Gaslighting and Coercive Control

One of the more difficult methods of abuse to pinpoint is gaslighting. It is a harmful method of emotional abuse, which tricks victims into disbelieving their own memories.

Occurring over an extended period of time, gaslighting can keep victims trapped in dangerous situations. Its tactics can help abusers hide their behaviors that they don’t want their victim to fully realize. This results in victims justifying the actions of their abuser. After time, victims may not even believe that they are being abused.

Abusers who engage in gaslighting, manipulate their victims into thinking they are crazy, paranoid, or delusional.

A recent example of gaslighting in popular culture takes place in the bestselling book and film, The Girl on the Train. One of the main characters, Rachel, is gaslit into thinking she is responsible for the demise of her marriage by her abusive ex-husband. He manages to convince her that she caused scenes in public, yelled at his friends, and humiliated him. This, she believes, is one of the reasons why her marriage ended. In reality, those things never happened. His frequent and methodical brainwashing and manipulation leads her down a path of confusion, guilt, and shame. Her ex-husband tricks her into believing that she is the one who is destructive and abusive. Eventually, she gets worn down and believes him completely.

I have lost control over everything, even the places in my head.

-The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

I have often read about victims experiences with gaslighting and coercive control.

Gaslighting can occur through a variety of methods like, criticisms, manipulative tactics (belittling or degradation), insults, threats, and physical abuse.

Abusers try to control by humiliation (“How could anyone possibly like you?), to manipulative mind games (“People are just using you!”), to fear (“no one will ever be there for you…except me.”).

While victims may not believe these words at first, they will over time. Through verbal and emotional abuse, abusers may eventually cut off their victim’s access to employment, money, friends, and family.

Mental health illnesses like depression, anxiety, panic disorders, and suicidal ideations are common. Victims often talk about the isolation that results from gaslighting tactics. They tend to isolate themselves out of fear.

Consciously or unconsciously, this is what your abuser wants: to have you reliant on only them.

Children and women are the most vulnerable targets. Children are at risk due to their dependence on parents and authority figures. Women are at risk if they live far from their social networks or are financially dependent.

Stopping Coercive Control in Your Life

In her book, Coercive Control, Lisa Aronson Fontes, PhD, provides helpful tips to prevent gaslighting from predatory figures.

  1. Stay involved in activities despite criticisms or protests.
  2. Stay firmly connected with your social network (family and friends).
  3. Surround yourself with people who support you and avoid those who bring you down.
  4. Counseling or psychotherapy can help you understand past and present circumstances. Mental health professionals help us look at things from new perspectives.
  5. Never diminish your feelings or experiences. If incidents do occur, make sure to write down what happened.
  6. Share your story with others.
  7. Always practice self-care and self-compassion.

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation and control that can occur in a variety of relationships. Gaslighting can be subtle or loud, but its techniques are always relentless. This abusive method can be perpetrated by men or women and can happen to anyone.