Some relationships end like a gradual descent into madness. At least, that’s how the end came to Brooke*. From the start, her relationship with Jon was one of the most amazing, intense relationships she’s ever had. They felt like equals, saw eye to eye, fell head over heels in love—the physical attraction was “delicious.” Then, five months into the relationship, she told him that if he ever wanted to move in together, she’d be “totally down.”
So began an excruciating end.
Over the next few months, with no explanation (and no moving in together), he stopped saying “I love you,” retreated into a shell and shut her out. “It was like a slow-motion heartbreak,” she recalls. “I didn’t understand what was going on.”
One afternoon, crying on his couch, she begged him to explain, to give some indication of why his feelings changed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” was all he had to say. She wondered if she was going crazy, but she knows she didn’t imagine what he did next: “He put his hand over my heart, my upper chest, and just very slowly pushed me out of the apartment. He kept one hand on my chest as he opened the door and literally pushed me out.” As he closed the door, she collapsed. “I couldn’t breathe. I remember just covering my eyes and walking out to the street and wanting to evaporate, wanting to absolutely disappear.”
Most of us, like Brooke, have had our true feelings dismissed by someone we cared about. Perhaps your experience was less dramatic—your partner often said you were overreacting, or insisted you had a roving eye—but no matter the severity, your partner may have been gaslighting you.
If so, learning to spot this kind of crafty manipulation will change your life.
The Gaslighting Effect
Ingrid Bergman made Brooke’s experience famous, long before Brooke was even born. In the 1944 thriller, Gaslight, Bergman plays a woman whose husband is trying to convince her she’s crazy. He makes objects disappear and claims she took them or makes the gaslights dim and brighten for no reason. All the while, he convinces her that what she believes is true (that she didn’t take the objects and the lights are dimming) is a figment of her imagination.
Since then, “gaslighting” has become part of the vernacular, describing a method of psychological manipulation where the victim comes to doubt the reality of his or her own experience, much like Brooke came to doubt that her perception of Jon’s distance was real or her feelings of loss were valid.