If you and your spouse are in a volatile relationship, it's possible that your relationship could degenerate into domestic violence. Physical abuse can leave visible scars, but there is a type of psychological abuse that traumatizes its victims just the same — gaslighting.
That term is derived from a 1930s play that later became a movie. It was called Gas Light, because the plot revolved around a husband's attempt to make his wife think that she was losing her mind. He manipulated the gas-powered lights in his home to brighten and dim randomly while denying any changes were occurring in the room's illumination.
Signs you might have been gaslighted
The premise of gaslighting is to make the person doubt their own perception of reality. This can be done in several ways, including:
- Denying that something happened
- Contradicting the sequence of events
- Telling the victim they are imagining things
- Trivializing their reactions to things, e.g., "you're too sensitive"
Over time, a person who has been gaslighted tends to doubt their own memories and physical senses. This makes them overly dependent on their abuser since they can no longer trust what they know to be true.
Abuse is about control
Abusive relationships are about control and power. Abusers are able to gain and maintain control over their victims, which tips the scales heavily in the abuser's favor. Abusive relationships have unequal power dynamics, leaving the victims utterly dependent on their abusers for the most basic decisions and actions.
Since gaslighting is done over time, in increments, you may not even realize what is happening at first. In fact, you could find yourself even explaining to others that your memory is bad because that's what you are so used to hearing from your abusive spouse.
But that is all part of the plan to isolate you from your support network of family and friends whom you trust. It's actually now when you need these people in your life the most, but your confidence and competence may have been eroded so much that you no longer realize this.
There is a way out
The first step out of an abusive relationship is to recognize the problem exists. Breaking free from your abuser and disentangling the ties between you may require assistance, however. You might need to seek an order for protection that will keep your abusive partner away from you.