This article is part of a series that examines different aspects of emotional abuse. I will focus on one of the primary control strategies of emotional abuse, which is an assault on the victim’s perception of reality. The clinical terms for this are “gaslighting” and “crazymaking”. These refer to one person’s attempt to change, distort or deny the other’s understanding of events. The goal is to keep the partner off balance and make them unable to trust their perceptions.
I often hear women in emotionally abusive relationships say things like, “Did I just imagine it?” or “Am I making too much out of this?” while abusers tend to use gaslighting phrases like “I never said that.” “That didn’t happen” or “You’re just hypersensitive.” “You’re making a big deal out of nothing.”
Gaslighting and Crazymaking
Gaslighting can happen over the smallest of issues. Take, for instance, the woman who is told by her husband to never do his laundry because she did it wrong. Then, when she complies, he berates her for having left his clothes in the washer all day long when the least she could’ve done was dry them. There is no winning in this scenario, no way to know what will please him, as his “rules” change with the wind.
Crazymaking also occurs over hugely important issues, e.g., “I didn’t have an affair with her, I was just being helpful. You always believe the worst of me.” Or, “I have no idea how those women’s panties got in my truck. I’ll have to ask my friends if they put them there as a joke.”
Part of what makes these tactics so effective is that they’re part of a cycle of abuse which also contains “love bombing”—good, sweet, kind behavior which paints the picture that all is well and the offender can be trusted.
Many of these tactics are subtle. They seem to claim that reality is all a “matter of opinion,” and they usually happen behind closed doors where there are no corroborating witnesses. These things often make it difficult to explain to others. This, too, is part of the assault on your sense of reality.
Healing from Emotional Abuse
If any of this sounds or feels familiar to you, or if you sense that something is off in your relationship but can’t quite put your finger on what, please reach out to us at the Marriage Recovery Center. We’d be honored to help you make sense of what’s happening and get some clarity about where to go from here.
This sort of thing is too hard to do alone, so give us a call at (206) 219-0145 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and our Client Care Team will be happy to speak with you and help you get started!