Tag Archives: relationships

A Brief Guide to Gaslighting

“You’re crazy. I never said that.”

“That’s not the way it happened. You’re crazy.”

“No one believes you. You’re crazy.”

“You’re crazy. You’re just overreacting.”

What do these statements have in common? Obviously, they involve one person telling another that she or he is crazy.

More subtly though, the speaker is saying that the other’s perceptions and feelings are invalid, untrue – wrong.

And that’s gaslighting.

Gaslighting describes a mind game that emotional abusers use to control their victims. (Gaslight is also an old movie, in which a husband uses the technique to try to convince his wife that she is insane.) The victim of gaslighting is usually a woman and the perpetrator usually a man. Of course this is not always true. Either sex can be the gaslighter and either sex the gaslightee.

Back when I was in college and extremely depressed, I had an experience of being gaslit. My grasp on reality was not entirely firm at the time, both because of the depression and because I was physically, socially, and emotionally cut off from the outside world, family and most friends. This isolation left the gaslighter, Rex, in a position of control.

I endured everyday denials of reality, like those mentioned above, but the most obvious one – the one that made me aware that I was being gaslit –happened when I suggested that we go for couples counseling. Rex asked if I was sure I wanted to, as he and the therapist could declare me a danger to self and others and have me put away. That, of course, was not true and I knew it wasn’t, which gave me my first clue that something was amiss.

When we got to the couples sessions, Rex tenderly held my hand and spoke of how concerned he was about me and how much he wanted to help me get better. In other words, he was saying that I was the crazy one and that he wasn’t. That is the very basis of gaslighting – to make the other person seem or possibly even become crazy.

Once a person recognizes the gaslighting for what it is, she can begin learning to trust her own perceptions again. This will not be easy. I know it wasn’t for me.

It took a long time and a lot of healing before I could recognize what had happened, how my circumstances had been controlled, how my perceptions had been invalidated – how I had been gaslit. That was a vast revelation. It was like turning the tube of a kaleidoscope and seeing a different pattern come into focus. The elements that made up my life may have been the same, but the new perspective changed everything.

Having someone outside the situation who can validate your perceptions is an important tool in recovery. Sometimes a friend or family member can perform this function, but mental health professionals who have been trained in the process are often more successful. They are the people we often turn to who can tell us we are not crazy, that our feelings are valid, and that the mind game of gaslighting has affected us.

With help, a person’s thinking becomes more clear, accurate, and trusted. Turning off the gaslight is like turning on a much more powerful kind of light – one that illuminates your life, improves your clarity of vision, and begins to break through the gloom and despair.

And that light is more powerful than gaslight.


A version of this post appeared earlier in my “Bipolar Me” blog (bipolarjan.wordpress.com). It proved so popular that I thought I’d share it here.

Is the “Friend Zone” Hell?


Men fear and hate it. They see it as a torture device invented by women.

If someone harbors any hostility toward you for “only” wanting to be his friend, he’s probably not the best friend or boyfriend. Your friendship is not a consolation prize – and the idea of being relegated to friend status hinges on the notion that he was expecting more in the first place.

Sadly, there is an even worse response than “sex or nothing.” This is what’s known as the “beta male” movement. According to the Urban Dictionary, a beta male is “an unremarkable, careful man who avoids risk and confrontation. Beta males lack the physical presence, charisma and confidence of the Alpha male.” Beta males see themselves as the “nice guys” that women are never attracted to sexually because they are all pursuing “bad boys” who are obviously wrong for them, if only they could see it.
This reaction turns toxic when it leads to anger at the women doing the overlooking of the betas. The “beta uprising” is a (we hope) theoretical rebellion of the supposedly second-class males in order to – I’m not sure what. Eliminate the alpha males so there’ll be less competition? Punish the women who’ve not had sex with the betas?
Some people claim that the threats of violence that can ensue are fantasies, pranks, or posturing. But Reddit, 4chan, and other anonymous groups and sites perpetuate the concept and provide places for the betas to egg each other on. The Colorado theater shooting and the Umpqua College incident have been claimed as part of the uprising. Even if these claims are untrue, I’ve read the threads on 4chan. They’re truly terrifying and appalling.
 So what’s the solution? Remove the term “Friend Zone” from our collective vocabulary? Socialize women so that they become the willing sex partner of anyone who asks? Or how about socializing men so that they understand that sex is a mutual choice, not a male entitlement? Socializing everyone to realize that friendship – between partners of any gender or gender identity – is a good thing?
I’m dubious, but it’s worth a try.

A Field Guide to Jerk Boys

A gentleman is a man who, when he pees in the sink, takes the dishes out first.

A Jerk Boy, on the other hand, not only pees in the sink whether there are dishes there or not, but is proud of it, especially if the kitchen is nearer to the bed than the bathroom is.

A Jerk Boy will cheerfully fix your dishwasher or even offer to buy you a new one. Don’t let him do it. A lady accepts only countertop appliances. Then he leaves for two weeks in Chicago without telling you and expect you to welcome him back with hot-n-juicy sex.

If you do have a wonderful romp in bed, he made turn to you afterwards and say tenderly, “How did your butt get so big?” Or he will fart in bed and 30 seconds later ask you to marry him. (Don’t. Just don’t.)

Many JBs are unreconstructed sexists. Personally, I don’t mind that, despite my rabid commitment to feminism. At least with a Jerk Boy, you know where you stand. He won’t open doors, of course, but he also won’t tell you he supports your every ambition and then undercut you with a smile. If he does sandbag you, it will come with a pat on the ass. Also, he will not allow you to pay for the meal or the motel room. If he can’t afford a motel room, he will offer sex in the front seat of his truck. Go for it if you want to – and if you don’t mind getting Doritos crumbs in your underwear.

How can you spot a Jerk Boy? There are definite signs. One JB I know was dating two different women and, to be fair, invited one of them to a wedding and the other one to the reception. Only a Jerk Boy would think this is a good solution, one that won’t cause problems or be appreciated. He will look wide-eyed and innocent and say, “What? Why are you mad at me? At least I’m not playing favorites.” That perplexed look and the phrases “What did I do?” and “What did I say?” are dead giveaways of a Jerk Boy. So is “Sor-REE!” in the tone that says, “No, I’m not.” Also if you ask a question and they repeat it back to you.

Every man is a Jerk Boy at times. Even the most sensitive have their JB moments. One day I heard my husband say, out of the blue, “No, Mom, of course Janet doesn’t mind if you come to stay for two weeks at Christmas. Here, Janet, tell her you don’t mind” [hands me the phone].

By now you may have some questions.

Is Jerk-Boydom composed entirely of rednecks? The simple answer is no. My husband, for example, is from the Philly area. JB-hood is an equal opportunity state of mind, not a state of state. Some notably famous Jerk Boys include Bill Clinton, Hugh Grant, and, most likely, Henry VIII.

Are there equivalent Jerk-Girls? Probably. In fact, writing this may prove that I myself am one. But I leave that question for future sociologists to explore, after they’ve figured out the effects of poverty and violence, and the behavior of Furries.

Most women have, or have had, a Jerk Boy in their lives. Why do we keep them around? That’s a good question.

Jerk boys can be fun and sexy, when they’re not peeing in the sink, that is. They are decidedly uninhibited, positively boisterous, and maddeningly self-agenda-ed. You can enjoy them or ignore them. But whatever you do, don’t try to change them. That only increases the Jerkitude.

Proceed at your own risk.