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Family Matters 07/05/18

Gaslighting: A Form of Emotional Abuse

Manipulative spouse

Gaslighting may be an unfamiliar term, but when it happens in a relationship, it looks something like this:

I always wondered why I couldn't trust my memory. Doctors have told me nothing is physically wrong with me. Yet I constantly think, "Maybe I am too sensitive" or "Could I be making this up?"

Then one day, I talked with a friend who had heard the term "gaslighting" and it started to make sense. I had been in an abusive relationship for years. What I didn't recognize was how this man taught me to doubt myself.

The term "gaslighting" came from a 1938 stage play, Gas Light. The story is about a husband who convinces his wife that she is going crazy by nightly dimming the lights (powered by gas) in the house. When the wife talks about the dimming lights, the husband denies reality and tells her she's mistaken. She begins to think she's going crazy.

The term "gaslighting" now refers to a form of emotional abuse in which the victim is made to believe her (or his) reality is false. The abuser engages in questioning, twisting and omitting information in the hope that the victim thinks she is going crazy. She doubts her memory, perceptions and relies heavily on the abuser to help her see the "truth." The abuser then controls the victim.

The process is usually gradual. The abuser employs techniques such as withholding information, countering reality, challenging reality, trivializing feelings, and denying things with the common accusation that the victim must be making things up. This leads to incredible feelings of insecurity, self-doubt, and distrust.

Since gaslighting is fueled by manipulation and pathology, most people need professional help to deal with it. Once you see the pattern, you have to break out if the cycle. That may mean a break from the relationship until the other person stops the abuse.

The rebuilding of confidence is critical. You begin by repairing your relationship with yourself and God. God is trustworthy. His word is trustworthy. What He says about you is true, not what other people say. No one has the right to define your worth or reality other than God. And He has already declared you worthy. Read the Bible to understand who you are in Christ, and how we are to treat one another.

You may also need a therapist to help you begin to trust own thoughts, opinions, and reality again. Counseling can help you set boundaries and learn how to respond to the manipulation. It can help you limit confrontations and minimize unhealthy interactions. Overall, the goal is to help you get out of the abusive pattern and take control of your life again.

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