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What is Gaslighting?

Leslie Vernick

When a woman shows up with a black eye or broken arm at the hands of her spouse, abuse is obvious. When she lives with a broken spirit, the effects of abuse are just as real, but less obvious. God tells us a broken spirit is damaging and hard to live with (Proverbs 18:14).

Gaslighting is a form of covert abuse. It’s become a kind of buzz-word lately so you may have heard the term but what is gaslighting? How do you deal with it in your personal relationships?

The word actually comes from a famous movie released in the 40’s called “Gaslight.” It’s about an accomplished opera singer named Paula who falls in love with and marries a man named Gregory Anton. Gregory begins to torture his wife, not physically but psychologically. He manipulates things around the house. For instance, he would dim the lights in the house. When Paula mentioned it, Gregory would say it’s her imagination. He hides things that Paula puts in a certain place, and when she can’t find them puts them back. He accuses her of going crazy and, with his manipulations, she begins to believe him.

When you hear the term “gaslighting” it means a very intentional form of psychological manipulation. It’s a way of confusing, controlling, and intimidating someone to the point that she begins to doubt her memory and her own reality. This leads to believing that marital problems are her fault.

The ultimate goal of gaslighting is to destroy a person’s self-confidence so she can’t function independently. She stops trusting her own judgement and becomes unable to make decisions. Realize…this can happen over time without anyone so much as raising their voice. This type of covert abuser often appears like the “good guy” because his cruel behavior is hidden from those around him.

It’s important to understand the stages of gaslighting. There are three of them:

Stage one: Create Confusion

In this stage your words are often twisted into something you never said. If you try to explain, it’s common to be labeled a liar. Realize that this is not a communication problem. It’s intentional. Your partner knows what you said and what you meant.

Stage Two: Defensiveness

Even the most mundane and normal of concerns have you being called controlling, judgmental, self-righteous. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter what he’s done…you’re the nag, the abusive one and he is the victim. Defending yourself usually leads to a huge argument and goes nowhere. Enough experiences in this stage and you’ll start to doubt yourself and believe the labels he puts on you.

Stage 3: Depression and Emptiness

You’ve changed. Before you knew your own mind. Now you doubt yourself. Before you were confident in your abilities. Now you don’t even know who you are. You’ve accepted the things your husband has said about you as truth. His opinion of you is gospel and you find yourself in a pattern of apologizing as well as feeling insecure and self-conscious. Your reality is one of depression and emptiness.

But a little clarity could go a long way here. So let’s shed some light on what’s really going on:

Covert “Crazymaking.”

1. Information is distorted or outright withheld but he swears you were told everything. You “must have forgotten.” You misunderstood. That didn’t happen. Soon you’re doubting your version of reality.

2. He says something hurtful. Something he knows will make you feel insecure. When you object he accuses you of overreacting or being too sensitive. He “didn’t mean it” or you “misunderstood.” Ultimately, you’re the one who is apologizing!

3. Minimizing is an almost daily occurrence. “It’s not that big a deal.”

4. Excuses are another major pastime for the gaslighter. His actions are always someone else’s fault. (Usually yours.)

5. Deflecting your concerns or feelings or confrontations as crazy, ridiculous, unimportant, or ungodly. You’re bad, he’s good. You’re wrong, he’s right.

So, how do you deal with gaslighting?

1. When you’re having a conversation, record it or write down what’s being said. You can simply say, “I’m tired of being told I don’t remember what you said.” This puts him on notice that his tactic of purposely leaving out information and accusing you of forgetfulness will not work anymore.

2. When he says something cruel, write down his exact words. This way he cannot edit his words to be a watered-down version of the truth.

3. When he minimizes by saying something isn’t a big deal it’s okay to tell him you disagree. You can calmly say, “I do think it’s a big deal and I’m going to discuss it with our pastor.” This sends a message that his words and actions will no longer be a secret and you are no longer going to defend yourself to him.

4. Stick with the facts and stick with his actions. When he tries to blame you or someone else, simply says, “No. There are plenty of people who have been in a similar situation and made different decisions. You are responsible for your own choices.” Then stop. Don’t ask for an apology. Don’t ask him to acknowledge the truth. Just stop. You’ve made it clear you will not be manipulated.

Healthy people work on their shortcomings. They acknowledge their sinful nature and work to change. You can’t do that for your husband but, with God’s help, you can work on yourself so that he no longer has the power to rob you of your reality, your confidence, and your self-respect.

Book Giveaway


The Emotionally Destructive Marriage

by Leslie Vernick

You can’t put it into words, but something is happening to you. Your stomach churns, your heart aches, and the tension in your marriage is making you feel weary and a little crazy. The constant criticism, disrespect, cruelty, deceit, and gross indifference are eroding your confidence and breaking your spirit.

For any woman caught in an emotionally destructive marriage, Leslie Vernick offers a personalized path forward. Based on decades of counseling experience, her intensely practical, biblical advice will show you how to establish boundaries and break free from emotional abuse. Learn to: ·

  • identify damaging behaviors
  • gain the skills to respond wisely
  • promote healthy change
  • stay safe
  • understand when, why, and even how to leave
  • recognize that God sees and hates what is happening to you

Trying harder to be a perfect fantasy wife won’t help fix what’s wrong your marriage. Discover instead how you can initiate effective changes to stop the cycle of destruction and restore hope for the future.

Two winners will be selected in our next newsletter! (Giveaway only available to U.S. residents)

If you would like to enter to win, you can click here to provide name and email address.

The winners of “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage” by Leslie Vernick are Teresa H. and Yolanda V.

Enter For Your Chance to Win

He’s Ready To Get Help, Should I Move Home?

By Leslie Vernick

Question: My question is: at this point in life, my husband and I have shared so much history together, good and bad, 3 children, 4 grandkids, and financially we will be better off together. We both need helpmates going forward with our health issues. But how do I know if it's too late, too much damage and very little maintenance in the relationship? How do I make a healthier decision for myself going forward perhaps 15 years more together? I do love him and miss being together, traveling and sharing our faith in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior.

I cannot forgive him of the past hurts and broken trust though he says he's open and willing to work on him. My daughter is strong, she dislikes her dad for all the abuse he did to me over the years, but especially during her childhood and insists she will hold me accountable if I go back to him again.

I've been following you daily since March and have learned so very much! I have much better clarity of myself…areas I need to work on and my part in what went wrong in the relationship from day one until I chose to leave for the last time. Thank you, Leslie, for your mission to help empower myself and so many women in destructive marriages. I don't want to live another year with my daughters and her family, but I cannot afford to live on my own. I have no desire to ever start a new relationship with another man.

I feel stuck and disappointed God has not answered my prayers over all these years, yet I am grateful for His provisions. I want dearly to live out my life serving God alongside my husband!

Answer: It is heartbreaking to read your story and I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through. You’ve been back and forth five times in the last 12 years, and nothing has changed each time you’ve gone back. The only thing different now is this time he finally says he’ll go for help. Has he gone for help in the past? To whom? For what? What exactly does he need help with? Has he apologized to you for the pain and suffering he’s caused you? Has he called your daughter to apologize for what she experienced in her childhood? In other words, since he told you he will go for help and now when you’re reading my response, has he shown any real action steps that indicate signs of true repentance by calling someone, telling someone the truth and going for help?

What People Are Saying About Leslie’s book “The Emotionally Destructive Relationship”

If you have been wounded or trapped in a destructive relationship, you are not alone. Your life story isn’t over. These are the life–transforming themes of hope that Leslie affirms as she shares her healing journey, encouraging others to discover what’s wrong in their relationship and find a biblical understanding of God’s solution. As you apply what you read, you will learn how to let go of destructive ways and will heal and grow to become healthier and changed by God’s loving grace. A must–read for everyone longing for assurance of God’s love.

―Dr. Catherine Hart Weber, coauthor of Secrets of Eve and Unveiling Depression in Women; adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary


Leslie wants to help you grow in your personal and relational effectiveness. Please submit your questions by clicking here.

Then, visit Leslie's Blog as she posts her responses to one question per week.

Note: Due to the volume of questions that Leslie receives, she is unable to respond to every question.


Leslie Vernick PO Box 5312 Sun City West, Arizona 85376 United States