Discover more about ending gaslighting and other forms of domestic abuse.
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What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a term still unfamiliar to many of us. However, it’s becoming more widely recognised due to the greater understanding that domestic abuse is far more than just physical. These days, the law acknowledges abuse in other forms, including coercive or financial control. Indeed, Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 made gaslighting a criminal offence.
In short, gaslighting involves psychologically manipulating a victim to create self-doubt, with victims often questioning their own sanity. As with other types of abuse, it often develops gradually. And it can be subtle and difficult for the victim or others to detect.
Examples of gaslighting include:
- Trivialising. The abuser belittles the victim or makes their feelings or needs seem unimportant. They accuse the victim of oversensitivity or of overreacting. That can lead to the victim feeling unable to confide in others for fear they too will simply disregard their concerns.
- Denial/Forgetting. The abuser pretends to forget events or how something happened or denies things like a promise made, causing the victim confusion.
- Countering. Similar to the above, the abuser questions the victim’s memory of events, even when they remember them perfectly.
- Withholding. The abuser refuses to listen or pretends not to understand.
- Diverting/blocking. The abuser questions the victim’s thoughts or changes the subject.
- Stereotyping: The abuser may use negative stereotypes as part of their behaviour. For example, they might tell a female victim that if she seeks help, others will consider her dramatic or irrational.
What can a victim of gaslighting do?
By its very nature, it can be difficult for a victim of gaslighting, or others close to them, to know or understand what’s happening. Indeed, it can be so subtle that victims often question whether they are imagining the abuse. But once it’s identified, seeking help as soon as possible is essential.
Although victims often feel isolated, it’s important to confide in others. That might be a family member, a close friend or even a professional such as a solicitor. While this is a huge step, it’s a crucial first step in ending the abuse.
A victim should discreetly begin keeping a diary, but only if possible without putting themselves at risk of harm. That document records examples of the abuse and supports the victim’s recollection of events.
Once a victim decides they no longer wish to accept the abusive behaviour, they must plan carefully – preferably with the help of others – to remove themselves from the situation. While often difficult, it might include arranging temporary alternative accommodation and/or saving money to provide a short-term financial cushion.
Various national and local charities provide advice and/or practical support for victims of domestic abuse in all its forms. However, the National Domestic Abuse Helpline run by Refuge is particularly well-respected. Their 24-hour freephone number is 0808 2000 247.