For the last few years, I have been coaching victims that have gone through psychological abuse.
Every victim stated that their abuser was gaslighting them throughout the entire relationship, leaving them with no sense of self, and completely doubting their own sense of reality.
A few months ago, I asked some of my clients if they would mind if I anonymously shared their examples of gaslighting.
Their experiences are as follows, and truly depict the damage that gaslighting can inflict on our reality and sense of self.
“He claimed that he contributed financially when I paid for everything.”
Years ago, I was in a relationship with a man who made much more money than I did. Although that was the case, I found myself paying for everything. At first, I honestly didn’t notice as I was so caught up in the honeymoon stage with him. However, as time went on, I realized that he was extremely stingy and didn’t contribute to anything. As frustration built, I finally confronted him, and he denied that was the case and made it out that I was ungrateful and lying. My frustration grew to the point where I began writing down every transaction. Then, when he tried to say again that I was lying and crazy, I threw the piece of paper at him that had every single thing that I had ever paid for him on it. A sheepish look came on his face, and he tried to change the subject.
“I knew she was cheating, but she tried to make it seem like I was the unfaithful one.”
For the last six months of our marriage, I suspected my wife was seeing other men. She was incredibly distant and continually said that I was jealous and insane if I asked her who she had talked to on the phone or who she had gotten dinner with. Eventually, I stopped asking because I didn’t want to know the answer. The invalidation of my experiences and feelings caused me to feel like maybe I was the crazy one. It wasn’t until a mutual friend showed me photos of my wife on a date with another man, kissing him, that I realized I hadn’t been crazy at all. When I confronted her, she immediately said that I had been listening to our “crazy” mutual friend and then shifted the blame and said I wasn’t making her happy, so, “What else was she supposed to do?”
“He made little digs at my appearance all the time, and he shattered my once high self-confidence.”
When we first started dating, my boyfriend made me feel like I was a princess and complimented every aspect of my looks, down to my fingers and toes. As time went on, the flattery faded, and it was replaced with small criticisms. My clothes weren’t the right style; I should wax every part of my body, I should lose a few pounds… the list was endless. It wasn’t until a mutual friend asked what he liked about me and he was completely silent that I realized it had all been a facade. He hadn’t liked what I looked like or who I was; he liked what I had to offer. I walked away from the relationship, but the years of gaslighting me into believing that I was unattractive left my confidence at an all-time low.
“I was informed that I was completely overreacting about my friend’s death.”
Throughout my teenage and young adult years, I had a close childhood friend that had struggled with addiction for most of his life. One day I received a call that my friend had taken his own life. Although we hadn’t been as close as when we were younger, he was someone that I truly loved, and it was heartbreaking. When I told my boyfriend, who was psychologically abusive, he was completely void of any emotion. I remember him shrugging and saying, “How is that a surprise? He was a mess.” When I broke down crying a few days later and said I was still mourning my friend, he snapped and said that I was overreacting and needed to get over it.
It is important to note that gaslighting is usually used in tandem with positive reinforcement.
When non-victims of invalidation and psychological abuse hear these types of stories, they often wonder why someone would stay in such a toxic situation.
Manipulators know that if they were to only put their victim down, the victim would eventually leave because they would be getting nothing out of the relationship. So, to ensure that they keep the victim on the hook, they sprinkle little love kernels of charm and loving behavior into the gaslighting cycle.
The hope for a glimpse of that loving partner that was present in the beginning is often enough to keep the hope of change alive in the victim's minds and hearts.
My hope is that the examples above will help you identify if gaslighting is present in any of your relationships, either with romantic partners, family, or friends.
Manipulation and gaslighting are not forms of love, and anyone that wants to try controlling and altering your sense of reality is not looking out for your best interests.