Has your partner ever called you “hyper-sensitive?” Have your friends, co-workers, supervisors, or even family members ever told you to “stop being so dramatic”, that you’re “overreacting” and need to “stop being so crazy?” Just when we thought Freud’s theories of hysteria were gone forever, we are presented with a ubiquitous sense of “crazy-making” in women in the 21st century. If your boyfriend makes a joke or comment that you feel is misogynistic or sexist, and you make that known, then you “don’t have a sense of humor.” If a friend or family member shows up an hour late to meet with you without calling, and you express that you are upset, then you are overreacting. If you hear these things being said to you, it’s not because you are crazy or don’t have a sense of humor, it is emotional manipulation for asserting your thoughts and feelings on another’s poor behavior. This emotional manipulation is called “Gaslighting.” You may also hear this referred to as “Insidious abuse”, “Covert abuse”, or “Ambient abuse.”
Gaslighting is a subtle manipulation of the abuser’s (or gaslighter’s) maltreatment in the form redirecting the maltreatment back onto the victim. This means that if you have expressed anger or frustration about something the abuser has done or said, the abuser will redirect that frustration and write you off as a crazy and irrational. This kind of abuse reaffirms Freud’s concept of hysteria, and perpetuates the image of women being irrational, hyper-sensitive, dramatic, and crazy. Furthermore, the victim of gaslighting believes these things to be true about themselves. The victim begins to second guess their actions, and try to mold their behavior in such a way that is deemed acceptable by the abuser. For example, the abuser wants the victim to “play it cool” and “not be so clingy” so the victim withholds a reaction when the abuser decides to ignore the victim on their birthday. Another example would be a constant demand for sex in a romantic relationship, so that the victim in consistently respondent to the abuser’s needs, lest she be a “prude.” It’s time to draw the line between crude behavior and emotional manipulation. It’s time to break down the conditioning that fuels those backhanded gaslighting comments, and teach how to identify and respect the feelings and opinions of all the women in our lives.