What is Gaslighting?

hotline-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 partner repeatedly say things like this to you? Do you often start questioning your own perception of reality, 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 an extremely 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.

There are a variety of gaslighting techniques that an abusive partner might use:

Withholding: the abusive partner pretends not to understand or refuses to listen. Ex. “I don’t want to hear this again,” or “You’re trying to confuse me.”

Countering: the abusive partner questions the victim’s memory of events, even when the victim remembers them accurately. Ex. “You’re wrong, you never remember things correctly.”

Blocking/Diverting: the abusive partner changes the subject and/or questions the victim’s thoughts. Ex. “Is that another crazy idea you got from [friend/family member]?” or “You’re imagining things.”

Trivializing: the abusive partner makes the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant. Ex. “You’re going to get angry over a little thing like that?” or “You’re too sensitive.”

Forgetting/Denial: the abusive partner pretends to have forgotten what actually occurred or denies things like promises made to the victim. Ex. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” or “You’re just making stuff up.”

Gaslighting typically happens very gradually in a relationship; in fact, the abusive partner’s actions may seem harmless at first. Over time, however, these abusive patterns continue and a victim can become confused, anxious, isolated, and depressed, and they can lose all sense of what is actually happening. Then they start relying on the abusive partner more and more to define reality, which creates a very difficult situation to escape.

In order to overcome this type of abuse, it’s important to start recognizing the signs and eventually learn to trust yourself again. According to author and psychoanalyst Robin Stern, Ph.D., the signs of being a victim of gaslighting 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 1-800-799-7233 or chat with us online from 7am-2am CT. Our advocates are here to support and listen to you.


Violence is Never Okay (Or a Joke)

dvinthenewsFor the past few days, you’ve probably been hearing a lot about the incident between Jay-Z and Beyonce’s sister, Solange. Quick recap: footage was leaked to TMZ of Solange physically attacking Jay-Z in an elevator, while a bodyguard attempted to restrain her and Beyonce stood by. No sound was available with the footage, so we don’t know what was said between any of them, and (so far) no one involved has come forward with an explanation (Update: they have released a statement). In fact, it seems like they’re all doing their best to pretend it didn’t happen.

Plenty of people all over the internet have been speculating about the reasons for the attack, and unfortunately many are choosing to make jokes about it (for examples, just check Twitter). At the Hotline, we believe that jokes about violence only serve to diminish people’s perception of its severity. Abuse in any relationship – whether it’s between family members, friends, or people in an intimate partnership – is not acceptable, no matter the “reasons” behind it or the gender of the people involved.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, or if you have questions about domestic violence, our advocates are here to help. Please give us a call anytime, or chat online whenever the chat button is active.


Building Your Case: How to Document Abuse

document-the-abuseIf you are in an abusive relationship and are in the process of taking (or deciding to take) legal action against your abusive partner, documentation of your partner’s abusive behaviors can be an important component of your case.

It’s worth noting that each state has different laws about what evidence and documentation can be used in court. Speaking with a legal advocate in your state might better prepare you for your unique situation (our advocates at the Hotline can help locate a legal advocate near you). According to WomensLaw, in most states evidence can include (but is not limited to) the following:

  • Verbal testimony from you or your witnesses
  • Medical reports of injuries from the abuse
  • Pictures (dated) of any injuries
  • Police reports of when you or a witness called the police
  • Household objects torn or broken by the abuser
  • Pictures of your household in disarray after a violent episode
  • Pictures of weapons used by the abuser against you
  • A personal diary or calendar in which you documented the abuse as it happened

Below are a few actions you can take to create documentation, if you are able to or feel safe doing so:

Visit the doctor. More and more, doctors and gynecologists are trained to recognize signs of abuse. Your health care provider could also be a safe resource for disclosing the abuse. If you’re visiting a doctor for an injury, ask them about safe ways they can make notes about the abuse — ex. Some can write “cause of an injury” without it having to go to the police.

Consider outside documentation. Do you have a trusted friend, coworker or family member who knows what’s going on and would be willing to help? There are many ways they can help document the abuse — whether that’s a coworker making note of times your partner calls you at the office, or a friend holding your journal at her house.

Create a stalking log. If your partner is stalking you, creating a stalking log can be very helpful to your case. The National Center for Victims of Crime’s Stalking Resource Center has examples of stalking logs (in PDF and Word formats) as well as additional information on stalking.

Learn more about police reports. Always ask questions. Call your local police department’s non-emergency number and find out about the protocols and procedures of filing a police report — ex. Like filing about a lost bike. Ask, “Hypothetically, if there was something that was happening that I would want to report…” This can help you prepare for filing a police report if you need to, which creates a paper trail of the abuse.

Take pictures. A digital camera or your phone camera may not always be safe. Consider getting a disposable camera. Another option is for someone else to take the pictures and keep them for you.

Let a call go to voicemail. Is your partner calling over and over? Let it go to voicemail once and save the voicemail.

Save digital evidence. Do you have a smartphone? Most have the “take a screenshot” option. Thirty missed calls from your abusive partner? Take a screenshot of that. Threatening texts? Instead of responding to them, take a screenshot of them. These screen shots get saved in your images folder, so remember to send them on to a friend and delete them. If your partner sends threatening emails, don’t respond to them, but consider saving them in a folder in your inbox.

If you’re not sure if making documentation of your abuse would be safe, always go with your gut. It’s very important to keep in mind that you are the expert on your situation, and what works for one person may not be a safe idea for another person.

We are not legal advocates at the Hotline, but we are able to offer support and refer you to the local or state resources that might be helpful to you. Give us a call anytime at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).


Honor Mothers This May with the Hotline

mothersdayMother’s Day is a time to recognize mothers for the immeasurable contributions they make every day to better our world. Whether you are a mother, have a mother or know a mother who has impacted your life, you are aware of the many amazing qualities that the finest mothers possess – kindness, self-sacrifice, strength, generosity, courage, love, humor, selflessness, bravery and so much more.

This May, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is inviting you to acknowledge and thank your mom or a special mom you know by sending her a virtual Mother’s Day card and making a donation of $30 to the Hotline in her honor.

The cards were designed by Hotline advocates who provide compassionate, one-on-one support to those suffering from abuse. Our advocates speak daily with domestic violence victims – many of whom are mothers – who go to great lengths to keep their children and themselves safe despite facing numerous cruelties, including:

The need for additional help is great.

In the United States, 1 in 4 women has been a victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in her lifetime. Due to lack of resources, thousands of calls to the Hotline go unanswered each year. Your generous support can help us reach more people who need crisis intervention, safety planning, resources, and hope. This Mother’s Day, please celebrate moms everywhere with the Hotline. You can make a difference!