Dr. Cristina Davis
Are you a victim of gaslighting in relationships? Does your partner ever physically hurt you and afterward, try to convince you that you “fell” or you “did it to yourself”? Does your partner ever hide your keys or phone, and despite your partner continuously denying knowing the whereabouts of the item, you find it amongst their belongings or in a place you previously checked several times?Does your partner, spouse, or significant other ever deny something they did even though both you and they witnessed them doing it? Does your partner frequently attempt to alienate you from your closest relationships? If you’re looking to better understand what the term “gaslight” means, please continue to read. This article will address gaslighting, specifically within romantic relationships.
Gaslighting in relationships is a serious symptom of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), sometimes characterized as Domestic Violence (DV). While DV can characterize a variety of different relationships within a familial unit, IPV is specific to romantic relationships. Gaslighting may be difficult for individuals experiencing it to identify and describe.
The victim may feel as though they are going crazy. It may be more apparent from the victim’s behavior than the perpetrator’s behavior that gaslighting may be present as the victim may feel and appear confused, highly anxious, and/or even erratic.
The term “gaslight” has become better known in pop culture and unfortunately, at times, has been misapplied. Unfortunately, the term “gaslight” or “gaslighting” may at times be exaggerated to benefit someone’s position in an argument with little regard to victims that experience IPV or DV.
Although someone may deny something that occurred does not necessarily mean that the relationship or the individual exhibits the same manipulative tactics that are representative of the power and control dynamics that are found in an IPV relationship.
Other reasons someone may deny something that factually occurred are in order to avoid confrontation, as an impulsive reaction to the other person’s intense emotional state, or because of difficulty remembering or recalling an event.
Gaslighting is a real problem within IPV relationships and needs to be addressed when identified, however, misapplying this term denigrates the problematic consequences that the predatory mental manipulation has on victims that experience gaslighting.
The term “gaslight” first originated from a play in the 1930s and later, a movie in the 1940s called, Gaslight. In the movie, the male partner in the relationship slowly drove his female partner to question her own judgment. He did this by hiding her belongings and later planting the items on her and trying to convince her that she had a problem with stealing. At times, he even attempted to convince her that certain items never existed.
In addition, he described her to others as high-strung in order to alienate her from those outside the relationship. Throughout the movie, the gaslights dimmed whenever her husband was not home, and he attempted to convince her that it was just her imagination. His behavior was part of a scheme to drive his wife to insanity and get her hospitalized in a psychiatric institution so he might escape with her wealth.
Gaslighting creates confusion in the victim because they want to believe their partner, but the evidence suggests they either cannot, or the victim must be mistaken. In addition, the perpetrator may employ other tactics to increase trust between them and the victim while sowing seeds of doubt in the victim’s relationships with others and in themselves.
Recurring instances of this abuse may slowly become more and more outlandish, eventually eroding the victim’s ability to distinguish reality from falsehood. Over time, the victim will believe the perpetrator so much that they begin to believe them even when the evidence contradicts the perpetrator’s claims.
The gaslighting attempts may become more and more outrageous and others close to the victim may attempt to address it, but the victim may be so committed to the relationship that they will make excuses for the perpetrator, or the close relationships will begin to cut ties with the victim leaving them more and more isolated.If the perpetrator hears that others have become concerned by the perpetrator’s behavior, the perpetrator may try to manipulate the victim by suggesting that the close relationships are “jealous”. In addition, the perpetrator may attempt to convince the victim that the perpetrator is the victim because the victim’s close relationships either don’t like the perpetrator or are trying to break them up.
If the victim demonstrates that they are upset or angry because they are becoming increasingly confused, the perpetrator will try to convince the victim that they are a terrible spouse or partner. Unfortunately, other people in the victim’s life may contribute to gaslighting when they fail to address gaslighting when it is observed.
However, often when it is addressed, the victim may already be so invested in the relationship that they will attempt to protect the perpetrator by denying the evidence that would suggest that gaslighting is present. The perpetrator may use other tactics to confuse the victim and make them question their judgment.
Other symptoms of an abusive relationship.
Of course, gaslighting is just one characteristic found in abusive relationships. Each IPV relationship is different and may have various abusive components. For instance, the perpetrator may financially exploit the spouse or partner by expecting them to work, pay the bills, provide a lifestyle for the perpetrator they feel they deserve, and wake the victim to care for the children and tend to the house while they provide little or no financial support or other contribution.
In addition, the victim may be hyper-aware of the perpetrator’s gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, or how the perpetrator moves as these may be signs that the perpetrator may be displeased and signs that the abuse may escalate.
If friends or family members attempt to call the victim, the perpetrator may demand that the victim keep the phone calls on speaker phone as this may be used as a tactic to monitor her phone calls. The perpetrator may monitor her whereabouts by demanding he go everywhere with her, tracking her using GPS or something similar, or following her wherever she goes.
Other abusive tactics may include the perpetrator attempting to make the victim feel worthless by slighting her, making demeaning comments, or putting her down. The perpetrator may use guilt to control the victim or even openly humiliate or threaten to humiliate the victim.
Another abusive tactic is when the perpetrator believes the victim may try to leave the relationship, the perpetrator threatens to hurt themself or the victim. Although the individual may be suicidal or homicidal, the victim is not responsible for the perpetrator’s behavior.
The perpetrator is responsible for the perpetrator’s behavior. Threats may extend to include harm to children, pets, or other loved ones. The tactic of a partner or spouse using threats to harm themselves or others to control their partner or spouse’s behavior is manipulative, controlling, and potentially dangerous.
Proceed with caution.
If you believe you are in an abusive relationship, do not wait to get help. Talk to a therapist, medical provider, pastor, trusted friend, and family member about the abuse and plan a way to get out of the relationship. Share with as many people as you feel comfortable about your escape plan. The more that know, the better.
IPV relationships can be particularly dangerous when the victim attempts to leave as this threatens the oppressive power dynamic that the perpetrator has used to take advantage of the victim. Resist the urge to hide the abuse you sustained and make sure to call 911 anytime an incident escalates to physical violence, or you believe it may escalate to physical violence.
All incidents of physical violence, threats of physical violence such as posturing, or statements threatening physical violence need to be documented.
If you are a victim of IPV or DV and you need to talk with someone right now, there are resources available. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. They can connect you with resources local to your area. If you are ready to seek counseling to break the cycle of IPV or DV, please do not wait. Call today and get scheduled for a risk-free initial session with me.
“Gaslight”, Courtesy of Alex Wolowiecki, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Stressed”, Courtesy of Simran Sood, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Reflection”, Courtesy of Tiago Bandeira, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Spy-hole”, Courtesy of Dmitry Ratushny, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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