Sadie Bingham, MSW, LICSW
  • Gaslighting You to Crazy

    We come in peace, but we mean business. And to those who would dare try to silence us, we offer you two words: TIME’S UP.” – Janelle Monae

    Have you ever found yourself in a scenario where you felt the truth was skewed by another person? Maybe a family member or an intimate partner? During the #Metoo movement I became fascinated with ideas around consent, blurred lines, and gender norms. I began to rethink all of the interactions I had with men that I had convinced myself were normal.

    A single line was written by John Stuart Mill: “It is a subject on which nothing final can be known.”

    The author Tara Westover offered her interpretation: “Mill claimed that women have been coaxed, cajoled, shoved, and squashed into a series of feminine contortions for so many centuries, that it is now quite impossible to define their natural abilities or aspirations.” It is this very understanding that had me question everything. I didn’t know how to define myself as a woman because I knew womanhood had been defined for me my whole life.

    When I was 18-years-old I dated a 28-year-old. This relationship ended badly and for years I felt scared by this experience. One of the hardest concepts to wrap my mind around was the excessive manipulation that I experienced. I was incredibly naïve – which I suppose was the reason he chose to date someone so young.

    Sometimes I wish I could go back in time to whisper into my younger ears: LEAVE NOW. 

    There was plenty of psychological abuse that occurred in this relationship. I struggled to identify my reality without this man convincing me to see things as he did. When this relationship ended the hardest part was forgiving myself. Shame and anxiety worked hand in hand as I blamed and beat myself up for being such an idiot. I remember thinking over and over, “How could I have been so stupid? How did I let this person fool me? How could I not see the blatant truth about this person?”

    This brings me to the concept of gaslighting. It’s disturbing how often this strategy is used to manipulate and control women. Gaslighting is when a man makes a woman believe she is crazy. The woman knows the truth but seeds of doubt begin to creep in as the man tells his version of reality with strong authority and the ultimate shaming tactics. Eventually what the woman knows to be true begins to be what she thinks is true – and then what she doubts is true. Was it even true at all?

    Women are taught to doubt their experiences at a young age.

    A gaslighting culture tells young girls that it was because of what they wore that caused that reaction or he was simply flirting when he made that statement. What was once considered “bad behavior” or a “few bad apples” has clearly shown itself to be a pattern of abuse, control, and manipulation over what is considered the inferior gender. To keep the power structure in place – shaming women into silence is the goal.

    But right now I see the language changing. It’s the way that women are owning their stories and explaining that rarely are our experiences like the dramatic scenes in movies. Instead, they are subtle and sneaky. I have observed how articulate women are when we describe our experiences. We are showing the true reality of what happened.

    We speak with clarity, we believe ourselves—and each other.