Ambient abuse, diabolical personalities, enabling behavior, Gaslighting Effect, intimidation tactics, mental health, mental warfare, Predatory behavior, Psychological abuse, victimization
*This week has been a marathon of activity in which I have accomplished much but produced little in terms of writing. Continuing ed., a precarious work schedule, and Spring Break for two of my kids have made the challenges of deadlines even more difficult to meet. My intention was to post a piece regarding Borderline Personality Disorder by week’s end. Unfortunately, that post must wait until Monday for completion. (Don’t ask… it’s complicated.) However, as a precursor to my up-coming post on BDP, I have decided to re-post a short and to-the-point piece that I wrote over a year ago regarding a manipulative tactic used by emotional abusers referred to as “The Gaslight Effect.” My hope is that the reader will gain not only knowledge of this diabolical technique but also gain effective tools of response to combat pervasive psychological warfare perpetrated by those who wish to control them and do them significant harm.
original publication date October 17, 2011 @ 1:00pm EST
“Gaslighting” is clinically defined as “intimidation or psychological abuse in which false information is deliberately presented to the victim, making them doubt their own memory and/or perception of an event or events.” The most diabolical and deceitful personalities use this tactic in their daily lives to get their way and avoid responsibility at the expense and to the detriment of their victims. Power relationships are hot-beds, if you will, for this out-right evil tool of hidden manipulation which thrives on the aggressor dominating and asserting power, coupled with the victim acquiescing to their demands and giving them power. Although, traditionally seen in male/female romantic relationships, Gaslighting can, and often does occur in parent-to-child relationships with mothers the common perpetrators. Additionally, this dynamic can be found in female-to-female relationships often described as “frenemy” (of frienemy, if you prefer) relationships in which the self-professed Alpha female dominates all others for personal gain. Something akin to the movie Mean Girls likely just sprung to mind which is a somewhat accurate example of the dynamic that exists in such power relationships.
Where did we acquire the term Gaslighting Effect? From the 1944 movie, Gaslight, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman in which Boyer’s character tries to drive “insane” his wife played by Bergman. Relative to nothing, it should be noted that this version of the film was a remake of the 1940 film of the same name starring Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard. The original film was an adaptation of the play “Gas Light” written in 1938 by Patrick Hamilton. Personally, I believe the later version of the film with Boyer and Bergman tells a better story and better defines the hidden manipulative behavior in question than the original film. I strongly recommend to the reader that if you have not seen the film, then go now – after you finish reading this, of course – and rent it from Netflix for a better understanding of the behavior in action.
“Enough background!” you say? “What exactly is Gaslighting? What does the tactic entail?” My hope for the reader in this next section is that it elicits at least one, if not many, “Eureka!” moments as perhaps each of you recognize that you are in one or more of these power relationships and that, no, you aren’t crazy! The gaslighter’s over all goal is to modify evidence then falsify information for the purpose of making their intended target(s) question their own recollection, memory, analysis, and perception of events and/or behaviors. In other words, they reject reality and substitute it with their own for personal gain and entertainment. In short, they enjoy inflicting psychological pain onto others and will stop at nothing to psychologically abuse their targets in order to get their own way. So what is it that they do? The primary behaviors are listed as follows:
- Deny existence of an event even when presented with evidence (Denial);
- Deliberately block their victims from source data (Compartmentalizing);
- Deny behaviors by immediately putting their targets on the defensive (Deflection);
- Insist that their targets are imagining things (Chronic Invalidation);
- Shame their targets for expressing very real hurts (Minimization);
- Insist that others are the source of their poor choices (Blaming);
- Mentally abuse their targets with criticism veiled as “advice” (Depreciation);
- (Usually) must have the last word (again, Chronic Invalidation);
- Force agreement by their targets to accept their false reality (Domination);
- Engage in gossip in order to hurt and control their targets (Humiliation);
- Has the ability to “sell ice to an Eskimo” meaning that they are persistent and manipulative enough to convince someone to invest in something that they could receive for free (Insincerity).
The above described behaviors are perpetrated in concert and incessantly by ambient abusers, always. At their very core, those who Gaslight others are accomplished con artists who know how to select, isolate, and then stealthily psychologically abuse their targets into submission for their own personal gain. Gaslighters are bullies who often hide behind a good-guy (or girl) persona and have no hesitation about portraying themselves as a “victim” to be pitied for the purpose of maintaining control over others. They are utterly anti-social as evidenced by their persistent choices in violating the rights of others. They are never to be trusted. Let me be perfectly clear before I go any further that within a parent-to-child gaslighting dynamic the child has little choice but to comply with their ambient abuser so the term “enabling” does not apply in that context. However, within peer-to-peer relationships, enabling drives the behavior forward and does nothing to stop the relentless abuse.
Dr. Robin Stern, author of the book The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life describes the dynamic between the abuser and abused as “The Gaslight Tango” which I think is a brilliant description of how the manipulative tool works collectively with those who enable them. She offers a fresh perspective on the enabling behavior of the gaslighting victim which shines a much brighter light on how abusers often get away with their diabolical behaviors. The abuser understands clearly that there is an energy cost associated with their targets disengaging from their abusiveness and they exploit that cost to their advantage whenever possible.
Ambient abusers are classic nit-pickers who redirect attention away from their own abusive behavior by engaging in insidious forms of abuse that are not clearly recognizable by the general public as abusive behavior. For example, ambient abusers often publicly shame their targets for insignificant errors as a deflective tactic to keep others from looking at the abuser’s behavior. When questioned about their own behavior they use the following phrases to gain the silence and compliance from their targets:
“I can’t talk you to you when you get like this…” (Makes their target sound unreasonable and puts the responsibility entirely on the target.)
“After everything that I’ve done for you…” (Routinely tries to buy the targets willingness to comply through gifts and favors only to turn around and, when convenient, demand “repayment.”)
“How can you be so selfish…” (Usually said when they meet resistance at getting their own way.)
“If you loved me you would [xyz]…” (Classic coercive tactic.)
“Can’t you see how you’re hurting me…” (Which is usually said when confronted about their own abusive behavior.)
Psychopathic personalities very often hide in plain sight and seek refuge behind those persons whom they know can be easily controlled. The psychological, emotional, and physical abuser knows how to exploit others for their own deceitful gain. These abusive persons – who very often are women – will “gaslight” their victims relentlessly and will also flat-out deny all abusive behaviors even in the face of physical evidence. All that is needed for the abuser to continue without consequence is the buy-in and silence of those who know the truth and yet say nothing. Plainly stated, family members, friends, pastors, counselors, teachers, and any other persons that know of and/or witness abuse then do nothing to stop it are complicit in its perpetration. Make no mistake in understanding that psychological aggression is, in fact, a form of violence which leaves no physical scars making ambient abuse both insidious and pervasive.
I hope that the reader has found this information enlightening and helpful. I further hope that it challenges those who allow themselves to be dominated by emotional abusers to rethink their choices and then stop the cycle of abuse by disengaging from the madness. There is an energy cost associated with disengaging the ambient abuser; however, it is far less than the cost of allowing them to continue to perpetrate abuse. For further reading on the subject (that I promise is not too technical) yet addresses the topic effectively, I recommend the resource material listed below.
Forward, S. (1997). Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You. New York, NY, Harper-Collins Publishing.
Jacobson, N. S., & Gottman, J. M. (1998). When men batter women, new insights into ending abusive relationships. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.”
Simon, G. K. (1996). In sheep’s clothing: Understanding and dealing with manipulative people. Parkhurst Brother’s, Inc. Little Rock, Arkansas.
Stern, R. (2007). The gaslight effect: How to spot and survive the hidden manipulation others use to control your life. (1st ed.). New York, NY: Random House.
© Amy Lynn Burch 2008 – 2015
All Rights Reserved
No part of this work or webpage or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of the author, unless otherwise indicated by the author for stand-alone materials.
After reading this, I have a much better understanding of what happened to me at a very dysfunctional workplace. The bullet points, well, a good portion of them were used. Thank you! Very informative.
I’m glad that I was able to help shed some light on a very common but difficult to identify tactic. Thanks for reading!
thank you thank you- you and many others have saved me from hell.
a thousand thank yous! this post is one of the most clarifying and expository pieces i have read regarding creatures that would hide behind feminity to cause pain. much is known of the male psychopath but we will soon get to know the female one better (unfortunate but necessary).
these tactics ARE my mother- that is all she is.
There is literally nothing beyond them, other sentient beings simply do not matter to her unless they are worth something in a hideous ego based value system with her at its helm.
whether she was always like this i do not know but , i suspect so
her sum parts add up to 1 cheap, doe eyed puppy dog look trick and an eye for a short term con.
Its really rather sad when you realise its an illness- the only clinical one in the dsm in fact
they used to call it sadistic personality disorder
but then decided they didnt exist again
– all the other diseases seem to have been made up by its sufferers trying to explain what torture does and how you can classify its effects , develop them into traits and use them as a means to control lots of perceptions in order that they might hide amongst the traumatised like wolves amongst sheep.
It was inevitable i suppose all these doctors looking for psychopaths and not reailising that, for quite a lot of them- the subject(so to speak) is right there in the mirror everyday.
Thank you for commenting. It is unfortunate that both women and men are capable of persisting in abusive behaviors to the detriment of others, even their own children. I’m sorry that you experienced this in your own family, specifically, from your mother. Although, it’s true that many people who exercise ambient abuse techniques in order to get their own way and to hurt others might suffer from legitimate mental illness, personality disorders do not qualify as mental illnesses. Personality disorders are functionally different from mental illness which includes psychopathic personalities. The “I’m sick and therefore not responsible for my behavior” excuse is often trotted out by diabolical personalities and the general public believes it. I’m here to dispel that myth. Diabolically abusive personalities can help it, and they can change their behavior. It is a sad reality that they simply choose not to. It is for this reason that abuse persists and why I write about it; to expose it and to give my readers the tools they need to combat it.
Thank you so much for your readership. You are not alone!
guest 2 said:
As someone who has been gang stalked,this article applies perfectly to their tactics as well.
Indeed! I will be writing more on similar tactics in the coming weeks as summer wraps up and my kids return to school. Thank you for your readership!
Amy, thank you so much for your explicit statements that women can be abusers as well as men. As a man working through the effects and consequences of a relationship conditioned by so many of the factors you enumerate above, its very painful to be looking for resources to help me understand my (now over) relationship and be faced with so few credible options written to be accessible for men abused by women. I appreciate the volume of written resources available to battered women as an absolutely necessary response to an unjust society; but as a man its crushing to look for help and find so little reliable help. Thank you for giving me some validation around my experiences, maybe it will give me a boost I need to better work with my therapist and understand\accept what I just can’t seem to come to terms with.
Thank you for your kind words. I believe that it is important to honestly address all aspects of abuse and victimization, and it bothers me tremendously that men as victims are overlooked. It further bothers me that society as a whole seems to equate the word “abuser” with being male and the word “victim” with being female. Nothing could be further from the truth! Women often are abusers hiding behind the illusion of being a victim. It simply must be addressed and dealt with, in my opinion. I am so very sorry that you’ve experience female-to-male abuse and if I can help you at all with further resources, please let me know. You are not alone.
this has happened to me… the last time was with a psychiatrist which whom I dated for just under a year approx., I told him the names of what he was doing as he ignored me… I felt angry and used… cried… sometimes power is in the wrong hands smh
Thank you so much for your response, Shantel. I’m so sorry that gaslighting has happened to you and especially from a psychiatric professional. I sincerely hope that the psychiatrist was not treating you as a patient at the time or that your personal relationship was developed out of a patient-to-doctor scenario because that is a clear violation of professional ethics and is, in itself, abusive. Such a case could qualify as psychiatric malpractice. There is help and there is hope in overcoming psychological abuse. I’m here to help you if I can with resources and a listening ear. Thank you for your readership!
Amy, I am a victim of gaslighting; having endured this insidious abuse for the past 23 years, along with physical and sexual abuse that was perpetrated in the same devious manner. I escaped my marriage only two months ago, and as much as I try to stand tall and tell myself I allowed this to happen to me, that I am no victim, I am frustrated by the continuous, incapacitating trauma this abuse caused me. One does not just walk away; the wounds in my psyche are seemingly permanent, and my life is forever altered. Very few people really understand the depths of this abuse and no one in my life, for 23 years, knew what was happening (including myself) or understand what I feel today; even my own children. Thank you for writing about this. I too, am writing about my experiences, because right now it is the most cathartic tool I have for my recovery.
Thank you for your readership and I am so very sorry to hear that you were abused. However, congratulations on taking the first critical steps to breaking free! It is no small feat to walk away – and you are quite correct in that one does not simply walk away as it follows us, even permeates who we are – and to begin again takes courage. For that alone, I hope you are proud of your efforts. =) Recognizing and acknowledging abuse can be very lonely especially when the abuser refuses to acknowledge and admit that what they have done is wrong. I understand that pain and also the pain of those in ones world refusing to recognize the abuse, calling it what it is, and then holding the abuser accountable. It can be like salt in an open wound to be surrounded by people that make excuses for the abuser while invalidating the very real experience of the abused. I assure you that you are not alone. I strongly encourage you to write, write, write about your experience because there is healing when moving into the pain. I know that may sound harsh but it is no less true. You have value and you have worth. If I can help you at all, please let me know.
I read your reply to this article with tears because I know exactly what you mean!
I escaped one abusive marriage and felt like the scars would never heal, despite therapy and time… And when I met my current husband, I felt strong and capable, and that I had overcome my past. But he’s even more abusive than the first, and I’m even more ‘stuck’ than with the first one. As much as I thought I had learned and healed, this latest experience has left me feeling as though I will never know “normal” and never experience what it feels like to live free and un-abused.
I’m in the process of leaving…creating my action plan, getting everything lined up, but as I said, I’m in much deeper than last time–mortgage, intertwined lives, financial disasters….It’s much much more difficult to extricate myself this time, but I’m determined and planning my escape. I will give up every material thing in order to be free and start fresh…away from him, and free.
I so appreciate this article and everyone’s posts. It makes me feel less alone.
david terry said:
I landed on this site (for the first time….today….and I’m a 54 year old guy) for a good reason…a friend (who knows the trouble I’m going through and hope to pass beyond) sent me to this site.
Go to Matthew 6:26…….it helps a bit to clear the mind as you (or, at least I) figure out how to move forward. It’s very difficult for me, as I decide how to do this, at my age.
Thank you for that straightforward, obviously sincere reply,….and you and I are, I gather, trying to think about what-do-next……
I never heard of the term “gaslighting” until a good and very kind friend of mine (she’s the head the the engineering department at a major university….and who says girls can’t do math?) brought me what she’d found on the internet.
thank you, also, Ms. Burch, for this article.
marion good said:
Your comment appears to be missing. =) If you would like to repost I will be happy to reply.
Oh! thank you so much, I have been living with this for 17 years, I did not know, Or. did not understand what I have .and ….still is dealing with, The abuse has been horrible, But has not taken my spirit, I have been a stay home wife sense we have been together and now married, However at one time I did think I was crazy, But that would not be hard to do, because I have been suffering with depression sense I have been married to this person, You have really open my eyes to the truth, It is so much deeper then this, but I will stop here, Thank you! Thank you! Thank you….
Thank you so much for your readership. I’m so terribly sorry that this has happened to you but I’m glad that I was able to shed light on the truth for you! Please keep reading. I will do what I can to help you break free. You are not alone! ❤
Thank you for writing this. I went through this from 2011-early 2013 with a woman. As a man who doesn’t share my feelings with many people, it’s hard to find anyone to talk to who understands that women can do this. After finding this it helps me better understand what happened and how I kept enabling her for so long until she discarded me after she got everything she wanted. She scammed me of money, time, and tried to ruin my reputation. Others had warned me but I was so blinded and confused by her constantly changing her words. Thanks again for shedding some light on how people are able to do this.
Thank you for your readership and for sharing your experience with me. I am so very sorry that this happened to you. It takes courage to face abusiveness and call it what it is but particularly for male victims. Society tends to equate men with abuse and women with victimization. As you know from experience, this simply isn’t true! Absolutely, without a doubt, women are abusers, too! Men are just as likely to experience abusive behavior from intimate partners as women. However, the abuse toward men tends to be more psychological than physical which is just as harmful, as you know. Emotional abuse is insidious and for male victims, like you, finding anyone who believes them with any real power at all to help them stop the cycle is extremely difficult. If I can be that person for you, then I’m honored to do so. Keep reading. You are not alone.
Amy…hello, I as of recent fully came to the knowledge of Narcissism and gas lighting. I have a list of things my husband either took from me, replaced or moved them. Sadly enough this comes after 18 years. I am still with him, its financial and now he has been diagnosed with cancer, so here I go, supporting him through his cancer treatments. I felt the Lord tell me to do so. Its a long long story, I just decided one day to set him up. I thought for sure after his cancer diagnosis that it would all end, it did not. I noticed a necklace I had on a glass table had been scroogled up,, I thought, mmm I know I did not do that. I straightened it up, took pictures with my phone. Took a shower as my husband was downstairs busy doing things. Sure enough, I came out of shower and it was again all scroogled, he denied and denied, pictures dont lie. I finally got him to fess up everything on Christmas day, not only on that item but on all the items missing or returned or gone for ever over the years. One week later, he denied it all again, told my daughter he was going to lie to me because I was a nutcase accusing him of taking me things. One night,,we had a huge fight…my daughter arrived…we were all standing there and I asked him, did you take my things? HE said yes to my face, my daughter then added, but you told me you did not take her things, did you take moms things, he then replied no..all in the same one minute situation…its was unreal. See, he has been Mr.Wonderful to the gills, helps me around the house, wonderful grandfather, I cant even begin to tell you just how wonderful he is. I will also add, even when we were getting along he took my things, not just out of anger. As of recent, we started praying together, he seems miraculously cured, we attend church and have for 18 years. I am thinking, should I take pictures? should I stay on top of this? what should I expect. I am 51, very tired, working for 30 years, but no money paid into a fund for retirement. I’m screwed on that end of things until he retires. I am a diabetic, high blood pressure and well, to be honest with you, I am physically and mentally spent… This is just some of the things he has done, I cannot tell you how the articles I have read matched up to this man in such a way, it has me in a true tailspin after 18 years. Money that was spent behind my back, times I was able to prove he was wrong and had evidence in hand and he literally turned away in disgust instead of coming clean…on and on and on. He never uses profanity against me or coercers me sexually. I’m telling you, he is really a great person..its just this issue…and now my sanity and my mind as of late, well I am trying to recover while being married to him still. As of late, this last week, we were to split up, but he just finished his 6 week of radiation and every since he has been praying and reading his bible, things are great, he literally prays over me and wow, even his prayers are so beautiful and seemingly spirit filled. I want to believe the best, my concern is, if he becomes angry, or has a temper tantrum, or maybe he will just test me to see if I am testing him, he said that once. He said he walked into the kitchen and I saw two of my insulin pens, they were in odd positions, he said to himself…, is this a test? is she taking pictures..(how about that for turning it around on him this time)…as in, have that. Although that was his imagination…no…nothing was set up. I am thinking, he seems perfectly fine for the moment…is it coming? his next operation is in April for rectal cancer, and we are to be moved out of rental by April 1st, its all coming to a head. I’m sitting here believing God is transforming him through prayer and that I should not take pictures…but I wonder…whats the smart thing to do. If I could only tell you personally all I have experienced, you would be blow away. As I mentioned, I took pictures, I have always held my own and told him I knew it was him taking my things, moving them and or putting them back in places I already looked three times. Well Amy, thats just a smidget of my life with him, now he has cancer…its beatable, treatable and curable at this moment, rectal cancer, he may end up with a colostomy bag for life, I hope that I wont be tortured over that one. Also I contacted Agape counseling center, they have not returned my call as of yet. I am to go through my church and my husband is more than willing to counsil, hope that wont come back and bite me after reading all I have read to educate myself. Thank you Amy…ahead of time.
First and foremost, thank you for reading and I’m so sorry for what you have experienced. In reading your response, I can sense your frustration and loss for not knowing what to so. You have a variety of challenges to face and I am praying for you. Health issues most certainly compound the issues that you and your husband are facing which are considerable challenges. I am so very sorry to hear that your husband is dealing with cancer. I’m assuming that he will have an illeostomy bag as a result of the rectal surgery? That, in itself, will present new emotional challenges for each of you.
There is no easy answer that will immediately solve all of the issues. It took time for the relationship to become what it is today and will take time and work to resolve and heal. However, you are taking the correct steps in terms of seeking qualified counseling for help. I would encourage you to continue encouraging your husband to continue his scripture reading and prayer. Praise the positive changes every time you see them in him. It’s important. God can, and often does, work with us as we move through our deepest pain rather than rescuing us out of the situation.
As you are waiting for counseling help I have a few book recommendations for you that will be tremendously helpful in putting you on the path to setting healthy boundaries. If you prefer books on tape I believe that these are available on tape or CD. I spend a lot of time in my car or on the Metro in DC so reading isn’t always practical. I download books to my iPod or listen to books on CD in my car on the long drive home. Regardless of how you choose to receive the information, I recommend the following books as a starting place for moving into healthy behavior patterns:
Boundaries in Marriage ~by Henry Cloud & John Townsend
Safe People ~by Henry Cloud & John Townsend
Limits ~by Henry Cloud & John Townsend
Marriage on the Rock ~by Jimmy Evans
These texts are excellent and a very good starting place for you at this point. I would encourage you to read them and take notes as they will no doubt touch many critical areas that you presently face. Do your best to not make any life altering moves or decisions at this time unless you are in physical danger. If you haven’t received the name of a counselor within a week, let me know and I will do my best to place you with a counselor in your area. God bless you and thank you for reaching out to me. Keep readying my blog and reach out when you need help. You are not alone.
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I went through 46 years of hell with my father. Physical, emotional, and psychological abuse was constant in my life. So was degradation. Mom died when I was about 4, so it was just dad and I.
Reading this has been a Godsend. It means I WASN’T crazy, and it WASN’T just my imagination. Somebody else has been through this too. Somebody believes me, after all these years.
I don’t know if there’s anything I can do, or if there’s any way out of this. I have felt so hopeless, for so long. I’m crying right now, just realizing somebody knows, somebody actually KNOWS, after so long.
Any advice on how to save this shipwreck life?
First, let me apologize for the lengthy delay in responding. I have been generally under the weather for the last few weeks but one week ago found myself in the ER and then admitted to the hospital for a week. As a result, I haven’t been able to answer comments and inquiries. I’m home now and will be on home-bound recovery for 6 weeks so I can at least write everyday until released from care.
Second, I’m sorry for what you went through with your father and, yes, there is hope for a shipwrecked life, as you’ve put it. It takes work and you are worth it. You’ve made the first steps and I hope you will continue reading NotYourPlaything as time goes on. One of the first books that I recommend to people coming out of abuse is “In Sheep’s Clothing” by Dr. George K. Simon. If you are not able to find a copy, let me know and I will help you find it.
Thank you for reading. You are not alone.
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Donald Jimothy Merryweather said:
Thank you for writing this. My children’s mother has been attempting to gaslight me, and successfully gaslighting others for years. She has tried to dispute facts with me even when I had hard evidence (an audio recording of a court proceeding) that unequivocally refutes her claims. The really sad thing is that she is manipulating my children into believing that I have hurt them. Things between us can be “civil” for relatively long periods but as soon as I say anything that undermines her fantasy of being infallible she’ll flip her lid, threaten to accuse me of abuse, then follow through on the threats. She’s done this to me 4 times in the las 5 years. She is diagnosed with bipolar but I have never seen her manic and I strongly suspect she actually has borderline personality disorder (she exhibits all major symptoms of BPD).
In a perfect world I would completely wash my hands of any relationship with her but our kids are 7 and 8 years old so that’s not in the cards.
I’m wondering if you have any advice for helping protect my children from the harmful effects of their mother’s manipulation. My kids are at a point in their life where they should be drawing firm distinctions between fantasy and reality. I imagine their mother’s gaslighting can’t be doing any favors to their psychological development. BTW, ever since I “abandoned” her BPD mom has been pretty hostile toward me. What can I do to help my kids?
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IWC Cousteau said:
Thanks for the article and the information is very useful.
Well said. This was the answer to a question that I did not know how to ask until now.
Growing up in the Asian culture, this is, unfortunately, the standard method of child rearing. As a shame-based society, children are routinely shamed into becoming high achievers in all areas of life and threatened with ostracization should they not perform better than their peers. Because the whole culture believes that the end justifies the means, this method of abuse is accepted as the norm and endorsed by all. One difficulty in “turning off the gaslight” is that to do so means that you risk being ostracized not only from the entire family unit, including extended family, but from the cultural society as well. They will most assuredly side with the gaslighter, which is usually the mother. Thus, the gaslighting will eventually come from many sources as the entire family pressures the victim to give in and behave properly. This is an enormous amount of pressure that is relentless. Another difficulty is that the expectation to allow the parents to control their child’s life does not ever dissipate as the child becomes an adult. It is the cultural norm for children to give up their lives for their aging parents and to let the parents have a direct influence on all major decisions including marriage, career, etc. That being said the task of “turning off the gas” may seem overwhelming and daunting, but the freedom that is gained will be worth the cost.
Thank you for your comments and for sharing your perspective. As I understand it, certain East Asian cultures do engage in what is known as Honor-Shame conditioning which is much more overt than Gaslighting. However, some forms of Honor-Shame conditioning share similar abusive elements. Gaslighting affect is more of a covert set of behaviors designed to make the target of abuse question their own sanity and to make them feel unstable. The overall goal is to manipulate and control the victim all the while overtly denying that anything is wrong. Shaming is usually overt, Gaslighting is always covert.
Let me stop here for a moment and clearly state that having high expectations of children, as do most Asian cultures, is not in and of itself abusive. However, overt public shaming to induce and coerce a specific response or behavior is both psychological and emotional abuse. If you are among those who were coerced by shamed as a child, or even in adulthood, please know that you are not alone. And if you need help breaking free, I’m here. Thank you for your readership.
Amazing! First time I have ever heard of anything like this until my girlfriend told me that she had to go to therapy for dialect whatever I googled it and I found your article and I’m so impressed and relieved and I feel so much better because honestly I have been physically mentally psychologically emotionally financially abused and I can see so many similarities…she’s finally getting help now she’s finally in hospital and I’m going to hope for the best and according to your article I don’t know if I should but thank you for writing this because it’s very important information that the world needs to know about
Thank you for reading and also for responding. I’m so happy that this was helpful to you and that your girlfriend is receiving help. Very many people who engage in this type of abusive behavior never seek help so it’s a definite plus for you both that she is. I think what you’re referring to is Dialectic Behavior Therapy which is very effective in treating Borderline Personality Disorder and suicidal ideation among certain other AXIS II disorders (meaning personality disorders which are not mental illnesses). Cognitive Behavior Therapy is also useful in terms of treatment for this type of Axis II disorder. I’m not certain if this is what she is dealing with in terms of disorders but it fits with the treatment you’ve described as well as the Gaslighting behavior.
I just want to mention that it’s important for you to receive counseling, too, in learning how to set loving boundaries with her. Even if your relationship ends, receiving counseling will help you identify in the future similar personalities and help you avoid them. You deserve better than to be treated poorly and it’s okay to set limits on behavior. You don’t have to take abusiveness in order to be loved. If you can’t afford counseling or if you aren’t certain who to contact, let me know and I’ll do what I can help you find someone reputable in your area. In the meantime, there are several books that I would recommend for you to help you stay anchored. “Safe People” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend is at the very top of my list along with the workbook if you can find it. “Boundaries” by the same authors, and “In Sheep’s Clothing” by Dr. George K. Simon. Read them or listen to them on CD, MP3, or other available audio file and then re-read them as much as possible. Refer to them often and exercise your “no” even if it scares you sometimes. “No, you aren’t allowed to hurt me and call it love,”, “No, you aren’t allowed to stay sick without consequences,”, and “No, you can’t lie to me and expect to stay in my life”. It’s okay to love deeply and to expect change but it’s also okay to accept reality when it’s clear you’re loved one won’t change and to sever the relationship for your own health. It should ever be a first resort but sometimes it’s the only choice.
Keep your chin up and believe that you deserve better! Gaslighting is very, very real and it is abuse. If you ever have doubts and are questioning this fact, please come back ad re-read the article. You are not alone.
Suzana Black said:
Can a person hurt an other person unconsciously?
In short, if someone likes tv, the other person finds a way to break it. If one loves a book, the other will find a way to destroy it. If one loves a pet, that pet will get lost or killed. If someone loves a friend, the other will bend backwards to insinuate something that will send that friend away for good. And all that, happens “by accident” every time. Examples are so many, but I want to keep it short. Please, I do need help… Thank you!
Thank you so much for your question. The short answer is, yes, it is possible for someone to hurt another person on an unconscious level. However, what you are describing is not so much unconscious behavior as it is passive-aggressive in nature. If someone hurts another person unconsciously then they won’t repeatedly damage or destroy the other person’s personal property and/or relationships all the while claiming “accident” as an excuse. Although I don’t personally believe in coincidence, I accept that there are such things as true accidents. These passive-aggressive tendencies may or may not have an unconscious motivator, but are nonetheless intentional behaviors. The repeated pattern of frequent “accidents” which cost you something important but not the other party coupled with deliberate denial of responsibility is actually an indirect acknowledgment that their behavior is both intentional and meant to harm. The behavior is childish at best and abusive at worst; Childish in that the harmful party wants the privilege of controlling the happiness and welfare of another person, and abusive in that they wish to do so to the detriment of another without any of the consequences and responsibility associated with inflicting harmful behavior onto another party.
This type of abuser is grossly immature, cowardly, selfish, and abusive. Ignoring the behavior will not make it stop and calling attention to it will not make them openly acknowledge that what they are doing is wrong. The good news is that they don’t have to admit responsibility in order for you to know that the behavior is wrong. Understand that they choose to perceive the situation as repeatedly “accidental” i.e., no acknowledgement of deliberate wrongdoing means to them that no wrongdoing has taken place. This abusive personality type believes that as long as they do not acknowledge that their behavior is wrong, and as long as no one else does either, then the behavior is okay to perpetuate. Thus, they interpret this twisted thinking as permission to continue harming others without limits and without consequences until someone actively stands in their way. Think of it like a toddler who hides their own eyes then believes that they are hidden from everyone else as a result. They do not see others therefore others do not see them. It’s a similar dynamic with the “it was an accident” and “there are reasons for that” abusive personalities. Let go of the expectation that they will see the error of their ways and change. Some do but not without deliberate and repeated confrontation of their behavior coupled with refusal to accept the abuse and counseling. Accept that they don’t have to acknowledge that what they are doing is wrong for you to know that it’s wrong and that you do not have to accept it! I hope this helps you and if I can offer assistance in setting boundaries and in seeking counseling in your area, please let me know. That’s all for now and thank you for your readership. Feel free to write me again. You are not alone.
Bless your heart. We are in this together
I have been in a covert-aggressive relationship for 20 years. It took me a long time to understand and break free of my enabling because I could not figure out exactly what the issues were with our “codependent” bond. Although I knew it was toxic, there was always this doubt that I was wrong, and things weren’t as bad as they actually were. It is like breaking an addiction. The abuse is so hidden that’s what makes it so unbelievable, and why it’s so difficult to move on. Your post explains it so well. Wolves in sheeps clothing. This is abuse plain and simple. And it is terribly damaging to ones spirit. Thank you for spreading the knowledge. Knowledge is power!
I’m still being forced to deal with gas lighting due to having a young toddler with my ex. All my emails are child focused but she turns them round all the time stating I’m harrasing her and am a bully, controlling, etc and I need serious help from a professional and also CBT. And that I won’t see my child until this happens. Well i saw an expert who said I do not have any mental health problems. She has even gone as far as saying I am unstable and have phycologicle problems and she is only trying to help me. Again the professional docter says I have no phycologicle problems.
She always says I’m a habitual lier when I try to address anything with her and I can not be trusted with our child. She says she knows her child better then anyone and I must trust her that she is doing what’s right and says she won’t give me any reasons as I will threaten her and also I don’t love her etc then proceed to name call and tell me I’m causing her stress. Also try to convince me I’ve said something I’ve not, even though clear evidence shows it was said.
Is it normal for a gas lighter to accuse the victim of asacally what they are doing themselves?
How do I comunicate with her regarding our son? I’m being forced to talk to someone I don’t want to due to having a child with them, then being accused of harrasment when I ask when can I see son.
I am terribly sorry to hear of your troubles with your ex and that there is a small child involved in the madness. I understand how uncomfortable this situation can be but have no idea how it feels for you to go through this. Whatever you are feeling through this process, allow yourself to feel it. It’s important to not discount your own experiences; however, it is vitally important that you not play into your ex-partner’s behaviors. Gaslighters thrive on manipulating their victims and by putting them on the chronic defensive. Keep this idea in mind and even make it your mantra if it helps you: sometimes the only way to win is simply not to play.
In response to your question, “Is it normal for a gas lighter to accuse the victim of [basically] what they are doing themselves?”
The answer is, yes. It is precisely the situation, without fail, that the gaslighting abuser is actively engaging in the very behavior(s) which they accuse their victims of perpetrating. What they count on is a predictable defensive response in the face of accusations which is the script from which they read. That’s their primer for unleashing an onslaught of irrational controlling abuse. As long as they have the victim on the defensive then they maintain control and “win” which is how they see relationships, as winning at the expense of the wellbeing of their partners. The bottom-line is that you don’t have to take it. You can decide that you deserve better, and that your child does, as well. However, it depends on what your legal relationship is to your child how and when you can intervene.
It is a sad reality that emotional and psychological abuse is extremely hard to prove. In some states, psychological abuse holds no legal weight in deciding matters of divorce and/or child custody. It is for this reason that you have to be creative, diligent, and determined in how you respond going forward to your abuser. If you are seeking custody of your child then you may have to take an entirely different tactic with your abuser because confronting her will not force her to admit wrongdoing. Be kind, be firm, but don’t engage. When she begins to accuse you of behaviors common to her but foreign to you, do not be defensive. Simply say in broken record format, “you’re imagining things,” or “I don’t have to explain myself to you,” or “I’ll talk to you only when you are rational and respectful,” then stick to your statements(s)! Expect pushback but do not cave in.
I strongly recommend that you read The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others by Dr. Robin Stern for additional help in combating your abusers behavior. I’m always here to help you, too!
Thank you for writing. You are not alone.
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M.K. Hajdin said:
This is a terrific article, and I’ve linked to it. I do have one quibble with the use of the word “psychotic” when you probably mean “psychopathic”. People who suffer from psychosis usually aren’t psychopaths, they’re just mentally ill.
I apologize for the delay in responding to your comment. Challenging year in terms of work/life/advocate balance. =)
Regarding the use of the word psychotic: good catch and thank you! I read and revised this paper so many times before posting that I completely glossed over the misused term. It should, indeed, read psychopathic. Correction made and thank you!
Thank you for your readership,
Thank you for your wonderful article…It was extremely helpful. I am in the process of ending a four-year relationship with a man who engaged in the exact behaviors you described. He was always very controlling and abusive, but last June, things began getting even more out of control. He broke in my house on three separate occasions, stealing both my and my daughter’s underwear and urinating on the carpet. After the police contacted him, he came to my home again and carved up a plastic watering bucket sitting on my front porch…I’m sure as a “message” that he wasn’t happy I had called the police. I don’t feel he is a pedophile but rather, someone who used these acts as a means to disorient and terrorize me. He has denied these incidents occurred to his family and friends, blaming them instead on my “crazy neighbor.” After the second incident, he was suspiciously unconcerned that someone had broken in and said I shouldn’t be scared because “someone is probably just sending you a message” and I “should put some curtains on my windows.” He has also went to great lengths to discredit me to others (we are from the same small town), stating I am a “crazy bitch.” I have never experienced anything of this nature in any prior relationship and have to admit, it was an extremely debilitating experience.
P Pinetta said:
“who very often are women” — ? They are also very often men. I find this comment unnecessary and bizarre in an otherwise good article. Is the author trying to equivocate to men or something?
Thank you for your comment. My point in the statement “…who very often are women” was to shed light on the fact that women are also abusers. Our society tends to ignore this fact and instead equates maleness as synonymous with abuser. This simply isn’t factual. The reality is that some women (and more than you might think) are abusers both psychologically as well as physically; however, female abusers tend to be more psychologically diabolical than their male counterparts. The reason for this clarification is simply that all too often and very unfortunately, men are automatically thought of to be abusers and rarely victims which is simply not the case which makes abused men and under-recognized class of victim. I advocate for all victims regardless of gender and I call out all abusers regardless of gender, as well. I hope that adds some perspective to my comments.
Thank you for your readership.
Thank you for posting this article. Really, has shed a large light on what has happened in my life and I now understand. My experience is in the work environment and now know why it has been hard to leave besides being broken down and debilitated by this form of abuse. I think I can breath easier now. I worked with a man who treated me like this and I questioned myself for quite sometime how I could allow this to happen to me. What was it about me that I allowed this to happen? Since I have learned a hard lesson and am still working through trusting myself e.g., decisions and working on relationships I stomped out because of this having happened to me. During and after. I don’t work with this man anymore but the people I work with have become victims and no one does a thing about him except slap his wrist when he acts up again. I’m not certain why I am writing this. Maybe I can be an example of someone who can say a victim can overcome this kind of abuse and move forward with step after step. Whether large or small. I’m in graduate school now and working on myself. Being gentle and loving and patient with a lot of mindfulness meditation. My last step is to get the job that takes me away from that dark space I have lived in Monday thru Friday.
First of all please allow me to apologize for the lateness of this response! You wrote to me in August of 2015 and it is now June 2016. ALl I can say is that I’m sorry for he delay. It has been a very challenging year in terms of keeping up with everything and my writing has gone to the wayside, as a result. Regardless, I read all of the responses that come through my blog and I am so thankful that this article helped you.
I am so sorry that you had to deal with with form of abuse. Gaslighting is an ugly, ugly thing to be subjected to. You have a right to healthy boundaries and you have a right to put limits on the abusive behaviors of others toward you.
Please let me know how you are doing and thank you so very much for writing!
You are not alone,
the story hive said:
Reblogged this on The Story Hive and commented:
This is so so so important!
Tina Powers said:
Seems to be a tactic for very broken, very weak people who are full of fear and feelings of inadequacy trying to cover their weaknesses and gain a FEELING of control, however, if they are unable to control themselves there is little doubt they will ever have actual control of anything or anyone and have only a temporal control f the situation which undoubtedly will come back to them and affect their pathetic lives in countless ways. What a waste of time and energy. In this scenario the victim is not the one to be more pitied. I am speaking from experience. Wow … Picking on innocent people … The epitome of broken.
“My hope for the reader in this next section is that it elicits at least one, if not many, “Eureka!” moments as perhaps each of you recognize that you are in one or more of these power relationships and that, no, you aren’t crazy! ”
Amy, you accomplished your goal. I chanced upon the term ‘gaslighting’ during the exposure of a celebrity abuser and this post was among the first I read. At the time, I was simply looking for definitions, but this post gave me much more than that. It helped to realize what my mother does. It brought me from total denial to recognizing that I had been abused since a very early age. “You aren’t crazy” is a critical message for we who grew up under gaslighting.
I knew the truth of your words because as I read down the list, I came close to vomiting – a truly visceral response to the info. In the years since, I’ve severed ties and been getting help. I have a long road to travel, but you helped me see the stepping off point. Thank you!