Lately I’ve been thinking about the little known type of abuse called gaslighting. Its name is taken from the play and the two subsequent screen adaptations where the husband attempts to convince his wife – and others – that she is insane by manipulating elements in her environment. I want to touch on this because it is such a subtle form of abuse – which is its entire point – that we may have no idea at all that it’s happening to us. Let me give you a couple examples.
It can look like someone having just poured himself a drink, with the bottle right there on the shelf, holding the glass in his hand and responding to your inquiry, “No, I’m not drinking right now.”
And it leaves you thinking, Well, he says he’s not. Maybe I didn’t just see him pour that. Maybe that bottle doesn’t have alcohol in it. Maybe the smell is all in my mind. I must be wrong again. What is the matter with me?
But then you find out that, yes, that was a bottle of alcohol that you saw him pour into his glass, and, yes, he was holding it in his hand, and, yes, he had been drinking for weeks leading up to your question, and, yes, you were smelling what you were smelling and, no, you weren’t wrong again, because he was lying to you.
Or it can sound like someone saying, in the middle of a conversation that’s becoming heated and you’re trying to find an out so you can go calm down, “Now, I know you get easily confused and that’s why you want to talk later…” with condescension dripping through the phone.
Which can leave you thinking, He’s right. I do get easily confused, and I don’t think quickly on my feet, and I usually can’t think of what I really wanted to say until after the conversation is over. I should just be able to handle staying on the phone right now. I am so stupid. And you take it all in as gospel truth because the mean stuff is easier to believe for some very sad reason.
And then you run that little patronizing you-get-easily-confused line by a friend and she yells an expletive because she’s so mad on your behalf, an emotion that hadn’t even crossed your mind to feel because you were so caught up in agreeing with him because you really do get easily confused in your frail little brain and he is always right and you are always wrong, except that he was trying to manipulate and control you.
I have found three remedies to being gaslighted.
One, ask God to give you great discernment. To help you know what is truth. To help you see your reality for what it really is. To give you the courage to handle what is going on in your relationship. To give you strength to stand up to lies.
Two, run the incidents by a trusted friend, mentor or counselor. I used to say that I wished a third person could just plain live in my house, in my marriage, and help me know what was right and what was wrong, because I was so confused for so long. As soon as you start speaking these words to someone, and you see their reactions, you will move to the place where you’ll be able to get real help and see the truth for what it is and experience real healing.
Three, put distance between you and the person who is doing this to you. Set up boundaries, minimize the emotional influence he has on you, or end the relationship. If it’s your spouse, get help.
God does not want us being conned and deceived at every turn. Let me be clear: God does not want this for you. Proverbs is full of verses encouraging us to not live like fools and to search after wisdom. He does not want us being blindly fed lies, especially by someone who claims to love us. If this is you, it’s time to do something about it.
Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding. –Proverbs 3:13-
If this post helped you, I would encourage you to check out “Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage”, found here.
Great insights, Elisabeth!
There were times in my marriage where I wondered who the crazy one was–my STBX or in-laws…or me. It’s amazing, now that I’m on the outside, how clear the dysfunction is.
Hi Elizabeth….the kind of things that happened to me my entire marriage was after a fight, even while we were having counselling, my husband would say he did this or that because I had done x. I would look at him dumbfounded and often try argue my version but he was always so convinced that ‘that’ is exactly how it happened and how I reacted. For an example, he came home from a business trip overseas and had bought me a white leather jacket, I did not want it because I knew he had shopped with his girlfriend, but I was calm especially because our girls were in the room, I neatly folded it and gave it back to him and told him Thankyou but I don’t want it and you know why….His events he told our councillors when like this…..she took the jacket and flung it back across the bed at me almost hitting the girls who were sitting on the bed….I was dumbfounded because he was so convinced the events had happened that way….I came home from that session and all I could think….is did it happen like that, am I blocking out things, do I get angry and black out….honestly I felt that maybe I truly was mad. When I sat with my older daughter one day I asked her if she remembered that day, she did, I asked what happened….and thank the Lord….he showed me I wasn’t mad! This has been the pattern of my entire marriage, but how do you argue with someone who is absolutely convinced his perception of events are real? Even now in our divorce it is those things I find the hardest, but have learned it doesn’t matter….because God knows the truth! Is that classified as gas lighting too?
Again, wow. I can totally understand this and it has happened to me. Wow. ‘gaslighting’ now there is a term for it! Amen. Blessings as you minister to others and your writing/blog continues to minister to me.
It’s even worse when your husband AND his girlfriend (your ‘friend’) are tag teaming on the gaslighting… The problem with never telling anyone what you’re going through is that the voice in your own head is the only voice you ever hear. I came very close to suicide because they could convince me that I was the crazy one. Keep preaching, Sister!
Diana, I am so sorry. That is just horrible. Hope you’re getting some help and seeing more truth!
I just figured this out this past year! I kept running to my sister saying I felt crazy all of the time! My stbx was so good at it that he would do it in marriage counseling as well. Then they would believe him and it was a never ending time of crazy feeling. I am still trying to grasp what was real or not in my 27 year marriage. Gaslighting is horrible!