If you've been experiencing strange memory lapses or doubting your own memory of events because someone else is telling you that what you thought happened didn't happen, you need to read up on gaslighting. This is a form of abuse that is subtle and sneaky, gradually convincing you that you yourself may be insane or an abuser. This form of abuse is especially difficult to deal with, but once you recognize it's happening, you can stop it.
The name "gaslighting" comes from the title of a play and its movie adaptations. "Gaslight" describes a husband who gradually wears away at his wife's sense of self. He hides her belongings and then tells her she keeps losing things when she asks where they are. The gas-powered lights in the home dim at specific points, but when the wife tells the husband about them, he tells her she's imagining things even though he knows the lights had dimmed.
In the story, there's a financial goal at stake that combines with the husband's sociopathic tendencies. But in real life, an abuser doesn't need the promise of money to wear you down. In real life, gaslighting is often done to control and manipulate a victim so that they stay put and continue to feed the abuser's need for power.
Examples and Symptoms
Gaslighting can be as simple as an abuser saying he or she had never abused you or that an event never happened. Sometimes the gaslighting can involve a whole family, which can be especially dangerous because the people who should be on your side really aren't. Episodes of gaslighting can make you feel unsteady, as if your own memories are always false and that you have to doubt everything you see. It can make you highly anxious and worried, and it can send you spiraling into depression.
This is a very difficult form of abuse. There are no scars; it's entirely psychological (there can be physical abuse in the relationship, too, but the actual act of gaslighting is psychological). As the abuse goes on, you can become so doubtful of your own mind that you no longer have any idea of what to do or how to convince people it's happening.
Many times a victim is clued into gaslighting because they hear the term at random, or a friend recognizes what's going on and tells them. If you think gaslighting is at play, you need to get away from the abuser. Remember that you do not have to justify to anyone why you are breaking up with someone (and no-fault divorce is legal in all states). However, you also have to be aware that the abuser can work his or her charm on your family, so you need to be aware that you might have to set up protections against your own family for a while, until the abuser moves on and gets another victim.
The situation becomes complicated if there's a marriage or children involved, or if your finances are completely tied up with the abuser's finances. If this is the case, contact a domestic violence attorney, like Jeffrey D. Larson, Attorney at Law, immediately. It's a good idea to work with a domestic violence attorney anyway. Find a way to make calls without the abuser knowing -- get a prepaid phone that you can hide, and start identifying people who are not under the abuser's spell who could possibly help you. You've got to get out as soon as you can, and with the help of a good attorney, you can untangle your situation and get your life back.