It may be an unfamiliar term: gaslighting . But when it happens in a relationship, it looks something like this:

I always wondered why I couldn’t trust my memory. Doctors have told me nothing is physically wrong with me. Yet I constantly think, “Maybe I am too sensitive.,” or “Could I be making this up?” 

Then one day I talked with a friend who had heard the term “gaslighting” and it started to make sense. I had been in an abusive relationship for years. What I didn’t recognize was how this man taught me to doubt myself. 

The term “gaslighting” came from a 1938 stage play, Gas Light. The story line was about a husband who convinces his wife that she is going crazy by nightly dimming the lights (powered by gas) in the house. When the wife talks about the dimming lights, the husband denies reality and tells her she is mistaken. The wife thinks she is going crazy.

The term “gaslighting” now refers to a form of emotional abuse in which the victim of the abuse is made to believe her reality is false. The abuser engages in questioning, twisting and omitting information in the hope that the victim thinks she is going crazy. She doubts her memory, perceptions and relies heavily on the abuser to help her see the “truth.” The abuser then controls the victim.

The process is usually gradual. The abuser employs techniques like withholding information, countering reality, challenging reality, trivializing feelings and denying things with the common accusation that the victim must be making things up. This leads to incredible feelings of insecurity, self-doubt and distrust.

Since gas lighting is fueled by manipulation and pathology, most people need professional help to deal with it. Once you see the pattern, you have to break out of the cycle. That may mean a break from that abusive relationship until the other person stops the abuse.

The rebuilding of confidence is critical. You begin by repairing your relationship with yourself and God. God is trustworthy. His word is trustworthy. What He says about you is true, not what other people say. No one has the right to define your worth or reality other than God. And He has already declared you worthy.  Read the Word to understand who you are in Christ, and how we are to treat one another.

You may also need a therapist to help you begin to trust your own thoughts, opinions, and reality again.  Counseling can help you set boundaries and learn how to respond to the manipulation. It can help you limit confrontations and minimize unhealthy interactions. Overall, the goal is to help you get out of that abusive pattern and take control of your life again.

Relationship gaslighting

3 Responses to "Relationship gaslighting"

  • Camille says:

    Thank you so much for your program on gas lighting. I have just been recently divorced from a 22 year relationship with a man that was/is a gas lighter . You are absolutely right on what you said about it being very gradual. By the time I did seek help it was way out of control and ended on a physical level that pushed me to an order of protection and his filing for divorce. While I could write a book about some incidences ; I’ll spare you the details. I so do appreciate your program and this one only helps to affirm who I am in Christ. May God continue to bless this radio station and the words and music of encouragement that flow from it. Your sister in Christ.

    1. ctgrey says:

      I’m so sorry you went through that Camille. It’s not an easy road to go down but I’m so glad you’ve found yourself back on the path of truth and God’s love! Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • Ashley Utter says:

    I wanted to say thank you. It least know a term for part of my life. I have been with the man I love for almost 4yrs now and have been struggling to maintain my faith though through it all I know my faith and my children are the only thing that have kept me going for this long through it all. Between what is apparently call “gas light” and multiple other abuses and controls against my children I only this last week have decided to finally break out of this broken pattern and bring us back into light again. We have struggled through so much to show him we love him, but have finally come to realize the only thing he will ever truly love is his worldly possessions.. We will no longer live as possessions. I came to find this week as well that I am pregnant, which along with leaving with nothing as i have not been allowed to work in almost a year and with already 2 young children and no real place for us to go, is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. I just find it ironic that as I confirm my decision I stumbled upon your article this morning. You have helped me understand a little more that what I am doing, though terrifying and difficult, is the best thing the Lord could have ever guided me to do for the future of these children. Regretfully this “gaslight” seems to be partially a learned pattern growing up from what I’ve been able to understand of my spouse’s family…. This cannot be continued through these children where in the world they are forced to visualize already confusing stimulations. Thank you for helping me strength the resolve to do what’s right.

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