Can you smell gas?

What is gaslighting? It’s a situation where deception is used to make its target doubt their own perception, like the attempt in yesterday’s post to make a neighbour wonder if she was hearing things. Why do people gaslight? Gaslighting is about controlling about dominating someone, so yes, bullies gaslight. The term ‘Gaslight’ comes from the 1944 movie of the same name, where a husband gaslights his wife in an attempt to drive her mad. “The Four Types of Gaslighting Behaviors: Part 1

The Straight Up Lie

The straight-up lie is the least damaging though still very harmful. This type of lying is basically aimed at hiding secret behaviors. The cheating partner may glibly lie about where he was, what he was doing, whom he was with, how much time he spent doing something, or where the money actually went. This type of lying creates a deep sense of mistrust in the relationship, as partners are often stunned at the ‘ease’ with which the cheater has repeatedly lied to them. It also creates a double whammy of betrayal for partners because they feel betrayed by their significant other but also betrayed by themselves for believing the lies. 

Reality Manipulation

Reality manipulation can make you feel like you are slowly and inexorably losing your grip on your sanity.  This is because your ability to perceive what is real and to trust your memory and judgment is the very thing that the cheating partner is attacking and trying to undermine. 

Let me give you an example. You and your husband have gone out to eat at a lovely restaurant. Your husband, who compulsively uses seduction and sexual innuendo as acting out behaviors, flirts openly with the waitress throughout the meal. When you mention your discomfort with this, your husband denies it. But in addition, he also turns it around on you. He may tell you that you are a prude and making a big deal out of something that is minor. He may tell you that you have become very paranoid and are seeing things that don’t exist. He may tell you that he is worried about you because you seem to be so insecure about yourself that you are upset about some harmless flirting with a waitress and maybe some therapy would be helpful. 

In this type of lying the cheater attacks the partner’s sense of reality and tries to create doubt about what she is observing or experiencing in order to cover his tracks. Rather than lie about his own behavior, he attacks his partner’s sense of reality. This type of reality manipulation is incredibly damaging because it violates the partner’s sense of self and erodes mental equilibrium, self-confidence and self-esteem. 

One of my clients told me recently that she discovered her spouse’s sexual behavior through contracting an STD. When she confronted her spouse, he became incredibly angry and indignant and began accusing her of having an affair. He was so convincing and stuck by this story so adamantly and for so long that she began to wonder if she had multiple personalities and perhaps had had an affair and didn’t know it. This client was gaslighted by her spouse until she lost her grip on reality. 

This story or variations thereof have been told to me many times by partners shocked and enraged at the lengths their loved one was willing to go to hide their behaviors and the suffering they were willing to allow the partner to undergo. 

Reality manipulation is experienced by betrayed partners on a regular basis and is a serious and debilitating form of emotional and psychological abuse. One of the most damaging things that you can do to a human being is to make them doubt their ability to perceive their reality accurately. Part of recovery for the cheating partner is to stop the lying and manipulation and take responsibility for the emotional abuse that they have perpetrated against their loved one.” 

Tomorrow Part 2 scapegoating and coercion.

Workplace bullying poisons healthy workplaces. I teach people to recognise that it’s going to happen and to stop it before the damage is done.

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