Hello, and welcome to the Black Marriage and Family Therapy Matters Podcast.
All right, today black people, we’ve got something very important and something very useful and very common to discuss, okay.
And what we’re going to discuss is a form of behavior or a form of communication type that is often witnessed in relationships regarding communication. I think it’s very important to talk about this, because a lot of the abuse that comes in my office, at least that people are aware of, from the very beginning, is often maybe physical, or sometimes even emotional as it relates to like name calling, things like that, like, I think we as a society are much quicker to identify physical abuse, or some people don’t even consider name calling a form of abuse, but it is, but not some of the more deeper emotional, psychological forms of abuse. Okay, so that’s the purpose of this podcast, because we want to educate and let you all know what is out there, because these are behaviors that you could very well either be doing directly or experiencing indirectly.
And you may not even realize that is abusive.
So this specific behavior that I’m talking about today is called gaslighting. And basically, according to the dictionary definition online, “it is the concept of manipulating someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.”
So I’m trying to think of a specific example. This is something I see a lot when I’m thinking about somebody personally, who does this, but I’m sure you can relate to this as well. A person I know in my life, if you maybe say I don’t like when you said something, if it’s uncomfortable for them, which it probably is because it puts them in the line of defense, they will respond with “Well, I didn’t say that.”
And what happens when you do that is not only do you not address what the person is bringing to your attention, but you also don’t take ownership for violating somebody else’s rights or offending somebody else.
And the problem doesn’t get fixed, and you continue to do it over and over and over again, that’s not really good communication. And so a lot of the times we do that, because we don’t want to change, not that we want to hurt the other person. Sometimes it is hurt the other person, but sometimes it’s just simply an oversight. And then sometimes we just genuinely, we don’t know how to look within ourselves and say, well, gee, maybe I did say something offensive, or we might feel if the relationship is consistently unhealthy. “Well, you did this to me…” which is another form of gaslighting. And we’ll break down kind of the different ways that that looks, but it’s really not good.
Okay, we do this sometimes with our significant others. Notice, I’m saying we okay, because I didn’t realize I was doing this too. I mean, like it unintentionally, but nonetheless, because either there’s something that I didn’t want to deal with, or didn’t really think was accurate. But it definitely wasn’t my intention. But it’s one thing when you know, you’re the one doing it, but when it’s done to you, it’s really, really uncomfortable. And what we know about human behavior is if you want something done to you correctly, so if you want people to take your concerns seriously, and want people to take care about what you have going on, you have to demonstrate that first by your actions.
Okay, so we do this with our significant others, we do this with our relationships with our friends, okay, family members, extended family members, we do this a lot with children. And now I really have to be honest with that sometimes we just see these little people as if they don’t have any rights or any authority. But really what we’re doing is teaching our children that they don’t matter, that their voice is insignificant that it doesn’t mean much.
And I remember, gosh, let me just go ahead and give you an example. Okay, my daughter is four years old at the time of this recording, she always taking something that we know give her too much credit, because it is my fault. Let me just take ownership, you know, if I’m doing something, let’s say I’m washing my face with a nice moisturizer or something, you know, if I’m showering with her, I do that sometimes. I’ll you know, she wants to use what mommy uses. So I’ll let her use it. And then next thing, you know, I won’t see it anymore, or my nail polish or my makeup, you know, little things like that. She’s a real pricy diva, as she does that very often. Well, one of the things she did was she came in my office where I am recording right now andsince this incident happened, she’s not allowed to come I’m in here anymore without my knowledge, but she, all of a sudden, my headphones were missing.
Now, of course, two plus two equals four. So it was natural for me to go to her as the person responsible for these missing headphones. And to make matters worse, I found in her play area, some headphones that were not only very similar to the ones that I had, but were missing. You know, I’m not the best with technology, even though I have my little podcast. But it was missing like the earbud pieces. So I missing headphones, I find these headphones in her office, and it’s missing what I think are the headphone pieces to my headphone. Needless to say, I asked her did she do it, and she insisted that she did not do it. Okay. And I did what I do, which is went over every single thing that she legitimately has taken before. But she kept telling me that she didn’t take these. And of course, I’m not really listening to her, because she has taken so many things previously. So what happens later on that day, while I’m sitting down, probably doing some work or visiting a client, I look to the side of me and right on the floor, kind of under the desk barely peeking out, I find my headphones. Now I don’t have any explanation as to whose headphones were in her room, probably my husband’s but he apparently wasn’t missing him. I didn’t think anything about it. But my headphones that I had accused, this four year old are taken were in my office, they probably did get on the floor because of her. But the point is, let’s go back to gaslighting. She insisted that she didn’t do it, she promised me She didn’t do it, I actually had punished her for doing it. Gosh, I feel bad as I’m having to recount this for you. But at the end of the day, it was a form of abuse or definitely my ability to be in power and control and exercise that over her. Now the good thing about this because I have this type of education and this type of knowledge. I did take the initiative to go back I apologized, I let her know that it was my I made a mistake. And you know that was hard to do. Because I ran the risk of undermining like she does legitimately take things off that I’m not trusting my kids is still or she just is spoiled and doesn’t have a lot of understanding of money and the value of things. And so you know, she’ll take something that’s, you know, $50 worth of a product and put it in the toilet or something like that, just just because she’s not really, she’s never actually done that. So maybe I shouldn’t make it sound like she’s the most horrible kid, well, she doesn’t value money, she doesn’t have a property she doesn’t she’s never had to work. And that’s a goal that we are working on teaching her in my home. But nonetheless, she didn’t take it in this instance.
So that’s just an example of something that recently happened in my household regarding this concept. Now let’s kind of just break it down in general talk about what it looks like in other situations. So I’m taking this information from the National Domestic Violence Hotline. So you can also you know, look there for more information. But gaslighting a form of gaslighting can be withholding. In this aspect, the abusive partner pretends not to understand or refuses to listen, for example, “I don’t want to hear this again,” or “you’re trying to confuse me.” Now, basically, this looks like let’s say someone needs something, maybe needs you to show them a little bit more respect, right? You’re having a conversation, you tell your partner, hey, this is just, I don’t like when you when I feel this way when I’m with you. They just refuse to give it to you like they refuse to acknowledge that you might legitimately have be making a good point. So that’s withholding.
Next we’re going to talk about countering This is where the abusive partner questions the victim’s memory of events, even when the victim remembers them accurately, such as “you’re wrong.” “You never remember things correctly.” That’s very similar to what I just spoke to you about regarding not listening to a person when they bring something to your attention, almost like you’re trying to convince that other person that they’re lying or they don’t know what they’re talking about, just because what they’re talking about is not comfortable for you.
Next we have blocking or diverting. In this case the abusive partner changes the subject and/or questions the victims thoughts, for example, “is that another crazy idea you got from ex wives or a friend or a family member?” or “you’re imagining things.” Now this is very
important because all of this important but this is a great example because like attracts like. So for a person who has an abusive history. For instance, that person will be drawn to a) either another person who is abusive, or will b) drawn to another abuser. And that usually is the latter, you’re drawn more to a person who will abuse you. Because it’s kind of like that self fulfilling philosophy, where you truly think that that’s all you’re worth. And that’s, that’s how you like attracts like, that’s what you’re familiar with. That’s what you know. So you typically will go from one partner to the next, really, unless you get some of this stuff, treated. So take a moment when we’re done with this, go back and look at that directory, if this is you, and see if you see somebody up there who might can help you work through some of these issues. But back to what we’re talking about blocking and diverting. So what happens is, if you have a trauma history, let’s say you’ve been sexually abused, okay? And you mentioned something, I don’t know, telling your partner, I don’t want to be touched there, rather than your partner acknowledging, hey, she really, or he legitimately doesn’t want to be touched there, they’re going to focus on the fact that you have this sexual, you know, this abuse history. So in other words, they’re violating your rights to speak up and be present and aware of what your needs are now, because it’s just so much easier to block and divert it to something that has happened in the past. This is also observed in situations where people try to isolate. So let’s say you’re in this relationship, mom don’t really like to dude too much. And mom has said, you know, “hey, you might want to just get those name out. Tyrone’s kind of taking up a lot of your time. I don’t see you around here anymore.” Well, if you say hey to your partner, Tyrone, whatever, “hey, I’d like to go sit in my mom’s house,” they might say, “Man has she been in your head again, you know about me or whatever?” The issue is, you really legitimately want to see your mom, but your mom has also said this about your partner, your partner is only going to take in the part that benefits him, which is you’re listening to your mom as opposed to No, you genuinely want to go visit your mother. Okay, I hope these things make sense.
Another example of gaslighting is trivializing. Okay. In this instance, the abusive partner makes the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant. Okay, “you’re going to get angry over things like that?” “Or you’re too sensitive?” I mean, what does that mean? You know, if I say, I don’t like something, I’m not being too sensitive, I have the right to my feelings. You don’t know my feelings? It’s my responsibility to tell you. And if I tell you, if you care about me, you have the responsibility to honor that. Okay, so that is trivializing when you are minimizing or not acknowledging another person’s feelings. Again, let’s think about a lot of this is good for our significant others and spouses. But think about our children. My daughter, as I’ve mentioned already, she’s four, and she’s a smart cookie. She’s bilingual, she communicates actually very, very well. But she’s four. And sometimes she can’t find the words to say what she’s feeling. And it’s easy for her to cry, and crying to her can mean, “Mommy, I have a tummy ache.” I don’t feel like going to school today. But if I don’t take the time to really try to figure out where she’s coming from, which again, I’ll admit, I have been guilty of, it’s easy for me to just say “stop crying.” Okay, so a lot of communication in eliminating this type of behaviors is really being age appropriate. And taking all of that stuff into consideration as well.
Finally, the last example I want to give you is forgetting or denial, I touched on this already, but just for clarification purposes, it’s when the abusive partner pretends to have forgotten what actually occurred, or denies the things like promises made to the victim. Such as, “hey, I said I was going to take you out tonight.” You know, that was a conversation that occurred earlier. But your responses,” I didn’t say that”, or Oh,” I made plans with somebody else.” When in reality, a lot of times just based off of what we just said, those things happen. Typically people do that they like never really intended on doing the things anyway, they just kind of shut you up for the moment. And then satisfies that moment until it’s time to put up or shut up. And then it’s Oh, I didn’t say that. Oh, I forgot I said that. That wasn’t really part of what was going on. All right. So these things don’t typically happen.
Gaslighting is not something that you start off with at the beginning. I mean, think about it. If you meet somebody early in the relationship, the first thing they start doing start withholding affection, or start counter offering things back at you. As soon as you mentioned something or divert or minimize your feelings. You’ll never fall in love with them. Like you’ll never get a family relationship with them. These are Things that happen gradually over time. And in fact, it may also be very confusing because it might seem harmless at the beginning.
For instance, people can legitimately forget that they said they were going out tonight, you know, but when this is a pattern of behavior when it happens 10 times in a month, you know, are you really just forgetting this? Or do you really have no intention whatsoever in honoring the promise you made to me? Or person might think you’re being a little too sensitive for this one incident isolated incident? But do Is there a pattern of this person not taking you very seriously? All right, so I’m just going to conclude with a few signs of gaslighting again, all of this is coming from the National Domestic Violence Hotline, I wanted to make sure that this was as clear as possible to you because it happens so much. So I want it to user organization that I trusted and respected as a tool to help us get through this. So all right, you constantly second guess yourself.
All right, I have a thing that I tell my clients all the time: a crazy person can make a sane person crazy.
So in other words, if someone is constantly telling you, “oh, you’re making that up,” or “I didn’t say that”, it can start to make you feel like “huh, I’m making that up”. Or maybe he didn’t say that. Okay, so if you’re doing that a lot, there’s a good chance that there’s gaslighting going on in your relationships.
Okay, so you, you ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” multiple times a day, okay? You’ve been getting questioning yourself like, well,
“Hmm, maybe something is wrong with me?”
You often feel confused and even crazy.
You’re always apologizing to your partner. This is a big one, because it almost makes it seem like you’re the one who is at fault because you internalize these messages from your partner, but you feel like you’re responsible for your partner’s bad behavior.
You can’t understand why with so many apparently good things in your life, you’re not happier.
You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family. Because guess what chances are even though you might be missing this, your friends and family are not. So it was putting you on the defense now because in order for you to balance the two, you’re having to defend some pretty yucky behaviors.
Okay, you find yourself withholding information from friends and family. And you just so you don’t have to make excuses or explain yourself to them.
Okay, you know, something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is even to yourself. Again, likely because you’re starting to think you’re crazy. You’re starting to guess yourself. You start lying to avoid the put downs and the reality twist. Okay, you have trouble making simple decisions. Because again, you are beginning to doubt your own credibility.
You have the sense that you used to be a very different person more confident, more fun, loving, more relaxed, but you don’t know what’s going on right now. You feel hopeless and joyless. You feel as though you can’t do any thing, right?
You wonder if you are good enough partner, or mother or child, gosh, this happens with adults all the times in. A lot of times, this is a pattern of behavior. So unless our parents have done the work, which a lot of this is generational, and they just don’t, they could very well be doing these things to us and it impacts how we feel about ourselves. So that’s a quick summary, on gaslighting. I hope you found this helpful. If you have any questions or concerns about this, if you’re seeing this show up in your family, or in your relationships is something that you want to work on because it’s not healthy, and it’s not good. So if you need help with some of our therapists, please feel free to look at our website at www.blackmftmatters.com. Alright, that’s all for now. Thank you for your time and I hope this was helpful.
Peace and blessings.
~ Dr. O