The purpose of gaslighting is to destroy your sanity, and thereby gain control over your ability to perceive the truth. Your abuser does not want you to believe your perceptions. They want you to believe their version of reality. Gaslighting is the art of making someone else believe ridiculous lies; gaslighting is designed to destroy your sanity. And it works.
In your gaslighter’s version of reality,
- You do not question them.
- You do not have a differing opinion.
- You do not have an individual thought or desire.
Your gaslighter wants you to be just like them so you will feel, think, and act like them, even when they are not present. In this way, the abuser has complete control over his or her own environment–no surprises–no matter where they are. Abusers want a mind-numbed robot to ensure life plays exactly as the cunning manipulator wants it to. You are the robot; you are never the lover, spouse, child or employee.
Gaslighting – How They Do It
There are several ways abusers use gaslighting to deprive you of your sanity. The following is not an exhaustive list.
Gaslighters Manipulate Your Physical Environment
The abuser could purposefully alter their victim’s physical environment and then insist the environment had not changed.
For example, the abuser could pick up your keys from your habitual storage place on the kitchen counter and place them on your dresser. The next morning as you frantically search for the keys, he says nothing – he watches you search or pretends to help you look. When you finally find the keys, you wonder, “How did they get on the dresser?” but your gaslighter says nothing.
The gaslighter may put you through this and similar missing item scenarios over the course of time. They’ll eventually use your inability to remember where you placed your things to infuse further doubt in your mind. She may say something like, “How can you be so certain you remember what I said yesterday when you can’t keep track of your own belongings?! Is there something wrong with your memory?”
And poof – you haven’t been able to keep track of your own stuff so maybe there is something wrong with your memory – the seed of self-doubt takes root. You begin to believe that maybe your abuser is right. This opens the door to self-doubt; self-doubt corrupts your perception of reality.
Once you begin doubting your perceptions, your gaslighter gains power over you.
Gaslighters Claim to Know Why You Do What You Do and the Motives of Strangers
Gaslighters insult their victim’s sense of security by making you believe they know your motives and the motives of the people around you. It’s uncanny how many gaslighters have psychic abilities–they profess to be able to read minds through their assertions of knowing one’s inner, true motive.
For example, you know why you smiled at the stranger who was enjoying the time with his daughter at the park. You perhaps felt happiness in seeing a father create sweet memories for his daughter that will last her lifetime. You remember your own father playing with you when you were young, and seeing the stranger in the park do the same thing causes you to feel joy.
You smiled at him – you couldn’t help it. He smiled back when he caught you looking because that’s what people do.
However, your abuser saw the whole thing. He is sullen and quiet (tempting you to draw out of him what is wrong) or begins telling you what you did was wrong right away. Either method of behavior quickly wipes the smile off of your face.
You abuser says that you smile at too many people – everyone thinks you sleep around or are naive and can be taken advantage of easily (or other such nonsense). Your abuser also says that the man in the park wants to sleep with you. A man’s sole motive in smiling is because he wants to get in your pants. He doesn’t smile at other women; you shouldn’t smile at other men. Your abuser presents himself as being concerned about your well-being.
Gaslighters Exploit Your Worst Fears
When your gaslighter engages in intimate conversation with you, s/he is actually probing your mind for weapons to use against you. Your abuser listens to you intently, their eyes doe-like, concern emanating from their every pore. You feel as if they are listening to you, and you expose your soul.
Every intimate detail you reveal during this conversation will come back to haunt you very soon.
In some future conversation, your gaslighter will say casually: “Don’t you see? This is why no one takes you seriously.” The “this” they refer to could be your fear that you are too sensitive, too clingy, too something that you definitely do not want to be. And you will take it to heart because your abuser knows you so well! You told them that!
In a future argument, your abuser will threaten you with: “You will end up with NO ONE!” invoking your fear of abandonment. Or they’ll say, “No one could love a person like you!” implying that even they do not love you and only tolerate you because they are forgiving/kind/stuck with you.
If you’ve expressed a commitment, you’ll hear “I thought you meant it when you said you would love, honor and cherish me forever! If you loved me you would…” If you’ve said you thought you were gaining weight, you’d hear “You are getting fat and its ruining our sex life.”
Gaslighters Deny The Truth
Then, to add insult to injury, when you feel bold enough to tell your abuser that you were hurt by one of their statements, they will say, “What? I never said that” or “You misunderstood” or “Can’t you take a joke?” or “That’s not what happened.”
Hmph. Can anyone say bull$hit?
There are ways to nip gaslighting in the bud or recognize and stop it at its later stages. In time, gaslighting relieves you of your ability to perceive the truth. Go to the library and check out Dr. Robin Stern’s book, The Gaslight Effect or buy it from Amazon.
*Both women and men could be abusers or victims, so do not take my pronoun choices as an implication that one gender abuses and the other is victimized.