Smelling fucking gas: a crazy, sensitive woman who needs to calm down.

It was 2020 when I first delved into the textbook meaning of the term “gaslighting.” The term has had a resurgence throughout Trump’s four years in office, creating a pop culture reference along the same lines as “fake news” so much so Anderson Cooper even created a special entitled “We will leave the gaslights on for you” about dishonesty amongst politicians. But what exactly is gaslighting? Are you a gaslighter? Have you been in an abusive relationship and a victim of gaslighting? If you are reading this, odds are YES. Aside from Trump and politicians, gaslighting was coined as far back as the 1940s when British playwright Patrick Hamilton wrote Gas Light which developed into a popular film. Let’s explore, shall we?

The film focuses around husband Gregory and devoted wife Paula. In the film, Paula endures countless instances of emotional abuse which cause her to question her reality. In the pivotal scene, Gregory goes into the attic and turns on the gas lights in a way which makes them flicker. Paula asks Gregory why the lights are flickering, to which Gregory denies they are; this denial solidifies Paula’s inability to trust her own perceptions of reality.

The coined term gaslighting became widely used in academic settings as early as the 1980s as women’s socialization was being studied. (Sounds like we are discussing house pets, does it not?) These journals explored the rate at which women were being trained to hunger for relationships with men. This longing for connection in turn made women vulnerable to exploitation of attachment; as such gaslighting became defined as:

gas·light/ˈɡaslīt/ participle: gaslighting

  1. manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.

It was February when a friend told me I was being gaslit. I genuinely implored her to tell me where I was wrong, and to help me understand the other side, the side of which I was a laundry list of negative things. “I can’t do that, you are being gaslit,” she said. From there I started to look. To listen. To start questioning my own self doubt.

Now this is not about me. This is not about you. This is about creating a conversation and an awareness around the act of gaslighting. Gaslighting by definition is an act of undermining a partners emotions and feelings in a way to deny their reality. By invalidating their feelings and emotions, the gaslightee is being told they are wrong. Gaslighting is most commonly seen in relationship dynamics as an attempt to control the moment. To stop the conflict. To ease the gaslighter’s anxiety, and to regain control in a degraded power struggle. Now before you gaslight me into calling me too sensitive, let me call attention to the fact disagreements, even arguments, are healthy in relationships. The difference between a healthy dynamic and an abusive one is hearing and validating the person’s concerns. If the person you are arguing with is deflecting responsibility in an attempt to tear down their partner, this is called gaslighting. Even better if the person being gaslit is a pleaser, trying to cater to other’s needs and expectations. I call this an easy mark. As an empath, I can often see my own responsibility in situations where I shouldn’t. I can EMPATHIZE with someone else’s reality and this can open the door to being taken advantage of, even gaslit.

In actuality, gaslighting is an effective tool, albeit abusive, and unlike other personality traits is not something we are born with. This potential tool may have been learned from other relationships – parental, friends, coworkers, or past toxic partners. The person may not even be aware of the manipulative or strategic nature of his attack. Lacking self awareness, this habit which has been picked up, learned, and reinforced can be defended as merely speaking directly, “telling it like it is,” or “speaking the truth.” The truth is it is only a desperate, abusive, toxic coping mechanism. The issue with gaslighting is (and part of what makes it such an excellent tool in the abusers toolbox) by degrading the victim’s sense of trust in their own reality, they then are less likely to be aware it is happening! So how do you know if you are being gaslit? Here is a handy little list because people love lists:

  • Do you ask yourself if you are too sensitive?
  • Do you often feel confused or crazy?
  • Are you always apologizing?
  • Do you wonder why you aren’t happier?
  • Do you constantly make excuses for your partners behavior
  • Does something feel wrong but you can’t quite figure out what?
  • Do you wonder if you are good enough?

As someone who suffers from trauma response, depression, and anxiety, I can often identify with some of the above in the absence of gaslighting. The difference is: with gaslighting, there is a partner or another person actively trying to make you second guess yourself. Do you feel this way around everyone or is it more isolated or triggering from a certain person?

Some common phrases heard in gaslighting include:

  • It’s no big deal!
  • I’m joking! (a personal favorite. I missed the punchline…)
  • There you go again
  • You always do this
  • You’re so sensitive/insecure/other adjective
  • You’re overreacting

Still confused? Let’s look at Example: Gaslit vs. Example: Communication

She said: You’ve been distant lately and I am wondering what is going on.

Example Gaslit:

He said: I’m not distant, stop reading into things / you are acting crazy lately. In this instance her observance is denied, her assessment called into question, or even validated because she is the problem.

Example Communication:

He said: There has been a lot going on at work and I have been feeling stressed. In this instance her observance is validated, understood, and the groundwork is set for a potential resolution.

So what do you do if you have a feeling you are being gaslit? Stop. Watch. Listen. The important part is to regain your trust in your reality. A great way to start is to journal the exchange. Write down what was said and identify how the words made you feel. Another great way is to establish a system of checks and balances, something I have referenced in discussing my ability to identify red flags. Enlist the help of trusted friends! Have they experienced you behaving different? Does something seem unhealthy? You don’t want smoke blown, you want brutal honesty. Do not go on the defense of your relationship; the point here is really to take a pragmatic approach. And if you are a victim of gaslighting, there may still be hope. Increasing the emotional awareness with your partner is key, and remember: open dialogue, feedback, or boundary setting will not damage a connection worth having. If your relationship is too fragile to withstand healthy conversations attempting to uproot toxic behavior, that relationship is not worth your time or energy. I know that may be hard to hear but know the train derails eventually anyway. The sooner…the better. The less casualties. Gaslighting CAN be resolved in a productive way through healthy conversation and emotional awareness. At the end of the day, no one should have the ability to make you question your reality. You are the architect of you, so let’s cut the gas and switch over to solar, shall we? Kick those fossil fuels to the curb and power today and tomorrow with a cleaner energy. See what I did there?

I vote let’s get clean.

6 thoughts on “Smelling fucking gas: a crazy, sensitive woman who needs to calm down.

Add yours

  1. Well written! I liked the example gaslight vs communication. It made the whole topic less esoteric and easier to understand how this could happen in everyday life.

    Like

  2. Great example give, because It does happen in everyday life. A masterful gaslighter will not simply gaslight you on the big stuff. It is a constant manipulation of your reality to discredit your perception from being trusted, even questioning your trust in self. To isolate you. It is horrible. If you have children, it is the worst. They are watching everything and during their formative years have to develop a sense of self reliance and trust, not self doubt and confusion. It is so subtle that the gaslighter themself, may not even relaize they are doing it. It is exactly second nature to them to control the situation, avoid confrontation, or being held accountable.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Website Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: