An Abuser's Favorite Tactic
"He NEVER asked a question. Like yours, he would never ask about anything. Nor would he answer one. He would ricochet around like a bullet in a tin can-trying NOT to give an answer. Get a panicked look on his face.... Or just tell an out and out lie."
"I have never been so emotionally exhausted as I have been trying to keep up with this man's brain in a conversation when he goes off on a tangent. Things come from left field that you don't even see coming."
For those who don’t know what gaslighting is, it’s something our abusers do or say to make US think WE’RE the ones who are going insane. They say and do things to make us question our sanity, our memory of events, our boundaries, our values, and our beliefs. It’s when they says things like:
• “I never said that.” (when you KNOW they did and have a clear memory of it)
• “You’re imagining things.” (when you KNOW you’re not)
• “You’re always overreacting.” (when you’re reacting EXACTLY as any normal, well-adjusted person would react.
• “You’re such a drama queen.” (when HE is the one creating drama)
• “You have no idea what you’re talking about.” (when you know EXACTLY what you’re talking about)
• “You’re always accusing me of things.” (when, the reason you accuse him of things is because you KNOW he has lied or cheated)
• “You’re always so suspicious.” (when he has given you AMPLE reason to be)
• “What about all the sh*t you’ve done to ME?” (when you haven’t done a THING to him other than love him, appease him, cater to his every want and whim)
These are examples of gaslighting, and we’re all familiar with it, because it’s this stealth form of psychological abuse that makes us start asking or telling ourselves:
• “Hmm, maybe he’s right. I need to lighten up a bit.”
• “I guess I shouldn’t be so jealous or suspicious. After all, he’s right: he did only cheat on me that ONE time. I should let it go.”
• “Perhaps I AM a lot more stressed out about work, and I really am taking it out on him.”
• “Yeah, he’s right, I’ve done bad things to HIM as well. Like the time I accidentally bought soap with lavender, which I know he’s allergic to.”
How Gaslighting Is Used to Break Plans and Promises:
A Sample Dialogue Between an Abuser and His Partner
One of the myriad tactics an abuser will use on his partner to keep her in a constant state of uncertainty and anxiety is to make plans and promises only to break them at whim and often blatantly deny that any plan/promise was ever made in the first place (contrary to his partner’s clear memory of events and conversations).
Here’s how an abusive Narcissist, Psychopath or Borderline might gaslight his partner in the context of breaking a promise or a plan:
It’s Thursday evening, and John and Mary are making plans for Friday night.
John: "So, you wanna see that new Clint Eastwood movie tomorrow night? It’s supposed to be really great."
Mary: "Oh, yeah! I saw that listed in the paper. I’ve been wanting to see that."
John: "Great! So, how about I pick you up at 8 tomorrow, and then after the movie we can go for sushi from that cute little Japanese place around the corner from the theater. You remember? The one where we went on our first date."
Mary: "Sounds wonderful. I’m looking forward to it."
John: "Cool, it’s a plan. Remember, don’t eat anything too heavy before the movie, or you won’t be able to eat any sushi!"
Mary: (laughs) "No, I won’t. I promise I’ll save up my appetite. See you tomorrow night."
John: "See you then, Babe. I love you. Bye."
Mary: "I love you, too. Bye-bye."
Fast forward to 8pm on Friday. John has not arrived at Mary’s, nor has he called. By 8:15 Mary decides to call him to find out what’s going on. She dials his number. He answers.
John: (coldly) "Yeah?"
Mary: "Hey, what’s going on?"
John: "What do you mean?"
Mary: "You said you would pick me up at 8."
John: "What? When?"
Mary: "Last night!"
John: "No, I never said that."
Mary: "John, yes you did! We made plans to see the new Clint Eastwood movie and then go for sushi!"
John: "I said MAYBE we could do that. I told you it wasn’t DEFINITE."
Mary: (hears loud music and people talking and laughing in the background) "Where are you right now?"
John: "I’m with some guys from work. We’re just having a few drinks." (sarcastically) "Is that okay with YOU?"
Mary: "But John, WE HAD PLANS! Why are you out with your friends now?"
John: "Hey, I told you last night that it wasn’t definite, and that I might have to come to this thing with some guys from the office. Or maybe you conveniently left that part out of your memory so you could accuse me of being an asshole now."
Mary: "I never called you an “asshole”! And you NEVER mentioned anything about having to go out with guys from the office."
John: "Oh, yes I did! But as usual, you have selective memory. You only hear what YOU want to hear. So now I get to be the bad guy, right? What, I’m not allowed to hang out with my FRIENDS once in a while? Is that it?"
Mary: "That’s NOT the point, John! That’s not the issue at all! It’s not about you hanging out with your friends—it’s about the fact that we had PLANS!"
John: "You know what? This is bullshit. All my friends—who can hear this conversation, by the way—think you’re crazy, controlling lunatic. They all think I should dump you. They’re always telling me that. All you ever do is try to control me. I can’t believe this. I’m just out having drinks with a few friends after a long week at work, and I’m not even allowed to enjoy that much without you freaking out and getting all possessive and needy. You know, this isn’t good at all for our relationship AT ALL, and if you can’t learn to lighten up, this just isn’t gonna work."
Mary: "John, this is NOT FAIR! How can you treat me like this! I can’t believe you’re doing this to me!"
John: "I can’t deal with this right now. You’re totally hysterical. I’m hanging up. We’ll discuss this later when you’ve had a chance to calm down and really think about your behavior." (He hangs up.)
Mary is shattered. She tries to ring him back, but now John has turned off his cell phone. How convenient.
John has effectively gaslighted Mary, with cunning doses of projection and devaluation thrown in for good measure. What has John accomplished?
1) Mary is confused and thrown off balance. John’s adamant denial of the previous night’s conversation has Mary questioning her own memory. She’s SURE they had a conversation the night before, and that they definitely made plans for dinner and a movie Friday night. But now she is replaying the conversation over and over in her head. WERE the plans definite? DID John really make any statement indicating that the plans were only tentative? DID he say something about going for drinks with his friends after work? IS she possessive and controlling? WAS there some part of the conversation that she missed? IS she really a poor listener, hearing “only what she wants to hear”? Mary is torn between what she’s CERTAIN was said while she and John were making plans, and what he is NOW saying. The incongruity of what she clearly remembers versus what John is now saying has put her on the brink of insanity.
2) John is doing exactly what HE wants to do, and what he wanted to do all along. He is with his friends, at a bar or a disco or a strip joint or a party or wherever, without Mary.
3) Mary is stuck at home alone on a Friday night (exactly where John wants her), crying, depressed, angry, and deeply wounded by John’s inexplicable behavior. Not only is it too late for her to make plans with anyone else (ie. friends, coworkers, family), but even if she had other options at this late hour, she’s too hurt, confused and anxiety-ridden to enjoy anything.
If you find that you are questioning your own memory of conversations or events despite your absolute certainty of how things really went down, there’s a good possibility you’ve been gaslighted. Remember that gaslighting is an insidious method abusers use to control and manipulate their partners. Gaslighting is virtually undetectable if you are the victim, so always try to remember to follow your GUT INSTINCT. When your abuser starts saying or doing things that set off that little voice inside you that says, “Hmm, something about this doesn’t ring true or right,” it probably means he is gaslighting you. He is trying to make you mistrustful of your own memory, your own mind, and your own reality so that he can suck you into HIS twisted and self-serving version of “reality” in which HE is God. It’s that simple. Stay on your toes, girls, and don’t let “God” pull the wool over your eyes.
I wanted to bring your attention to a great movie from 1944 called "Gaslight." This is the movie from which the term “gaslighting” comes from.
So, the movie "Gaslight" is about a psychopath who marries a woman in order to take over her estate. He does all kinds of things to make her believe she’s going insane. He dims the gaslights in the house, and when she senses that the lights have dimmed, she’s told it’s all in her imagination and that the lights have not changed at all. He hides little items of hers and then accuses her of “always losing things,” tells her that her memory is going. He convinces her that she’s “unwell” and keeps her totally isolated from all her friends. He even convinces one of the housemaids (played by a 17-year-old Angela Lansbury) that his wife is crazy (and herein lies a great example of “abuse by proxy,” as the young housemaid starts to hate the wife and believe she’s crazy).
The N/P husband also does things like openly flirt with the housemaid, and when the wife becomes upset about it, he tells her she’s overreacting, that he’s “just being friendly” with the help. He uses just about every tactic in the book, and from the perspective of a woman who’s been raked over the coals by an N/P.
I found it therapeutic to watch as the wife is broken down little by little, and then see later on how she slowly regains her true memory of events, how she realizes red flags she missed, and how she becomes empowered by the final scene. I watched in familiar horror as the N/P husband went from charming, loving, affectionate dream man to cold, calculating, black-hearted, sadistic demon. It is a PERFECT portrayal of how a relationship with an N/P begins, how it develops, and how the victim of the N/P is left devastated, confused and in pieces.
© UltraDeb 2009