Gaslighting is abuse. It is an act of violence, be it domestic violence, workplace, or elsewhere. It is a manipulation of the other’s reality. I call it murder of the psyche.
They were in the living room sharing the couch. He was snorting coke and smoking weed. She told him she felt lonely. She needed him present, sober, emotionally available. He took his eyes off the cartoons to tell her that was not his problem. As he turned his gaze back to the TV, he informed her she was too needy, too demanding; she should make more friends.
“When you take drugs,” she persisted, “You are not there. I cannot connect with you.”
Now, he was angry. “You take drugs all the time. Leave me alone!”
“What drugs?” she asked, confused, incurring his rage.
Seething with anger, he turned and shouted, “You dumb bitch! You eat sugar! That’s a drug! You drink coffee! That’s a drug! And you smoke tobacco and that is a drug. Leave me alone!”
Terrified, she ran into another room and closed the door. “Maybe he is right,” she thought, trembling. I do take drugs!”
She forgot her loneliness, forgot her needs, doubted herself, and lost her reality. She had been gaslit. Her therapist called it an act of domestic violence.
In looking for a thread of reality, a crumb of confirmation, the victim of gaslighting meets an impenetrable wall of denial, blame, and manipulation. The abuser avoids unpleasant reminders with sudden amnesia—he does not recall them. He blames his drinking and drugs on the victim’s complaining and whining, or he is entitled to relax.
When asked to explain his behavior—he becomes the victim.
“You took all my savings and never told me!” she cried.
To which he replied, “If you loved me, you would not question me! You would trust me!”
She defends, then questions herself. The topic she raised is forgotten, her life savings gone. She was gaslit, hates herself and is left to cave in mentally.
Children Are Especially Vulnerable
Adults with Adverse Childhood Experiences are sometimes gaslit as children. Sex offenders may tell a child, “You made me do this!” or, “If you don’t let me, I will do it to your sister. You owe it to me! The way you dress, you asked for it.”
Adults gaslight children by saying they are stupid, or ugly, by not allowing them to speak, invalidating their feelings, and punishing them when they have done nothing wrong or don’t do as they want. A narcissistic parent will often abuse a child that way when the child fails to mirror them, disappoints them, or says something in response that the parent dislikes—like speak the truth. Or for no reason at all.
Rape is Rape
In an article I wrote, I referenced a story from my book, “The Parent’s Guide to Protecting Children from Pedophiles.” The story was about a stepfather who waited for his teenage daughter to come home from a date. He then checked her panties while she wore them, under the guise of her purity. He then raped her under the guise of “punishment.” One reader took offense:
“The reader claimed that she was not raped if it was punishment. He used himself as an example. His stepfather punished him at age ten by sodomizing him multiple times. Therefore, it was not a sexual act and his stepfather was not a pedophile.” (The Parent’s Guide)
By extension of the reader’s logic, the girl was not raped nor was her father a pedophile. This is what happens when a gaslit child brings his distortions into adulthood. How will he punish his child?
How to Survive and Stay Sane.
You cannot win with sociopaths and narcissists. Their pathology precludes them from admitting or recognizing wrongdoing or even caring. They have no software for it. Their operating system is not built for it. They do not understand, comprehend or speak that language.
Those who remain determined to get through to him, to be heard, understood, and have him admit, are getting in the ring with a champion, heavyweight boxer. They will get in a few punches, then beaten around the ring and knocked out. How many of those exhausting, debilitating, losing rounds will they go in a lifetime before they toss in the towel?
Do not plan on winning. Do not to engage with them. Understand that what they do is how they behave in life. It is not personal. Walk away. Accept the fact that engaging with them can mentally destroy you. Cease all contact. Professional help may be needed.
For those who must engage for custody or other reasons, stay on topic. Do not argue, explain or debate. He will go to any extreme to divert you. He may play stupid, “Gee, I just don’t understand.” He will toss out all kinds of issues for you to grab. If you are diverted, you lose. No matter what—do NOT get emotional.
State facts: “We agreed that you can pick our son up at McDonald’s at noon. I will meet you in the parking lot. I will meet you there tomorrow at 5 PM.” It helps to have someone with you for support, as a buffer, and as a witness. Anything beyond that? He asks for a change of times? A different place to meet? Seems fair and harmless?
Remember, manipulation is how they operate. An extra hour turns into the next day. Meeting elsewhere becomes a three-hour drive. Explanations turn into more questions and endless mental abuse. Remind him that any questions, concerns, discussion or changes must go through your attorney. Have everything in writing, signed and witnessed.
By staying on topic and avoiding his traps, you can end the conversation (after repeating yourself and referring him to an attorney), and walk away keeping your sanity. That is a win.
The Person You Love is Not That Person
“If I stay long enough, the person I fell in love with will return.” Not likely. The person you fell in love with probably does not exist. It was a mask. Once the mask is off, and it comes off quickly, the real person remains. She fell in love with deception. She fell in love with a person who does not have a sound mind. And yes, it hurts.
Offender in recovery. Advocate for preventing ACEs
MBC is a father of 2 children, an offender in recovery, an advocate for preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the author of The Parent’s Guide to Protecting Children from Pedophiles. He reserves a certain degree of anonymity out of respect for the privacy and safety of his victim and his family, and for those who remain his friends and associates.