Imagine what it feels like to not trust that your thoughts, observations and recollections of events are true. Imagine the embarrassment of having a loved one regularly correct what you say explaining what really happened.
Now imagine that the trusted loved one is deliberately manipulating the truth to cause you doubt, psychological dissonance… and to control you. That’s gaslighting… and it’s a common form of psychological control used in abusive relationships. To learn more about gaslighting click here.
Alone, gaslighting itself is damaging, destructive and frightening, but it rarely occurs as a sole abuse tactic. Often it’s combined with social isolation, where the abuser gradually and insidiously decimates his/her partner’s social support system. Sometimes this is subtle;
” Let’s not go out; when I’m not at work I just want to be with you… no one else.” or
“Are you going out with friends again; what about me?”
Gradually it may become more insistent,
“Your sister keeps trying to come between us; I don’t like it when you spend time with her.”
Sometimes, the abuser may physically separate his/her partner from social supports, e.g., by taking a job and moving the family to a distant location and limiting contact with friends or family.
When gaslighting is combined with social isolation the domestic violence victim’s world may shrink down to only the input of his/her abusive partner. Without others to provide feedback, the abuser’s voice becomes the only source of feedback… and as he/she regularly denies and contradicts their reality, the victim starts to question every thought. This psychological abuse doesn’t happen overnight, but over time becomes absolutely crippling as every thought, decision or action is questioned.
Often people think of domestic violence as physical abuse. The ‘black eye poster’, the dramatic movie with a terribly bruised woman, and yes, even the recent elevator video… these are the images that inform our concept of domestic violence. In the absence of physical abuse, victims often minimize the abuse. So even though we understand that domestic violence also includes emotional and psychological abuse, social isolation, economic abuse and sexual abuse, too often when physical abuse is lacking we fail to identify domestic violence… and fail to seek help.