Men Can Be Victims of 'Gaslighting' Too

Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

In the series of posts I have done on “gaslighting,” the focus has been largely on male gaslighters and female victims of gaslighting. Now it’s time to take a look at the other side: men as victims of gaslighting. 

According to Healthy Place, “Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse where the abuser manipulates situations repeatedly to trick the victim into distrusting his or her own memory and perceptions.”

In researching the topic of male victims of gaslighting, I found very little had been written on it. At its core, gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse – a very specific, toxic, dehumanizing form of bullying, if you will. As in bullying, there are three conditions — a (real or perceived) mismatch between the two people, harm done and repeated instances. It’s easy enough to see the harm done and the repetition of behaviors in gaslighting.

So, let’s look at the mismatch: One of the people involved (the abuser) has (or is perceived to have) power of some sort over the other. This can be emotional power, as in the dominant person in a relationship; financial power, as in a boss/employee relationship; physical power, as in a caregiver/disabled person relationship; or any other version you can think of.

In any of these situations, either a man or a woman can be the abuser and either a man or a woman can be the abused. Some same-sex couples can include a more powerful partner who can exert psychological dominance over the other. Boss and employee can be same or opposite sexes, and so on. So, although we often call the gaslighter “he” and the victim “she,” this can be inaccurate and prejudicial.

It is also the most common dynamic in a gaslighting relationship. Sad but true, in most emotional relationships in modern America, a male has psychological or emotional power over a female and hence is more likely to be the gaslighter.

In cases where the male is the victim of gaslighting however, great harm can be done, simply because of this assumption. The male victim of gaslighting (as indeed the male victim of any emotional or physical abuse) may be discounted – not be believed, be accused of lying, be put down for being a victim. In effect, the male victim has been gaslighted twice – once by the actual abuser (male or female) and again by the system and the people in it who discount his perception of reality.

Women who are victims of gaslighting can, if they are able, recognize the gaslighting for what it is and get help in undoing the damage, either by getting out of the relationship or by having her perception of reality validated and strengthened by a therapist or other caring individuals.

I believe male victims of gaslighting have the deck stacked against them in this regard. A man may be believed if he reports that a male boss is gaslighting him, and will be encouraged to leave the situation. A male who experiences gaslighting in a romantic relationship is much less likely to be believed and may in addition suffer scorn, pity or derision for mentioning it.

In that situation, it is a lot more difficult for a man to get help. Friends, relatives and even therapists may not see or recognize the gaslighting for what it is. The male victim can often believe a gaslighter who says that the victim is indeed crazy and that no one will believe him.

Discussion of this dynamic does nothing to diminish the plight of female gaslighting victims. What it does is acknowledge the male victim’s situation – validate his perception of reality, if you will – and begin a conversation that may help lead to healing for all victims of gaslighting.

Unsplash photo via Andrew Neel

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