Gaslighting

Wikipedia defines Gaslighting as:  “a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented to the victim with the intent of making them doubt their own memory and perception. It may simply be the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, or it could be the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.”  The term is based on the 1944 movie Gaslight starring Ingrid Bergman where a husband tries to drive his wife insane by staging strange events in the house with no rational explanations, making her doubt her own mind.

Sometimes I run into this in couples counseling when one partner comes in with numerous examples of behavior and incidents that indicate the other has been unfaithful and is frustrated by the other partner’s complete denial and lack of explanation. Coming in to therapy is yet another means of truthfinding in the frustrated partner’s eyes. I remind the couple that I have no truth meter in my office. But because the disbelieveing partner is often doubting his/her sanity I believe it is my responsibility to provide the point of view of what 99% of other men/women might be inclined to suspect, given the examples in question. This is not so much to get at the truth as it is to reassure the suspecting partner that he/she is justified to have concerns. This may be the only palliative intervention available to this couple as the desire to protect self and partner from emotional pain of disclosing an affair usually thwarts real progress in couples therapy.

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