According to Wikipedia, Gaslighting “is a form of intimidation or psychological abuse in which false information is presented to the victim, making them doubt their own memory and perception.” It is one of the most damaging forms of emotional abuse because it can be so difficult to detect due to its (sometimes) subtlety.

My dear friend Jaymee Goh first introduced me to the term “Gaslighting,” and I’ve been fascinated with it ever since. It explains why phrases like “settle down” or “calm down” have the absolute opposite effect on me. It’s reminds me of past relationships, romantic, platonic and familial, dating back to the way my father spoke to my mother 37 years ago.

Other examples:

“You’re overreacting.”

“You always want to talk.”

“You’re just being too sensitive.”

“You’re looking at it all wrong.”

Even more malicious is the wo/man who tells their spouse/SO they’re imagining things to cover up an affair. But Gaslighting also occurs in other non-romantic relationships, too.  It can happen from a boss at work. Your doctor. Your friend. Anyone who uses these subtle manipulation techniques to make you think you’re crazy or doubt yourself. Narcissists excel at gaslighting, but one doesn’t have to be a narcissist to use it.

“Gaslighting is an insidious form of emotional abuse and manipulation that is difficult to recognize and even harder to break free from. That’s because it plays into one of our worst fears – of being abandoned – and many of our deepest needs: to be understood, appreciated, and loved. The abuser is usually a very insecure person. He has a need to put others down in an attempt to make himself feel better. He must be seen as right at all times.” (The Gaslight Effect)*

The following information was gathered from the amazing website Think Like A Black Belt which “teaches physical, mental, and emotional self defense against unsafe people.”

Signs of Gaslighting:

  • You feel sabotaged but can’t explain it.
  • You’re the one “needing” to apologize.
  • You second guess yourself and feel a lot of draining confusion.
  • You constantly feel like you have to prove yourself.
  • You shoulder a lot of the blame in the relationship.
  • Guilt follows you no matter what you do.
  • It’s often implied you are inconsiderate, disrespectful, or too sensitive.
  • You often defer to the other person’s take on a situation or matter.
  • Life feels out of whack, but you can’t pinpoint the cause.
  • As you think back, you remember being more carefree and confident.
  • Lying seems easier to avoid drama or explanations.
  • You feel you can’t defend yourself verbally or emotionally anymore.
  • You find yourself accepting weird or bad behavior in the other person as normal.
  • Confrontation with the other person has them offering a reasonable explanations and making you feel bad for questioning them.
Read both articles on Gaslighting on Think Like a Black Belt:
Also, here’s another one in the Huffington Post:
“Message to Women from a Man: You Are Not ‘Crazy'”
Recognize subtle abuse signs early. Protect yourself.


*The Gaslight Effect by Dr. Robin Stern.

~ by omgrey on December 7, 2011.

65 Responses to “Gaslighting”

  1. Surprisingly, just knowing what Gaslighting is and then identifying that a person does this to you, can be enough to neutralize a good deal of the effect of the attack. (It seems like an attack once you know what you are looking at.)

    I now often find myself instantly tagging these attacks as Gaslighting, enabling me to better neutralize them or at the very least, defend myself from the effects. It’s probably better to just avoid people who make a habit of doing this , but when that isn’t an option, just being prepared can be a great defense.

    Also, I’ll add my secondary support to reading “Think Like a Black Belt”!

    • YES! Not terribly surprising, though. Being able to recognize and define abuse is the first step towards getting in a safe place and healing.

  2. When I first learned about gaslighting, I started thinking about all the times I’ve been told that I was overreacting or being too sensitive. I do take things personally sometimes and worry a lot, but if people really wanted me to not feel bad, they could find a nicer way of saying it.

    Another big gaslighting phrase I’ve come across is “You’re just doing for attention.” This could have dangerous effects, as people end up ignoring someone who needs help.

    • Perfect example! Thank you for sharing that one.

      So much could be solved if people would just be nicer, sometimes. Definitely tell the truth, but there are better ways to communicate than through accusations, aggressions, and microagressions like gaslighting.

  3. O.M. Grey and l2b — Thank you for mentioning my site. The more we all know about gaslighters and their like, the saner the rest of us can be!

    Hibari — Yes! That is a GREAT one — “You’re just doing it for attention.” I always felt this was just a put down, but it’s gaslighting as well.

    • Lori, your site is amazing. I’ve gained a lot of insight and emotional support from it. Thank you so much for helping others struggling in abusive relationships.

    • Lori, I’ll gladly recommend your site! I think just reading all the great info your offering and learning some new things has totally saved my sanity!

      Thanks so much to both you and Olivia for your efforts. Greatly appreciated. 🙂

  4. O.M. Grey and l2b — The ebook on LULU that my co-author Betsy Wuebker and I wrote is helpful, too–The Narcissist: A User’s Guide–many of our best and very hard-won insights on narcissism in a $5 ebook. You can see a free, nine-page preview on LULU here which includes the first chapter and table of contents:—a-users-guide/16003365

    • Thank you! We definitely need all the information we can get about narcissists, how to recognize them, how to protect ourselves from them, how to heal from them, and how to just completely avoid them. Thank you so much.

  5. Thank you for your article and the link to Think Like a Black Belt.

    Lately I’ve reflected a lot about my life and why I’ve experienced abuse and disrespectful behavior in relationships, friends, and workplaces and why my life doesn’t work, I feel that the origin of my difficulties stem from my parents’ constant gaslighting of me when I was a kid and teenager, right through college.

    Growing up, I had my share of problems like other kids and teens but when I turned to my parents for advice and help, I heard, over and over, “You’re too sensitive,” “You’re making that up,” “You really don’t feel that way,” “Get a thick skin,” “You’re exaggerating” and my “favorite” (as in, not at all) “Oh, you’re just tired, you just need to go to bed.” The lowest point came in college when I told my parents that I was experiencing a depression that would not go away and they responded, yet again, that I was too sensitive and that other people had worse problems.

    These are not viable answers to problems, mine or anyone else’s. I knew that then and would become frustrated, more angry, which led to more gaslighting. And unending circle. In my 20s I was estranged from my parents because I could no longer take the emotional rejection. We’ve reconciled, but I still am reluctant to tell them what’s going in my life. When I slip, and do mention something that bothers me, I am still told to “get a thick skin.”

    I grew up constantly second guessing myself to the point of being estranged from myself. I am now a middle-aged, depressed, and insecure adult with low self-esteem who has time again got involved in bad relationships. I am a failure in many aspects of life–I don’t have a career or a family or own a home. I’ve also had eating disorders and addictions, dysfunctional ways to cope with emotions.

    If I could leave a message to the parents of the world, it’s this: please take your children and their emotions seriously. Don’t gaslight or blow them off as inconveniences. Children and teens are autonomous human beings with futures to build, not extensions of the parents’ egos. Emotions tell us that something is wrong or off-kilter in our environment. Children feel things keenly because they haven’t yet developed the filters for ignoring and rationalization. Teach your kids to deal with their emotions, to understand how emotions tell us a truth and provide fuel for solutions. Teach them to be in touch with their inner selves and not a person who has a civil war going on inside themselves.

    Thank you, O.M. Grey, for your insightful blog. I wish the best to everyone dealing with the pain and fall out of being the targets of other people’s insecurities.

    • Thank you so much for your comment!

      I know what it’s like to be constantly second-guessing oneself. It’s terrible the things people do to others without even being aware of it in so many cases. So important that we recognize that so we can begin to heal from the damage caused. I’m also a middle-aged woman who struggles with depression and anxiety, among other issues. Don’t we all have some issues though? The wonderful thing is that you recognize these issues and own them. Now you can find a way to manage them. The internet has a wealth of information. I’ve recently been looking into DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) for managing intense emotions. It might be helpful to you as well.

      May you find the peace you deserve. xo

  6. Thank you for this. Please keep bringing things like this to light.

  7. Is this something that abusers somehow learn to do, or is it just something intuitive to them? I mean, I’m struggling with the idea that a particular person would intentionally do this to me, but I could easily believe that they were doing it automatically or subconsciously.

    • One thing that’s hard for people to understand, it certainly was for me, is that most abuse is not carried out by malicious intent. Most abuse and abusers just learned to be that way and are completely unaware that they’re being abusive. That doesn’t, of course, excuse the abuse. It’s still abuse and it still can cause deep damage.

      That said, there are people who do abuse intentionally and maliciously, and that was even harder for me to accept. Yes. There are predators and other kinds of monsters who take great pleasure in breaking down another human being bit by bit. Sad, really.

      • Thank you for responding so quickly. I appreciate it.

      • You know I have thought about this and wondered about why they do this and in the case of a narcissist there seems to be this constant need to prop up their ego and when ever they are challenged (which is any time they are in error) they attempt to change reality by gaslighting, there by making themselves right once again. From my point of view its not malicious in intent its a desperate ploy to stay on top or in control. I see it as malicious even though its probably not intended to be, because when its being done to you it doesn’t really matter even though its helpful to understand none the less.

      • I find that most abusive people and actions aren’t abusive by malicious intent. It’s normally unconsciousness or from a place of pain. The damage is still done just the same. No doubt.

  8. My first response when reading this was “son of a bitch!”

    I just got out of such a relationship, 20 days after you posted this. Every one of those signs applied. Ultimately, I dropped her without knowing why. It was enough of a sign to feel drained and not know why, and to remember when life used to be less complex and I didn’t have to apologize for everything.

    Reading through the comments, though, I got the impression that anytime any of those phrases are used was an instance of gaslighting. And I’m not sure I agree with that. For instance, I have experienced times during depression when it was out of control and nearly useless to try to communicate until after a night’s rest.

    Is there a better way to communicate that someone may be having difficulty coping due to lack of rest? I’ve also seen this in another person. They got to a point where everything said was like adding more gasoline to the fire. The situation was compounding just from trying to talk about it. It became evident that only damage could be done by trying.

    • Sorry for the double-post. Ran out of room on the smart phone.

      … thoughts?

    • I’m so sorry to hear about the microagressions of your previous relationship.

      And, yes! Fatigue is a major source of stress and impatience. It’s okay to say “It’s so important to me to discuss this, but I’m so tired tonight I wouldn’t be able to give you my full attention. Can we just cuddle up, sleep, and talk about it tomorrow?” Or some similar variation.

      It’s so okay to ask for what you need, just be sure to do so in a loving, gentle way, especially if tensions are already high.

  9. […] also wrote about shame, victimization, and betrayal bonds. All well worth another read. No doubt. Gaslighting and Projected Abuse are two types of very subtle abuse that I’ve unfortunately become quite […]

  10. […] abuse, like gaslighting as well as so many other insidious forms, is hard to recognize and even harder to prove. Often, the […]

  11. […] mentioned, I took on more anxiety because he kept me believing that I was too sensitive (*cough* gaslighting *cough*) and brought “too much anxiety into the relationship,” because it certainly […]

  12. […] Original Blog Post […]

  13. For those who don’t know, the term comes from the play Gaslight where a husband is trying to convince his wife she’s mad – one way of doing this is by fiddling with the gas lights… (There’s a great 1944 film adaptation with Ingrid Bergman).

  14. […] emotions, insecurities, fears, communications. Talking about “drama” is a form of gaslighting. It shames people into keeping their feelings bottled up for fear of creating “drama,” […]

  15. yes, the term “drama” itself, as it has come to be used, is inherently abusive, no if’s and’s or but’s.

  16. […] often supported by societal beliefs and manipulation by one’s abuser/perpetrator (gaslighting), only to painfully (or fatally) discover there was a very valid reason to be frightened and […]

  17. […] The Betrayal Bond, and I’ll be looking more closely at this phenomenon as well as things like Gaslighting and other forms of covert or normalized […]

  18. Googling post trautic stress emotional psychological abuse is what got me here. Reading just a bit while wating for paper to dry..I’ll be back to read more each time I need to let my paper dry. Thanks for this. I know I’m not crazy…this isn’t just me…it’s a lot of us….but at least we KNOW…and are escaping it…not easy…but possible. thanks.

    • How are we “escaping” it? If you’ve found a solution, i’d like to know what it is. It’s so pervasive, i find no escape. I do know what you’re trying to say, but i’d rather see us combat it, rather than run and make our lives even more austere than they already are.

      • I’m in the throws of the last parts of this. I expect things will get worse because I am changing the rules. I have been working hard to understand what about me was perfect for becoming the victim. A physical problem forced time to pay attention to what kind of world developed around me, I could not produce my art which not only was my good income, but turned out to be a way to process the pain of the abusive entrapment…the physical problem was nothing. I talk with a center for the abused when I need 1 on 1. PTSS takes time to repair. Sticking up for me fearlessly is still hard…there are many “buttons” yet to learn about…but, I’m doing it. The anxiety & shakiness when I do, does pass with deep breathing.
        I see escape being possible as long as I can learn to identify the various traps and realize that I myself am my own unique strong & powerful package…somewhat beat up, but I’m ok. My perspective is my own, and is not wrong because it may not be like someone elses. I’m slowly gaining my strength back in a better and more solid way. It’s just going to take time, determination, and focus. I guess I can say I’m tough. I am a survivor. This is not an easy thing to do.

      • No, it is not easy, and i appreciate your detailed answer. I wish you all the best, and in that spirit, please accept my opinion for what it’s worth to you: Therapists loooove to tell women we “have allowed ourselves” to “become the perfect victim.” They love it. It helps them sleep at night. they’re still lving back in the days of the “Women Who Love Too Much” books. Because it’s easier than accepting that the predators are just that enormous and powerful a group, that there is little we can do to avoid being victimized, unless we live in a box. IT AINT YOUR FAULT.

      • What Donna said.

        The only thing you did to “become a victim” is to have the misfortune of being in the same room with an abuser.

        People become victims when they are victimized.

        Likely you won’t trust as readily from now on, and your walls will be higher. You’ll be blamed for that, too, no doubt. Making someone new “pay” for another’s mistakes/abuse. Huge red flag, that.

        Good people know it takes time to build trust. Good people have compassion when a fellow human has been hurt. Good people won’t shame you for it.

        Abusers will exploit your culturally-induced guilt and shame you into trust them. Don’t do it. Red flag. Run the other way, and call them on it, if you have the presence of mind in the moment to do so. I usually don’t have that clarity until later.

        May you find peace.

  19. Sticking up for oneself “fearlessley” is of course difficult, because there is much to be afraid of, realistically. We (women) are punished all the time when we stick up for ourselves. I try to look at it as that every time i do it, i’m facing being in jail or in the hospital. Tough to stand up for yourself when you know those are where the men would prefer you be, if you dont shut up and obey.

  20. The movie, Gaslight, with Ingrid Bergman, will be on TV on TCM (turner classic movies) Sat. night at 8pm Eastern.

    • OH! Oh! Yes, I’ve heard of this…but, TV. Worth a rent…or I wonder if it could be found on netflix. Thanks for the heads up.

      • Oh i admire you greatly for not having a TV — i am totally addicted. Hopefully some of the classics made it to Netflix.

      • Too long controlled, afraid, taught not to participate as I used to, I went alone to an opening last night. Little gallery, well attended, I knew many, through gossip they knew me. Self conscious, but I stayed. Felt of way low self esteem/worth…did I sound ok, say the right things, did I even make sense, as for years I doubted my ability to communicate,…all those things I was disciplined/ yelled at for…over the years….all that was present. I get home to my stuff, what I do….and it changes….sort of. Alone I’m ok. Alone, doing what I do best I’m strong, feel of value. I’m going to be ok, just have to get ME back.

      • Staying alone is a great protective measure, against real threats, to the extent you can survive that way. IF you do decide to inch your way out, it’s best to do it only around people that seem, at least, very very safe.

  21. If you have seen, or can see the movie Gaslight, it’s very cathartic.

  22. I lived through this with my parentssister and two husband s I had know idea. I feel like a target. It does help to know there is a term for this. It has left me doubting myself and always feeling like I overreact to everything. Thank you! !!! I feel better already.

    • Yes. The “you’re overreacting” is a huge gaslighting tactic. It’s dismissive, disrespectful, and downright cruel. Someone who truly cared for you would be concerned that you were upset, not shaming you.

      I’m so glad the article helped. You’re not alone.

      • Yes, that and “you’re too sensitive.” They are indeed cruel things to say , and disrespectful — and manipulative.

  23. […] “Calm down. You’re too emotional.” (Classic gaslighting.) […]

  24. […] “Calm down. You’re too emotional.” (Classic gaslighting.) […]

  25. also…..I said “why didnt you tell me ? ” and she said ” you never asked ! “

  26. My wife has admitted to being emotionally and verbally abusive to me 16 months ago. She was sexually abused as a young girl by her brother, told by her mother that she was lying when she tried to tell. We have been married almost 8 years. My wife is battleing depression, I have been put in a role by one of her doctors to help her with using her tools, supplying her meds for her each day, observing her and being supportive. My wife has gone thru a sexual situation at her previous work, she was not touched or abused, but witnessed her boss watching porn and drinking on the job. She was strong and stood up for her self and her rights, her boss denied everything and she was devistated that she was not believed. She has lost her job after reacting to a comment her boss made in her presence, she slaped him in the back of the head. They never gave her the true reason for her dismissal, this is what she believes she was let go for. The lawyer she has found has her documenting everything that has happened at that job, this is vvery dificult for her to relive as she writes. I feel the abuse coming out towards me even more now. I make it clear that I feel this way and in response, I am being told that I am in the wrong, that she is not abusing me, she is standing up for her self. I share my feelings of pain from situations that get elevated, and my feelings are used against me the following day or two later when we are talking about what had happend then. I am being accused of gaslighting by my wife, I researched it and really dont know if I am or if I am being gaslighted against. We are going thru a financial hardship, with my wife losing that job, She is looking for other work and has had little luck. She has expressed how she feels like she is letting me down, I support her in her search, and try to reassure her that she will find a good job and I do not blame her for anything. I have in the past week been forced to share some of my personal struggles with her after she forcefully asked me what problems I have in my life that do not have to deal with her, This coming after she labled her self the “problem” and I said to her I do not think of her as a “problem” I feel like I am being controlled by her depression. when she is feeling down and distant, she does not share what is on her mind and pushes me away and is distant. I ask her if I can do anything for her or if she is feeling ok and the dance begins, I feel like I cause her to get defensive and push me away, that is what she tells me anyway. Im not sure what to do next. I reachout to her close friends when she becomes distant because that is what she has asked me to do if I feel I cant reach her. the last time I did this I was blamed for talking about our problems with her friend and she shared with her sister that I am controlling and may be abusive. What type of person am I ? Am I loving because I care about her pains? Am I abusive? Am I controlling?

    • You’re in a very difficult situation. Your wife is struggling with something few can understand unless they experience it. The medication can be making things worse.

      I’m not a psychiatrist or a therapist, and I have such little information (& all your perception) of the situation; however, I would be willing to bet that your wife’s depression is a symptom of the trauma she’s endured. Until the underlying trauma is addressed and healed, the depression won’t lift no matter how any pills you pump into her.

      I think both are probably right. She is standing up for herself, but it might be in ways that are abusive to you. In her rage at losing her job and not being believed, on top of all the horrible things that had happened to her in the past, she’s expressing her anger in ways that aren’t healthy for either of you. You likely are, too, in your utter frustration. Neither of you have the skills to express it healthily. No one does unless they seek out therapy and study effective, nonviolent communication techniques. We’re not taught this stuff.

      I would be surprised you’re “gaslighting” her. It’s also very common and often not intentional. You obviously love you wife, but you feel so confused and helpless. Maybe even hopeless.

      The important thing in the short term is this: validate, reassure, soothe

      Validate what she’s feeling instead of trying to “fix” it or make her feel better. She’s in a kind of hell you can’t understand or even begin to imagine. Her anger is mostly being turned on herself, but some is spilling out on you because you’re there. When she says the problem, say, “I’m so sorry you feel that way. I don’t think you’re a problem. I think you’ve been through hell and are coping remarkably well for what you’ve had to endure. Why do you feel you’re a problem?”

      Reassure her again that you don’t see her as a problem and you aren’t going anywhere. You’re a team and you’ll figure this out together. “You have every right to be angry at everything that’s happened to you. I believe you. It’s not your fault. I’m right here, and I’m not going anywhere.”

      Soothe here by touching her arm or shoulder, caressing her back, holding her. Be in her hell with her for a few moments, then you can emerge together.

      Long term: she needs trauma recovery therapy, and I suggest a somatic therapist. Research Somatic Experiencing and find a therapist in your area. It wouldn’t hurt for you to go into some therapy, too, as this has been so traumatic for you as well. Couples therapy can help each of you be seen and heard and teach you valuable communication skills.

      Anger is a powerful, important emotion for everyone, especially for a survivor of sexualized violence. It’s the first step in saying “I deserve better!” And she does. Anger must be expressed in an assertive, rather than aggressive, way. Those skills must be learned. Much can be found on the internet to start with about nonviolent communication techniques and using “I” statements instead of accusatory language.

      For you and your possible “gaslighting” or verbal/emotional abuse, be sure you never, ever tell her she’s overreacting, not feeling what she’s feeling, or shouldn’t be feeling what she’s feeling. These things are more harmful than I can ever express, especially with a person dealing with what your wife is dealing with. By saying things like that, you’re telling her that she’s lying, wrong, ridiculous, stupid, crazy, etc. That’s what she’s hearing. The truth is this: what she’s feeling is **very** real to her, and it’s important you validate that and learn why she’s feeling that way. Be there with her.

      She recently endured a significant trauma over losing her job because of what she witnessed and how she behaved in her anger over being not believed and ostracized.

      Trauma is cumulative. Add that, enough on its own, to the verbal/emotional/physical/sexual abuse/trauma she’s endured throughout her life…

      Even more traumatizing (or at least as traumatizing) as being told you’re lying about the abuse. The recent situation with her job is even more damaging because it replays what happened with her mother and brother. Her mother, the person who should’ve protected her, abandoned her and called her a liar about something beyond horrific. That kind of trauma cuts deeply into one’s soul and takes a long time to heal.

      That’s what she hears in the “gaslighting,” more of that: she’s wrong, she being unreasonable, she’s “lying” about what she’s feeling.

      She does feel that she’s the problem because she’s always been told she is the problem. It’s how she survived childhood, by blaming herself and turning her anger inward. If she had put the anger where it belonged, on her brother and mother, she risked being shunned and abandoned. For a child, this is life and death in the most literal sense. She could not survive without her mother’s financial and social support, but she was abandoned emotionally. She learned to take the blame on herself to survive, and that’s been reinforced throughout her life, most intensely by this bullshit with her boss and job (what a horrible person, btw).

      As for the kind of person you are, I can’t say. You might be an abuser, but if you are, you can choose to not be abusive anymore. Look long and hard at yourself and your actions. Introspection. Courage to face the truth. Integrity to own up to it and make different choices.

      You are obviously loving and concerned just by researching this online, looking for answers, and reaching out for support. Good for you. That’s the first and very important step.

      Focus on the cause, not the symptoms. Your wife is likely suffering from Complex-PTSD, of which Depression is a symptom.

      Research Peter Levine’s work and Lawrence Heller’s work on trauma recovery and developmental trauma.

      May you both find peace.

  27. OM’s response was right on the money. As another suggestion, read John Stoltenberg’s book, Refusing to be a Man. As you go through it, dont immediately deny that you are included in who he’s describing. All men are included in some way, by virtue of being privileged in our patriarchal culture. He suggests actively and consciously refusing to accept the privileges, and the limitations. That’s the only true way you can know for sure you are doing everything you can to save your marriage, as well as any other relationships with women you have, or wish to have.

  28. My ex-husband made everything I said seem dull and unimportant by rolling his eyes or saying, “Hurry up, I have something to do.” To this day, I have lost my ability to tell a story. I feel no one will want to listen to what I have to say.

    • I’m so sorry he treated you that way, but I’m glad to read that he’s your *ex*. So many people never get out of an abusive situation, but you did. You’re strong and you know you deserve better.

      May you find someone who loves your stories and treats you with the respect you deserve.

      Peace to you.

  29. […] A less understood form of it is the special brand that results from repeated emotional abuse. Gaslighting is a term that’s been popping up more and more in news feeds and emotional health articles, […]

  30. This used to be my boyfriend’s favorite tactic. That, and manipulating me to get out of dealing with my emotions about what he did; any time I got upset with him for something, no matter how calmly I addressed it with him, he would pull the classic “I’m such a piece of shit, why do you deal with me, I’m a monster, I don’t deserve love” maneuver until I felt bad for my emotions and apologized to him/spent an hour trying to bring him up and remind him of all the beauty I see in him. I’m very familiar with people pulling that on me (my mom’s displayed these same patterns of abuse for as long as I can remember and obviously that has shaped my relationships throughout my life) and recognized it right away, but I feared that if I called him out on it he would get angry and end the relationship, so I indulged it.
    Am I stupid for identifying abuse and still allowing the patterns to continue? I feel so responsible for the way he treated me. I mean, I saw what he was doing and played the part anyway. I was the perfect victim and I knew it and allowed myself to be.

    Am I stupid for wanting to work things out with him and help him be less abusive? Some very traumatic things happened that resulted in the end of our relationship, and after that he kind of woke up and said he would do anything to make things right. I started telling him all of the things he’s done wrong throughout it and the ways in which he was abusive, and he seems genuinely shocked at his behavior and eager to improve himself. He never realized any of the things he was doing and is disgusted with himself the more he learns about it – but not in the “I’m horrible and I hate myself” self-pitying way he used to be; now he uses it as motivation to better himself, and he seems to be making real progress. He says he’s going to seek professional help to aid him in that. On one hand, I understand that he has a lot to recover from the same as I do and that he learned these behaviors throughout his life, and I’m able to help him dismantle the cycle of abuse he’s had normalized. On the other, I have no idea how much of that is a trauma bond/apologizing for and rationalizing his behavior. Everyone in my family has been so awful about it, calling me stupid and saying I’m asking to be treated the way he’s treated me. They’ve basically said, “There’s no use in talking to you about this, do whatever you want” and withdrawn any support. I have no one to talk to and I feel so lost, confused and abandoned.

    • I’m so sorry you’re going through this!

      You asked if you were stupid several times, and I’m sick to see that’s what your family is calling you…and that you deserve it! **That’s** abusive!

      You’re not stupid. You’re in love and you’re holding onto hope that he’ll change. He might, but it’s doubtful.

      You both learned that abuse=love growing up. You both suffer from dangerously low self worth because of the abuse.

      You both abuse yourselves, too.

      You’re not stupid, but you are trapped in a betrayal bond, and maybe he is too. This isn’t a healthy relationship. It’s likely that neither of you know what a healthy relationship it truly like because yours have always been full of abuse dating back to your parents.

      As for your parents and family, if they’re going to treat you like this, then cut them out of your life! I mean it! No contact except for (the most) a birthday and Christmas card. **They don’t deserve to be in your life if they treat you this way.**

      As for your boyfriend, it’s promising to see that he’s gained some self-awareness and is trying to change, at least on the surface. It’s disconcerting that he’s using the same tactics for self-abuse.

      You both need to learn new skills on how to cope with yourself (cut the negative self talk without cutting personal responsibility) and how to behave in a healthy, supportive relationship with a romantic partner (& others).

      Recognizing that it’s abuse is the first step. Shine that light on it!!! That’s how to disinfect. The next step is learning how to not abuse and not tolerate abuse.

      Books. Therapy. Research online.

      Learn new ways to communicate to yourselves and each other. Learn new ways to cope with conflict and behave. Learn how to establish healthy boundaries and hold them. Learn how to cut toxic people out if your life mercilessly.

      This relationship may or may not make it, but if he’s truly as self-aware as you say he is and his effort to improve is truly as you describe it, you have a decent chance based on those things alone. It’s more than most people have.

      May you find peace.

  31. I have put a lot together after 43 yrs with husband. I realize he has been mentally slow, almost like teflon, nothing sticks. Nothing, therefore he makes up his own rules and how our life must run.

    I feel like this is a form of mental illness but has managed to not allow anyone, not even his kids to know the real person. Our older son has figured out a lot and has distanced himself from both of us

    His parents are descriptive od sociopaths. He had a skill of machinery all his life, but mentally he has slowed a lot and at 59, I would not trust him with my car workings.

    I have 43 yrs worth of turmoil, everything from lying about a fictitious man on our then 12 yr olds baseball field, telling him I was having an affair to accusing me of cheating with men on the internet.

    Even when he is wrong, he still reacts as if he knows he is not, but that he is just dealing with it. I have no friends, no family. He has not wanted to create a bond or life with me now that our youngest son has been away from home 13 yrs.

    The memory is failing him, he has no social cues, but all his negativity is aimed at me. He refuses to allow me into his world, hiding everything.

    He strikes back verbally at me when I get upset about our DILs disrespect and believes I have to babysit, and allow to be taken advantage of. Called me pot stirrer and blaming me for every problem we have ever had, even a firing he had

    I have not worked for 12 yrs and get small disability check. I know I am being hated, there is no intimacy which makes his animosity worse. After I found that he had signed up to a dating site, and found pics and evidence he had been downloading large amts of data, I knew it was over sexually.

    He denied it all, even after I had it in print. I tried telling my younger son some of his declining behavior four years ago and he refused to listen. Both my sons seem to be with very controlling women who I know would never allow my sons to help me.

    I need help in getting away or I cannot continue living. I have a dog and she is my focus now. I tried to make my grown sons and their families my happiness when my husband continued to work so much, but their wives don’t want or need me as they have moms.

    The one vaca we took in 06 was a nightmare after he would not stop harassing me about not dancing in public with the few people/tourist that the entertainers got to dance. I have never been to a dance in my life. I have been with him since 15. I never drink so I could not make myself feel comfortable enough. He made me feel like such a loser, and I believed he was not having fun for that reason.

    About 9 mos later I found out he was spying on me with the internet the entire time. Which might have been why he harassed me. I talked to my sister in a chat room she hosted and discussed my upcoming trip with the others, about 98% women. But he to this day did not believe they were women.

    He told me not to talk to my sister anymore, my only close sibling. After she found out he had been lurking around where she had been, she must have decided she was not going to be watched so she put distance between us. She chose the strangers on the internet over me, have not talked to her for 6 yrs.

    At 59, what can I do? I cannot tent an apt on my own. He controls money, cannot secretly do anything to even learn my rights

    I would not know what a warm loving relationship was, did not even have that at beginning. I have tried to get him to see a dr regarding inheredited dementia, he goes for everything else but that. Refuses to discuss memory testing he took last summer and has ordered me not to call doctor.

    He seems to not trust me but I have never taken anything without permission. I just want to live in peace

    • This is highly abusive behavior. Start going to a women’s shelter for counseling, and hopefully you can make a plan to get out of that toxic situation. I’m so sorry you’ve experienced this and he treats you that way. May you find peace.

    • This is highly abusive behavior. Start going to a women’s shelter for counseling, and hopefully you can make a plan to get out of that toxic situation. I’m so sorry you’ve experienced this and he treats you that way. May you find peace.

  32. […] abuse, like gaslighting as well as so many other insidious forms, is hard to recognize and even harder to prove. […]

  33. […] Caught in the Cogs – O. M. Grey’s Blog post, December 2011 […]

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