Emotional abuse can go unnoticed for a long period of time. Often, the spouse who is being emotionally abused does not realize that they are being subjected to emotional abuse. They may report feeling a little crazy at times, but can’t identify what it is that is messing with their sense of reality. Often, the feelings of craziness are ignored or tucked away. Emotional abuse is not always what we envision as verbal assaults or constant withholding. Emotional abuse can take place so subtly; a person may not even know that it’s happening to them.
Emotional abuse can take place in a variation of ways, such as: name calling, anger outbursts, raging, blaming, shaming and withholding acts of affection. Lies are also abusive and go under the category of emotional abuse. Blatant lies and lying by omission robs you of the foundational piece of the relationship, which is trust. Another component of lying and manipulation comes in form of The Gaslight Effect. Gaslighting is the practice of intentionally manipulating a person’s understanding of their own reality. The goal of this intentional practice is to get the victim to doubt their own reality and memory.
Gaslighting can take place in the workplace and within relationships. Relationships that are affected by infidelity or sex addiction are prime targets for the Gaslight Effect. The victimizer who has a secret and a hidden agenda, does not want the victim to find out what is happening behind their back. In order to cover their tracks, the victimizer will keep up the lies and when the victim senses that something is not right, victimizer will tell the victim that they are oversensitive, not remembering events correctly or that the victim always overreacts.
Victimizers will utilize lies, denial, defensiveness and charm. The victimizer will tell the victim how they should or should not feel. The victim often gets to hear the phrase: “You shouldn’t feel that way.” Gaslighting can take place because the people who utilize this form of emotional abuse are generally charming and convincing liars who consistently deny any wrong doing on their part. The gaslighting behaviors are so subtle and covert. There is generally no intimidating or frightening behavior that set off warning signals. In order for this type of emotional abuse to be effective, gaslighting relies on first getting the victim to start doubting their own thinking. Once the victim starts believing that it is their own thinking that is distorted, the gaslighting can move into the second stage in which the victimizer can persuade the victim that the victimizer’s ideas are the correct and true ones.
Gaslighting works because eventually the victim becomes so worn down. They may feel depressed and defective as people. They have been told that they are unable to make good choices, can’t remember things correctly and have poor coping skills. The victim starts believing these subtle yet powerful messages. The victim believes they are crazy and have a false sense of reality. They start to lean on the victimizer more and more as they now believe that the victimizer is the one who knows the best. The goal of the victimizer has now been achieved; the victim no longer trusts their own thinking and reality. The victimizer can now go on with the affairs or sex addiction. When the victim suspects something, they will ignore their intuition because they believe they are crazy and just making things up.
The victimizer smiles, brings on the charm at the appropriate times, tells you how much they care about you and slowly tear you apart…..if you are in a relationship that feels like it’s crazymaking, you may have been exposed to the gaslight effect. In order to counteract the gaslight effect, focus should be placed on awareness, self-esteem, boundaries, personal empowerment and reclaiming your intuition.
Ingela Edwards, MS, LPC, NCC, SRT, CCPS specializes in helping individuals and couples heal from sex addiction, infidelity, intimacy anorexia, and intimacy deprivation. Ingela Edwards Counseling serves the McKinney, Plano, Allen, Frisco, Carrollton, Lewisville, Dallas and Sherman area.
Ingela Edwards, LPC, NCC, SRT, CCPS is an individual and marriage therapist