What Is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse that can occur in an unhealthy relationship – including one that involves sexual abuse, assault or violence. It is a manipulation tactic used by an abusive partner to make a victim question his or her reality, beliefs or sanity. Gaslighting can trap a victim in an abusive relationship and impact the victim’s mental health.

What Is the Definition of Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a term that has been used in conversations regarding mental health since around 1940. The term comes from a 1938 stage play called Gas Light, in which a husband attempts to drive his wife insane by dimming the gas-powered lights in their home, then denying that the lights have changed when the wife brings it up – causing the wife to question her instincts and sanity.

Gaslighting is about establishing power and control over an abuse victim. It can change the victim’s perception of reality and make the victim feel overly sensitive, confused, inferior, unintelligent or crazy. It is a highly effective form of emotional or psychological abuse that can break down the victim’s ability to trust his or her own perceptions – making the victim more likely to believe the abuser and stay in the abusive relationship.

Gaslighting and Sexual Abuse

Gaslighting can be particularly effective when it is rooted in inequalities between a couple, including gender, sex and sexuality. Sexual gaslighting specifically refers to manipulating a romantic or sexual partner with the goal of having the victim question his or her sexual reality or a specific sexual situation.

Like other forms of gaslighting, sexual gaslighting is about power at its core. It is an abuser’s attempt to control the sexual narrative and manipulate the sexuality of the victim by reshaping reality to serve the abuser’s purposes. If sexual gaslighting succeeds, the abuser may be able to sexually abuse the victim and deceive the person into thinking it was consensual.

What Are Examples of Sexual Gaslighting?

A healthy relationship should make you feel safe, loved and confident. It should not be tainted with any form of psychological abuse, including manipulation tactics to make you doubt your sexual reality or question your sanity. If a romantic or sexual partner is manipulating things to engage in sexual activities with you to which you do not consent, it is a form of sexual abuse. Your partner may be using gaslighting as a cover for sexual assault. 

Examples of sexual gaslighting include: 

  • Making you think or believe that you gave consent when you did not.
  • Attributing sexual encounters that you did not want to your own actions, desires or behaviors.
  • Twisting your words around to use them against you.
  • Getting you drunk to take advantage of you, then blaming you for drinking.
  • Denying that sexual activity took place when you know that it did.
  • Negating your interpretation of an event, such as allegations of sexual assault.
  • Suggesting that you are being paranoid or crazy.
  • Guilt-tripping you into believing that you are being unfair or insensitive.

Sexual gaslighting can be done intentionally or unintentionally; it does not necessarily have to be a conscious act. If there are signs of gaslighting in your relationship, talk about it directly with your partner. It is possible that he or she is unaware of the gaslighting behaviors. In other cases, however, gaslighting is an intentional form of psychological abuse that may be used as a doorway to other types of abuse, including sexual assault. In this case, you may need professional assistance to get out of the abusive relationship and protect yourself.

To speak with a sexual abuse attorney in Kansas about sexual assault or harassment, contact DRZ Law for a free and confidential case review.

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