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Is an abusive spouse 'gaslighting' you?

Domestic abuse comes in various forms, not all of which leave visible scars. However, the damage it leaves behind can be severe.

One form of non-physical abuse is called "gaslighting." Designed to psychologically destabilize the victim, gaslighting is a particularly insidious form of abuse. It causes victims to no longer be able to trust the information they receive from their five senses.

The term's origins

The name is derived from a play from 1938 -- Gas Light --with a plot revolving around the way that an abusive husband tries to drive his wife around the bend by causing the gas-powered lights in their home to flicker off and on. He denies that this is occurring while causing the changes.

In modern times, the abuser may deny making remarks to or having conversations with the victim, typically a wife or girlfriend. While she may clearly remember these conversations, over time and her abuser's vociferous denials, she may begin to second-guess her own sanity and instincts.

Because abuse is rooted in control and power, these types of actions make the victim feel increasingly vulnerable and powerless. Over time, she may mistrust her own perceptions completely. This, in turn, causes her to rely on her abuser for the most basic decisions of daily life.

How to tell if you're being "gaslighted"

Not all abusers will use every technique or tactic, but below are some definite red flags of which to be wary:

  • Countering. Does your partner debate every recollection or memory you relate? He may accuse you of being unable to remember the sequence of events.
  • Withholding. Abusers may tune out everything you say or accuse you of attempting to confuse them.
  • Trivializing. Putting down your reactions, e.g., saying "you're too sensitive" or telling you that you had no right to get angry over being treated shabbily.
  • Blocking or diverting. Abusers might insist that you're imagining a slight or a condescending attitude toward you or blame your friends or family for putting crazy ideas into your head.
  • Denial or forgetting. Your abuser could insist that something happened only in your imagination or conveniently "forget" holding conversations with you on certain topics or at specific times.

Nobody has to put up with this type of abuse. Your Omaha family law attorney can provide advice and guidance on how to safely extricate yourself from an abusive relationship.

Source: The National Domestic Violence Hotline, "What is gaslighting?," accessed April 13, 2018

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