Gaslighting: Emotional Abuse & Manipulation
Gaslighting, emotional abuse that can drive a person crazy, is a form of manipulation that can lead to the victim questioning everything they have ever known to be true. Do you know someone whose interactions leave you feeling like you are going insane, either from frustration, bewilderment, or exhaustion? You may be a victim of gaslighting. Don’t panic, the silver lining is you’re not actually going crazy, you’ve just had a firsthand encounter with gaslighting -- emotional abuse and crazy-making manipulation.
Are You Experiencing Gaslighting, Emotional Abuse & Manipulation?
- Gaslighters adamantly swear they never said something they did. This can make anyone feel crazy. For example, you’re certain you heard them say they went to the movies last week. You remember telling your best friend that your boyfriend was seeing a movie at the time, but now he’s staring at you brazenly and saying he never said such a thing. He’s even looking at you like you’re doing something strange or manipulating him.
- Gaslighters tell you that you’re crazy and often tell you that other people close to you worry about your sanity as well. They may act as though they are the only person in your life that cares enough to be straight with you. They may even suggest that someone close to you, a friend or relative, discreetly inquired as to how you were doing because everyone’s been so concerned with your alleged strange behavior.
- Gaslighters invalidate your thoughts and feelings by saying you’re overly sensitive or paranoid. They reaffirm these statements by bringing other people into their manipulation. For example, they may say something like, “Your brother is right about you, you’re always overreacting and creating drama.” Now you’re left feeling like not only does your partner perceive you this way, but your brother too. This is when you start questioning yourself, wondering if you are in fact paranoid and sensitive.
- Gaslighters aim to alienate you from your family and friends, as well as other people in your life. They may manipulate you by claiming other people mistreat you. They may suggest that your friends are using you, your parents just want to control you, or your boss is always manipulating you. They will twist even the most ordinary things in a way that will leave you confused. Eventually, you’ll find yourself questioning the people in your life.
- Gaslighters undermine your beliefs and delegitimize your arguments with the use of lies, denial, projection, diversion, and persistence. In response to a very direct question, a gaslighter will say things like, “I’m not going over this again, I’m done explaining something so simple,” or “You think I did what? You’re the one who has issues with that.”
Gaslighting is a tedious process that happens over time and can happen to anyone, it is not a reflection on the strength or intelligence of the victim. Discourse with a gaslighter can be so profoundly baffling and tiresome, the victim starts to give up. Rather than question or fight the gaslighting, emotional abuse begins to feel routine, the victim begins to accept whatever it is they’re being perpetually fed. Narcissists, psychopaths, and sociopaths often practice gaslighting with the intention of controlling, isolating, and diminishing their victim.
An important key to avoiding gaslighting emotional abuse is trusting your instincts, holding firm in your long-held beliefs, and identifying the red flags for what they are -- the crazy-making manipulation of a gaslighter.
* I feel it’s important to clarify that every gaslighter is not a sociopathic mastermind with a mind control agenda. Some people behave this way because they have really poor communication and conflict resolution skills. I hate to give someone mastermind credit when they essentially just have lousy habits and treat others badly.
Abramson, K. (2014) Turning Up The Lights On Gaslighting. Philosophical Perspectives, 28(1), 1-30. doi:10.1111/phpe.12046
Sullivan, E. (2017, November 7). Gaslighting: Emotional Abuse & Manipulation, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, February 2 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2017/11/gaslighting-emotional-abuse-and-manipulation
Author: Emily J. Sullivan
I have had it with gaslighters. I am facing it from all sides. My father is an authoritarian gaslighter, and of course I got into a relationship with one as well. Growing up, my father lacked interest in my life. I lived with my father as a teen, and he was never home, effectively throwing parental responsibility to the wind. I always fought him on it and he found me to be a nuisance. There was never food in the house. I often stayed overnight at the homes of my friends. Whenever I confronted him, he would tell me I was messed up, too emotional and a loser. Then he would leave. It went on like this until he remarried. But it became worse. His wife was insecure about my existence. Dad always came to me, telling me what my stepmother didn't like about me, and what I had to change. I was always 'too emotional'. This was always the foundation and he found comfort in this wife who always interfered. In adulthood I gave up. Everyone kisses his ass because there is money to inherit. That was always the weapon. The message has always been to shut up and flatter him or be disinherited. I kept fighting, but anytime anything came up, again, I was told I'm too sensitive and I'm a screw up. I went low to no contact. Anytime I got together with him I had to brace myself for the next episode of being discredited. All I wanted was a normal dad who was interested and protective. Fast forward. We live in the same town. He has his 'new' life with his picture perfect (awful) wife and her kids. Family photos look like a Martha Stewart catalog of perfection. Except I'm blatantly out of the picture. I don't want to be in that fake picture, but it still hurts. I got a boyfriend and for a while it was good and I moved in. But inevitably with both of us tending to drink, eventually the cracks were exposed. When he drinks and gets angry, it's emotional and verbal abuse galore. It started slowly, band then he exhibited some unacceptable behavior. It escalated recently to an alarming level. I pretty much stopped drinking and enabling him. I walk on eggshells. I want to prevent it from getting worse. I have a therapist. I educated myself about alcoholism, narcissism and abuse. My boyfriend is a gaslighter. He says horrible things when his guard is down. I reached out to friends first. They were supportive. They told me to save myself and get out but financially I am stuck. I want to move to another place where I was happier. Where I used to live, where I have a sister. She says to get out. I finally told my father. But of course, he quickly minimized my situation. I had not been physically abused so he was relieved. Once that was clear, he began to discredit my story. He went on the narrative that I must be doing something to anger my boyfriend. He told me my emotions were getting in the way. He told me to call the police if it got bad. He was disappointed I didn't have precise an action plan, even though I was confused, desperate and breaking down. He passively seemed to enjoy my frustration. A day later he texted me. He said it seemed I was having a bad day. At that point, aware of the gaslighting, I kind of flipped. I told him he was minimizing something dangerous and he wasn't taking me seriously. But he was also not used to me being assertive. He responded back saying he wanted to respond to my assertiveness. He was not going to be told by me that he wasn't being helpful. Anyway, I told him I'll talk if we are communicating but the gaslighting must stop and that I reached out because it was serious. So now, if I indeed talk to him, I'm anticipating the ways that he will try and shut me down. All I want is a dad to care. But not with him. I feel so frustrated and alone. He just can't face that he can help in many ways. He is angry that I stood my ground. It will always be a power struggle. And I'm still with my boyfriend, trying to figure out how to get out. There seems like no way to go.
Hi Emily. I am a 31 year old male. My Fiancée is a 27 old female who I think may be gaslighting. I have been reading up on different things trying to find out if it is me who is overreacting. To be honest gaslighting seems to be along the lines of what is going on in our relationship. We have been in a relationship for just over 3 years. I love my fiancée and would do anything for her. Everyday is different with her though. Sometimes she is wonderful to be with and other days I am afraid of my life to say the wrong thing. She has made me give up every single one of my friends saying that they are bad news and all they’ve ever done is put me down. I blocked them out of my life almost a year ago and changed my number not long after I decided to move in with my then girlfriend. I had a great friendship with them but my girlfriend got me to believe they were trying to break us up. I know in my mind and heart now that they were just trying to help me get out of a bullying relationship. It’s been almost a year and I’m seriously lost without my friends who will never speak to me again and to be honest I wouldn’t blame them. At the moment we are renting and saving to get a mortgage. This comes from her feeling my mind with positivities and that we’ll have a great life together and that I she can’t wait to finally buy a house and settle down and have a couple of kids together. She knows that I want this as much as her but recently a couple of my family members have texted me and asked why I’ve been so distant and my parents ask why I hardly call to see them anymore. The answer is every time I’ve asked my partner to come to visit my family she has a plan to either go see her parents that weekend (who live a 3 hour drive away) and so I ask what if we call to my parents midweek. Her answer being “well I’m working and I’ll be tired after work” I say well how about we call to them on this date and she will either say no or ok and when the time comes she will pull a sick day or a come up with an excuse. If I call to them on my own she says that I’ve been out there talking about her or something negative will come of it. She constantly says negative things about my family especially my sister and has made it clear she doesn’t like my sister in law because she was good friends with my ex, who at one stage was a good friend of mine also, but unfortunately I’ve been forced to back away from. Last but not least.... Due to our saving for a mortgage together we’ve set up a joint account with the bank (Her Idea). I am not suppose to spend money without her knowing and agreeing to it first. I have a full time job and she does also so we’re both earning. I can’t so much as buy a coffee without her questioning me as to why I’ve used money. This then leads to a massive argument and me being completely put down. If I threaten to leave she takes my phone and car keys from me as they are ours now as she is paying for them too now... She has slapped me on 3 occasions now. Due to all of this, some nights I don’t sleep and I am very emotional at times. Please Help as I don’t know who I am anymore or who I’m in a relationship with??
Great job EM it's crazy I dated someone not too long ago where Gas lighting as you say was his go to . I will never forget We had this great night of bonding and watching movies and out of no where an argument insued about my religion how his parents wouldn't accept me because I am Jewish and if we got married how would we raise our kids I got upset and said I accept you just the way you are and I hope that you and your parents would return that acceptance I said my religion isn't his concern and maybe we should talk later when I am not so shocked and hurt . I had called him later that day and said if we did get married for our kids we would raise them all the same religion , he replied woah what makes you think I would want to marry you . I was in shock and felt baffled was I stupid for thinking that ? what was that whole argument about ? ..... Feeling pretty stupid I just dismissed the whole argument but it was the same song and dance the kept me feeling bewildered and dumbfounded . It came to a head I did not leave my abusive ex for this ..... granted its not physical abuse but a form of abusive nonetheless a more intelligent discreet way and I was not going to accept it a minute more and I deleted him from my life.
Rachel, is this MY Jewish friend Rachel? Hey! Yea, that definitely sounds like gaslighting, he says something, you refer to it later and then he acts like he never said anything of that sort and makes you feel stupid. I'm sorry! I'm glad you're able to see that for what it is because you're clearly not stupid. I'm so glad you deleted him and were able to move on. Good for you, girl! -Emily
When I realized my husband was using gas lighting techniques, after approximately 2 yrs of marriage, I left home, with just the cloths on my back. I felt my sanity was at stake. I experienced the anxiety, sleepless nights, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality, and realized I had to leave. I'm seeking a divorce but he's making it difficult for it to happen. I've tried to go NO CONTACT to avoid being sucked back in to this devastating behavior. But, thus hasn't been easy, due to owning a car dealership, however, I use limited contact, as much as possible.
When I realized my husband was highlighting me, it was devastating! We owned a car dealership, but after experiencing the anxiety, sleepless nights, stress, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality I literally ran away from home. Left him, the business and everything else. This has caused a big problem for me, but I felt it necessary for my sanity. We were only married for approximately 2 years. I left on October 17, 2016, and haven't and don't plan to go back. I'm seeking divorce, but it had been an arduous process. Since leaving him, he's committed some fraudulent biz practices, that has caused some problems. I am the primary person (owner) of the business and because of that our floorplan is coming after me for the money he spent in lieu of paying them. I'm faced with a law suit in the amount of $125K. I know that I will need to secure a lawyer, but I don't have the money to do so. My husband is not cooperative neither is he willing to pay the money back. However, I'm glad that I got out of the relationship, with my right mind. Right now, I'm seeing a therapist, just to help me move forward, and reclaim my life. I'm 65 and my husband is 57. He is a great manipulator, and liar and I just want to go on with my life. It's there any advice or help you can give me?
Gwendolyn, I am so sorry that you are dealing with that. I think it's amazing you left the way you did and that you are putting yourself first. I agree with you, no contact unless absolutely necessary is the best route. It's practicing self-preservation; having a healthy fear of his effect on your life is wise and important. Also, the fact that you're seeing a therapist is fantastic, especially when you've encountered gaslighting abuse, seeing a therapist that you click with and that listens to you, can really help you recover from that trauma and confusion. So far you're doing all the things I typically suggest-- You've left, you're practicing a no-contact policy and you're seeing a therapist. These are all such important aspects of recovering and moving on. Regarding the legal issues, have you tried reaching out to a lawyer? I understand you don't have the money for that at the moment, but many law offices will give you a free consultation and refer you to an attorney that may be able to help you. You can also use the tools featured on the Women's Law website, it should help you contact abuse advocates and has attorneys and resources that specialize in helping women leave abusive relationships, I imagine if you tell them what's going on, they may be able to steer you in the best direction to get this resolved. to WomensLaw.org
Thank you for reaching out Gwendolyn, please feel free to reach out to us anytime! -Emily
Gwendolyn you said the suit is for 125k alot of lawyers will take your case they will just ask for a percentage of the winning if they win the case for you this is how I handled my suit and it worked out great my lawyer took 15% of my winnings but to the alternative it was way worth it you have more power then you think !!!!
How do you even know how to get out of this situation? Always lost, scared, feeling stupid, like I'm making the whole thing up ...
Kimberly, Hi I'm so sorry for your feelings of being lost, scared, and stupid - you're not stupid, you are worthy of love and respect. Have you considered leaving? I understand that's not always an immediate, realistic option, but could you see yourself coming up with a safe plan to leave? I do hope you realize your partner's behavior has no bearing on who you are as a person, it is no reflection on your value and it does not define you. An emotionally abusive person generally has very deep-rooted issues of their own that cause them to behave so terribly. I always recommend in these circumstances that you leave. If you're not ready just yet, consider exploring some coping strategies in the meantime. Thanks, Emily
Reading this article gave me insight on what I've been going through at work. People talking in code around me. Making me look like I'm crazy. When I went to the next level. The word was out who was the informant. Which caused a hostile work environment and vandolised to my vehicle. This was taken to the next level and then investigated. I was told I was hearing things and nobody heard or seen nothing. It was all in my head. Even after I have logged everything that happened. Employer closed case.
Tammy, I am so sorry to hear about your work environment! It sounds really toxic. Your car was vandalized and they are acting like you're crazy and closed the case? That is terrible! I think it's very wise to keep everything logged and documented like you mentioned. I'm so sorry, you must have a ton of stress going to work every day. Hang in there, Tammy. Hopefully, things will change soon one way or another. In the meantime, here's an article on Verbal Abuse Coping for When You Can't Just Leave. Thanks, Emily
Great article! I wish I had known about gaslighting when I was dating my ex, as you've basically described every interaction we ever had. I remember thinking that I couldn't tell which thoughts were mine and which were his. I would wake up in the night having panic attacks because I couldn't remember who I was. The constant diverting and blaming and avoidance really does make you crazy. Thank you for your insight :)
Emma, thank you!! I wish I would have known about this in the past as well... Every example I discussed here, I experienced. It is so frustrating and confusing! I feel like once you're aware of these things it's a bit easier to identify it when it's happening and be able to differentiate between what's based in reality and when someone is just screwing with you, ya know? Thanks for reading and thank you for your support! <3 -Your fellow blogger xo
Great article. Makes me feel a little saner seeing that this is ”a thing”.
Thanks so much for reading!