Gaslighting or “Am I Losing My MIND???

gaslight memeHave you ever heard the psychological term “gaslighting?”  I only discovered it a couple of years ago but it sure…well, it made a light go off in my brain!

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse where the abuser manipulates situations repeatedly to trick the victim into distrusting his or her own memory and perceptions. Gaslighting is an insidious form of abuse. It makes victims question the very instincts that they have counted on their whole lives, making them unsure of anything.  (Read more about gaslighting at

The term originates from a 1938 play (later a 1944 movie starring Ingrid Bergman) about a husband who is trying to drive his wife insane by making her think that she can’t trust her own senses.  When she sees the gaslights go dim, he convinces her that she’s just imagining it.  When she hears footsteps, he mocks her.  His manipulations make her distrust her own perception of reality.

Here’s the clearest example I can recall of gaslighting from Fartbuster (and for safety’s sake, don’t try this at home–putting a Fartbuster too close to an actual gas light may cause explosions.):

One night he and I were embroiled in an argument.  Now remember, at the time, he had a pregnant girlfriend waiting in the wings.  I knew nothing about her and didn’t even know he was cheating.  He kept telling me he was unhappy at work, tired of being out of shape, uncomfortable with his family, not where he ought to be professionally for as smart as he was yadda yadda yadda…  As we were talking, he sat on the couch in the sunroom and cradled our little dachsie, Zoe.  His hands were so gentle with her and it broke my heart.  I pointed to the dog and sobbed, “That’s all I’ve ever wanted from you–some gentleness, some caring.”  He snarled back at me, “You know the difference between you and Zoe?  She TRUSTS ME.  You don’t.”

He was right.  I didn’t trust him.  I had this strange sense of insecurity but clearly it was all in my mind.  WHY COULDN’T I TRUST HIM???

Well, duh.  Because he was a lying sonofabitch.  Imagine what kind of crazy nuts it takes to look at your wife and blame her for not trusting you when you have a pregnant girlfriend on the line!

So I’ve been thinking about gaslighting today because I got so many messages from readers who identified with yesterday’s post about getting yourself back after you’ve been in a crazy relationship.  I hear you.  I hear you.  The following list contains some of the questions that author and psychoanalyst Dr. Robin Stern uses to identify gaslighting situations:

  1. You are constantly second-guessing yourself.
  2. You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” a dozen times a day.
  3. You often feel confused and even crazy at work.
  4. You’re always apologizing to your mother, father, boyfriend,, boss.
  5. You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier.
  6. You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.
  7. You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
  8. You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
  9. You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.
  10. You have trouble making simple decisions.
  11. You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
  12. You feel hopeless and joyless.
  13. You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
  14. You wonder if you are a “good enough” girlfriend/ wife/employee/ friend; daughter.
  15. You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.

Hell, I mentioned 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14 AND 15 just in yesterday’s post!  It’s #11 that gets me…I tried so hard to become someone else.  I can’t believe I fell for that shit.  Yeah, yeah, I got out, but MAN, what I wouldn’t give for the chance to go back to that conversation in the sunroom and LIGHT HIM UP.  

14 thoughts on “Gaslighting or “Am I Losing My MIND???

  1. katalina4

    It is #10 that gets me – that your head is so turned upside down and sideways that even simple decisions become a big deal.
    Thank you for writing about this topic – when I first stumbled on this term and the explanations around it, I was so relieved, cause I was going totally out of my mind, but couldn’t quite find a clear explanation when telling the story to friends.
    You have identified a nice precise moment of extreme irony to help clarify what was so absurd and so crazy making.

  2. Lisa in Athens

    A few of these ring a bell, to be sure. Fortunately, I live now on my terms, not his (no matter who “he” is or is not.)

  3. Mother

    I believe that you are doing just fine lighting him up in the here and now. A wise friend once told me that living well is the best revenge. You are doing that in so many ways. The only reason that I don’t go look him up this morning is that if it weren’t for him, you wouldn’t have been on 316 to meet Richard. Wonder how he would like to compare intellectual capabilities with G?

    Keep it coming. You are stirring the pot for a lot of people.

  4. Emily

    I haven’t commented before but this spoke to me. I was gaslighted (gaslit?) at a young age by a very manipulative boy. It even worked on my parents to some extent which is why it went on for so long. It almost ruined me for all men for the rest of my life. I’m an adult now and after copious amounts of therapy, plus the love and support of a good man, I have come to see that relationship for what it was. My point is this: protect your daughters, people. I have one of my own now and I’ll be damned if some little twit is going to make her feel about herself the way I was made to feel about mine. Oh, and thank sweet Baby Jesus for good therapists. Amen.

    1. Baddest Mother Ever

      Hey, Emily! I’m glad you spoke up. AMEN. I have two daughters now and woe be unto the boy who does not respect and treasure them.

      Where would we be without good therapists? STILL STUCK.

      1. Emily

        It is amazing to me that a boy in his early teens can be so schooled in the art of gaslighting. Scary, really. It only set me up for relationship after relationship of never really being myself for anyone because I always remembered that first love where I was told over and over I that wasn’t good enough. And then that led to some pretty wretched mental health issues. I should send him a bill! The funny (or not) part is that our lives are so entwined right now that it’s scary. HIs mother in law works at my former place of business. Our kids do sports together. It weirds me out A LOT. Plenty of opportunity to present him with a bill though. 🙂

  5. Susan Fliegel

    It took years before I realized that if someone can’t accept you exactly as you are, and keeps making “suggestions” as to how you could be better, prettier, etc., then they don’t deserve you. Walk away and find someone who does.


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