Well, I’m tired of hearing voices, I don’t wanna hear no more.
So call somebody, baby… I’ll be useless in the morning.
My heart is all in tatters, I ain’t nobody’s saint.
I’m just trying not to call you, trying not to call you.

Labeling women as “crazy” is a way of controlling them. It may not be something planned or pre-meditated, but the ease with which men call women “crazy” says a lot about them. Calling a woman “crazy” is quick and easy shut-down to any discussion. Once the “crazy” card has been pulled out, women are now put on the defensive: the onus is no longer on the man to address her concerns or her issue, it’s on her to justify her behavior, to prove that she is not, in fact, crazy or irrational. Men don’t even have to provide any sort of argument back – it’s a classic catch-22; “the fact that you don’t even see that you’re acting crazy is just proof that it’s crazy.”
Women hear it all the time from men. “You’re overreacting,” we tell them. “Don’t worry about it so much, you’re over-thinking it.” “Don’t be so sensitive.” “Don’t be crazy.” It’s a form of gaslighting — telling women that their feelings are just wrong, that they don’t have the right to feel the way that they do. Minimizing somebody else’s feelings is a way of controlling them. If they no longer trust their own feelings and instincts, they come to rely on someone else to tell them how they’re supposed to feel.
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The trend of labeling women “crazy” is part of the culture that socializes women to go along to get along. When women are told over and over again that they’re not allowed to feel the way they feel and that they’re being “unreasonable” or “oversensitive”, they’re conditioned to not trust their own emotions. Their behavior – being assertive, even demanding or standing up for how they feel – becomes an “inconvenience” to men and they’re taught not to give offense and to consider the feelings of others before their own.

What is Gaslighting?

  • You’re crazy - that never happened.
  • Are you sure? You tend to have a bad memory.
  • It’s all in your head.

Does your significant other say things like this to you a lot? Do you often start questioning what’s really true – or even your own sanity – within your relationship? If so, your partner may be using what mental health professionals call “gaslighting.”

This term comes from the 1938 stage play Gas Light, in which a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy by dimming the lights (which were powered by gas) in their home, and then he denies that the light changed when his wife points it out. It is a very effective form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity, which gives the abusive partner a lot of power (and we know that abuse is about power and control). Once an abusive partner has broken down the victim’s ability to trust their own perceptions, the victim is more likely to stay in the abusive relationship.

Signs of being a victim of gaslighting (Stern, 2009) include:

  • You constantly second-guess yourself.
  • You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” multiple times a day.
  • You often feel confused and even crazy.
  • You’re always apologizing to your partner.
  • You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier.
  • You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.
  • You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
  • You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
  • You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.
  • You have trouble making simple decisions.
  • You have the sense that you used to be a very different person - more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
  • You feel hopeless and joyless.
  • You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
  • You wonder if you are a “good enough” partner.

If any of these signs ring true for you, give us a call at 1-866-331-9474, chat online, or text loveis to 22522. Our advocates are here to support and listen to you!

[Head over to loveisrespect.org to read this blogpost in its entirety.]

[trigger warning: gaslighting, abusive relationships, suicide]

you should avoid people who say things like:

  1. what would you do without me?
  2. you need me
  3. you’d be helpless on your own
  4. i could only ever love you
  5. i could only ever be with you
  6. i’m the only one who understands you
  7. if you leave me i will kill myself
  8. i can’t live without you
  9. you can’t live without me
  10. you don’t need your friends or anyone else, you have me
  11. you were nothing before me
  12. i’m going to fix you
  13. i know you better than you know yourself

these are all abusive, manipulative statements

if someone says any of these to you, they are potentially dangerous

What is Gaslighting?

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Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse where the abuser manipulates situations repeatedly to trick the victim into distrusting his or her own memory and perceptions. Gaslighting is an insidious form of abuse. It makes victims question the very instincts that they have counted on their whole lives, making them unsure of anything. Gaslighting makes it very likely that victims will believe whatever their abusers tell them regardless as to their own experience of the situation. Gaslighting often precedes other types of emotional and physical abuse because the victim of gaslighting is more likely to remain in other abusive situations as well.

The term “gaslighting” comes from the 1938 British play “Gas Light” wherein a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy using a variety of tricks causing her to question her own perceptions and sanity. Gas Light was made into a movie both in 1940 and 1944.

Gaslighting Techniques and Examples

There are numerous gaslighting techniques which can make gaslighting more difficult to identify. Gaslighting techniques are used to hide truths that the abuser doesn’t want the victim to realize. Gaslighting abuse can be perpetrated by either women or men.

"Withholding" is one gaslighting technique where the abuser feigns a lack of understanding, refuses to listen and declines sharing his emotions. Gaslighting examples of this would be:1

  • "I’m not listening to that crap again tonight."
  • "You’re just trying to confuse me."

Another gaslighting technique is "countering," where an abuser will vehemently call into question a victim’s memory in spite of the victim having remembered things correctly.

  • "Think about when you didn’t remember things correctly last time."
  • "You thought that last time and you were wrong."

These techniques throw the victim off the intended subject matter and make them question their own motivations and perceptions rather than the issue at hand.

It is then that the abuser will start to question the experiences, thoughts and opinions more globally through statements said in anger like:

  • "You see everything in the most negative way."
  • “Well you obviously never believed in me then.”
  • "You have an overactive imagination."

"Blocking" and "diverting" are gaslighting techniques whereby the abuser again changes the conversation from the subject matter to questioning the victim’s thoughts and controlling the conversation. Gaslighting examples of this include:

  • "I’m not going through that again."
  • "Where did you get a crazy idea like that?"
  • "Quit bitching."
  • "You’re hurting me on purpose."

"Trivializing" is another way of gaslighting. It involves making the victim believe his or her thoughts or needs aren’t important, such as:

  • "You’re going to let something like that come between us?”

Abusive "forgetting" and "denial" can also be forms of gaslighting. In this technique, the abuser pretends to forget things that have really occurred; the abuser may also deny things like promises that have been made that are important to the victim. An abuser might say,

  • "What are you talking about?"
  • "I don’t have to take this."
  • "You’re making that up."

Some gaslighters will then mock the victim for their “wrongdoings” and “misperceptions.”

Gaslighting Psychology

The gaslighting techniques are used in conjunction to try to make the victim doubt their own thoughts, memories and actions. Soon the victim is scared to bring up any topic at all for fear they are “wrong” about it or don’t remember the situation correctly.

The worst gaslighters will even create situations that allow for the usage of gaslighting techniques. An example of this is taking the victim’s keys from the place where they are always left, making the victim think she has misplaced them. Then “helping” the victim with her “bad memory” find the keys.

Are You a Victim of Gaslighting Emotional Abuse?

According to author and psychoanalyst Robin Stern, Ph.D., the signs of being a victim of gaslighting emotional abuse include:

  1. You are constantly second-guessing yourself.
  2. You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” a dozen times a day.
  3. You often feel confused and even crazy at work.
  4. You’re always apologizing to your mother, father, boyfriend, boss.
  5. You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier.
  6. You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.
  7. You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
  8. You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
  9. You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.
  10. You have trouble making simple decisions.
  11. You have the sense that you used to be a very different person - more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
  12. You feel hopeless and joyless.
  13. You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
  14. You wonder if you are a “good enough” girlfriend/wife/employee/ friend; daughter.
  15. You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
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