Gaslighting – when someone makes you question your reality

A gaslighter will make you think you are holding a grudge, when all you are doing is defining and respecting your boundaries

A gaslighter will make you think you are holding a grudge, when all you are doing is defining and respecting your boundaries.

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After a 3 month well-deserved break, TiH is back.  And we kick off with a topic that has been asked about consistently in the last few months.  It’s about gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse where people are manipulated and forced to question their reality, thoughts, or memories about events in their lives.

In simple terms gaslighting is denying someone’s reality.  If their words don’t match their actions, they are manipulating you and when they refuse to be held accountable for this manipulation, they are gaslighting you.

Imagine this scenario:  Disclaimer – this is a fictionalised tale based on real life.

A charmingly beautiful and successful man asked Sophie out.  At the time, Sophie’s life revolved around an endless fog of engagements and weddings of her peers and she was feeling inadequate.  So, when Adam asked her out, she was thrilled.  In her eyes, he was everything.  He had a great business which meant he had money.  He showered her with gifts.  He gave her his undivided attention in public.  He was great with her friends and family.  He was a catch and because the tick-tock of her biological clock was louder than ever, and wedding/engagement invitations became baby showers and christenings parties, she knew this was her last chance.  She was happy.

One day when they were out to dinner, Sophie bumped into an ex.  This was a person who’d remained friendly even though they didn’t hang out, phone or text often.  Sophie hugged him.  When she introduced them, her ex smiled but Adam smirked. 

“Did you have to do that?” Adam scolded as they sat.  Sophie was perplexed, “do what?”

“Ruin dinner by flirting with your ex!”   

That was the beginning of the end.

This became Sophie’s life.  She ruined everything from movie nights to dinner with friends to holidays abroad.  One time he flew them to Paris for a weekend getaway and when Sophie offered to pay dinner to treat him, he flew into a rage and didn’t speak to her the for rest of the night.  However, he was very charming and appealing to everyone else.  During that weekend away, Sophie did a lot of things that irritated Adam.  She failed him with her constant bad behaviours.

The weekend getaway became a catalogue of listing things that Sophie did ‘on purpose’ to irritate Adam.  And if she didn’t change, he could easily leave her for a more appreciative girlfriend.  It was very confusing for Sophie who couldn’t tell the difference between abuse and love.

“You have to stop with the inappropriate behaviours and embarrassing me, Soph, otherwise we are over!”  he stated the morning before they left for the airport.

“I’m sorry….. “

Before she could apologise, he interjected, “offering to pay for dinner in front of staff is humiliating, stupid and cruel!  Don’t ever do that again!”

Although intuitively Sophie knew better, she apologised and felt guilty for humiliating him and promised to be a better girlfriend.

This was one of many incidents where Adam was the cruel one but somehow managed to convince Sophie it was her fault.  He demanded insanely expensive gifts for his birthdays.  Sometimes he cried like a baby when he felt Sophie was slipping away.  At the same time, he would taunt Sophie by showing her texts from other women who fancied him.  It became clear that Sophie was the one who needed to work hard at this relationship, he was doing her a favour.

His selfishness knew no bounds, one time his business was under threat – tax evasion or something, he said it was too complicated for Sophie to understand.  When he couldn’t sleep worrying about the impending case, he said Sophie was being selfish for sleeping soundly next to him.  He woke her up, “how can you sleep so deeply when I’m in psychological agony?  This case could ruin our lives?”  And so, Sophie stayed up and rocked him like a baby.

At this point reader, I know you are probably wondering why Sophie didn’t up and leave. 

Sophie was an emotionally abused woman.  Adam was a manipulator who in public, was very kind to her and everyone else, while in private he gaslighted her every chance he got.  Her friends and family told her often how lucky she was.  Adam made sure she knew he chose her out of many, therefore she owed him a lifetime of servitude.

Everything he did was because he loved her so much and wanted the best for her and their relationship.  If he didn’t like her clothes because they were a bit ‘slutty’ it was because he cared about her image.  If he isolated her from her friends, it was because he knew they were a bad influence.  If he told her off for various misbehaviours, it was because he wanted her to be her best self.  And when sometimes his telling offs felt degrading, devaluing, and humiliating it was because of her own insecurities and not his actions.  When she wasn’t up for sex and he was, she was withholding love and he could easily find it elsewhere, so she did whatever she had to do to keep him happy.  This is abuse disguised as love and care.

The truth was Sophie loved him deeply and was blind to the abuse.  She believed the nagging thoughts in her mind were simply intrusive thoughts because of her own insecurities and fears.  Adam was good and with her help, Adam can and will change if she worked harder and promised to be better.  It was an exhausting hot and cold, up and down relationship.

Adam had managed to deny Sophie reality to a point where she didn’t and couldn’t trust her own thoughts.  Whenever she had enough courage to question things, his responses e.g. “you are so insecure,” or “you are overreacting,” or “you are a drama queen,” or “this is your problem, not mine,” etc, these left her in deeper doubts about herself

This story demonstrates how a person can be gaslighted

A gaslighter can be anyone – family, friend, husband, wife, girl/boyfriend, children, co-workers etc.  Almost all gaslighters are narcissists

I know of one sure way (from personal experience) to respond to gaslighting without selling your soul: –

Take deep breaths and speak calmly, then with great confidence and courage, tell them in no uncertain terms that you remember/know things differently, then walk away, do not engage in a debate.

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Image – Sammy Williams, Unsplash

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