It may be an unfamiliar term: gaslighting . 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 line was 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 is mistaken. The wife thinks she is going crazy.

The term “gaslighting” now refers to a form of emotional abuse in which the victim of the abuse is made to believe her 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 like 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 gas lighting 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 of the cycle. That may mean a break from that abusive 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 Word 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 your 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 that abusive pattern and take control of your life again.

Relationship gaslighting

3 Responses to "Relationship gaslighting"

  • Rita says:

    This topic hits so close to home for our daughter and son-in-law with his parents. They have been to 2 Christian counselors and the pastor of their church for guidance. They then tried to have conversations with his parents regarding issues of control and manipulation, only to have his parents question what kind of counselor could they have seen if the didn’t agree with his parents. It is now hurting the relationship between our daughter and son-in-law, and bringing to light behavior of our son-in-law that may be a result of growing in this environment with his parents. It is hard to watch our daughter deal with all of this and have no other suggestions to help resolve this situation because they have seemingly exhausted all resources they can think of to address the issues. Do you have any other suggestions? If the issues with his parents is not resolved, I’m not sure if their marriage can last. They also have 2 children so we are hoping there can be resolution on all parts so our grandchildren will have both mommy and daddy in the home.

    1. Anonymous says:

      I don’t know if this is an option for your son-in-law or not, but my suggestion would be for him to distance himself from his parents, he may even need to cut all contact for awhile. I would also recommend he be honest with them if they ask why he’s not in contact with them, he needs to tell them how their behavior is affecting him, his wife & their marriage, and really convey that if they cannot correct their behavior, then their relationship may have to always be at a good distance. My husband & I have both had to take time away & distance ourselves from 1 or both of our parents at one time or another; we actually had to stop almost all contact. Then when we felt it was time to reconnect, if the behavior hadn’t changed, we distanced ourselves again. It is sometimes just way more healthy for you to stay away from certain family members for a good amount of time, than to continue being part of the negative cycle. Your health & marriage are just too important to let others interfere with. I hope this helps, it certainly has worked for my husband & I, though in different ways, which you may want to explain to your son-in-law that it could different outcomes for him. We are both happy with our results though……after distancing myself from my father for quite some time, we have reconnected & have started to have better communication between us. My husband still has to maintain distance from his parents because they refuse to change their behavior, and our health & marriage are just too important for us to risk sacrificing it by letting their negativity into our lives.

  • June Bug says:

    I have lived this experience. My husband was a master manipulator. It began early in our marriage and before it started messing with my mind, I was outgoing, very confident in making decisions and for the love of my God. I seriously did not have an “expression” to assign to what took place throughout the next 40 years, but somewhere around year 20 to 25, I grew less confident, questioned my ability to make choices, run a business, be a pastor. I withdrew into myself which was my way of coping. I spent a lot of time on the internet researching what was “wrong” with me. I held an important job for 23 years. I let him convince me of getting my Masters of Divinity so we could open a church and we both became pastors. However, due to all his physical and mental issues, the board of directors relied mostly on me to run the ministry. In the 7 years, he would be able to stand before the congregation and preach about 1 time per month. I was the other preacher. (Which I was terrified of doing). Our marriage was growing to be “comfortable”. I could not really state that I was still in love with him. However, we did have our moments (sometimes hours, a day or a week) where we could really communicate and enjoy each other. After 40 years of marriage (the last 2 were much more companionable) he passed away. For the last 2 years, I have been struggling to find out who I am. What things do I like? I can tell you I can’t answer all the questions out there, but I can tell you who I am in Christ Jesus. I am content and love to praise and worship God. Pray for all those who have gone, are going through, or will experience these types of behaviors. Remember, Jesus loves you and go through Ephesians. Learn who you are in Christ.

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