It wasn’t until after my divorce that I first heard the term ‘Gaslighting’.
The second I heard it, I knew that my ex had been a master at it. I instantly related to the term. I realized that this is how I had spent the majority of my relationship. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like I was so crazy after all.
What the hell is ‘Gaslighting’?
The term actually comes from a 1938 British play called “Gas Light”. In the play, a husband attempts to drive his wife insane. One of the methods he uses is constantly adjusting the lighting and denying doing it. At the time, the lights were powered by gas.
What the term really means is manipulating someone into questioning there own sanity. This is done through a combination of lying, denial and contradiction that makes someone question their own memories and perception. A gaslighting victim likely feels like they’re going crazy. (For a more detailed list of definitions related to domestic violence, click HERE)
To be clear, this is absolutely emotional abuse. I don’t mean the casual white lie about bringing the trash out when it’s really still in the garbage can. This is deliberate tactics one person uses to intentionally make the other person doubt themselves.
Doubts and Fear
While I was married, I thought I was going insane. It got so bad, that at one point I secretly taped an argument with my ex on my phone so that I could relisten to it later.
Sometimes it was little things. I would be certain I told my ex something, but he would adamantly deny it. He’d accuse me of never telling him anything, even though I felt like I had a clear memory of the conversation.
Sometimes it was much bigger things. Whole events. Arguments. Plans. You name it.
I would remember something one way, and he would tell me I was wrong. The hardest part is that most of the time, it was his word against mine. It became an endless cycle, until I was actually doubting my own memories.
A lot of scary things start to happen when you’re doubting your own sanity. You don’t trust yourself. You start to feel like everything you do or think is wrong. Anxiety kicks in. The effects of gaslighting are immense.
There are many different gaslighting strategies. My ex did a lot of denial and contradiction.
- “That’s not what you said”
- “That’s not what happened”
- “I never said that”
- “You’re not remembering that right”
- “That never happened”
He almost always added something along the lines of “are you f**king crazy?” afterward. This really helped to reinforce the fears that I was already feeling. I DID feel like I was crazy. How could I be remembering something so clearly if it didn’t happen?
Am I crazy or a victim of gaslighting?
Gaslighting is really difficult to overcome. Most of the time, there won’t be witnesses to confirm details with. Sometime, the gaslighter will go so far as to enlist help from friends, saying, “so-and-so is getting so forgetful” or planting concerns that you’re easily confused.
As I mentioned, I tried recording an argument so that I could listen to it later. The problem with this technique is that recording someone without their consent is not legal in many states. You need to be aware of the laws in your state before choosing this option.
Ultimately, my chosen technique was to write things down in a notebook. I would make notes about what was said and who said it. I would document when I told my ex about things and what things he told me. This was helpful in restoring some of my faith in myself.
Writing things down can be a good technique if you had a safe space to store your list. Whether it’s digital or old fashion pen and paper, you want to make sure it’s safe.
The important thing to remember is that gaslighting is not a normal part of a relationship. Gaslighting is an manipulation technique that a person uses to control another person. It isn’t healthy and it isn’t right. Gaslighting is a form of abuse.