Chandra says her husband cheated and then told her she was crazy when she showed evidence of his affairs. He used the term "irrational" a lot. Even though Chandra worked, went to school and provided all of the care for their children, her husband convinced her that she needed him. He would deliberately delay paying bills and blame her when the lights were out, in order to control her finances and make her feel dependent on him. Chandra described her ex- husband as a gaslighter during an hour-long interview.
I wrote down the notes after ending the call with Chandra. The stories I've collected about gaslighting are similar to hers. Chandra doubted herself as a reliable witness to her own experiences after her ex- husband accused her of overreacting.
This effect wasn't created in a vacuum. Chandra didn't socialize with her friends and family. She was not getting the support she needed to balance her work and child care responsibilities. She was less able to resist her husband's manipulation due to the vulnerabilities. Chandra wondered about her perception of reality, her memory and her interpretation of events. She wanted to know if she was crazy.
A type of psychological abuse that makes someone seem crazy is called gaslighting. It is similar to other forms of psychological abuse. A core feature of domestic, or intimate partner, violence is psychological abuse and "Crazy Making".
The result is what sociologist Kathleen Ferraro calls the "surreality" of abusive relationships. The word Gas Light comes from a play that was turned into a movie. The main character's husband secretly dims the indoor lights and makes her believe she is insane because he insists she is imagining it.
The term has become very popular. The success of the #MeToo movement illuminated how victims of sexual violence and harassment are systematically doubted and discredited when they come forward. The mind-bending denials of reality coming out of the White House during the Trump presidency have been described by commentators. Political and culture writers and popular psychologists are interested in the term "gaslighting" which has exploded online.
Even though everyone is talking about gaslighting, this type of abuse is still being studied using systematic social scientific data. Gaslighting can be seen as a problem between two people in a relationship, but it can also be seen as a problem in the social context. Social vulnerabilities are fed off by lighting. Existing power imbalances are perpetuated by it. Structural racism, sexism, homophobia and ableism are now described by the term. The term racelighting has been used by scholars and activists to describe racial microaggressions that undermine the experiences of people of color.
Social power can be achieved by trying to convince us that everything is normal while the conditions surrounding us are not. In 2020, Ann Crawford-Roberts and her colleagues argued that seeing George Floyd's murder by a police officer and then being told his death was the result of pre-existing medical conditions is structural gaslighting. Sociology is about following the topsy-turvy ways in which social domination works. The way patterns of noncredibility are established should be followed by us. If we take gaslighting seriously, we can learn about the relation between macro-level inequalities and the micro forms of oppression that people experience in their everyday lives.
I am interested in the intimate dynamics that allow gaslighting to occur. I will use in-depth qualitative research to figure out what makes gas lighting work. Gaslighting is defined as someone trying to make you feel crazy. Anyone who defined their experience as gaslighting could participate in this recruitment strategy.
I was most interested in the social contexts where we find gaslighting and its relation to inequalities around gender, sexuality, class, ability and race, after conducting 122 interviews over six months. People experience gaslighting intersectionally, meaning that factors such as age, race, gender and sexuality all matter for the way people's realities are distorted, questioned or denied.
Domestic violence, intimate partners who are not abusive, parents and other family members are some of the contexts in which gaslighting occurs. Domestic violence situations often include verbal abuse, whereas workplace gaslighting often has to do with race. Power imbalances are involved in all of them. It helps us to ask different questions. Why did this person do that and what should the victim do to stop it? Which is establishing power and authority? Examples of these four contexts are given here.
The domestic violence type of gaslighting is similar to what happened in the movie "Selah". Selah's ex- husband questioned her sanity for a long time, telling her she needed medication and that her family thought she was unstable. He once called a mental health team to the house because he thought Selah was going to commit suicide. After Selah left him, her husband broke in while she was at work. Selah asked what they were having for dinner when he came home. She had left him, so he distorted his own reality. He kept her from leaving the house to get groceries.
Selah's husband was stalking and harassing her every time she tried to leave, until she fled to a shelter halfway across the country. It was hard for Selah to describe what was happening. What is wrong with your husband asking what to eat? The people live in an alternate reality. They would like you to live there with them.
The majority of people I interviewed identified their parents as their primary gaslighters. Audrey insists that her mother doesn't take her mental health problems seriously, that she's just being lazy, and that she's overreacted to her mental health issues. She has been hospitalized for her mental illness, tried to kill herself, and received government assistance because of her symptoms. No one will think her symptoms are real. I think I am a loser, according toAudrey. I might have a bad character. Maybe I'm just a little bit upset.
Audrey reduces her symptoms because of her fears. Gaslighting tends to start in childhood and persist over a long period of time. This gaslighting often involves a parent denying a child's experience in a way that makes them feel isolated and self-doubting. There is a kind of authority in the parent-child relationship that comes from the mother's control of resources.
He accused Maya of overreacting when she tried to get her boss to stop joking about sex. She was asked to leave and not come back when things got worse. Hecontested her claim with a 500-page document stating that she had laughed at his jokes so how could they be offensive. She must be telling the truth. He said that Maya was endangering the safety of her co-workers even though she was pushing for masking. To appear that I was doing something sinister or out of malevolence, he would twist it around to make it look like I was doing something. Maya felt that he made her out to be a danger to the office by using stereotypes of people of color as aggressive.
Alex was not afraid of her partner. Their relationship seemed to be the same as the others. Alex was made to believe that she was responsible for her partner's actions. Alex's partner cheated on her and then denied it. Alex would say that she wasjealous andpossessive and ask why Alex didn't value friends and family as much as she claimed to. Alex stopped eating and sleeping. She started a journal because she was afraid her partner would ruin her memories.
Alex said she was sleepy during the relationship. There was no clear gender-based power differential between her and her same-sex partner. Alex's experiences show how subtle and indirect gaslighting can be in relationships that are not otherwise abusive. Verbal abuse, threats and physical intimidation were not part of the equation. Alex's partner used Alex's own values against her in order to gain power in the relationship. Alex should be disappointed in herself according to her argument.
These stories are connected by something. Strategies of abuse are dependent on the creation of a power balance against the victim. The material effects of gas lighting may be more extreme in some cases, but what remains consistent is that controlling resources and narratives is key to how power imbalances are established and reproduced.
Gaslighting, like other forms of intimate violence, is not an incident but a process. Gaslighting can unfold as denial or distortion, isolation, shame, and attacks on credibility. The pattern is to deny or flip it. Whether the gaslighting is a parent, friend, partner, mentor or boss is determined by this pattern.
This pattern occurs when gaslighting is severe and affects victims' lives in lasting ways as a result of a power imbalance between the gaslighter and the victims. It could be the result of social inequalities between male and female partners or between a white boss and a black employee. It could be naturalized in the family, for example the age and authority differential between parent and child. Mental manipulation typically relies on existing social patterns of domination.
The classic film example of gaslighting suggests that an abusive partner deliberately distorts his partner's sense of reality. My research shows that gas lighting may be a mistake. Denying another's reality can be involved. When Selah's ex showed up at her house, he denied that she had left him. Alex and Chandra were confused by the accusations of jealousy that their ex-partners denied. Maya's boss lied about her experiences in the workplace. Denying someone's reality is one of the most important parts of gaslighting.
Disorientation and denial are the most effective if they happen in an isolated area. Alex's partner did not "isolate" her in the extreme way that many abusers do, but the gaslighting occurred when she and her partner were out of the country.
Imani, a domestic violence victim, said that her abuse turned her against her family. He made me think they weren't good for me. I wouldn't go down there to see my family. He would ask if you wanted to be around someone who wasn't there for you. Imani thought that the world was against her because her partner was the only one who loved her. She didn't want to go out anymore. Imani shows how gas lighting turns inward. She thought she wanted to be alone.
It's important that victims don't hear a counternarrative to what's going on in the relationship. As part of institutional gaslighting, Maya's boss accused her of unethical work practices and forced her co-workers to spy on her. Extreme forms of isolation are the most common forms of domestic violence. One of the people I interviewed said that isolation is the "breeding ground" for gas lighting.
It is possible to make victims feel that the abuse is their fault by lighting. "Summer" said that her partner likes to cause her fights. He tells her stories of his relationships with other women, who he says are better than her at cooking, sex and being a mother. She cries and yells until he waits. Summer said that he stood there and said he didn't understand why. I was so excited that it was finally happening to me. Things are being torn off the wall. I just didn't want to take it anymore. He looked sad on his face. He was just trying to talk to you.
Summer's boyfriend made her out to be violent and unstable by flipping the situation. He threatened to tell others about how she acted if she didn't stop crying. The cycle of defending themselves against assaults on their integrity is kept alive by shame.
The credibility of a victim is weakened by shame. The result is what feminist philosophers call "testimonial injustice." The woman who beat Summer told his family that she lied about it. Even though he is on parole for domestic violence, this strategy is still effective.
When Elyse's ex-husband told friends and family that she was acting out of character after filing for divorce, the attacks on her credibility worked. Isolation is worsened by making a victim seem unstable.
Credibility attacks are specific to the institutional and social context in which gaslighting occurs. Legal proceedings such as divorce and unemployment filing are affected by these attacks. The ability of victims to trust themselves is diminished by attacks on credibility. It is common for victims to feel that no one will believe them.
Gaslighting has the makings of a flash-in-the-pan term. Skeptics argue that the term lacks clarity and is used too much. In popular culture, gaslighting is used in fast and loose ways. Self-help culture can perpetuate messages that focus on individuals' actions and reinforce victim blaming. It can be conflated with simple lying or other forms of emotional abuse.
I agree with a lot of the criticisms. I'm happy that we now have a way to discuss psychological abuse and its links to oppressive structures. Chandra, a 50-year-old Black woman, was given a container by learning the term gaslighting. She was able to regain her independence after leaving her ex- husband and working with counselors to identify her abusive behaviors. I think we have a net positive if Chandra is using gaslighting to make sense of what is happening. There is nothing precious about a made-up word from a movie, so why not use it to argue for more equal social relationships.
Gaslighting is a type of psychological abuse that preys on peoples' social vulnerabilities. The high rates of psychological abuse reported more generally suggest that researchers should pay more attention to gaslighting and its effects on victims' lives, whether or not physical violence is present. My research shows that the effects of gaslighting are worse for people who don't have social networks.
Policy makers have the ability to provide some of those supports. When people have access to a living wage, they are less dependent on bad jobs and abusive partners. If Chandra had access to money and child care, she wouldn't have stayed with her husband. If her disability benefits paid enough that she could live on her own, would gaslighting be so effective? People who experience gaslighting are more likely to stay in bad relationships.
Social networks of friends and family are important. People who were able to leave gaslighting relationships quickly had people they could rely on to confirm their realities and give them positive counter narratives about their self-worth. Gaslighting makes one question one's sense of self because it becomes internalize in a context of isolation. It's important to doubt yourself as a reliable interpreter of the world. Context is important. Social networks and community support can be used to prevent or reverse the effects of gaslighting.