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Gaslighting: Designed to Destroy Your Sanity

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

hypnosisThe 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.

You can find Kellie Jo Holly on her website, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

*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.

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

Kellie Jo Holly advocates for domestic violence and abuse awareness through her writing. You can find Kellie Jo on her website, Amazon Authors, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

41 thoughts on “Gaslighting: Designed to Destroy Your Sanity”

  1. Its reassuring to read articles like this. My “abuser” was the one to initiate the divorce because I “bullied” him into not lying on our tax return (of course, that is not how he would explain it). I had simply had enough and wasn’t backing down and next thing I know he’s telling me we’re getting a divorce via text message during lunch with my coworkers. At the same time I had been diagnosed with Lyme’s and a couple other unfortunate illnesses and I truly believe that he divorced me because I wasn’t bringing in enough money. When he said we’re getting a divorce I was so ill I could barely work 15 per week. And we had moved to a new state only 16 months prior that was far away from my family and friends so I had no where to go when he “kicked” me out (it wasn’t until later that I learned I didn’t have to leave the home). Even my own lawyer didn’t believe me about how manipulative he was because he LOOKS like the nice guy who always gets taken advantage of, whereas I was the high flying marketer until I got too sick to work. He has a PhD, and despite working for Fortune100 companies and making major contributions to branding my 6 years of college never got me a degree, therefore everyone assumes he’s the trustworthy one and I’m… Well I’m just not. We’re not officially divorced but yet everything has to be on his terms. I’m a “drama queen” for begging for a good coparenting relationship. He constantly is threatening to take my kids away from me (we share 50/50 custody) and he says things exactly like what you have in this article, yet he’s covert enough about it that no one else will ever see the pattern. I’m dying over the fact my children spend so much time with him. And there’s literally nothing I can do to help them. My youngest recently told me that she cries for me at daddy’s house and he just says, “oh well” and that he’ll bring her to see me but never actually does. My oldest seems completely oblivious to his ways and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. In Virginia, emotional abuse cannot be used as defense in court during divorce proceedings. That’s a load of crap.

  2. Just today I ended a brief relationship with a man I initially met online, and I’m so glad I was astute enough to “see” him for what he really was, before becoming further involved. Before we ever met in person we talked for hours on the phone. He is a medically retired police officer w/no kids and has been divorced three years after a 15-year marriage. Our commonalities were numerous, and he was very funny, attentive and charming. (Initially) Once we became intimate though, I immediately noticed a change in him. Whenever I’d speak-up about what my relationship needs were or set boundaries, he would get upset, raise his voice and twist everything around on me. I am, by nature, a very strong woman who is down-to-earth and very easy-going, so his yelling and claims of me being “unfair” and making him sound like a “monster,” didn’t just surprise me, they made me take notice immediately. The second week together he came to my house w/a small TV and even went out and bought a brand new DVD player. (I am not a TV watcher & told him I always watched movies on my Mac), but he was insistent about giving me these “gifts.” In reality, he was ingratiating himself to me and was purpously “indebeting” me to him which was so obvious, even Ray Charles could have seen it! Then there was the casual mention about needing a dog sitter for his upcoming trip to Aruba. I saw that one coming as well, and said I’d be happy to do it for $20 a day and meet half way between our places the day before to pick up his dog. There was also mention of a ride to and from the airport, but I stood firm. Later that evening I received a nasty text that “girlfriends shouldn’t charge their boyfriends to dog sit or require meeting half-way to pick-up the dog!” There was a phone conversation later started out friendly enough, but that escalated into me, the woman w/a normal BP of about 100/68, yelling SO loudly at him, my own dog got scared! I told him I wasn’t going to talk anymore and hung-up. I text later in the evening to say I was basically frustrated w/his inability to recognize I deserved respect, should be cherished and appreciated and that if he couldn’t control his temper I would walk away. He text back something smart and then another text about how he was willing to try and work on communication, but yet still managed to throw a twisted, nasty comment in. I text for the last time to thank him for his support in one area of my life and didn’t receive a response until four hours later. He wrote, “I do care for you, M. Very deeply.” But I knew he was full of $%#!, called him and said I was walking away, wished him well, and would drop his TV/DVD player off when I was in the area next. He responded, “So that’s i..?” (He never did get out the word “it,”) as I ended the call immediately as I knew he would have said anything to keep me on the line!! I deleted his text, photos, blocked his #, blocked his email addresses and blocked him on Facebook, too. I am incredibly grateful I had a pretty good understanding of what gas-lighting was. As many have said in articles I’ve read about it, there was always a “nagging feeling something just wasn’t right,” but most recipients just couldn’t put their finger on it. I am convinced he is also a Narcissist or has BPD as he (inevitably) exhibited so many of the symptoms. “Friends” who, when I actually met them, hardly acknowledged him, no social life to speak of, haughtiness and extreme verbosity about his accomplishments as a police officer. He was also sexually aggressive with almost no real tendency toward lovemaking or true intimacy (in addition to a problem w/ED), a possible drinking problem (which he hid when around me), but I strongly suspected, and the list went on. I am very fortunate though, unlike many of you who have taken the time to comment on your own experiences with Gas-Lighting. I spent only a bit more than a month with this man, so reading about 10, 15 and even a 40-year relationship was tough. I recognized his crazy-making early enough to cut loose early. I cannot even fathom what it would have been like to endure this for many years, though. And I have to admit that this is not the first time I’ve met and gotten involved with a Gas-Lighter (possible Narcissist) I’m beginning to think that perhaps my strength, kind demeanor, sense of empathy and compassion are magnets for these kinds of men. And while I believe there’s truly nothing wrong w/me mentally or emotionally, I have to wonder if women like myself are prime targets for men with deep-seeded feelings of self-loathing and a lack of self esteem. It makes sense to me that a Gas-Lighter will feel better about himself just by initially being associated with a confident and strong person just long enough to earn their trust and let their guard down and then do whatever is necessary to drain their supplier to feel better about themselves. I’m no psychologist, but I’d like to know if there’s some correlation. Perhaps if I spoke to a therapist I would be able to pin-down the reason why they’re drawn to me like bees to flowers.
    I’m not so jaded by my negative, albeit, brief experiences with the crazy-makers to take myself out of the dating pool, but I think I need a respite from dating. I’m tired of consuming those “Gas-Lighter” cocktails–a fruity, sweet, tasty drink you initially THINK is awesome, until you discover it’s SO full of the hard, nasty stuff, that you suddenly realize how sick you’ve become by them and find yourself mindlessly staggering into a doctor’s office!
    (Much love and best wishes to all of you who are still struggling. You will eventually be okay because you truly are stronger than you think!)

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