This article was written by Sara Walsh, LCSW, Director of Alpert JFS Domestic Abuse Program
It seems like we can’t look at our Facebook newsfeed or watch the “Today Show” these days without learning about gaslighting; the new buzzword for emotional abuse.
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse, in which a person – to gain power and control – makes someone question their reality, judgment, and sanity. The term was inspired by the 1944 film, “Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman, with Charles Boyer as a husband who attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane, manipulating small elements in their environment, insisting she is mistaken, not remembering things correctly, and delusional. He dims the gaslights in their home and, when she notices and discusses this with him, denies her reality.
A gaslighter spins negative, harmful, destructive words and actions in their favor, deflecting the blame for their abusive behavior onto their victim. This is done by making the injured party feel oversensitive, paranoid, stupid, and mentally unstable, saying things like:
- “You’re crazy; that never happened.”
- “You’re so sensitive!”
- “You’re overreacting.”
- “I never said that; you must be confused again.
- “That isn’t right; you’re remembering things wrong.”
- “What are you talking about?”
Gaslighting is a common technique used by abusers, dictators and cult leaders. It can be present with parents or supervisors, and frequently seen in marital infidelity (“That wasn’t me you saw with a woman; you don’t know what you’re talking about!”)
As you may imagine, over time, the effects of gaslighting can be irreparable. The injured party constantly second-guesses himself or herself, questions their sanity, and has trouble making decisions and trusting their judgment. They feel as if they can’t do anything right, and have no self-esteem or self-confidence. In my practice at Alpert JFS, I have seen this over and over again. Much of the work with those clients is about helping them learn to trust themselves and improve their self-esteem. In time, these clients can come to believe their reality and be less manipulated by their abuser.
We are here to help repair the damage done by domestic abuse and help victims heal!
The Alpert JFS Domestic Abuse Program can assist individuals with identifying abuse, creating a personalized safety plan for the victim and children, and provide direction to local and national domestic abuse resources. For more information, visit https://www.alpertjfs.org/for-adults/domestic-abuse-support/ or contact Sara Walsh at 561-684-1991 or email Sara. [email protected] JFS.org.