Gaslighting Defined by Types of Gaslighters
Have you watched the movie Gas Light with Ingrid Bergman? In the movie, a woman's lover slowly but surely causes her think she is insane. The movie title lends itself to a type of emotional abuse called gaslighting. Gaslighting occurs when someone persuades you to "believe the unbelievable" despite your instinct's whispers of "Something is not right here..."
When I think about myself at the beginning of my relationship with my ex-husband, Will, I remember being slightly wounded, but strong. I was competent and trusted my thoughts and feelings. His gaslighting caused me to doubt myself and my perceptions; it rolled my thoughts around until I felt like silly putty with his fingerprints all over me. Six months into the relationship when he held my face to the stove, previous gaslighting enabled him to bring me back home even though I was determined to stay away.
In fact, I'd packed my bag and took it to work, intending to move back into the barracks. Will talked me out of it by making a same-day appointment with the chaplain. We couldn't talk about the physical violence or he would lose his job. (Me agreeing to see the chaplain even though we couldn't talk about the physical assault is my first hindsight clue he'd already got into my mind.)
The chaplain worked us through an alternate problem. We had many.
I had hope that Will would abide by his promise made outside the chaplain's office to never do it again. However, "I don't remember that" was his mantra. He said "I don't remember that" so many times it felt like he was telling me I was lying (also gaslighting).
I went home with him that night, feeling that something is not right but shoving my instincts down in favor of accepting the idea that Will was partially right. After all, his insistence that something was wrong with me was already ingrained into my psyche . . . gaslighting works.
Gaslighting occurs when one person consistently assaults another person's emotions and intelligence to the point of causing self-doubt in the victim. The point of gaslighting is to increase the victim's self-doubt so that eventually victim believes what the abuser says is true no matter how ridiculous.
Whether the gaslighter's insults drip off the abuser's tongue like honey or callously and overtly attack the victim's character (or mental health) depends on both the abuser's style of bringing their victim under control and the effectiveness of previous gaslighting attempts.
Types of Gaslighters: Their Style of Gaslighting
The abuser, your gaslighter, may try several different types of gaslighting before settling on the one that works best for him or her. However, if your gaslighter has effectively used gaslighting in past relationships, s/he may see you as less of an experiment and immediately begin using his or her own special style.
If you do not respond favorably to the gaslighter's modus operandi, the abuser may end the relationship early and search of someone who will respond easily.
If you've ever met a great guy or girl who dropped you like a sack of potatoes for no good reason, maybe you should count yourself lucky. It's very possible that the excuse, "It's not you, it's me" speaks the entire truth!
The Three Types of Gaslighters Defined
In her book, The Gaslight Effect, Dr. Stern says that there are three types of gaslighters. She exposes the Glamour Gaslighter, Good-Guy Gaslighter, and the Intimidator.
My abuser was a combination of the Intimidator (primarily) and Good-Guy. Do you see your gaslighter's type in Dr. Stern's list?
Intimidators bully, withhold and guilt-trip.
- Verbal abuse in the form of a joke ("I'm just teasing! Can't you take a joke?).
- Frequent temper tantrums, loud and scary.
- You feel afraid of him.
- He uses your worst fears against you ("You're so stupid!" or "You're just like your mother!").
- He uses silence as a weapon.
- He does not seem to like you at all - he doesn't like your attitudes, beliefs, etc.
- He threatens to leave, take your kids, leave you ruined, gut you like a pig, etc.
Good-Guys need to appear good and reasonable while getting their own way.
- You can't quite put your finger on "what's wrong" or feel dissatisfied even though he appears to help and support you.
- He works to please you and others yet you feel unsettled and unheard.
- You feel he always gets his way in the end but you can't figure out just how it happened.
- You describe a great relationship to yourself and others but increasingly feel depressed and discouraged about life in general.
Glamour Gaslighters create a special world just for you.
- You and your friends are impressed by how romantic he is.
- He doesn't seem to take your tastes into account when surprising or treating you romantically.
- He is overly charming in most situations.
- He appears two-faced in that you know what venom he spouts behind the backs of those he is most kind to in public.
- Your friends become nervous about how romantic he is (they sense a false front).
- Insists on being physically or otherwise romantic after you've told him you're not into it right then.
You can find Dr. Sterns book on Amazon at The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life by Dr. Robin Stern. I recommend you read the product description near the end of the page as it offers 15 tell-tale signs of gaslighting.
Do you recognize your abuser in these types of gaslighters? Do you see some other examples?
*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.
Holly, K. (2011, October 23). Gaslighting Defined by Types of Gaslighters, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, May 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2011/10/gaslighting
Author: Kellie Jo Holly
Sadly, I also recognize these traits in two friends who live together. Both are supposedly recovering alcoholics. One uses program religiously, the other quit. Being around them is difficult. I have to work hard not to fall for their "crap" when in their company. I am curious to know if this behavior is learned or a reaction to childhood trauma. Both have experienced constant childhood situations. Where can I find more information?
The abuse got was pretty bad, one example is, one day my favorite blue jeans just didn't look or seem right they seemed dirty. I analyzed the jeans in the light and with pencil he had shaded every girl name that one could think of on every square inch of the jeans. It was very faint.
When getting dressed, I went to get a pair of underwear and all my underwear were stretched out huge beyond stretching any more. Weird stains on my clothes that were not there before, seems and hems coming down on everything, terrible gouges in all my shoes that I know I did not do and all the soles of my shoes coming away from my shoes like a flap, but I saw the pry marks where the soles had been pried away from the shoes, Even clothing that I just got back from the cleaners had runs, snairs, and fresh coffee stains down the front of brand new clothing with thee tags still on them, I never wore the blouse and tshirt which had coffee stains down the front and were coming apart at the seams.
I had several pairs of shoes and one morning before work I could only find one of each shoe. I was always late for work in the morning for a while.
My hair seemed to be getting shorter and shorter as if it had been layered, my hair started to look noticably horrible. One morning I found wads and wads of hair in my underwear drawer.
No matter how much time I spent organizing and cleaning, things were always disorganized although I am certain I deliberately put things in their place and made a mental note of it, like a brush or my deoderant, my keys etc... I was always looking for things I know I put away. Even my purse.. I organized nice and tidy to find dirt, wrappers, papers, my wallet dumped out, hair etc.
He'd be in the kitchen, at the stove or in the fridge with his back turned to me, he'd be talking out loud although I could not make out what he was saying, so I'd say what did you just say? And he'd say, I didn't say anything...
This would happen a lot as if he was trying to make me think I was hearing things. Or he'd laugh and i'd ask what was so funny and he'd tell me he wasn't laughing then patronize me, asking me if I was ok. I really did question my sanity thinking that no one in the world would spend this much time doing this.
It started happening when I started to grow out of him intellectually. I was striving for betterment, going to school, working etc, and he could not hold a job for more than a couple weeks at a time so he was always home.
Anyways, I put a stop to it and threw him out. Once he left the disorganization, distruction and chaos instantly stopped. Things stayed clean, I found things were where I had put them last. My hair grew back etc. I think this was an extreme case when compared to other stories.
There are good men out there somewhere but I believe that most of them have that innate instinct to dominate and that most of them don't gaslight on purpose but they are naturally wired to dominate. I would allow a "good" man to dominate me by my own free will to surrender that control by choice, but I guess that's not the way they want it to work. I will stay single until I find someone who will not insult my intelligence. I find that is the most common thing I come across, with every man so far is that I get treated as if I were not very smart at all. I end it immediately and have, for the most part, given up on finding someone who doesn't do that.
Sometimes I find humour in the situations because when I was detached from the abuse "his words & behaviour were nothing but a child self-praising and full of over-confidence" Obviously I kept a steady face in front of him & stayed silent to avoid a verbal abuse situation.
I thought of him as an obnoxious/spoilt/boastful CHILD too late to fix.
I sympathize with the idea that women abusers are not "called out" enough by their victims. I do not know why this phenomena occurs for sure. I suspect that there are either fewer female abusers OR fewer males willing to speak out. Personally, I feel that the latter reason is the correct one.
Male abuse victims are victims of our society also. To come forward, a male must not only confront his abuser but also step out into a society that is often unwilling to understand.
Control and abuse are not sex-specific, nor are they relationship-specific. Women abuse children, men and women. Males abuse children, women and men. It is up to each individual to tell their own story; we cannot control how many stories we hear about male abusers versus female abusers. It all depends on who speaks out.
This is the 2nd article I've read on "gaslighting" - a term I was unfamiliar with prior to reading the 1st post I came across recently. Thank you for sharing your personal story and experience, I believe our stories are a very powerful way to educate and help others. Thanks also for the great recommendation book by Dr. Sterns and for pointing out the tell-tale signs on the linked "Product Description" as well. I'll be sharing this post!
You didn't mention what transpired after going home with Will, you said you felt something wasn't right but stuffed down those feelings? Maybe you'll be doing a 2nd follow-up post?
Many thanks, Barb