Gaslighting and Its Role in Domestic Abuse

That’s not what I said. That’s not what happened. You’re crazy. You’re always making a big deal out of nothing. I didn’t mean it that way. I’m not cheating; you’re just paranoid. You just don’t understand. No one will love you but me. 

These phrases all have something in common: they’re classic examples of gaslighting. You may have heard that term before, but what is gaslighting? And how does gaslighting play a role in domestic abuse?

What is Gaslighting?

The term “gaslighting” actually comes from a 1944 classic film, Gaslight. In the movie, the main character, Gregory (played by Charles Boyer), manipulates his new wife, Paula (played by Ingrid Bergman), into thinking she is losing her mind. He uses several psychological tactics to convince Paula that she is imagining things. He tells her that her doubts about him are unfounded and that his deceit isn’t real – that it’s all in her head.

The movie isn’t that far-fetched. Today, we use the term “gaslighting” to describe psychological and/or emotional abuse in a relationship.

Gaslighting and Domestic Abuse

Gaslighting is a common tactic that abusers use to isolate their victims. Some abusers use gaslighting consciously, while others may do it unconsciously. However, the end result is the same: the victim begins to question their memories, decisions, and even perceptions of reality. Victims of gaslighting may feel confused, lose confidence in their abilities, and isolate themselves from others.

Abusers use gaslighting to manipulate and control the other person. It’s a form of psychological and emotional abuse, and it’s never okay. You might be experiencing gaslighting if…

  • You doubt your gut or intuition because you’ve been told it’s inaccurate.
  • You doubt your memories and perceptions.
  • Your partner tells you that you’re imagining things, you’re crazy, or you’re overreacting.
  • You spend a lot of time apologizing for what you do or who you are.
  • You struggle to make decisions because you’ve been told they’re always wrong.
  • You feel inadequate, isolated, and alone.
  • You feel anxious around your romantic partner because you anticipate criticism or disappointment.
  • You are constantly blamed for situations, outcomes, and even your emotional reactions to those instances.

Need Help?

If you remember only one thing from this post, remember this: you are worthy of respect and love. If you’re experiencing abuse – whether emotional, financial, or physical – you are not alone. While you might feel isolated, there are plenty of others who have left their abusers and gone on to find peace. You can, too. 

If you need help, reach out to your local domestic abuse shelter, connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline, or contact our nonprofit partner, Domestic Abuse Intervention Services.


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