By Allison Bonilla LCSW
Gaslighting is defined as making someone question their reality. For example, if I show you a
red dot and ask you to identify the color. You being truthful say, “its red”. Me being a person
who is gaslighting you says “is it really red, are you sure, what qualifies you to know that that is really the color, there are many shades of red, isn’t it possible that that is a deep pink or scarlet, how can you be so definitive?”
All these statements are meant to make you ask yourself if you gave the right answer. You may also begin to think that you should not have been so concrete in your belief that you knew what the answer is. You may begin to feel that your confidence displayed a bit of arrogance by saying so boldly that the answer was red. That, you see, is the ultimate aim of gaslighting, to dismantle your confidence and belief in yourself, your knowledge, your truth.
In relationships gaslighting is a ploy of abusers and those who are insecure and immature. It is often used to deflect and avoid taking responsibility when confronted.
The gaslighter, lets’ call him Joe, even though it could also be a Josephine. Gaslighting is no
respecter of persons. Anyway, Joe is being confronted about coming home late. He wants to
deflect and avoid taking responsibility for his action so he uses gaslighting.
“I don’t remember ever promising to be home by that time. Anyway, this is why I don’t come
home; I get interrogated by you, who would want to come home to this”
At this point, the partner has several thoughts and emotions.
1. I should not have brought up the subject because I’m the reason he doesn’t want to come
2. Maybe he never promised, we talked about it, but did he really say he would be home on time or did I just assume he would because we talked about how important it was to me.
The person being gaslighted begins to question her rightness for even broaching the subject. Deflection complete; and avoidance of responsibility successful.
Commonly in gaslighting, you will often see a shift. Not only will Joe not have to take
responsibility, but he will also be able to shift responsibility for the argument to the partner. That is when the apology will begin. It will go something like this. His partner will now say, having recognized that this whole misunderstanding is because of her, “ I’m sorry to have interrogated you, I want you to be home and to want to come home after work. I shouldn’t have jumped on you when you just got in the door. Can you forgive me?”
The power now lies in the largesse of the gaslighter. He will either magnanimously forgive and forget, or he will add that to his arsenal of gaslighting weapons to use in later arguments to remind her of how crazy she is.
The reason it is important to recognize this kind of behavior early in a relationship is because of the power it has to radically impact the overall health of the person being gaslighted. This form of emotional abuse can morph into verbal abuse and physical or sexual abuse. At that point even with physical evidence of the abuse the person will still question the reality of it.
The question will then be asked, “is it really abuse”. The victim will ask themselves if they did
something wrong that brought about the abusive (if it is) response of the other. In other words, they believe they were at fault. The trend of avoidance of responsibility will continue now with the victim being a strong defender of the innocence of the perpetrator of the violence.
What is scary is that it can start so subtly in a relationship.
If you are in a dating relationship it is important to pay attention to how your date takes
responsibility. If you express any concern do they minimize your concern? Do they ask you to
question your reality or perception of the incident? Do they dismiss your emotional response and suggest that you respond in a different way? Now it’s okay if they ask that you modify your reaction if it is too intense for them, but if you are being calm and just trying to discuss the issue, being told to calm down can be a spark that makes you want to get more intense.
Look for these patterns, because there will be patterns. This is not just a one-time incident, it will repeat itself in many different settings with other people. You just need to give the relationship time to be able to see the pattern. When you find yourself in a relationship where you feel a fear reaction or anxiety about broaching subjects because you fear the response of your partner, that is when you either get therapeutic intervention or get out.
There are no amount of charm and material benefits that will make up for a poverty of spirit that will come as a result of living with a person who is skilled at gaslighting.
There are no amount of charm and material benefits that will make up for a poverty of spirit that will come as a result of living with a person who is skilled at gaslighting. They will steal your confidence and your spirit. Be more protective over these things.
Christians in a dating season need to remember that God loves you and the Bible says: “For God hath not given us[Christians] the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7. Don’t forget to use that sound mind, and hold tight to that power and love that are benefits that accompany the Christian faith in God when you enter into these dating relationships.
About the Author:
Allison Bonilla is a Professional Life Strategist, Psychotherapist, Writer, Bible Study Leader, Speaker, and Consultant. A Christian Counselor in private practice for over 25 years, she along with her husband of 36 yrs raised 5 children. Through their non-profit Building A Caring Community, Inc., she directed a mentoring program for over 10 years, ran the Women Online Bible Study for 3 years, and did workshops internationally as well as locally as a professional Life Strategist. Through coaching, Allison passionately builds up women so that they can, with spiritual as well as emotional health, achieve professional success while balancing the many demands put on them.