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How Taylor Swift's New Video Sheds Light On Gaslighting

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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 new video for her song “All Too Well,” Taylor Swift gives us a peek at what gaslighting in a relationship can look like, and the damage it can do. Gaslighting is a term getting more well known, but not necessarily more well understood. In her video, there is a scene that brings back vivid memories of my own emotionally abusive marriage, and lyrics I relate to so well as someone who didn’t truly understand gaslighting until it happened to me… and I’m still working on seeing the truth of what was happening.

A couple is arguing in the kitchen. She says he treated her differently around his friend — she expresses how she felt…and his response is such a good example of how subtle gaslighting can look. He tells her she’s being “insane” and “selfish,” and even denies remembering doing anything wrong that she is telling him he did (as if she is making it up). He keeps invalidating her words — her feelings — until she gives up the fight. Then, as so often happens when someone is gaslighting you, he comes over and hugs her and tells her he’s “sorry” — he shows her “love.” So in the victim’s mind two things have just happened: She has acted “ridiculous,” and he has proven that he “loves” her by apologizing and “putting up with her behavior” (an unspoken implication that so often happens in gaslighting). And when exposed to that day after day over a long period of time, people in that situation begin to truly doubt themselves, and actually believe what the other person is saying. “He doesn’t really do things that are that bad” or “I am selfish, I should do more for him” — even though “more” is never “enough.” They lose the ability to distinguish reality and start to question themselves constantly

Even some of the lyrics in the song itself hint at what gaslighting does to your mind.

“So casually cruel in the name of being honest…” — gaslighting often takes the form of cruel words justified by the person saying they are just telling the truth and being honest. Because it continues to propagate in the victim’s mind that they are the ones who have a problem.

“I’m in a new hell every time you double cross my mind…” — every time the victim’s mind is betrayed by being gaslighted it brings out feeling of insecurity, fear and hopelessness. Every time, it hurts. And because it often escalates over time, it can be hard to realize that the pain is not your fault.

“I’d like to be my old self again but I’m still trying to find it…” — leaving a relationship (be it romantic, work, or otherwise) where you have been dealing with gaslighting means having to figure out how to get back all the parts of you that have been beaten down and torn apart. It means trying to figure out who you really are — not who you were being convinced you were. You are forced to stumble through recovering from a sort of brainwashing that you can’t even define. It takes time — in some ways, it’s a never-ending process.

Taylor Swift focuses a lot on the happy memories and feeling of love that existed in the relationship — and that can be the hardest part of spotting (and healing from) gaslighting: It’s never all bad. I remember the times I tried to call out my ex-husband’s behavior, and how he brought up all the “good things” he did…which left me feeling guilty and selfish and hesitant to trust my instincts about the relationship. Gaslighting can leave a victim believing they are truly in love, because they are being manipulated and controlled without realizing it.

Gaslighting can be subtle but insidious. Victims begin to question their own thoughts and feelings, which on gives the perpetrator more power.

Taylor Swift’s willingness to be open and vulnerable in her song and video is so valuable to those who may be trapped in a relationship dynamic like that. Gaslighting so warps a person’s sense of reality, that sometimes it takes something drastic or unexpected to make them realize they are being manipulated and used. Gaslighting leaves the victim floating in a world where they don’t know what to think, feel or believe. Leaving that situation can be painful and terrifying, but ultimately leaving such a relationship is freeing and healing.

Image via Taylor Swift’s Facebook

Originally published: November 23, 2021
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