Updated: Feb 11
Most of us don’t enter relationships thinking about gaslighting or about emotional abuse strategies. Instead, we often enter relationships with commitment, trust and hope for what a new relationship can bring.
The term Gaslighting comes from a 1944 movie called Gaslight. The movie is about a woman whose husband slowly manipulates her into believing that she is going insane. Gaslighting is different than blame. Blame happens when someone points a finger and assigns fault for something they've done wrong. Gaslighting happens when someone strategically twists the truth to make the other person believe he/she is crazy e.g. "If you weren't so overweight, I wouldn't be dealing with this"
The gaslighter protect what he/she choosing to do without our knowledge or consent.
A definition for gaslighting is: manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity.
“to gaslight” refers to the act of undermining another person’s reality by
denying the environment around them,
denying their feelings.
And the partner who is gaslighted become the target and is manipulated into turning
against their cognition,
their emotions, and
who they fundamentally are as people.
How do you recognize that gaslighting is happening?
Take a look at the list below. If any part of the list resonates with you, you may be involved in a gaslighting relationship and need to look further.
You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” many times per day.
You often feel confused and even crazy in the relationship.
You’re always apologizing.
You can’t understand why you aren’t happier.
You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior.
You know something is wrong but you just don’t know what.
You start lying to avoid put-downs and reality twists.
You have trouble making simple decisions.
You wonder if you are good enough.
Common phrases frequently used by the person who is gaslighting you:
You’re so sensitive!
You never told me
You know that’s just because you are so insecure.
Stop acting crazy. Or: You sound crazy, you know that, don’t you?
You are just paranoid.
You just love trying to throw me off track.
I was just joking!
You are making that up.
It’s no big deal.
You’re imagining things.
I never said that.
You are always so dramatic.
Don’t get so worked up.
That never happened.
You know you don’t remember things clearly.
There’s no pattern. Or: You are seeing a pattern that is not there.
There you go again, you are so ungrateful.
Nobody believes you, why should I?
Partners of sex addicts are no exception: They frequently find a partner who is charming, loving, and maybe even doting… at first… Yet, all too often what starts with life and love in a relationship where sex addiction is present evolves over time into a relationship wracked with hopelessness and despair.
How does a relationship get there? How does a partner end up feeling like the source of all the problems in a relationship to the point where she/he is walking on eggshells perpetually around their partner or is too afraid to speak up for her/his own wants and needs? How does the addict start out as the perpetrator and end up so quickly playing the role of victim?
One pattern we often see in these types of relationship is DARVO. Jennifer Freyd (1997) first began using this term to address power dynamics in relationships where betrayal trauma is present. DARVO is an acronym for Deny, Attack, Reverse, Victim and Offender and is used to describe a pattern of emotional abuse sometimes present in relationships.
Let us give a close look at DARVO - Understanding a gaslighting strategy of reversing blame
When sex addiction is present, the addict wants to keep his/her secret at all costs. He/she may not even know they’re using this strategy, but it’s a way to keep his/her partner in the dark about the REAL reality of the behavior the addict is truly engaged in. Before we look further into this concept, let’s briefly explain what gaslighting is.
Gaslighting s a strategy where a person attacks the intuition or truth of another, making that person feel crazy.
Gaslighting as a strategy is sometimes conscious sometimes unconscious, where the offending party takes the focus from him or herself and places the focus on the other. DARVO is one way that the offending party gaslights their partner.
The pattern evolves as follows:
D in DARVO stands for DENY
Typically, this relationship dynamic starts with the partner finding something, intuiting something, or suspecting something. The partner shares her/his suspicions with the addict. Again, these suspicions could be direct evidence (e.g., pictures, text messages, online profiles etc.) or intuitions (e.g., feeling like something is “off,” confused by the addict’s irritability or erratic behavior, stories not lining up, etc.). But either way, the partner brings this up with the addict, only to be met with a denial, such as “You’re imagining things,” “What are you talking about?” or the addict could then move into the next phase of this dynamic by stating something like, “I can’t believe you’d even think that!” or “What were you doing snooping around in my phone for?”
A in DARVO stands for ATTACK and denying leads to Attack.
After the denial, the addict will make an attack. This could be subtle, “I’m not sure what you’re talking about – I love you so much I couldn’t even imagine doing __________,” or not so subtle, “What’s wrong with you? You’ve got some serious trust issues. Take a look at YOURSELF for once.” Either way, the blame gets shifted back to the partner.
R in DARVO stands for REVERSE
Attack moves into reverse
We can see that the addict is now starting to shift attention from him/herself to the partner. What may have come as a simple question from the partner may get turned into an onslaught form the addict. The original question or suspicion becomes clouded now, as the addict moves into the victim role.
V in DARVO stands for VICTIM.
When the addict shifts focus from him/herself to the partner he/she now becomes the victim in this dynamic.
He/she may express this posture in a number of ways. He/she may come across as hurt and wounded, enlisting the partner as a supportive rescuer; withdraw/retreat from the partner out of offense from the question/suspicion/accusation; or become angry/hostile/aggressive in their attack against their partner. Regardless of how the addict expresses the victim role, the partner shifts from being the confused, hurt, angry party to the supporter or perpetrator in the dynamic.
O in DARVO stands for OFFENDER.
By this point, the partner has become the OFFENDER
The partner now is the “bad guy” and has to justify her/himself and their behaviors, apologize for what they said, thought, or did, console the addict because of the insult, or brace for an attack.
As you can see, this dynamic is devastating in relationships. It’s a gaslighting strategy that shifts focus from the addict’s behaviors to those of the partner. It may start off very subtle in relationships, but it can ultimately escalate into a destructive power dynamic in relationships struggling with the impact of sex addiction.
Gaslighting is often not a conscious strategy on the addict’s part. They are concerned with preserving their relationship with their addiction(s) at all costs, and therefore are threatened by their partners coming near the truth. That said, whether this dynamic is intentional or reactive, the impact on the partner and on the relationship is extremely deleterious.
If you’re a partner who is recognizing this pattern in your own relationship, just know that truth is the first step towards healing. Make sure you find safe, supportive professionals around you who can help you understand betrayal trauma and the impact of emotional/psychological abuse on you and on your relationship.
If you’re reading this and you recognize that you’ve been doing this DARVO strategy in your relationship, make sure you get some professional help to address this.
We’ve found that for effective healing of yourself and your relationship you will need to address these patterns, as they are all part of the intimacy problem that leads to and is expressed by sex addiction. There is hope, but you will need to work to take responsibility for your behaviors, and to build openness, honesty, and empathy with your partner. We recognize that learning about ways that we perpetrate pain and abuse on our partners can bring up pain and shame. We do think healing is possible if you’re willing to change, so we support your courageous attempt at recognizing these strategies in yourself and beginning to change them with the help of a safe, supportive guide. Recognition of the problem is the first step towards healing, so we commend you for taking that brave first step.
We understand that it can be really painful to read something like this, but our goal is to provide truth so that you can heal – yourself, your partner, and your relationship(s). If there’s any way I can support you on your journey, please let us know by reaching out to help you to heal from the effect Gaslighting had on you in our primary relationship(s).