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How Abusers Use Gaslighting to ‘Flip the Script’

Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced domestic violence or emotional abuse, sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering.

You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Have you ever experienced “crazy-making,” AKA gaslighting? It’s when an abuser flips things around to make you seem like the problem. They do and say things to make it seem like they are the victims of your abuse. I prefer the term “crazy-making” because that’s exactly what it feels like. They make you doubt yourself and get others to doubt you as well. I have experienced this pretty much my whole life. 

When I was a child, I was desperate to escape the constant abuse I lived with. One day I couldn’t take the pain any longer, I went to my room and planned my suicide. I wanted it to end, but I couldn’t do it. My abuser followed me to continue accosting me. When she saw what I intended to do, she screamed and her son, my junior, came to see what was wrong. Despite my being across the room from her and never saying or doing anything threatening towards her, she told him I was trying to kill her.

I fled the house, unsure of where I was going. All I knew was that I wasn’t safe and I needed to get away. After about an hour, I was spotted walking while sobbing my eyes out by a local policeman. He stopped to check on me and I told him I had ran from home because of a fight. He offered to drive me back, so I got in the car. I said nothing about the abuse. When we got there, the first thing out of my abuser’s mouth was, “That’s OK, officer, I don’t want to press charges.” This threw the officer a bit as I hadn’t told him any details. Then she thanked him, all sugar-sweet, for bringing me home safe and closed the door. As soon as he drove away, she unleashed a tsunami of rage at me. 

Another abusive parental figure would act like he was being unfairly picked on and ganged up on me if ever his actions were called out. He would pout like a moody child and become petulant. This same individual spent countless time and energy telling everyone in our shared company how manipulative and “stupid” I was, right in front of me. Thankfully. most took their own knowledge of me over his lies. Of my four parental abusers, he was the least harmful because he was the least believed by me or anyone else. He was known to be a jerk in the community at large so his attempts mostly failed. He still did plenty of damage but it was far less than those who could make me doubt myself with their lies.

I fell into a few abusive relationships as a young adult before I was able to break the cycle. 

In one such relationship, the abuser told me that I was too good of a person and that no one could live up to that, therefore it was my fault they abused me. They actually had me doubting myself for a bit, even though all I had done was be a decent human. 

Another would set me up and knock me down while closing off my access to outside help and relationships. I woke up one day with a note that he had gone to the hospital. He didn’t bother to wake me and let me know. Turned out, he had a deadly and highly contagious disease which put me and my child a risk. Everything was about control. I wasn’t allowed any power in the relationship even when it was important. When I broke free, I had been set up to look like I wasn’t competent to handle things because he had taken it all away. I was forced to prove myself time and again because he continued abusing me from afar, being bound by a fake claim to my child. He went around pretending he had rescued me and then rescued my child from me, when in reality he had abused me, unlawfully taken my child, and then abused my child.

There are many ways abusers keep us small and under control. Threats and physical violence are just part of the arsenal used. Anything to make us doubt ourselves and/or make others doubt us is useful to abusers trying to keep control over their victims. But it’s all lies.

If you feel like you might be experiencing this kind of abuse, talk to someone, anyone, who can be your anchor and help you see through the lies so you don’t start to believe them. A therapist, friend, family member, or even a fellow Mighty. Let’s take the power out of their lies by speaking the truth! I know it can be hard if not impossible to do while in an abusive situation. That’s why it’s so important for those of us who have been there and made our way out to raise our voices for all who cannot yet speak with us but who need our support, understanding and voice.

Photo by Mariano Nocetti on Unsplash

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