The Gas Light Effect

You may never have heard the term before, but if you lived it, you know exactly what this severe kind of psychological abuse is like. My husband and a few friends know a fraction of what went on in my home when I was a young adult, and they were very instrumental in helping me to walk away from it.  After a pretty severe fight where my mother had me up against the wall with her hand at my throat, I decided it was time to move out permanently.  I was 24 at the time.

Because I sometimes forget (or want to forget perhaps) how bad it was to be psychologically and emotionally abused by my family when I was a highly sensitive child and young adult, I have told and re-told my story to people who I thought would give a damn about it. Even now, at almost 39, I don’t ever want to trust my family too much so that I am lulled into a false sense of security with them. Every time I do, and reveal too much personal information, it ends up coming back to be used against me.

Most of my family does not know about this blog (my mother, step-father and siblings). I’m very protective of my privacy here more because of them. If they ever were to find out I wrote such things, you can believe the psychological attacks via emailing would assault my inbox and my psyche. I already had my youngest sister go to one of my alternative mamas’ message boards with the intention of telling them to kick me off the boards for sharing semi-private family information (no last names were ever used). My biggest mistake was sharing the message board with her, hoping she might receive some healthy advice on how to parent her child. I recently made the mistake that I told her I actually didn’t want to go on Facebook because I blog already, realizing only too late the potential danger I just set up. She’s already told me she’s going to use my email account name to see if she can find my blog. How sad is that?

I came across this post entitled The Sad Art of Gaslighting by Mrs. Lenora Mae Poltiss (aka Laurie Kendrick).

She quotes from the book, The Gas Light Effect by Dr. Robin Stern.

Gaslighting is the systematic attempt by one person to erode another’s reality. This is done by telling them that what they are experiencing isn’t so – and, the gradual giving up on the part of the other person.

The most insidious thing about it is that it is

Manipulation passed off as love or affection…or concern

I’ve fortunately never been gaslighted by a romantic partner, and I think part of that is due to good fortune and part of it because I know gaslighting when I see it.

A tidbit of my experience I shared on a message board for gifted adults:

In my family, loss of control meant only one thing – if you can’t control your subject, gaslight them. They attempted to isolate me from from outsiders, to condemn my friends as worthless trash, and simultaneously try to convince me I’m the one in need of psychological help in a desperate, last-chance blitzkrieg attack on my sanity.

It took me 24 years to garner enough strength to walk away from my family’s choke-hold over me, and about another 6 years to fully understand what happened after I’d gone.

I’m sharing here because this concept has come up recently in numerous places for me, so I decided to dedicate a post to the concept because it’s important to me to share it here. Having lived through what I did affected my ability to effectively mother my children for a while, as I was trying to cope with some very repressed rage that came bubbling to the surface in the first few intense and overwhelming years of parenting closely-spaced children.

The fears that I really was crazy and in need of psychological help came rushing back to me during those dark times in my mothering career.

Sadly, I have found through the internet connections with people I have in various places, the concept of a parent gaslighting a child through to adulthood or gaslighting that can occur between spouses or romantic partners is much more common than I would have realized.

This entry was posted in abuse, gifted support, highly sensitive child, highly sensitive mom, loss of parental love, my stories, personal issues, reaching out to others in need. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Gas Light Effect

  1. Evil exists. Half the time in people who really have no clue they’re harbingers of all things cruel and sinister.

    My mother was a narcissist, as was my father, though I’d classify him as one from a different sub-culture. Since that’s all I knew growing up; that;s all I sought out as a young woman. Bosses, boyfriends..even friends, to a degree.

    It’s amazing what these people inflict. They don’t think twice about their actions, because I don’t think they fathom any difference between right and wrong; inflicting pain and contributing joy in anyone’s life.

    You’re family is comprised of people too. They have their strange predilections, habits and quirks. It’s lovely to get along but lets be honest, does shared DNA really mean we all have to love each other? No and if family members are toxic and unkind, you owe it to your own survival to get away from them and insist on as much distance as you can.

    Gaslighting is an evil tool they use. It’s all about power and control with these people. And then that’s get bastardized into some mental disorder that just seems to get worse with time.

    You were right to do what everything you’ve done and you are hardly alone. We’ve all been victims at one time or another. Our duty as effective human beings…namely women…is to never be victimized again.

    Enjoyed your post. Stay strong.

    And committed to mental health and accuity.

    Laurie Kendrick (aka Mrs. Lenora Mae Poltiss)

  2. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Thank you, Laurie, for your heartfelt reply. I appreciate having the thoughtful feedback.

    I would gently suggest that it’s not inconceivable for men to be gas lighted too. It’s true that women are the more vulnerable gender, but familial psychological abuse like that is not limited to females. Not all abused young males go on to be abusers – I’ve found some actually go on to be rescuers.

    I’ve written about this before, but if it hadn’t been for the grace of (what? God? A master designer? something bigger than me that’s for sure) that placed trustworthy friends and lovers in my path, I would have been lost.

    My first real love was someone who was nearly broken by abuses he experienced as a youth. Somehow we managed to find each other and help each other heal. He would have been at risk for continuing the cycle to abusing another, but miraculously, we were just what we needed to help each other start the process towards recovery – caring, loving, unconditionally supportive of each other, and gentle.

    I used that relationship as the “gold standard” as to how I wanted to be treated for all my future relationships. I think that’s how I prevented choosing damaging relationships. He went on to keep looking for women in need of rescuing, unfortunately for him, it resulted in some some very different outcomes.

    It has been a long journey, but I know I’m at my strongest I’ve ever been. I keep in contact with my family, mostly because I enjoy the company of my new nieces and nephews.

    I know my mother has mellowed in her old age, and is not nearly as powerful as she once was, though I do fear that could change at any time. Two of my sisters have not changed much over the years. They seem to be sweet one moment, and vicious the next, and I never can seem to predict it. So I try to keep clear boundaries with them.

    At any rate, thanks very much for your blog post that helped inspire my own.

    Best wishes to you,


  3. Casey,

    Wonderful response…thank you.

    I’m so pleased that you found restorative love. That’s something that has eluded me. But having just terminated all contact with a sociopath that plagued my life for the past two years, I think I can honestly say that I’ve turned a corner. Last fall, a lot of “life” happened to me at one time. Job loss, lost love and a major car accident all withint 72 hours of each other. I got back into counseling after a decade’s absence and dealt principally with my Narcissistic mother. In doing so, I learned amazing coping skills. I now see the proverbial forrest for trees and recognizing her illness, allowed me to recognize his disease. And diseased he is.

    He’s a cyberpath – a sociopath who cowers behind the anonymity of the Internet and trolls for the weak and vulnerable. In my case, my cyberpath loved rather accomplished women bloggers…who sadly, were exactly what he needed his victims to be–weak, vulnerable, scared of love, but in desperate need to find it. I never met this man, despite promises to meet soon. In 26 months time, I gave him more than six thousand dollars worth of gifts for Christimas…birthdays, etc. Interestingly, everything he sent me (gift wise) always got lost in the mail. His lies and grandiosity were always ridiculous. I knew something was oddly scoped…there were more red flags than outside the Kremlin, yet a part of me stayed there fascinated. I knew “what was up”, but I wanted to stick around to see how far he’d take the subterfuge. And also, to be honest, I was quite taken with him. In theory, he was everything I wanted in a man. He was well aware of this and that was his ace in the hole. He used it constantly. In my incessant need to love and be loved, I allowed him entre into my life. He loved the control he had over me and in some sordid way, so did I.

    But even so, he never failed to fail me. Lies and utter deception were his strong suit.

    He had titles and associations that were obscure and uncheckable. He claimed he was essentially a “freelance political behaviorist”. He tried to explain to me, that he’s hired by companies and governments to prognosticate the actions, attitudes and beavhiors of military, religious and political leaders in the Middle East.

    He always claimed that all information was proprieatal and could never explain what he was working on. Again, convenient, right?

    Mine even claimed to be British…this making it even more difficult for his American prey to investigate him.

    Long story short, I found out recently that he’s been doing the same thing to another woman. She’s never met him either, but apparently, they’re in love and planning their wedding this fall. All of this while he was still maintaining a relationship with me. Niether will ever happen. In fact, he’s already lying to her about so many things. I announced he was dead to me and changed my phone number. He’s angry at me, not because I found the chink in his armor, but that I had the audacity to leave him. He could walk out on my without blinking an eye, but certainly NOT the other way around.

    These people are completely devoid of sympathy or empathy and master of gaslighting.

    My mother has only gotten worse as she ages. She’ll be 79 next week and still has all of her faculties and they’re just as skewed as they ever were. They may mellow, Casey, but that can’t shed their sick skins entirely. Your concern that you mother can and will recoil is erring on the side of caution.

    They don’t change and as your sisters’ demonstrate…they often procreate another generation of sick and demented people.

    pat yourself on the back and thank your maker, whatever you deem it to be, that you set yourself free from a sinking ship headed striaght toward an awful, awful abyss of misery.

    I know I don’t know you from Adam, but I’m proud of you. Escape is essential. I do believe that you and I both can be called “emotional Houdinis”.


    PS. Thank you for allowing me to rant. And please come see my new blog. The old one will be up and readable for a few more months, but my new blog will be something of a continuation of the old one. Mostly humor, but I tend to dig deeper on occasion. I’m a comedy writer first and foremost, but I’ve never believed that writer’s should be one trick ponies.

    Let’s stay in touch. You’re a gifted writer, my dear. Your insights are refreshing.

  4. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Laurie – I’m amazed and grateful for your candid and heart-wrenching story. I appreciate the time and effort that went into writing it. I’m so sorry that you had to experience what you did, but if it could possibly help others (and I hope it does), sharing stories like this is important. These things can and do happen.

    I can see how differently my life could have ended up if I had encountered another abuser. I definitely was highly vulnerable when I met my first love at 18 and had he been one to take advantage of my weakness, I would have remained a prisoner, only moving from one jail to another.

    I will browse your blog and will most likely be saving it to my blogroll. I do appreciate the good things and new friends the internet has been able to bring my way.

    Much peace, healing, awareness and blessings be bestowed upon you.

  5. el burro says:

    Holy moly, your story sounds like it could be my own. I don’t right now have time to read the comments, but I’ll come back to do so, and in the mean time I just wanted to let you know that I had that experience in my own family of origin also. It was a horrible, horrible, horrible twisting of reality that was designed to undermine my sense of self for the sole purpose of allowing their own skewed realities to exist. I have struggled to free myself from the psychological impact of growing up as a pawn in the games of adults who had not grown up themselves, and I could write whole books about how I feel, how I felt, how devastating this all was. I believe that you are correct when you say that this sort of emotional abuse is much more common than we’d like to think.

  6. raisingsmartgirls says:

    El burro – I think this is one of the biggest reasons I decided to fight for my right to live and fight for my right to find healing – so that I might reach out to others like me, and now who are burdened as adults with their scars of their childhood.

    Hearing story upon story like breaks my heart…for all of us that suffer at the hands of another.

    We can’t change the past, but we can go on to help bear each other’s burdens. We can give each other the time to listen, to allow each other the space to vent, to cry, to mourn the loss of our innocence at the hands of those who were supposed to protect us.

    That’s what I’m all about, even though I’m just one person. I have nothing to give except my unconditional love and support to those who hurt. But I give it willingly and freely to those who want it.



  7. Gaslighted for 48 yrs says:

    Thank you so much for your site – I will be returning regularly I’m sure. Still on the path to recovery

  8. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Best wishes on your recovery. I find it’s A LOT like the movie The Matrix. Once you swallow the red pill and you realize your life has been created for you by another, it’s frightening at first, but then as you gain confidence and restore your self-esteem, it’s quite liberating.

    It takes time and encouragement from other sources. When our self-esteem is stripped away, we lose faith in ourselves. I hope that you find my website to give you some hope that you can move beyond the pain and prison of being gaslighted.



  9. Pingback: Traumatic childhood resources | Raising Smart Girls

  10. JustEscaped says:

    Thank you for your courage. I too was raised in a home with gaslighting. My Mom and sister. My Dad was emotionally absent. My Mom, as well, has mellowed. My sister is a work in progress. I married a third generation (maybe more) gaslighter. To my shame I experienced abuses before we married, but proceeded anyway. By the grace of my Lord Jesus Christ, the fog was lifted this past April after 27 years of marriage, and my son and I escaped. God sent me many examples of “healthy” through amazing friendships. My young son is struggling with the manipulation (court appointed visitation), and I know the effects of all this will haunt me for a long time. I don’t want to pass this down to another generation! I am now experiencing this abuse from my son (9). Even though I want to give up I press on.

  11. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Please don’t give up. I know you have a long journey ahead of you and the road will be set with brambles. But remember, think progress, not perfection.

    Might I suggest you check out this post

    and this book (you can read some of it on Google books)

    The 8 Keys to Safe Trauma Recovery:Take-Charge Strategies to Empower Your Healing

    Best Wishes in your recovery.

  12. mysterycoach says:

    This is crazy making, same thing as gas lighting where the individual twists things around and manipulates a person’s reality. I can’t stand manipulation of this magnitude.

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