Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented to the victim with the intent of making them doubt their own memory and perception. It may simply be the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, or it could be the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim. See more from Psychology Today: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/power-in-relationships/200903/identify-the-gaslight-effect-and-take-back-your-reality
The term “Gaslighting” is taken from a 1944 movie entitled “The Gas Light,” starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. Ingrid Bergman receives a large inheritance and is courted by and marries Charles Boyer, a man with an agenda: to drive her crazy to obtain her inheritance. “Gaslighting” comes from Boyer’s igniting the gas lamps in the loft of the house, which causes the other lamps in the house to dim. When Bergman questions why the lights are dimming, Boyer tells her she’s imagining things. In the movie, Boyer is intentionally driving Bergman insane. To be generous, some emotional abusers do not realize they are Gaslighting.
Take Mack, for example. He spent Saturday and Sunday of the Fourth of July weekend with me. He told me he was going home early Monday (recall he’s still living with his “ex”-girlfriend), on the actual holiday. When I asked him why, he had a very ready and detailed explanation: he was going to do some “work.” He planned to transition a website to another hoster (at least I think that’s what he said), and get out a job application for a job posting I had sent to him that I thought looked interesting. (Have I mentioned yet that Mack does not work, and has no income?) This was a very clever play on Mack’s part. How in the world could I object to him attempting to find employment?
So he left early in the day on the Fourth. At 5:00, he sent an email to tell me he was going for a walk and hoped to have any early night. Temperatures at the time topped 100 degrees, so I found this a bit suspect. Later in the evening, when he wasn’t answering my emails, I decided to call. I just had a feeling that Mack was not working on the Fourth of July, and imagined instead that he went to a party to which he did not invite me, because it involved his “ex’s” friends. After all, he’s done this before. Lo and behold, when I called, his phone was off. Very odd indeed. I then sent him a series of scathing emails about his duplicity and ultimately he called.
Here’s where the Gaslighting happens. First Mack chastises me for questioning him, for not trusting him. He tells me my suspicions are going to kill our relationship. He tells me we don’t have a much of a future because I don’t trust him. He tells me he hopes I hadn’t bought plane tickets for our trip at the end of August (I had) because he just can’t commit to that due to my behavior. Mack even goes so far as to tell me that when past girlfriends accused him over and over of cheating, that’s ultimately exactly what he did. They forced him into it. And if I kept it up, the same thing was going to happen with us.
But wait. It gets better. Or worse.
Now that he’s got me completely off-balance thinking I’m ruining our relationship with my unfounded and irrational suspicions and I’ve got two $500 plane tickets that may go unused (or at least one of them, anyway), he says:
“Well, I wasn’t going to tell you this, but I’ve decided not to lie. I went to a movie with Corinne (the ‘ex’). And yes, I left early today to make her feel better. To spend part of the holiday with her. What’s wrong with that? You got me for most of the weekend. Don’t be petty.”
Initially, my response was one of appeasement. I told him going to the movie with her was fine. Just don’t fucking lie to me again. If he’s going to do it, deal with the consequences. That was Monday night. That night, I had a dream. I dreamt we broke up over this little episode, and I was relieved. I was relieved to be broken up with a man who treated me so poorly. When I awoke, I lay in bed for a long time thinking about my “dream” reaction to the breakup. Relief? Pay attention!
Fast forward to Wednesday. Mack sends me his resume for the job posting. I review it and give him my comments. I ask for his cover letter, too. He says it’s not done yet.
I snidely write, ”Good thing you went home early Monday.”
He responds, “I’m not going to take this shit. Fuck off.”
And then he proceeds to tell me he’s not coming over that night, he’s going to work on his cover letter. Again, relief. I didn’t want to see him, and I tell him as much. Of course, I’m sure he did not anticipate my reaction, and intended cutting me off on Wednesday as punishment.
We proceed to tussle via email on Thursday, when he tells me:
“I’m going to see you Friday night instead of Saturday. I’ll tell you why when I see you.”
I tell him I’m not interested. And the email fighting continues. Ultimately, I tell him I’ve had enough. We’re done. Friday I go to happy hour with Morgan. She of course validates the fact that I’ve made the right decision and I deserve much more. And the next man might even have a job. His own place. He might not live with his “ex-girlfriend.” She reminds me Mack is 57. And she makes me see how utterly pathetic the whole situation is. I wonder how she’s kept her mouth shut this long. Good friend.
Mack sends me an email late Friday night entitled, You’re Broken. He’s attached an mp3 of Cold Play’s, Fix You. Holy hell, the motherfucker has just pulled the ultimate in Gaslighting manipulation. He’s told me I’m damaged, but he will deign to fix me. It’s then that I let go of all illusions that he can make things right. That he’s worth holding on to. It’s then that I don’t care whether I’m alone for the rest of my life, so long as I don’t have to spend one more ounce of energy on this man.
But of course, I do. I engage in copious amounts of email fighting throughout the day on Saturday. He tells me he couldn’t see me Saturday night because he’s agreed to “house sit” for the “ex.” You know, feed the feral cats. (He knows I love the kitties.) Be there in case her mother (who lives close by) needs something. Is he for real? I’m not sure if his stated plans for the evening are even true, but if they are, it’s sickening enough. If I had a single ounce of doubt, and I did not, it evaporated at that moment.
And once again I return to the world of singledom. Willingly, to be sure. I just wish for myself that the transition won’t be too painful. It certainly can’t be more painful than being torn down by a Gaslighter.