Gaslighting in intimate relationships is made more powerful by privacy.
Gaslighting is psychological manipulation used to intentionally influence and deceive another to gain control. The power of this subtle coercive tactic is the creation of confusion and self-doubt in the targeted person that can be prevented by knowing what to look for and how to respond.
Gaslighting has become a term we have heard and seen in reference to President Trump’s behavior. His lies, distortions, and inaccuracies, as revealed by the “fact checking” media, have been described by some as gaslighting of Americans (Carpenter, 2018). When he is held accountable by having tweets or comments disproved, Trump’s consistent retort is to call the media “fake news,” another possible example of gaslighting.
When gaslighting is used in the privacy of an intimate relationship, however, often without witnesses and evidence, it’s extremely powerful in getting the target to succumb to the influence of the gaslighter—and, at times, question their own reality.
Definition of Gaslighting
In an intimate relationship, gaslighting is a serious type of emotional abuse used to alter or eliminate another’s perception of reality to gain influence, power, and control. In other words, it’s the act of deceiving someone on purpose to get and sustain the upper hand.
A Thousand Women Revealed
I was a successful businesswoman, wife, and mother of two adorable children. We had a nice life in the suburbs. But over time I became consumed with self-doubt and started questioning my competence. When I began feeling exhausted and more confused, I felt I had no choice but to give up my prosperous business. I couldn’t do it anymore. Even now, I can’t explain to you what happened to me. I only know that I’m no longer the person I once was.
Since 1993, I’ve been conducting psycho-educational groups for women who experienced their partners as controlling. As I listened to their stories of coercion and reviewed their controlling behavior checklists, it’s telling that all of the women identified one hurtful tactic in particular that was most prevalent in the experience with their intimate partner—gaslighting.
Over time, they identified its profoundly debilitating effects—confusion, self-doubt, anxiety, depression and trauma. These conditions undermined their ability to trust their own thinking, judgment, and perception, making it harder to protect themselves.