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BOOK REVIEW: The Gaslight Effect

By Ox Drover

I recently read The Gaslight Effect—How to spot and survive the hidden manipulations other people use to control your life, by Dr. Robin Stern. I highly recommend this book to Lovefraud readers.

Robin Stern, Ph.D., is a therapist specializing in emotional abuse and psychological manipulation. She teaches at Hunter College, Teachers College and Columbia University, and is a leadership coach for faculty.

This well-written book is quite reader friendly. Dr. Stern starts off by defining the term “gaslighting” as being “pressured by someone else to believe the unbelievable.” She goes on to show that gaslighting is “an insidious form of emotional abuse and manipulation that can be difficult to recognize and difficult to break free from.”

In the first chapter, Dr. Stern says:

I constantly encounter women who are smart, strong, successful. Yet, I keep hearing the same story: Somehow, many of these confident, high-achieving women were being caught in demoralizing, destructive and bewildering relationships. Although the woman’s friends and colleagues might have seen her as empowered and capable, she had come to view herself as incompetent—a person who could trust neither her own abilities nor her own perception of the world.

… In every case, a seemingly powerful woman was involved in a relationship with a lover, spouse, friend, colleague, boss or family member who caused her to question her own sense of reality and left her feeling anxious, confused and deeply depressed … (and) whose approval she kept trying to win, even as his treatment of her went from bad to worse. Finally I was able to give this painful condition a name: The Gaslight Effect, after the old movie Gaslight.

In the 1944 classic film, Ingrid Bergman marries a charismatic and mysterious man played by Charles Boyer. It is the story of a young and vulnerable singer who marries an older man who, unbeknownst to her, tries to drive her insane in order to get her inheritance. He continually tells her that she is ill and fragile. He rearranges household items and accuses her of doing so, and manipulates the level of lights, which dim for no apparent reason. Eventually the heroine starts to believe she is going insane and begins to act “crazy.” She is desperate for her husband’s approval. She is only able to finally realize she is not insane when a policeman sees the lights dim and validates her reality.

Though Dr. Stern makes clear that not all gaslighters are deliberately trying to drive their partners insane, nevertheless, they invalidate the views and realities of their partners. In trying to please them, the partners let go of themselves and their view of reality.

Dr. Stern never uses the words “psychopath” or “sociopath,” but instead refers to emotional abusers as “gaslighters” and the abused as “gaslightees.” She does make it clear that there are patterns here that most of Lovefraud readers would equate with sociopaths and psychopaths.

Dr. Stern divides types of gaslighters into three categories of emotional abusers and three stages of gaslighting. She points out the internal signals, feelings that would tell a person being gaslighted that they are indeed experiencing some form of emotional abuse and invalidation of their reality by someone they want to please.

I am one of those people who, when reading a book, am apt to highlight passages in the book for later reference. With this book, I gave up highlighting because I tended to highlight entire chapters instead of a few phrases. In my opinion this book is a must have for every Lovefraud reader. It validates the very subtle feelings we get when we know something is wrong and can’t quite put our fingers on what is wrong with a relationship.

Not only does Dr. Stern point out how to recognize these feelings as warning signs, but she coaches readers in how to handle these in a way that is healthy and easily understood. She gives the tools to her readers to recognize even subtle signs of emotional abuse, and to confront this in such a way that if the victim is not dealing with a psychopath/sociopath, the relationship can be improved markedly. She also points out that there are some gaslighters that are so invested in being right that there is no hope for the relationship, and the only hope for the victim to be happy is to let go of that toxic relationship.

The Gaslight Effect is available on Amazon.com.



202 Comments on "BOOK REVIEW: The Gaslight Effect"

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  1. jeannie812 says:

    “gaslighting” he totally messed with my mind. He stole money out of the canisters after he talked me into to hiding the cash in the canisters. He screamed at me when I found the money missing. He screamed and screamed that my kids stole it. He sure used screaming to wiggle his way out…

    He used every method to mess with my mind. He would pull coats off the hooks while I was downstairs doing laundry. I would have to pick-up the coats off the steps while I was lugging full laundry baskets up the steps. I finally figured out he was doing it after the third load. Cause I peeked around the corner to see him pull the coats off the hooks. He got pissed at being caught and screamed “I’m always accusing him”.

    Why didn’t I think it was him before? Cause he kept me too busy.

    He refused to help. He laid on the couch. When I asked for help he screamed.

    He pointed the finger at me screaming that my kids need discipline, and he screamed that I should jump down their throat. Then he laid back down on the couch while he continued screaming about the flaws of my kids, and the flaws of my parenting.

    When he finally got off his duff…. it was to tear down the house.

    He tore off windows. With no plan to replace them. He tore up my back lawn with no plan to replace the grass, he ripped off cabinet doors with no plans to replace them. He cut down the awnings that I wanted (never addressed the awnings I didn’t want) . He never took care of the “touch points” that he bragged he knows how to do. The city came after me for that.

    How was I so stupid? He talked me into each project by hounding me into it. He would work on me all day and all night. I would give in just to get him off my back.

    and then when he didn’t finish the job he lead me to believe it was my fault. And, he also had the nerve to tell me to finish the job by telling me I’m “able bodied”. While he jumped back on the couch.

    He was crazy. He did more than this. He also called my dad to say I’m the crazy one and that he is trying to save me. My sister told me this. She set dad straight. She told dad that he is the problem.

    This told me that sociopaths really know how to pick their victims. They know to pick people from family’s where they don’t get support, don’t have a father to look after them.

    Well, this man with all of his opinions on my child rearing and parenting committed suicide on March 2004. He jumped off a building after he lost at gambling. He gambled the $6000.00 he stole out of his mothers bank account. The police found him with change in his pocket.

    I feel pathetic to feel that I made “someone” out of a homeless person. Though I didn’t know I was doing that. He had me fooled into thinking he was a normal employed person.

    He fooled a lot of people including my family.

  2. ThankGodImFinallyFree says:

    Hello Ox D,

    Thank you for the encouraging words, I can relate to the “back-sliding” again and again, I always had hope. But, the following words sum up how I felt after going back and forth, “The depths of despair to which I sank were beyond description. I spent hours each day weeping….Alan Redpath”

    I thank God for giving Donna the insight to create LF; I can’t express how happy I am to have a “blog family” to reach out to for encouragement support during my healing process.

    Glad to be here.

    Again, thank you!

    Peace and Blessings.

    TGIFF

  3. shabbychic says:

    @southernman, great My Space page, thank you very much for putting all that together, I have visited your page in the past… this time I am definitely placing a bookmark on this link, the part about having low self esteem and clinging to the manipulator/abuser really sums up what I was doing. You are such a decent, caring man to compile all this information. I hope you are doing well and God Bless you.

  4. flowerpower says:

    Redwald-
    I agree that some gaslighting is secondary BUT my ex intentinally wanted to hurt me; as so many do. It is about THEM and we may be in the way of what they want.

    The ultimate gaslighting in my marriage was when his “buddy”– a longtime single male friend ??? moved in. They”gave” furnishings to a woman who thought I was selling the items.

    I reported the items stolen; this happend 3 times totally $30,000. I later found the items in HER HOME and had her arrested.That day I was too upset to deal with this at police station so ex did.

    The ex denied any knowledge so it was his word (a well known business man) against her. The police didnt believe her story of being sold the items…she had not paid for them yet.

    Ex told her if she confessed , she could go home that day –so she did . She was warned to NEVER contact me. Now has a felony on her record.

    A set up by him. I discovered this after the divorce. She denies being a girlfriend and she isnt his type. He used her to do this; she is terrified of him.

    was this done—
    just to be mean and frighten me?
    insurance fraud?
    if I hadnt discovered the real thief was my body going to be found after theft number 4 ?

    Looking back, motives could get very ugly when you know the truth about “secrets”. I know now that at that time my ex was in a serious relationship and supposedly got the woman pregnat…. maybe he wanted to get rid of me…

    Oxy-I think they use projection as a way to divert or distract you from their secrets (they are very paranoid with good reason) or just shift blame and never be wrong… If you read all this, yet another reason I watch my back. He and his buddy are sicko.

    jeannie-sounds like you had a real monster to deal with; manic and suicidal.

    TGIFF-welcome and thank God we are all free.

  5. Rosa says:

    Emotional abuse erodes a person’s identity and kills the soul.

    It is done very systematically, because it starts out as seduction.
    Then the abuser starts to destabilize you, to make you doubt yourself and keep you in a constant state of confusion (gaslighting!).

    Once control is established, the emotional violence/destruction begins.

    According to the book, “Stalking the Soul”, which discusses emotional abuse by a perverse narcissist, the ultimate goal of the abuser is absolutely to destroy the victim.

    Paraphrasing from the book:

    “A perverse narcissistic abuser is filled with anger, hate, and most of all…ENVY towards the victim.”

    “The goal is to destroy the attractive qualities that the victim possesses, and leave him/her without a shred of autonomy.”

    “A narcissistic abuser grows in stature at the expense of another.
    These types of abusers must degrade others to acquire self-esteem and power.”

    “They are not concerned about relationships, and have no compassion or respect for others.”

  6. southernman429 says:

    Thank you shabbychic….the blog was helpful to me as well when I created it… I discovered so many things about behavoirs that were abusive that I did not see as abusive before my encounter with a socio, but in hindsight can see how these behavoirs undermine others.

    Rosa, well said..I agree that their goal is to destroy the attractive qualities of those they pick to be in relationship with…mine did the same to me and it can take years to heal from it and in some ways, I wonder if one can ever completley heal from the evil intent of a purposeful act of premeditated murder of anothers soul… and don’t let anyone tell you they don’t intend any of this.. it’s on PURPOSE and it’s their MO…. relationship after relationship.. it’s all the same…..it’s what they do and who they are….

    After a year of being a wonderful, loving, man to my abuser…after her discard, I could not understand the HATE in which she showed towards me….that.. above all the underhanded abuse, was the most painful thing to me….those beautiful green eyes that melted me in the beginning, eyes that were once filled with admiration for me… were filled with hate, contempt, and disgust towards me….for everything I was and everything I stood for.

    She is a textbook socio and has all the traits and I saw many of them in recounting the relationship.. but even with all the lies, crazy behavoir, toxic exchanges, For me….that look of hate and evil has been has been the most hurtful and the hardest to understand, although I do understand “why” on a intellectual basis (she’s a sociopath)….it’s the visual that never leaves my memories…A heart that shows it’s self through her eyes… Eyes filled with hate.

  7. flowerpower says:

    ROSA-I agree with the ENVY and hate that motivates the behavior. In my previous post I describe the “thefts”. When the detectives came to investigate, they asked if I had any enemies.

    When I asked why? they said somebody hates you because they took YOUR FAVORITE things (silver,pictures,rugs) and left the ones you didnt care about.

    I also had a wonderful horse, sp threatened to shoot. He was so jealous of the enjoyment the animal gave me. Interestingly, the horse died of unknown causes.

    Southerman- I have also seen the hate and contempt expressed in the sps eyes. I believe it is contempt for our compassion, seen as weakness. Mine told me in the divorce that if I would go along with him, he would not have to “squash me like a bug”.

    In Biblical times Romans 1:28-30 describes sps very accurately:

    “they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, so he abandoned them to their ways… their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed,hate, envy, murder,quarreling, deception….backstabbers, haters of God,insolent, proud and boastful”.

    As a Christian, I agree with the biblical explanation, giving God the power of abandoning them to wickedness since ignoring moral laws was their CHOICE.

    I was weak to the sp. I stayed in the relationship and continued to show love despite the treatment. Disrespect came first, then contempt for this. COMPASSION is the total opposite of RUTHLESSNESS–LIGHT VS DARK.

    Notice the word “abandoning” by God…that is NO CONTACT. Leaving them to their own choices, to suffer the consequences since they dont want to change.

    I am afraid sometimes our current stance with psychiatry is to explain this as something other than a choice.

    We ALL could choose this path. CHOICES.No excuses. There is no understanding why. It is the decision between right and wrong. Since the beginnings of time.

  8. OxDrover says:

    Dear Flower,

    I don’t understand what his point was, but it is difficult to understand their motives many times because what would be something desirable to them owuldn’t make sense to us. That woman taking a felony hit is a shame but whether or not she was also at fault I can’t tell. I’m just glad that you got your stuff back.

    When they have given themselves over to a “reprobate mind” they have passed the point I think of being “saveable” or of turning back from their ways. They do not want to turn back and so there is no saving them from themselves.

    Yes, it is a choice, but sometimes our choices can’t be UNdone. We can’t take back what we have done because the consequences preclude that like a drunk pickling his brain with booze or an addict frying their brain with drugs, there is no way to UNdo it from the choice we made earlier. A psychopath is the same way, I think, and when ever that CHOICE is made it is a DONE DEAL.

    I think you are on the right path and keeping your faith strong will help you! “All things work together for good to those that Love the Lord”—keep that in mind. It isn’t always apparent at the TIME it happens how it will work out for good, but if you keep your faith strong it eventually will! IT HAS KEPT ME GOING when things were darkest! (((hugs)))) and prayers

  9. flowerpower says:

    thanks. i guess trying to make sense of the “senseless” is a waste of time. I do feel that seeing these events in the light of truth as I now know it, is wise.

    He does have a reprobate mind.To change would be to admit too many “awful things” as he confessed to my mother. It is his choice to surround himself with those with like minds.

    Thank God my son sees it but God save his father…

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