There probably isn’t a single woman alive who hasn’t been told that she is crazy, or overreacting when she expressed strong emotions. When people dismiss anger – or any other emotion for that matter – as irrational, it’s called gas lighting. Why is it that when a woman is angry, people seek to dismiss the validity of her position?
Gas lighting enables the gas lighter – most commonly an intimate partner, but it could be anyone – to avoid any critique of their actions. The goal is to place the focus squarely back onto the woman. We say woman because the majority of instances of gas lighting are carried out against women.
Women are socialised from a very young age, to ensure that their communications are always mindful of other people’s feelings. We are keenly aware of the impact we might have on another person, always gauging the potential for harm before speaking. Whilst this could be considered a wonderful trait, it can easily be turned into a weapon and used against us.
We are supposed to be the caretakers of everyone else’s emotions. So when someone gas lights a woman, it’s a very effective means of silencing her. She looks to herself to see how she can improve, because the thought of upsetting someone she loves is distressing.
The perception of domestic violence is that it is always physical. Some more niche sections of the community are beginning to explore and raise awareness about the emotional aspects of domestic violence. Gas lighting is one of the most effective ways for an abuser to abuse and yet escape notice, because they will never leave a bruise, and often the victim is completely unable to identify it as abuse.
”You’re just crazy
”Are you finished!?”
”You need to learn to manage your emotions”
”You’re just overreacting”
“Whoa! You’ve totally lost control”
”Not AGAIN! Quit nagging all the time!”
All of these – AND MANY MORE – are used to make women feel like their feelings, and the way they express themselves is the problem, when in actual fact, most times when women raise concerns they are very valid ones.
Gas lighting allows men to abuse women and never have to face up to their own actions. It leaves women forever trying to find a way to deliver their message that doesn’t upset their abuser. But the problem isn’t the message, it’s the fact that the abuser doesn’t WANT to have to talk about their behaviour.
Maybe I was aggressive, maybe I wasn’t clear enough, maybe I should have tried this or that, maybe I should stop trying to change him, maybe I shouldn’t nag, maybe maybe maybe. But women are very good at communicating in relationships, and considering the way the delivery of their message might impact on someone else. Furthermore, this awareness normally includes ownership of the times when their communication actually isn’t the best, it includes apologising when they DO cause hurt.
Most of the time when women raise a grievance it’s with the hope of seeking a more peaceful and harmonious relationship. Abusers like the status quo though, they also don’t like the idea that anyone would criticise them, constructively or otherwise.
This is not to suggest that women never say anything deliberately hurtful, because everyone has done that at some point. However raising valid grievances, with the hope of reaching an agreement that will better a relationship is peacemaking, and the odds are good that it’s not the delivery, or the idea that’s the problem here, the odds are on the abuser wanting to avoid change.
You might be a victim of gas lighting if:
- If you feel like your partner deliberately or wilfully misunderstands or misinterprets you when you try to talk to him
- If he tells you that you did things you didn’t do or said things you didn’t say
- If your partner tells you that other people have a negative opinion of you, or things you have done
- If you feel like you must have forgotten things you have done in the past
- If you feel you are communicating respectfully but you are accused of being aggressive, angry, nagging, unkind, not understanding, stupid, etc
- If you find yourself apologising for raising issues that you need to discuss, because raising them upsets another person
If you suspect you are the victim of gas lighting it’s a good idea to reach out and talk to someone. Many countries have free domestic violence helplines. Remember that even if you aren’t sure, it’s ok to call them and chat about it. It might help you work out whether you are in an abusive relationship or not. Sometimes women might not want confirmation of abuse, and that’s understandable, but it’s important to remember that KNOWING it is abuse doesn’t mean you have to leave, it means you’re in a better position to seek solutions.