By Alina Frank
When I first came across the term and definition of “gaslighting,” I realized that this term for emotional abuse in a romantic relationship very clearly described many of my clients’ issues.
I couldn’t believe how many times I had actually worked with my clients on this problem.
“Gaslighting” gets its name from the 1944 movie Gaslight, which starred Ingrid Bergman as the wife of a man who is trying to make her think she’s crazy. In the movie, her manipulative husband goes to the attic from time to time and fiddles with the gas to the lights in the house, making them fade and brighten. When she reports seeing something happening with the lights, he insists there has been no change. He also plants objects in her clothes unbeknownst to her, which she later finds and wonders about.
That in a nutshell describes the tactic of a gaslighter: Make your victim/target think they are wrong or not in touch with the truth.
When this is done repeatedly, the target starts to question whether they are indeed mistaken. Done over a long enough time and with some preexisting conditions in place, which I’ll explain later, and the target will feel like they are going insane.
One of the most common times that an aggressor begins his campaign of gaslighting is when he is about to be caught in a lie or the target perceives something about the aggressor that the aggressor doesn’t want to admit, usually something about himself.
The gaslighter then not only lays a foundation of doubt, but is also very convincing about it. Little by little, he will plant doubt in the mind of the accuser and she will begin to question her own perception of reality.
A client I was helping with this had found an inappropriate text message from an old girlfriend of her husband’s on his phone. When she confronted him about it, he denied it ever happened and that she must be “seeing things.” My client had been under a lot of stress at the time and he used that against her, “Really dear, you’ve been trying to juggle so many things lately, is it any wonder that you thought you saw something?”
Another client recalled how every time she told her partner he had said something in the past, he told her she had a bad memory and that he had never said it.
Another way in which a gaslighter operates is that he carefully crafts the arguments. Many of these individuals are highly intelligent, so you feel like you can’t win an argument with them; and because they always need to be right, you won’t ever win.
If this behavior weren’t bad enough, gaslighters will convince others outside of the relationship that they are nice, kind, considerate, loving, and would never be capable of what you are accusing them of. They can take years to carefully and methodically build an image that is beyond reproach. There is a well-known and much-loved comedian who is currently being accused of such acts. His victims report him saying things like “Who would believe you?”
Here’s a typical case study.
My client, Joanna, was still reeling from the breakup of her last relationship. She had sworn off all men in her life but knew that that decision, made 7 years before she saw me, was interfering in her ability to grow her new coaching business. “There’s just the feeling that I gave up on my dream of being in relationship and I’ll give up on my dream of my practice when I go through a struggle in my business.”
We worked on several gaslighting scenarios involving her ex, George.
A few involved George saying, “You are much too sensitive, who would ever put up with you?” We used EFT to collapse the feelings still remaining around him but then moved on to the underlying preexisting condition I often find with the targets of gaslighting: low self-esteem and self-worth.
Joanna had grown up in a household where she was the lost middle child. Her parents ignored her while praising her older sister’s every accomplishment and showering her younger brother with attention for being the “little Prince.”
Joanna knew that part of the problem with George had been her willingness to accept his manipulations because she was afraid at the core she really wasn’t loveable.
With our sessions and her tapping inbetween, Joanna was able to gain a real love for herself. Not only did her newfound self-confidence translate shortly after our work into her doubling her client list, but she also recently wrote me to tell me that she was engaged.