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.