have read as much as I can about the subject in the last few years. I wish that around puberty that girls and boys would have a segregated class where emotional health, and really basic things like “what is a healthy relationship ? ” could be explicitly defined, and later on in junior high that a whole semester could be devoted to explaining and defining abuse, in all its forms and things like healthy conflict resolution. I know I sure didn’t learn any of these things in the house that I grew up in or from the people around me.

    Re: gaslighting. I think there is a big difference between insulting, disrespectful comments or actions, and what gaslighting is. Abuse is abuse, and it all happens to make the abused feel off balance, hurt, etc. However the tactics can be pretty different. For example, I dated this cool guy who was also a drug addict in a hot band. Lots of problems right there, in that sentence. He invited me to a barbeque at a local punk house hangout with him. Literally as we were about to walk in the door he turns to me and says ” All the guys I know think you’re swell but the girls think you’re a real hellbitch.” The entire time at the barbeque (all his pals, bandmates, etc.) I felt nervous, uneasy and paranoid about speaking with anyone. I feel like this was a manipulative psych-out, precisely timed, which may or may not have even been a true statement.

    Horrible gaslighting: A creep wanted to buy a guy’s business, but it wasn’t for sale. Creep #1 and his friend Creep #2 started doing things like banging on his windows at night then hiding, and leaving threatening and confusing voice messages from payphones, and setting up the guy with the business to experience two completely conflicting realities. Meanwhile the business guy was scared and nervous, and was confiding in Creep # 1, who acted sympathetic and concerned, but was actually responsible for this psychological assault. I know that this is not in the context of a romantic relationship, but it is the best example of gaslighting that I know of.

    There is a book called “Stalking the Soul” by Hirgoyen(sp?). She addresses many aspects of emotional abuse, including gaslighting. It is also one of the few books where the dynamic is accurately described where the abused person is set up or otherwise provoked to have emotional outbursts that occur in front of other people, who will then dismiss her as “unstable” or as abusive herself. The witnesses do not have the missing information, which helps to create further isolation for the real victim, and empathy for the false victim (the abuser).

  118. zuzu
    zuzu November 18, 2011 at 12:23 am |

    Elsa: Funny story, my boss explicitly has told me NOT to send him emails when I want to request time off, have my time card corrected, etc. He also constantly lies about everything, from the amount of time he has worked as a supervisor (some days it 20 years, but he isn’t even 40 so that isn’t even possible) to claiming he has worked jobs it is impossible for him to have worked do to all of the other things he has said he has done. He also frequently calls meetings to warn/complain to us about things that aren’t being done – but he won’t say who needs to step up or what really needs to be changed; this really infuriates me because most of his complaints are about things that I know I don’t do (like not entering data promptly). He will also give direct instructions for something and then claim that he never said that or that he said the opposite.

    I hope you realize that if you ever have a problem with your timecard or anything else, it’s going to be his word against yours (which is exactly what he wants, because he doesn’t want you leaving a paper trail). And you’ll probably lose, because he’ll stand there and claim that company policy is to email, and you didn’t email. And then if you try to say that he told you not to email, he’s going to deny it and tell HR you’re lying.

    You might want to review your company policies and procedures on these things, and follow procedure. If you email him something and he tells you not to email him (which he won’t do in writing, because it’s most likely company policy that you can email him), document it in some other way. Write a memo to your file, send an email to yourself documenting the conversation and print it out and put it in a file. Then at least you have dates and times and documented incidents if it ever comes down to it. And it will, with this kind of boss. Good luck.

  119. Hershele Ostropoler
    Hershele Ostropoler November 18, 2011 at 12:30 am |

    Thomas MacAulay Millar: Emails and chat logs to friends serve that purpose, too. And, of course, all these things can help convince friends and relatives, unless they’ve simply decided not to be convinced.

    I have occasionally seen the tactic attempted on blogs (usually by men on feminist blogs, for *ahem* some reason), and they always seem annoyed and/or shocked when people go back and say “no, look, here’s the exact words.”

  120. JES
    JES November 18, 2011 at 12:54 am |

    What about gaslighting in the work environment? Because that shit is real. I’ll email it to you.

  121. JES
    JES November 18, 2011 at 12:54 am |

    What about gaslighting in the work environment? Because that shit is real. I’ll email it to you.

  122. JennifernotJenny
    JennifernotJenny November 18, 2011 at 1:32 am |

    Whenever I was sick as a child, my mother would tell me that I wasn’t. Both me and my sister had to go to school on several occasions only to be sent home a few hours later (sometimes not even that long) because we were puking our guts out. I remember one time when I had a stuffy head, a sore throat, and just felt like crap. I told my sister that I was sick and when she told mom that I was sick, mom just exploded and yelled at me and said that I wasn’t sick and that it was all in my head. There were many other instances of gaslighting from my mom (and dad), but that was the first thing I thought of when I learned the term.

  123. Tony_
    Tony_ November 18, 2011 at 3:50 am |

    I’d just like to say that this thread is disturbing, but also awesome.

  124. Lara Emily Foley
    Lara Emily Foley November 18, 2011 at 4:40 am |

    orangedesperado: There is a book called “Stalking the Soul” by Hirgoyen(sp?). She addresses many aspects of emotional abuse, including gaslighting. It is also one of the few books where the dynamic is accurately described where the abused person is set up or otherwise provoked to have emotional outbursts that occur in front of other people, who will then dismiss her as “unstable” or as abusive herself. The witnesses do not have the missing information, which helps to create further isolation for the real victim, and empathy for the false victim (the abuser).

    That pretty much describes every single day of my life from Kindergarten to High School Graduation

  125. Marksman2010
    Marksman2010 November 18, 2011 at 7:09 am |

    Lauren needs to pen a short story.

    Not only is she a great writer, she’s too well-versed in the intricacies of human behavior not to start slapping ink on the page.

  126. Lara Emily Foley
    Lara Emily Foley November 18, 2011 at 7:43 am |

    I just have to thank you for this thread. It’s really helped me come to terms that I’ve been emotionally abused by probably a large majority of the people in my life (or at least the past 20 or so) prior to my move across the country 7 months ago. Not all of it gas lighting but this discussion has allowed me to look at what I’ve endured and look at myself and say yes, that was all Emotional Abuse, they abused you, you are a survivor of Emotional Abuse .

    I’m a broken, broken, broken person but thanks to this thread and a few of my friends I’m slowly starting to pick up the pieces. Fuck is it hard, despite everything being good now, I can’t bring myself to be happy, well stay happy, and that’s an awful feeling.

  127. Very Anon For This
    Very Anon For This November 18, 2011 at 8:31 am |

    My ex would say things to me, and then if I said something later along the same lines, he’d find reason to disagree with it and berate me. When I pointed out that he’d said essentially the same thing the day/week/hour before, he’d flatly deny it.

    He also would say “I love you” and “you’re the best thing that ever happened to me” but then refused to acknowledge me as his girlfriend. “I never said I wanted anything serious/I was your boyfriend” etc.

    When I left, suddenly he had a change of heart. But at that point I knew he was full of shit and that he’d revert to “I never said I was your boyfriend/I loved you” etc. if I took him back. Also, he’d managed to destroy any feelings I had for him. But he still tried–threatening self harm, trying to get my then-friends to convince me to take him back, etc. (Yes, turns out they were shitty, shitty friends and I do not see them anymore.)

    Of course, later when I talked about this, I was scolded by a self-righteous douchebag who said that I was out of line for thinking my ex was trying to manipulate me with his threats of self-harm. Apparently, seeing his repeated manipulative behavior wasn’t enough and I was evil for not believing him (but of course I should have left). Huh???

  128. Katherine
    Katherine November 18, 2011 at 10:14 am |

    I came home from my first semester of college. I was depressed, drinking heavily, smoking a lot of pot. I was upset because I had very few friends. My mother told me to “stop being such a bitch” to everyone. When I asked if I could move home and try to get back on track I was told I couldn’t live with them if I dropped out of college. In the North East US, in winter.

    Years later I find myself treating my boyfriend in much the same way that my mother treated me, and it scares me.

  129. Thomas MacAulay Millar
    Thomas MacAulay Millar November 18, 2011 at 10:44 am |

    Lara Emily Foley, as someone who has been broken, Hemingway’s quote resonates with me: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” Sometimes when people talk about abuse, there’s a sense of hopelessness, like the abused are ruined. Abuse survivors are not by definition ruined. Many of us have baggage and we’re complicated and we have things we struggle with – but who isn’t? I’ll always remember driving by a place where my mother did inpatient rehab and mentioning it to my wife; she looked at me and said, “you’re so not fucked up that sometimes I forget.” Not every victim survives and not every survivor finds the space and support to thrive, but many of us do.

    I can’t erase the memories and I can’t pretend there’s no damage and I don’t want to. But I’m not wreckage. Where I am today, in the middle of my life, I’m a spouse and a parent and a professional and a writer and an officer of a charity and I’m good at all those things; and more to the point, I’m happy.

    I can’t promise anybody that it will get better. I don’t really know anyone’s circumstances but my own. But I can say that the life of an abuse survivor doesn’t have to be a long sad denoument of pity for what has been lost. Many of us are more resilient than, in our toughest hours, we believe we can be.

  130. Lara Emily Foley
    Lara Emily Foley November 18, 2011 at 11:32 am |

    Maybe one day, right now it’s a very very fresh thing, I don’t feel like a bunch of strong pieces I feel like a scattered 10 000+ piece jig saw puzzle completely dismantled and no idea where to start

  131. catfood
    catfood November 18, 2011 at 11:52 am |

    Jess:

    While talking to coworker of his, he mentioned a mutual friends wedding, and then said to me “Remember that hun?” I said “No, I wasn’t there I was in Iraq.” Later he was furious with me, telling me that I should go along with what he had said, that we should never mention Iraq again, and we would pretend it never happend.

    Wow. That one is amazing. Holy carp. He put it right out there, didn’t he?

    Just wow.

  132. littlepitcher
    littlepitcher November 18, 2011 at 1:29 pm |

    I’m so familiar with the experience. I had a heroin-addicted stepmother for five years. She had needle marks on her arms; I had a huge vascular birthmark on one of mine. I became her favorite target, slammed around, shamed, demonized to little sister, who was also getting, among other things, a skull fracture. My favorite: Even if you (won a school award, got a good grade, etc), you’re still no good and never will be. I’ll beat you whether you pass or fail, but you had damned well better pass.
    Now I’m well into middle age, I made the error of moving back into her turf to get work, and the you-know-what still won’t let go. She likes to send her daughter after my friends to tell them to be nice, but not too nice; interrupt if you can so she’ll be humble, and remember, she’s insane. Her hillbilly-racketeer family calls this sequestering or quarantining, and hides their bully gang behavior behind a famous country singer cousin’s skirts and mammaries.
    The real horror story is that my blood sister identified with the abuser. If I refused to participate in the redneck family game of fighting for entertainment, I was actually passive-aggressive neurotic (how nice to be diagnosed by a high school dropout!); if I didn’t care for the social values of her friends, this made me a sociopath, and if I quoted back another family member’s statements or talked about experiences, they simply didn’t happen.
    My ticket out of this train wreck was when a cousin called me after an auto accident of suspicious origin, to let me know that she and several family members all had life insurance on me and planned to retire on the proceeds. Their rationale is that since I have one birth defect, they can claim that I have mental defects as well. I signed my house over to a creditor, hauled hiney out of town, and now work for and live with a guy with plenty of guns.
    No, their reality is not reality, and don’t try it with me.

  133. littlepitcher
    littlepitcher November 18, 2011 at 3:55 pm |

    Additionally, I had to sign a recantation on the childhood abuse in order to keep my dad out of jail on a late support check. Stepmonster has been waving that one at everyone for years, while she continues invasions of privacy, including but not limited to putting my house on the market and having her daughter meet her real estate prospects. I do not believe for a moment that gaslighters are living in a fantasy world. They are liars, purely and simply, who manipulate facts and emotions skilfully for personal gain. IMO, gaslighting and lies do for the human mind what computer viruses do for our hard drives, and should be met with the same social and commercial opprobrium.

  134. Razzby
    Razzby November 18, 2011 at 4:19 pm |

    Lauren:

    HespentaLOToftimetryingtolooklikeafamilymanforhisaudienceofco-workers,acquaintances,hismom,whentherealitywasthathedidsolittleforthefamilythatifheleftwe’dallhavebeenrelieved.

    Whatwasreinforcingofthisabusewasthebeliefbysomanyaroundusthat“ittakestwo”and“therearetwosidestoeverything”.
    Imean,Ihadproof,right?

    Oh, Lauren, THIS THIS THIS. I swear you’re talking about my ex and I. I spent so many years trying to spin the best possible scenario of what he had to have meant/did/said, and I got so bloody good at it, that when I did go for help, no one believed me.

    “But you guys are the perfect couple!” This to me from so many around us, even right after I had made myself tell the truth about the rapes (“I can’t help myself, babe, you are just so beautiful.”) to the strange calls/money missing from bank/hotel receipts (“I had to study so long for my night class, I just crashed at the motel by the offices.”)

    Worst was that he knew I had been sexually abused as a toddler. Whenever I got upset, he’d work the conversation around to the fact that I only got upset because I was “unbalanced.” If I was upset he held me down, it was because of the early abuse. If I read his motivations as anything but noble, well, of course I was unable to see reality. If I emphatically refused to reenact the exact sequence and setting of sex acts forced on me as a little girl with him, I was only reacting to feelings about my abuse, because of course I’d like it with him.

    All of that and still, I had family demand I must be having an affair if I was being so firm about kicking him out. Yes, that only someone morally bankrupt could possible want to end the “perfect marriage.”

    It all seems so black and white now, but oh, man, did I have to fight for the truth and to be safe. His family, my family, his co-workers; it didn’t matter.

    The defining point was family setting us up with a psychiatrist who specialized in couple counseling. After the first appointment, where my ex talked passionately about how he wanted to save the marriage and how I just didn’t “understand” him when I took offense, I sat and listened, ready for the same chastisement from the doctor.

    Finally, he turned to me and said, “How much of what he said is true?” I said, “I don’t see it that way.” and tried to explain, without enraging my ex.

    The doctor asked me a few things as I filled in the story for him. To my amazement, he turned to my ex and said with quiet intensity, “In my thirty years of practice, I’ve said this only two other times: this marriage SHOULD NOT be saved. If you’d like to treat you, I will, but not where you can be in the same room with her. Our treatment would be to try to teach you how to be HUMAN.”

    I was gaping at him at this point. My ex was stuttering, getting mad. Before my ex could build up more steam, the doctor said, “If you’d like to schedule appointment, please see my front desk. Thank you for your time.” Dismissed him.

    My ex stood up, furious, and started for the door, then stopped and looked at me pointedly. The doctor stood and put himself between us and said, “She’s not going with you. I need to speak with her still.”

    Once my ex had stormed out, the doctor turned to me, invited me to sit, and said, “Do you know the term ‘psychopath?'” I laughed, then realized he wasn’t telling a joke. He went on to tell me that my ex was not only a text book example in every defining way he knew, but that he firmly agreed with not having anything to do with him.

    I was floored. Someone believed me. Someone saw my ex and not the facade my ex crafted (with my help, dammit) for most people.

    I saw the doc for a few months, until he finally said, “You can see me when you want, but you don’t NEED to see me. You’re one of the healthiest people I know.”

    Five years later, with all my heart, thank you, doc.

  135. DaisyDeadhead
    DaisyDeadhead November 18, 2011 at 5:23 pm |

    Good description, Lauren. My experience was with money, not keys.

    He also parked his car in weird places (very distinctive brown Oldsmobile with distinctive vanity plates), following me around, even to my grandmother’s house (!) and then denied he had. After we split up, he kept calling me and using fake voices and whispering, and asked to speak to various friends of mine (as if he was dating them, which he wasn’t).

    I finally blew a loud, deafening whistle in his ear.

  136. kitty
    kitty November 18, 2011 at 5:27 pm |

    It is so comforting to realise that the emotional abuse I experienced in a past relationship is real, recognized and unfortunately experienced by others. Although it’s been a year since that horrid relationship ended, it feels good to understand that his behaviour was somewhat systematic and engaged by other people. It feels good to know that others have experienced the confusion and mistrust of self that I did.

    That relationship began in a psych ward — always a good place to pick up a boyfriend, right? After a month, I knew something was wrong, but every time I left (probably over 15 times over a 6 month period) he would lure me back in by making me doubt my own understanding of the wrongs committed by him. He cheated twice, and somehow convinced me that I had cheated, and if he did, it was my fault! The sense of guilt I experienced with this person was phenomenal, even though in retrospect I can know I did nothing wrong – he broke into my already vulnerable mind to manipulate my memories and understanding of our relationship. Everything was always, always my fault. And it took me a long time to stop believing him.

    This person still calls me and messages me to this day (despite being blocked and ignored for half a year). He has threatened me, my family and loved ones. I wish I had gotten a restraining order when I had the chance.

  137. Jess
    Jess November 18, 2011 at 5:46 pm |

    @ catfood:
    Yeah, it was pretty blunt. I wanted my marriage to work so badly that I went along with it. The tough part was that the nightmares I had about combat made me confused. I couldn’t remember what was memory and what was nightmare. When you combine that with my husband telling people I had never been gone, and telling me that I had never actually seen any combat at all (because I was a woman, you see, and women don’t serve in combat)…yeah. We even went to a marriage counciler who agreed that I was the problem, and I needed to just let my husband guide me. Reality was really difficult to pick out.

    Now when i look back there is so much that was just bizarre and abusive and over-the-top, but at the time it all seemed rational and understandable.

  138. anon
    anon November 18, 2011 at 6:32 pm |

    Oh wow, my mum actually was emotionally abusive.

    She didn’t gaslight me, so this is kind of OT. But reading this thread has made me realise that the way she would say things like “I hope you’re not annoying her” about someone I was spending time with, or how she would get mad at me for ever being upset about being treated badly, by anyone inside or outside the family, or how she’d criticise the things I was interested in and liked to think about and talk about, and tell me not to talk about them, but also tell me to talk more and that I was too quiet, and the way she discouraged me from going to the doctor when I was a severely depressed teenager, and the way she refused to go to family therapy when I was an adult living at home, even though she’d been begging me to get help, when after years of antidepressants not working I intuited that my problems came from family relationships, or the way she found me having failed at taking a knife to my wrists when I was thirteen and told me I was selfish and how could I think about doing something like that and never even thought about getting me help, and how she constantly told me I was judgemental and hard to live with and selfish…

    that’s actually really fucked up. My dad used to rage at us all when we were kids and lose his temper and shout about how we were stupid. But it’s the stuff from my mum that feels like where the damage is. Shit. It wasn’t gaslighting but I have that thing of doubting my own perceptions. I think it’s just that it was always my fault, whatever happened and whatever was said. And i really thought that was true. And I still don’t really know how to be around people without feeling like I’m a nuisance to them and they’d rather not have me there, because no one who wasn’t as loving and self-sacrificing as my mum would ever put up with me.

  139. zuzu
    zuzu November 18, 2011 at 6:54 pm |

    Lara Emily Foley: Maybe one day, right now it’s a very very fresh thing, I don’t feel like a bunch of strong pieces I feel like a scattered 10 000+ piece jig saw puzzle completely dismantled and no idea where to start

    The easiest places to start at jigsaw puzzles are the edges, and work your way in.

  140. orangedesperado
    orangedesperado November 18, 2011 at 7:13 pm |

    It is also very important to realize that most therapists, unless they have a background in social work, or a very specific interest, do not have very much training in identifying abuse within relationships, particularly psychological abuse. Bad therapy can be worse than no therapy, in the sense that it can leave the abused feeling responsible for the abuse and trauma. This is particularly true in couples therapy. Most emotional abusers are very skilled manipulators, and will easily assume the role of the “real victim”.

    Abuse is not about conflict — it is about one person having power and control over another person, by a variety of insidious tactics. Abusers do not enter a relationship acting like a monster — they very gradually work their way up to it, and groom their victims the same way that pedophiles do — gifts, flattery, making the victim feel extra special, indebted, dependent. Then — when the abuse begins — most friends and family do not see or believe the victim that the abuse is abuse because he is such a nice guy or whatever.Isolation and secrecy is always a part of abuse.

  141. La Lubu
    La Lubu November 19, 2011 at 10:59 am |

    Wow…this thread. I don’t know that I could articulate specific, discrete examples of gaslighting in my childhood, because as several other commenters noted, gaslighting was a part of everyday life. In an alcoholic, abusive household, gaslighting is the number-one modus operandi—you are required to deny reality on a daily basis, and there’s hell to pay if you don’t. Denial is the name of the game. Everyday, constant denial of basic observed, experienced reality.

    Which brings me to CurrerBell’s comment (@ 23): I dated an alcoholic narcissist (but oh, he was so charming…) a while after that. He initially validated my childhood perceptions of truth/rightness by observing my mom/dad gaslighting me and then privately telling me later that I was right. Oh, the validation was intoxicating.

    OMFG this. This, with bells on. It was so intoxicating for me to finally have backup that I married the guy—I was nineteen. I eloped. Having that backup, that recognition, that validation, that I-have-your-back….that meant the world to me. It wasn’t very far into our marriage that he became verbally, then physically abusive—but I tolerated a hell of a lot of shit because of that baseline backup that I’d never received before, ever. So, if you’re wondering why any strong, feminist women you know stay in an abusive relationship—there’s one powerful reason right there. I’ve seen this dynamic replicated throughout my life with others as well—people who grew up in toxic environments who never dissected that shit, end up finding partners who have many of the same toxins as their family of origin, but with a few key differences….and there you go. They’ll move the earth, sun and stars for that (temporary) bright shining light of reality.

    For my ex, I don’t believe he was a conscious manipulator. He was a very flawed human being who grew up the same way I did, but had it worse in some ways. His gaslighting was more-or-less the unconscious reproduction of the gaslighting he experienced growing up. At some level, he really wanted to “do better”, but he couldn’t reconcile a view of masculinity that didn’t include some really fucked up, sexist dynamics. Whatever else was fucked up in my upbringing, those particular expressions of sexism were not a part of it, and I couldn’t reconcile my own mental and physical survival with playing the specific role he wanted me to play. It wasn’t what I expected because that wasn’t a dynamic present in our dating, and since we had similar backgrounds, I didn’t expect this other shit to come up out of left field, y’know? But I was nineteen–ya live, ya learn.

    The most magnificent example of gaslighting he pulled on me was…being drunk one night, and deciding to call up some relatives in Chicago and tell them he’d gotten married. His description of the bride floored me: she was 5’8″, honey-blonde hair, blue eyes, from a patrician background (her father was a former military officer who later went into academia and was the president of some college in South Carolina), very Protestant and into Jesus, her family had one of those big Southern mansions with the white pillars….I mean, he went on and on while my jaw continued to drop (I think it went through the floorboards at some point). And when he got off the phone, I let him have it with both barrels—“WTF?” I mean, this imaginary bride could not have been more different from the reality: I’m 5’5″ on a good day; thick black hair; dark brown eyes; Mediterranean features; my father never bothered to sign up for the draft (and got away with it probably because he was in that demographic between Korea and Vietnam) and was the president of his local union; my folks were from Catholic backgrounds but my father was (by that time) a militant atheist (I grew up with no religious training); and we alternately lived in two-bedroom apartments, or with relatives, and finally in a two-bedroom house. Yeah, mansion my ass. And that night, he apologized and said he was talking to really rich, really assimilated relatives who wouldn’t understand….wouldn’t understand what? marrying a homegirl? not the stereotypical apple-pie chick? WTF? He copped to it the first night, but every night thereafter he denied ever having made the phone call, let alone what was said. I remembered because it cut so deeply. Other than that, it was run-of-the-mill gaslighting.

    I also fully cosign to Lauren’s comment @ #32: The times he did admit his lies were short and he always immediately went back to denying anything. What was reinforcing of this abuse was the belief by so many around us that “it takes two” and “there are two sides to everything”.

    Mother. Fuck. This is one myth that is in desperate need of a good burial; may the body never be found. And this was a A-number-one reason I kept silent about my abuse for a long time—I knew I wouldn’t be believed (he never hit me in the face). Where I come from, “real” abuse means someone went to the hospital, or has facial damage to the point where folks ask you if you’ve been to the hospital, or need to go to the hospital. Anything less isn’t “real” abuse….just run-of-the-mill punches and kicks and slaps, no big deal.

  142. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable November 19, 2011 at 1:06 pm |

    zuzu: The easiest places to start at jigsaw puzzles are the edges, and work your way in.

    This is one of the most profound comments I’ve seen in a long time. Do you mind if I borrow this in the future?

  143. catfood
    catfood November 19, 2011 at 2:35 pm |

    @LaLuba:

    It was so intoxicating for me to finally have backup that I married the guy—I was nineteen. I eloped. Having that backup, that recognition, that validation, that I-have-your-back….that meant the world to me. It wasn’t very far into our marriage that he became verbally, then physically abusive—but I tolerated a hell of a lot of shit because of that baseline backup that I’d never received before, ever. So, if you’re wondering why any strong, feminist women you know stay in an abusive relationship—there’s one powerful reason right there. I’ve seen this dynamic replicated throughout my life with others as well—people who grew up in toxic environments who never dissected that shit, end up finding partners who have many of the same toxins as their family of origin, but with a few key differences…. and there you go. They’ll move the earth, sun and stars for that (temporary) bright shining light of reality.

    Yes! You are singing my song here–except that I married slightly later.

  144. DonnaL
    DonnaL November 19, 2011 at 4:39 pm |

    I find this thread to be deeply shocking. I must be very naive, because I never dreamed that there were so many people who engage in this behavior, deliberately or otherwise. I’ve never spoken much about my own experiences of the kind, because I thought they almost never happened in real life, as opposed to happening to Ingrid Bergman in the old movie. I assumed that I was very unusual in that respect. Of course, at the same time, I find this thread deeply reassuring in making clear to me that there isn’t something uniquely defective about me that made me susceptible to this behavior during my marriage and my divorce.

    I’ll mention just two examples, one of which I mentioned in the other thread, and both of which I still find it difficult to believe my ex actually claimed. One happened after a mutual friend disclosed to me after our separation that my ex had had, and occasionally boasted about, a longterm relationship on the side that actually predated our 13-year marriage and continued throughout, including in our house and bedroom when I wasn’t there. I guess I had been extremely gullible, if not thoroughly foolish, in accepting unlikely explanations for certain mysterious absences. Infidelity never seriously occurred to me. In any event, after I found out, and made clear to my ex that I knew — something that I was afraid to do, but finally mustered up the courage — the response I got was a claim, made with seemingly complete conviction and sincerity, that I had given express consent to infidelity — on my ex’s part only, of course — at some point fairly early in our marriage, in exchange for my ex’s agreement not to end the marriage because I was so terrible in bed. Perhaps needless to say, not only had there never been any such consent, but there was never even a conversation about the subject at any time. How could there have been, when I never knew about my ex’s infidelity, with anyone (let alone this ongoing long term relationship on the side) until after we separated? Yet, despite all that, my “consent” was explained to me so matter-of-factly, and with such sincerity and conviction, that I did begin to doubt my memory, and my sanity. Until that mutual friend assured me that my ex had made clear many times that I knew nothing about what was going on, although, apparently, my ex didn’t really consider it “cheating” because the relationship existed before the marriage. Kind of a “grandfather clause” concept, I guess!

    The other example was my ex claiming during the divorce process, and actually putting in divorce papers (unlike the claim about consent to infidelity!) that I had stopped been willing to have sex, and rejected all overtures in that area, for the last 10 years of our marriage, beginning shortly after our child was born. In fact, it was exactly the opposite: when our son was about 6 months old, my ex made clear to me that I was no longer physically attractive, and that there would be no more sex. And there wasn’t; we lived together with no physical contact — not only no “sex” but no hugs, no hand holding, and barely a smile or kind word on my ex’s part — for another 10 years. Amazing what one can get used to, especially when there’s a child in the picture. And I knew perfectly well that this was how it really happened. Yet, after my ex made those claims, I again began to doubt myself, and racked my brain trying to think of something *I* might have said or done that could have been taken as a rejection.

    The depths of my self-esteem, and my emotional state in general, at the end of that marriage horrify me when I think about them now. Yes, I’m better now, 11 years later, but there are still times when I fall back into that kind of thinking.

    At least my ex no longer has that kind of power over me, and no longer even tries. Although my son has reported a number of ahistorical and counter-factual claims about me that my has made to him over time, including (1) during our marriage, my eyes were dark brown, and if they have green in them now I must have done something; (2) I’ve had cheekbone implants, because, again, my cheekbones didn’t look anything like they do now while we were married; and (3) I speak German fluently, and any claims on my part to the contrary are a lie.

    Fortunately, my son was 10 when the marriage ended, not 2, so he knows as well as I do how divorced from reality these assertions are. At this point, we just laugh about them.

    Donna

  145. attackfish
    attackfish November 19, 2011 at 11:34 pm |

    I had two stalkers, both of whom gaslit me. The first started out as my best friend. We were in fourth grade, and I had just started at a new school after effectively having been run out of my previous school by severe bullying by both students and staff, who blamed me for my seizure disorder while simultaneously denying I had it. My emotional foundations were shaky to say the least, and this girl picked up on that. At first she was wonderful, kind, encouraging, we shared most of the same interests, it was great. Then slowly, she began with the put downs. That was such a stupid idea, we should do it my way, why are you always so clueless, little things that I believed. Gaslighting was just one tactic she used. She would see me with a new book (we were both huge readers) then ask me if I liked it. If I said I did, she would tell me she had read it and hated it, and God, i was such a tasteless little pretender. Next week, I would see her with it, and she would tell me she loved it, and she had never said otherwise, and I should stop lying. This sounds so minor, but she did it constantly, until I accepted her reality as the truth and my own memories as tainted. She deliberately took advantage of the fact that my seizures cause lapses in my memories, and that I didn’t remember my childhood at all to convince me my memory was still unreliable.

    Still, I managed to build up some of the confidence third grade had stripped from me and started trying to interact with her as an equal. She became violently physically abusive, clawing me with sharpened nails, pulling my hair, tripping me, slapping me, you name it. This was when I tried to get away and she started stalking me. The gaslighting continued through this period. She would convince me she hadn’t hurt me, that I had done it to myself, that the claw marks on me were me crying for attention, or the bruises from where she had grabbed me were me being clumsy. This never would have worked, except that she had already eroded my sense or reality earlier with the silly little things about books and such.

    The thing about gasslighting was it was never just something she was doing to me. She had me convinced, but that was only half of what she was doing. She convinced the kids, teachers, and parents that I was crazy. I went to her mother with claw marks on my arms, and her mother told me to stop telling vicious lies about her daughter. I went to a teacher with the marks still bleeding, and I was told I must have done it to myself, and I was sent to see the school councilor. Everybody else bought into her version of reality except my parents, who kept having to convince me that she really was hurting me, and I should not go back to being “friends” with her, so I found it almost impossible to maintain any sense of reality of my own.

    I had to move to get away from her. When I was fourteen (yes, this went on for more than four years) we moved two big, western states away. But right before we left, I was talking to her brother, who she tormented as well (and she had skillfully made sure we were enemies), and he mentioned something offhand about how could he take a teenage girl who still had temper tantrums every time I didn’t get my way, and he had no idea how I was still in school when I was having them every day. Temper tantrums is what we had called my seizures when I was little, because we didn’t know what they were. I run around screaming during them instead of falling down and twitching, and they were often triggered by extreme anger or fear. I hadn’t had one for almost a year at that point, thanks to effective medical treatment. In fact, I was having one maybe once every six months on average. Catching her in a direct lie that I could corroborate so easily was what finally made me realize she lied. I had this strange idea in my head that she never lied, and finding out that she did lie sometimes was what made me realize she had been lying to me for years.

    I sometimes describe her by comparing her to Azula in Avatar: the Last Airbender, and I broke down crying the first time I saw Zuko repeating “Azula always lies” to himself over and over. It was so familiar.

    She still tried to stalk me online after I moved away (part of the reason that for years I changed screennames every month, and one of the reasons I believe so strongly in the need for internet anonymity) but she was fourteen, and she didn’t have the resources for long distance terrorizing. however, before she had finished, I caught the eye of one off the most poplar boys in my new school. In high school, he would become one of the school football players. Meanwhile, I was a geek with authority problems. He didn’t love me, or even like me, he just wanted someone to scare, and because the administration didn’t like me, I was the easiest target.

    It started when I lost my flute and accused the other girls in the flute section of stealing it. I had reason. They had threatened to, and I was an outsider to their little clique, and they were frequently nasty to me. I found it two weeks later in my room so I know I lost it, but after that, things started disappearing. My sheet music, library books, my coat,my writing journal, if I got up in a class I had with him to turn something in or write something on the board, something of mine would vanish. I was never well organized, and I thought I was going crazy. I didn’t know it was him yet, but I knew that something bad was happening, and no one was going to listen. A year later, a lot of the stuff started to reappear the same way it had disappeared. If I had a class with him and I had to leave my desk, something would appear on my desk. Library books I had had to pay for, my writing journal, sheet music after I left band class… After that, he became much more overt, leaving swastikas all over my stuff and threatening to rape and kill me. It was almost a relief. At least then I knew I wasn’t going crazy, and my friends stuck close to me, so that he could never catch me alone. Like my first stalker though, my reactions to his gaslighting were an effective tool for him to paint me as a crazy, lying slut with a crush on him.

  146. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan November 20, 2011 at 3:37 am |

    But he still tried–threatening self harm, trying to get my then-friends to convince me to take him back, etc. (Yes, turns out they were shitty, shitty friends and I do not see them anymore.)

    Of course, later when I talked about this, I was scolded by a self-righteous douchebag who said that I was out of line for thinking my ex was trying to manipulate me with his threats of self-harm.

    Obviously you don’t need me to tell you this but, if it helps, my reaction to anyone trying to pull that kind of “but I’ll totes kill myself!” manipulative bullshit would be that they’d better hurry the fuck up and do it before I get to them first, ’cause I’ll make it hurt extra when I finish them off. And yeah, I don’t doubt for a second that he was completely bullshitting you, and not being sincere in the slightest.

    That kind of hostage-taking is so far over the line that it is an automatic dealbreaker. So in short I retroactively back you up 100% on that; and furthermore, his bullshit is offensive to anyone who’s had actual mental problems or who has self-harmed, so props on leaving him dumped for that reason too. *high five*

  147. Anon For This-All
    Anon For This-All November 20, 2011 at 3:49 am |

    (My email is valid and known, I think.)

    I have been reading this post since it was posted, as well as any new comment that has come in, and it took me until about an hour ago to realize that I was gaslit. (Gaslighted?) Because for the longest time, I was made to believe I was the one who did the gaslighting.

    I dated a man for about 4 years. In that time, we had arguments, as people do, but I noticed a trend: he would say I stated thing A at one point, but then I was all about thing B during the argument, and I would claim to have forgotten saying this. But he knew better, because he had the better memory. (And he was more rational, you see.) I knew I had a crappy memory already, so I would not only believe him, I’d be derailed into reconciling the difference between thing A and thing B, rather than trying to resolve the issue at hand.

    It got so bad that I wanted to bring notepads to our arguments… alas that I never remembered to do so. It’s my own fault I have such a shitty memory, though; if I can’t remember my own position on things, I have only myself to blame. Even though I’m fairly sure I’m relatively consistent…

    I started dating him 8 years ago, and dated him for 4 years. From about then to now, I’ve been convinced I was the one who would gaslight. This was not helped by dating someone, after him, who would have alcohol-fueled memory loss; I was half-convinced I was just making things up, because that’s what I was told that I did.

    I seriously just realized like an hour ago that perhaps, maybe, this wasn’t my fault. I had to go ask my girlfriend (I’ve been poly for 10 years, and have been dating her for 7, so she’s been with me through this-all) whether I’ve ever changed my position so radically during our arguments in all our time together. And then subsequently fall apart on her, because even though no one I’ve dated before or since has had this problem with me, I was absolutely convinced that somewhere in my head, I’m a horrible person, who gaslights other people, and who can’t remember this because of my shitty memory.

    I have to question everything now. I have spent so long wondering how I could be so changeable and unreliable, based on the “knowledge” I received from him. I have such an entirely shitty memory, except perhaps it’s not nearly as bad as I thought. Maybe he was the one who was gaslighting me, and actually not the other way around.

    I am so grateful for this post, and for everyone who has shared their stories. Without this, I probably wouldn’t have figured out that I’m not a horrible person for ages and ages.

  148. Anon For This-All
    Anon For This-All November 20, 2011 at 3:53 am |

    Plus, to make things more entertaining, my close friend dated him after he and I broke up, and we commiserated on feeling like we had to bring notepads to the arguments. And yet it still didn’t occur to me that maybe it was him doing it to us, not us being shitty of memory.

    My task for today is to not tell myself I should have known better, for her if not for me.

  149. » [storytime] A Unified Theory of Orgasm Clarisse Thorn

    [...] was falling into a classic pattern of emotional abusers. Maybe he insisted that I was hallucinating in order to confuse me out of protesting: abusers do these things because they [...]

  150. Avory
    Avory November 20, 2011 at 8:39 am |

    My gaslighting experience actually happened in a rather benign situation, with a female partner (I am genderqueer). We’re still friends, but ending the relationship was difficult because she used gaslighting (probably without knowing it) as a way to question my desire to break up. I felt completely irrational and like I was crazy, taking two attempts to successfully end the relationship. She still doesn’t admit that some of the problems occurred, so it’s best not to talk about it. I just wanted to share that this isn’t only a technique used by scary abusers, but that we should all be aware and avoid doing it ourselves.

  151. Girl
    Girl November 20, 2011 at 1:12 pm |

    Hmm after reading this I understand now what my boss was trying to do to me. I used to work for this funeral home. Early that morning I had received an angry call from my boss telling me to wake up and why didn’t I pick up the phone( I wasn’t on call). He seemed to be in a really bad mood. We went to pick up the body and put it on the cot and he just kept criticizing me and telling me to hurry up and help him and that I was slow. When I tried to put the body on the cot he told me it was the wrong way and proceeded to put the body’s head on the foot part of the cot. I looked at him, confused, and helped anyway. He yelled at me the whole way back to the funeral home and then when we unloaded the body began to yell at me and ask me why *I* put the body on backwards on the cot. I felt crazy. After that,I began to doubt myself even more than I already did…I began to feel like everything I did was wrong.

  152. C
    C November 21, 2011 at 12:22 am |

    Yeah.

    In high school, I dated a guy who was emotionally abusive, for three years, because he was the first person ever to show attraction to me. I’d been bullied in school for so long that the idea of anyone actually wanting me — being interested in me — pursuing me — was intensely intoxicating.

    The emotional abuse — well, I still don’t quite know how it started. I was so eager to be who he wanted, so he’d continue to want me. I tried hard to agree with him about everything. And when I disagreed, he’d come down hard on me, voice dripping with disdain and sarcasm as he explained how stupid that was. If I experimented with my identity (as teenagers do) in any way that didn’t comport exactly with his ideas of anti-conformity — like wearing makeup or a tank top — he’d tell me “That’s not very C-ish.” (Because obviously, he knew better than me what was me-ish.)

    The gaslighting didn’t kick in until after we’d broken up and I started dating someone else, right at the end of my senior year. Suddenly he was calling me up several times a day, telling me how stupid and naive I was to date this other person, because she would hurt me, and why couldn’t I see that? When I asked why he thought that, he said “It’s right in front of you! You’re too blinded by infatuation to see it!” Telling me that everyone thought I was being stupid and naive to date the other person. When I asked who “everyone” was, he said “Everyone. All of our friends.” When I asked why they didn’t tell me themselves, he said “They’re all afraid you’ll get mad and yell at them. Like you are with me right now.” (I was being very calm and rational, actually.) He told me I was ungrateful to him. When I asked for what, he said “You don’t even know all the things I do for you. You have no idea.”

    I finally wrote him a long letter trying to explain myself, pouring out my heart, making my case. He replied to my email saying he had read it. The next time he called me, I referenced the letter. He said he’d never seen such a letter and I had never written it.

    Eventually I broke ties with him, stopped speaking or writing to him. He’d forced me to either utterly, completely give up my observed and experienced version of reality in favor of his, or completely cut him off and trust myself completely. I had to choose. I chose myself. This wasn’t as obvious or easy a choice as most people would like to think; I was so used to trusting his interpretations and explanations, and at the time I felt like it was quite likely I was choosing to descend into hallucination by choosing to trust my own reality. But that was the way I broke.

    I had no name for what had happened until months later, when I was at a coffee shop with my new S.O. (the same one my ex-bf had been freaking out about) and went to use the restroom. In the toilet stall was a poster listing signs of emotional abuse, with a hotline to call. I remember walking out of the bathroom stunned and telling my S.O. “That was emotional abuse. He was emotionally abusing me.” Her response was very supportive and loving, and boiled down to “Well … yeah.”

    I wish to God I’d gone to that coffee shop or seen a poster like that earlier.

  153. Tinyhips
    Tinyhips November 21, 2011 at 1:38 am |

    So there’s a term for what I lived through- good to know. My ex verbally and physically abused me yet convinced me that I was the abusive partner. He would always accuse me of being abusive when I was in a vulnerable state. Even when I had visible bruises on my body he would convince me that he was only defending himself from my attacks. In the beginning I would always argue back and deny everything but eventually I questioned wether or not he was right.

    My ex would also insult me in extremely brutal ways and in the next breath would claim that I had said the very same statement to him in another argument. He used this tactic over and over in a consistent manner. This person also tried to convince me that I was very sick and possibly dying. Every day he would find a new symptom that I had and tell me I was too sick to work or shop or go out. Eventually I was sick- my body, mind, and soul couldn’t handle anymore assault.

    When my ex tried to convince me that I contributed to my mother’s death (she passed after battling breast cancer) my whole existence woke up. It was a watershed moment for me. Suddenly I could see the abusive patterns, the lies, the manipulation.

  154. Anon
    Anon November 21, 2011 at 4:18 pm |

    It’s shocking how common this is, and how similar a lot of people’s stories are.

    My ex did this with my birth control pills.

    After we’d been ‘together’ about a month (it was quite a twisted situation) he started talking about how much he wanted a baby with me so we could be a family. I didn’t want to have a baby (I was 17 and had other plans) but I didn’t want to lose him (after all, I was ugly, stupid and worthless, who else would put up with me?) but I told him I at least wanted to wait until I finished school.

    He said that he was ok with that, but then my pills started to go missing. I’d ask him, and he would swear he’d seen me take it. Eventually I just figured that he must be right and I was forgetting that I’d taken them.

    When I became pregnant, he was horrified. He claimed he’d never actually wanted a baby, claimed I must have imagined him saying that he did. He accused me of getting pregnant on purpose to trap him, and told me I’d better not be thinking of keeping it.

    He spent the next two years before I dumped his ass pretending that I had never been pregnant and had never had an abortion, because abortion is totes WRONG, and no girl would ever kill his baby and get away with it.

    On top of that, there was a web of lies that I had to pretend I didn’t see through because then I would be made out to be the lier. Plus, I was obviously imagining things, because I was paranoid and crazy, and of course stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

    Stupid is the one I can’t shake. Eight years and a masters degree later and I still think I’m stupid.

  155. Mika
    Mika November 21, 2011 at 7:20 pm |

    @mac, #72
    Just wanted to give you some support re: arthritis. I have a form of rheumatoid arthritis, my symptoms started when I was around 20 yo but it wasn’t diagnosed until I was 30 (I’m now 41). One major symptom of RA is fatigue. All through my 20’s I was convinced I was a lazy slacker (ahem, two graduate degrees apparently were meaningless). Plus, all the naturopaths I went to (after western docs couldn’t figure out what was wrong) told me I had emotional problems which were causing my pain and stiffness and I had to just work harder at dealing with my issues. For 10 years – ‘do more introspection and therapy and emotional work and you’ll be pain-free!’ Not quite “gaslighting” in the intentional abusive sense of this article and comments. But the effect on our psche is similar even if these people are well-meaning. With me, the arthritis finally got so bad that a rheumatologist was able to properly diagnose me and treat me with appropriate meds, though I still feel guilty for sleeping in and being slow in the morning. Anyway – be sure to research the symptoms so that if people hassle you, you can say ‘f.u. I have a genetic disease, mother f’er’ (or maybe a more pleasant comment that isn’t filled with frustration and anger…).

  156. Julia
    Julia November 21, 2011 at 11:33 pm |

    I have never met a man besides my father, private athletic coaches, and personal trainers that have not done this “gaslighting” to me.
    Which is extremely sad. Thankfully, Im a lesbian now, and do not have to deal with it.

    When it has happened to me, I almost find that the conversation is a power struggle, and that is all that it is. I am an surrealist artist, and an image floats into my head – the guy trying ti sit on me and bash me into the ground like the arcade game, where you have the hammer and have to hit the clown back into the holes.

    Sad. He asked me if Im a lesbian after I told him I was a National Weightlifting Champion, he sqid he “couldn’t believe it” because I am skinny (implying a certain look to a girl who engages in such activities). If only he knew he made me realize I’d rather not be around a disgusting penis much more, ever. Ever. Again. Its odd how one finds out truth. Im hyperfeminine and have been raised by men. Id rather hang out with good men than engage in extremely personal contact with any men. And thats what I now do, due to being hit down by a hammer too many times. And I have never been more happy.

  157. Jenny D
    Jenny D November 22, 2011 at 10:34 am |

    This is the first time that I put a name to what happened in my second ever long-term relationship. We were together, including living together for a while, for a couple of years. During that time he several times accused me of infidelity. One time he claimed that he’d seen me grab another guy’s crotch – I barely knew the other guy, who was a friend of a friend, and the three of us had been in an elevator at the time. It was so completely out of the blue that I was left flabbergasted and stammering. But it was an excuse for him to scream at me for a while.

    Another time I told him I’d been visiting my grandparents on a particular weekend. He asked how my grandfather’s sunflowers were. I told him GF didn’t have any sunflowers in his hothouse, he was growing tomatoes there. Boyfriend hung up the phone and refused to answer, so eventually I took the one-hour trip to go see him at his apartment. At which point he told me that I was obviously lying because I told him before that my grandfather grew sunflowers, so obviously I had been seeing someone else and lying about where I’d been. It didn’t help that I had no memory of ever mentioning sunflowers – because why would he remember that I’d said that if I hadn’t? and why had I said it and now claimed I hadn’t? It was all just evidence of my lying ways.

    After a couple of years, I was diagnosed with an STD (the easily treatable kind, fortunately). I remember trying to find any way that it wouldn’t be due to him cheating on me, talking to the nurse, asking if it were possible that he could have had it for years but only passed it on during the last six months (since my previous gyn appointment). I remember how she was trying not to tell me that I was lying to myself, while still not lying about the medical facts. And when I called him and told him about it, he claimed that I must have got it when I was cheating on him. Which I never did.

    It took me a lot of time to get over that.

  158. Vic
    Vic November 22, 2011 at 9:01 pm |

    My dad didn’t spank, but I can totally relate with the overreaction/fits of the mother and underreaction/lack of support by the father.

  159. LC
    LC November 23, 2011 at 10:49 am |

    Concerning the whole “defining gaslighting” part, I came across this linked from a friend the other day, and I think its “Sick System” term works for a lot of the things people have been describing that seem a lot like, but not quite, gaslighting specifically.

  160. K.
    K. November 24, 2011 at 10:14 pm |

    Me: I still don’t think my ex was actively abusive, he was neglectful. He thought I was smart and beautiful and was actually the one who pushed me to go counselling when it became obvious I was extremely depressed. All of the emotional abuse that experienced from him came from me attempting to confront him about his neglectful behavior. He was trying to avoid those confrontations, and rather than fix them, he manipulated me so I wouldn’t argue with him.

    THIS!!! This entire comment thread has been extremely cathartic for me, but this in particular sums up everything I have been struggling to put into words lately. There’s something about seeing all this which is helping me finally end the argument I have been having with myself for years. I’ve been swaying between Point A: being consumed with guilt over what I have supposedly done to him and filled with fear that I will never find someone to be happy with because I’m so cold/controlling/unlovable and Point B: being almost confident that I’m not a bad person and I can find someone who will accept me and help me to discover what being in a mutually caring and committed relationship is like.

    Reading your comments might have just swung me over to Point B and I’m going to actively try to stay here.

    My (very recent) ex was also a neglectful partner, but when confronted he would promise me that he was wholeheartedly in love with me, that I was beautiful, strong, and smart and (rueful lol) “the girl that [he had] always deserved.” But if I didn’t accept this right away and kept pushing about whatever I was angry about, the tune would change. He would attack every one of my weaknesses until I was an emotional wreck (which usually meant I would conveniently stop pushing my issue). It took me forever to realize this, but since we recently broke up, he has been randomly coming around just to tell me about some horrible trait I have or to misrepresent something I said or did while we were together. And that is what is now making me re-examine these aspects of our past relationship. When he does this, a very small part of me inside starts indignantly (and incoherently) yelling. I’m still not confident enough to be able to remember and pinpoint exactly when/where he started manipulating me, because, like many of the other commenters here, I doubt my version of events and my feelings and reactions to things that happened. I guess it also doesn’t help that my Mom used to use some of these same techniques too, but I have already come to terms with that.

    Anyway, I know that this is not gaslighting per se, but perhaps it is a variation on the theme. And I would really like to say that these stories and the other articles on gaslighting and emotional manipulation they have lead to have helped me. A lot. And I really needed it.

  161. LC
    LC November 25, 2011 at 1:26 pm |

    K and Me – That whole bit about being neglectful and then going through contortions to avoid the confrontation bit was the MO of a couple of my exes as well. I’ve gotten better at spotting it with time and distance, but it definitely left its mark.

  162. MHG
    MHG November 25, 2011 at 5:06 pm |

    This is the first time I’ve seen a definition of what happened to me during my childhood. I won’t go into all of the sordid details, but what’s interesting to me is that one of the consequences of being gas-lit (lighted?) during all of my formative years (and beyond, on the rare occasions I see my family) is that I’m a gas-lighter. OF MYSELF. Are there books on this subject that anyone can recommend?

  163. Anon for now
    Anon for now November 27, 2011 at 12:15 am |

    I have more than one abusive boyfriend in my past, unfortunately, but I’ll talk about the last one. When we first went out, I didn’t really have feelings for him one way or the other. But he seemed so eager and excited that I felt guilty turning him down for a second date. This went on for a while, and after each date, I’d practice telling him I didn’t want to see him anymore. But when I’d try to say that to him, as nicely as possible, he’d do this wounded puppy routine, and I felt so guilty, I’d go out with him again. It sounds stupid in retrospect, but I’d gotten out of an extremely abusive relationship a year and a half earlier, and though I’d been through lots of helpful counseling, I was still fuzzy on boundaries and not exactly sure what to expect when I started dating again.

    Anyway, after a couple of months, I still didn’t really feel a connection with this guy, but I couldn’t pinpoint anything “wrong” with him, and he seemed really different from my abusive ex. Where my ex had been charming, smooth, popular, and really attractive, this guy was awkward and kinda dorky, which I mistook for harmlessness. I’d felt so drawn to my ex, totally unable to resist him, even after I started to notice things that were not right, and I reasoned that maybe the fact that I didn’t feel such a powerful attraction to this new guy was a sign of something healthier. So in the interest of figuring out whether to go ahead and be with the new guy or not, I decided to ask him where he saw things going with us. At first he just kind of shrugged and said, “I’m having fun, are you?” So I said, “Sure, but where would you like to see things go from here?” That’s when he told me, out of nowhere, that he was falling in love with me. I kind of freaked. I explained that he didn’t need to say that, that’s not the kind of answer I was looking for, and I wasn’t ready for that. I didn’t say I loved him back.

    So then, a few months later, we were talking, and he said he remembered the exact moment he knew he loved me, that it was at a dinner party that had happened well after the aforementioned conversation. I was confused. I said, “But you told me you loved me that time when we were talking, before that.” He said, “Oh, that. Well, yeah, but I didn’t say I LOVED you, just that I was FALLING in love with you, and anyway, I didn’t mean it. I only said it then because you were acting so needy and insecure, and I was trying to calm you down.” Uh, what?

    A while after that, it came up again, and this time, he insisted he’d never said anything of the sort and that I was the one who’d told HIM I loved him, and it had freaked him out, he said, because he didn’t feel the same way. I KNEW what had really happened, but how do you argue with unreality? If I got upset, he pointed to that as proof that I was crazy and needed professional help and that everything that was wrong in the relationship was due to my craziness. He said I was trying to manipulate and control him by insisting on my own version of the truth.

    Not too much later, I finally broke up with him. He begged me to reconsider. He swore he’d change and things would be better, but I was having none of it. A couple weeks later, he stopped by my house to drop off some things I’d left behind. He tried to come in and asked if we could hang out for a while. I told him I wasn’t comfortable with that, and thanks for bringing my stuff, but he needed to leave now. He got really mad and told me he’d talked to a mutual friend who also happens to be one of my superiors at my job, and that she agreed with him and I was crazy and abusive and everything was all my fault. I just said, “Fine, whatever, just please leave now.” To which he responded, I shit you not, “You know, this just really isn’t working for me. I don’t think we should see each other anymore.” I just kept repeating, “Please leave now” until he left.

    After that, he wouldn’t stop texting and calling me for months, even though I’d explicitly stated that I didn’t want to talk to him ever again. He would ask me to give things another try, or just to go out to dinner once, or couldn’t we at least be friends. I ignored it. But one day, after he’d texted me about ten times in a row, finally asking why I wouldn’t talk to him, I got so fed up I took the bait and responded that I won’t talk to him because he is disrespectful and rude and asked him to please just leave me alone once and for all. That really set him off. He sent me a flurry of texts stating that HE was the one who broke up with ME because he was so sick of my abuse and manipulations, etc., etc. So I went straight out and changed my phone number that same day. He still messages my friends and goes around telling everyone we know what a horrible person I am, but my friends know the truth (they were there! they saw what really happened), and anyone who believes him? Is not my friend. That’s been a hard lesson to learn, but my life is much more peaceful now, and no more crappy surprise texts and voicemails that ruin my day.

  164. wl
    wl November 27, 2011 at 7:51 pm |

    Yeah I’m not sure that was gaslighting really which is why I didn’t mention it before, but it is rewriting history…not to make himself seem like a better parent, but to make her seem like one.

  165. alez
    alez November 28, 2011 at 6:16 pm |

    Karynn: Ihavenotheardoftheterm“gaslighting”before.Thankyouforsharing.Readingallthesecommentsonitseffectsisbothheartwrenchingandrevealingofthedamageothers’perceptionsofuscancause.

    In the interest of radical language, I have to note: We should not only be aware of the damage that others’ /perceptions/ of a person can cause (i.e., Mary’s co-workers make no secret of their opinion that Mary dresses frumpy, so Mary feels uncomfortable in her bright green overalls), but also of the psychological damage that an abusive person can inflict on his/her partner through these particular tactics (which are not primarily about self-esteem or belittling the victim, but about confusing the victim/warping their sense of reality so that they will be an easier target for further manipulation), as well as the inherently abusive nature of such tactics as a form of emotional manipulation and control.

  166. Helen Huntingdon
    Helen Huntingdon December 2, 2011 at 3:01 pm |

    My parents were champion gaslighters. They both did it to each other and to their children almost as a matter of course.

    My father has declared more times than I can remember that my mother never told the truth if a lie could be made to serve. That’s pretty accurate. But he was/is pretty much as bad, just slightly different in style. I still have no idea how to find out his true opinion on anything.

    One day when I was fifteen I showed my mother a picture of an unconventional haircut and asked her how she thought I’d look with it. “Oh, I don’t think you’d like that,” she said. “You mean you don’t think you’d like it,” I shot back. The look of rage on her face was something to see — I wasn’t supposed to assert my own reality that way. That was the day she stepped up her game substantially, and I found myself in for three years of credible death threats followed by several more years of stalking once I became no longer her legal property, but my own.

  167. viajera
    viajera December 5, 2011 at 6:24 pm |

    Like @CurrerBell (23), gaslighting was a regular feature of growing up with a mother who I have only recently (at age 38) come to realize is a narcissist. This:

    Upsetting Mom was The. Worst. Thing. Ever. and so anything that triggered her was, in fact, The. Worst. Thing. Ever. I remember trying to get him to understand that it was her response that was the true issue, and being told that he didn’t understand why I just didn’t “get it,” how I couldn’t understand after upsetting her so many times what to do differently in future, etc.

    Was the Story Of My Life. Everything – EVERYTHING – revolves around my mother, and Every Single word, action, gesture, wev is understood by her only in regards to whether it’s “For” or “Against” her. As the designated Scapegoat, she decided long ago (seemingly from, literally, the day I was born, to judge from her stories) that I, and everything I say or do, is Against her. So everything I say or do that is not directly in line with what she wants, no matter how innocuous, is perceived as an imminent threat to her, and punished as such. Of course, she doesn’t want the rest of the world to see this, so she changes every story to make her look like the innocent victim and me the mean, cruel, and/or crazy one.

    For example: I hit puberty at ~11, and started feeling a lot of peer pressure to wear the “right” clothes at the same time. When we went clothes shopping that year, she as usual picked out clothes that were totally age-inappropriate (made for much younger children) and unfashionable. When I asked instead for the kind of clothes all my friends were wearing, she took it as a personal attack and blew up, holding up my younger sister (who was still the right age for the clothes mom chose!) as a model and me as mean, cruel, ungrateful, selfish, etc etc etc., and refused to buy me any clothes if I wouldn’t take the ones she was so generously offering. Ever since – including as recently as LAST YEAR (remember, I’m 38 now!) – she’s brought up this episode repeatedly, but completely leaves out the fact that I wanted different clothes. She tells this story as “Remember how viajera wouldn’t even let me buy her any clothes that year? What a crazy girl!”.

    Then there were the Potato Salad Wars, where she hurled the usual insults at me because I had the “audacity” to ask her to use a little less mayonnaise on the potato salad, because I was on a diet (and, oh yeah, she was the one who had started me on diets as early as 5, and criticized me for my weight throughout my life).

    My parents didn’t believe in spanking unless we were doing something physically dangerous, but like CurrerBell, my father was the ultimate authority – and ALWAYS took Mom’s side. She summed up my childhood perfectly here:

    If the sky was blue, Mom said it was purple, and I argued with her that it was blue…well, I’d get punished for disagreeing and not seeing the bigger picture, which is that agreeing with whatever Mom said was always the right thing to do. And my ability to see truth and logically argue a position was slowly eroded. They wanted a compliant child, but all they got was a depressed child who retreated to her room and avoided conversations in an attempt to hold on to the smidges of truth she could.

    If only it ended there… Like CurrerBell and La Lubu (148), my childhood trained me perfectly for getting into a series of abusive relationships. As La Lubu said:

    Having that backup, that recognition, that validation, that I-have-your-back….that meant the world to me. It wasn’t very far into our marriage that he became verbally, then physically abusive—but I tolerated a hell of a lot of shit because of that baseline backup that I’d never received before, ever. So, if you’re wondering why any strong, feminist women you know stay in an abusive relationship—there’s one powerful reason right there.

    Reader, I didn’t marry him (thank Maude!), but I spent 6 (six!!) long years in an emotionally and, occasionally, physically abusive relationship. Oh, he was handsome and charming – but most of all, he validated me! He backed me up in saying my Mom was wrong!! No one – none of my friends, none of my extended family, none of my family’s friends, none of the therapists I’d seen – NO ONE had taken my side before!! I can’t even begin to tell you how intoxicating that was! I’d put up with *anything* to get that drug!! And, unfortunately, I did.

    He was an even better, and certainly more outrageous, gaslighter than my mother. He would look me in the eye and tell me with a straight face that he hadn’t bought the very item that I was holding in one hand, with the receipt in the other hand. He’d say something, and less than an hour later (sometimes 5 minutes later) adamantly deny he’d said it. He’d steal something from me, and deny he stole it, even when I found it in his truck. When he realized he couldn’t get away with his lie, he’d punish me for it – yelling, threatening, sometimes hitting or pushing. I was embarrassed then and embarrassed now to admit I put up with this – people who have only known me since after that relationship are shocked to learn I was in an abusive relationship, because I’m seen as a very strong, independent, feminist woman. But that validation after a lifetime of gaslighting…it’s an extremely potent drug.

    CurrerBell is exactly right when she says:

    Not being able to use your past as a basis for future decision-making is so, so hard. Not being able to trust any of your perceptions is excruciating.

    I still don’t use my past as a basis for future decision-making. Actually, I take that back – I’ve used my past as a model of what NOT to do in the future. So many of the active decisions I made in early adulthood about who I am and what I’m doing with my life were made by going in the exact opposite direction of my mother. I’m slowly getting back to where I can re-embrace things I loved from that life and time, but I still wander (hence my handle), still fear setting down roots, still fear being trapped like I was the first 18 years of my life.

    I’ve finally learned to trust my perceptions and instincts, and to accept and love myself as and for who I am. It took me until well into my 30s, but better late than never, and I’m so much happier now than I ever have been. I hope you can find the same, CurrerBell! Hugs if you want them.

  168. Gaslighting « holdingfaster
    Gaslighting « holdingfaster December 7, 2011 at 8:27 am |

    [...] I tend to agree that it’s a little more insidious and intense than your everyday dismissive sexism, but comments like “You’re so sensitive” or calling your girlfriend “crazy” are in the vein of gaslighting. I’d call everyday dismissive sexism a mild form of gaslighting directed specifically at women. See this: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2011/11/15/a-message-to-yashar-ali-from-a-woman/  and this: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2011/11/16/more-on-gaslighting/  [...]

  169. leah
    leah December 7, 2011 at 9:31 am |

    Someone please delete my posts. I badly communicated how these things constitute gaslighting, if they even do.

  170. Jenny D
    Jenny D December 9, 2011 at 9:29 am |

    leah:
    Someonepleasedeletemyposts.Ibadlycommunicatedhowthesethingsconstitutegaslighting,iftheyevendo.

    The part where they claimed that you’d not said something you knew you’d said, and where they claimed that they told you things they hadn’t, seems to me to fall under the “gaslighting” umbrella. In any case, the whole thing was highly abusive.

  171. Anon
    Anon December 10, 2011 at 10:15 pm |

    This is hard for me to write as I do not see myself merely as the victim in an abusive relationship, but one of the abusive parties too. During my time with my ex I saw myself as the only one who was abusive. It is only since we broke up that I have realised that, while I am not going to let myself off the hook for anything I did, I was not, as I had come to believe, solely responsible for everything bad that either of us ever did.

    My memories of our relationship are scattered, hazy and sometimes missing entirely, partly, I am sure now, because gaslighting was one of several tactics my ex used against me. I know that I did bad things – I know, for example, that I would shout at them, say terrible things or go silent/sulk for long periods. I would also act passive-aggressively and then claim nothing was wrong, a cycle of tension that would eventually erupt into an argument, but one she would appear to have “started” and could be blamed for. That these things happened towards the beginning of our relationship, when we were both in our late teens, and that I frequently felt suicidal because I did not know why I was doing it or how to stop does not excuse my behaviour. Nor does the fact that, by the end of our relationship, our roles had been reversed (though her tactics were different to mine).

    Having admitted I was an abuser, many of you may not want to hear what happened to me. I accept that: a lot of the stories on here involve gaslighters trying to flip the narrative, so they appear as victims, and intelligent people may naturally be suspicious that is what I am doing, and will rationally be angry with me if they believe that is what is happening. I can only give you my word that what I am telling you is the truth, as I remember it, after much self-examination.

    Towards the end, when things were bad, my ex began shouting at me during a family gathering. We were flat broke at the time and I had questioned why they had bought around £50 of CDs while getting petrol for the car. The response was loud and vitriolic, designed to embarrass me in front of my family and long time friends. I had been extremely nervous about attending the event as I had been expecting something like this, and had only agreed to go when my partner promised me that it would not happen this time. I said if we were going to argue then I really wanted to be away from people and so could we at least go somewhere private, to which my partner loudly asked “why, so you can hit me?”.

    At the time what they said destroyed me. I have never been physically abusive, but what could I expect anyone hearing that to think? I felt like I was dead, like I couldn’t survive either the humiliation or the sheer scale hatred obviously stacked behind the meticulously cruel lie. But ultimately the words turned out to be a blessing. Months after we broke up (I still have to see my ex as we have a child together) I confronted them about what they’d said. They claimed I had hit them repeatedly, and suggested that my “forgetting” it might be hereditary, as my parents had physically abused me throughout my younger years and later denied it.

    This was, it turned out, a bridge too far for her. I knew I hadn’t done it. But I questioned it (just as I had when my parents denied beating me) over and over, questioning my innocence, beginning to believe her, but ultimately certain that I would have remembered, if only because the guilt wouldn’t have let me forget. That said, even writing this now I still have sick feelings of doubt: isn’t this exactly what an abuser would say?

    Ultimately, though, knowing that she had told that lie made me begin to question a lot of things about our relationship, and the narrative of it I bought from her. Though I am nowhere near combing through all the shit we went through together, I am growing more & more sure that by the end of our time together, my ex was using my guilt as a way to control and manipulate me, and exaggerate things I did wrong in the present as well as those that had happened in the past. As one example: she all but forbade me from seeing my friends when we first got together, subjecting me to waves of abuse if I went and did anything without her. Later, she chided me for “abandoning” my friends when I met her, saying it was unhealthy.

    I may never get to know the whole truth, and I still feel queasy trying to sort the true from the false in terms of what I did and didn’t do (how do I know when I was gaslit, and when I am rewriting history to suit myself?). If you think I’m the one lying, say so. You might have some insight into my behaviour that I don’t, which might help me. But please consider that I have only felt capable of posting this now, anonymously, years after it happened, so please try to be careful with your words even if you believe I am something terrible.

    Thank you for making this post. I feel like I have taken a big step tonight in dealing with the last 10 years.

  172. Paula
    Paula December 15, 2011 at 12:01 pm |

    I’ve never heard anyone but my mother and I use the term “gaslight”. We are fans of the movie and frequently use the term to quickly describe a situation when someone is screwing with another’s head. I had no idea it was a common term! Interesting.

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