Is This Gaslighting?

Question: My ex-boyfriend used to constantly accuse me of cheating on him even though he was the one who was being unfaithful. He even called me a whore and told all his friends that I was one. Even though I never cheated, he demanded that I “come clean” and said he couldn’t be with someone who lied. I used to feel like I was crazy because I knew I wasn’t lying yet he insisted I was. Now that we’ve broken up, things are better for me but I can’t get rid of the bad feelings. Is his behavior gaslighting?

Answer: The term gaslighting comes from a 1938 stage play called Gas Light in which a husband attempts to convince his wife that she’s insane by manipulating small elements of their environment (like the lights) but insisting that she’s mistaken when she points out these changes. Thus, gaslighting has come to mean a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memoryperception and sanity. Based on the information you provided, it does sound like your ex-boyfriend was using a form of it.

There can be lots of reasons for why your ex-boyfriend wanted you to doubt yourself and one of them could include wanting you to focus on yourself instead of monitoring his behavior. As such, he could continue his infidelity without having to pay the price with you. Or it could be that he knew he was cheating, so he simply assumed the same was true for you. Many people believe that others are just like them and thus they cannot conceive of different behaviors and thoughts. If that was the case, then he thought you were doing exactly what he was doing (cheating) but he just couldn’t catch you at it.

However, regardless of your ex-boyfriend’s reasons for making you doubt yourself, the real question here is why you allowed it. As Eleanor Roosevelt pointed out, “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission.” There are several things he did that are absolutely unacceptable, including calling you names both to your face or behind your back and harassing you about lying when you were being honest. Romantic partners should be kind to each other (name calling is definitely not allowed) and trust is an important part of any relationship. If the other person cannot trust, then a reconsideration of the relationship is in order. Our significant others should be people who support and promote us versus making us doubt ourselves. Thus, I hope that you take the lessons you learned in this relationship and ensure that your next romantic partner is someone who is worthy of your affection.

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