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Two horrifying tales of gas lighting, courtesy of the internet

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If you want illustrations of the concept of “gas-lighting” and how abusive men wield the stereotype that women are “crazy” in order to control, the internet has provided two whopping, holy-shit examples for your perusal this week. One comes courtesy of Jezebel, where the blogger Ellie Shechet found a woman on Ask Metafilter whose boyfriend got married to his “ex”, lied to her about it, and tried to convince her that her fears about it were all in his head.

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So yeah, this guy totally got married:

The photos were from two weeks ago and posted by a student of his on Facebook. I was utterly shocked when I saw the photos. They look so real; he and his ex are both in gorgeous wedding attire and there’s a crowd in the background and I just don’t know what to think. There was even a framed family picture of them in one of the photos! I am actually wondering whether he just got married and I’ve been taken for a ride, which is CRAZY. I feel crazy. We’ve been long distance since last fall, and because of the distance, I’ve only been able to visit him twice in that time since we’re in different countries. I’m not the most secure person in the world, but I feel like even for a normal, no-anxiety sort of person this would be an uncomfortable surprise. I would try to check whether there actually is a school video but unfortunately I don’t speak the language of his country.

But, using women’s fears of being called a “crazy bitch”, he was actually able to bully her into thinking only some crazy bitch who needs to learn to chill and be a Cool Girl would dare think that a bunch of wedding photos of him online meant that he was married.

To be clear, when I stumbled on the photos, it was from a Facebook profile link he had sent me. He didn’t seem nervous or confused when I called to ask about it (although I must have sounded frozen, since the photos looked horribly realistic). He even laughed when he said that some of his friends congratulated him because they were fooled by the photos. (That really did not make me feel better.) He hadn’t told me about this video shoot for the school before, and he said he thought it wasn’t important enough to mention to me.

If I think about all the time we spend IMing and calling and skyping, he couldn’t possibly also be married, right? He is obsessed with his career—how could he have the time to juggle two relationships? I flip between feeling like I’m just being ridiculous and feeling convinced that I’m the affair. I don’t want to bring it up with him because if I do, I would probably just fall off a cliff of crazy and alienate him. What would you do in this situation? I feel like I’m overreacting, but how do I tame my irrational fears?

That is the power of the “crazy bitch” stereotype. The irony, as anyone who has survived gas lighting will tell you, is that the process is about using the word “crazy” to scare you out of perfectly sane opinions and bully you into accepting a version of reality that is delusional, all because it benefits your abuser. Or, in many cases, because he’s a sadist who just really loves having this much power over women and gets a rise out of seeing how much shit he can guilt-trip and bully them into taking.

Her asshole pseudo-boyfriend has also mastered the art of making her feel guilty for thinking she deserves to be treated with respect: “I just finished calling him. He was understandably reluctant to talk about the photos, but he took the time to be patient and to explain.” Oh, so patient! She’s such a bother with all her questions and concerns about his fucking wedding that he’s trying to gaslight her out of seeing.

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But with the people on Ask Metafilter supporting her, she kept pecking, as she should:

When I confronted him today, he admitted that he’s engaged. I can’t comprehend it. Obviously we can’t date anymore, and I shouldn’t talk to him anymore. But I don’t know how to start feeling like a whole person again. I’m angry and heartbroken, and I don’t know what to do when part of me is so betrayed and the other part still loves him. Crazily enough, that part of me that cares about him is even a little glad that he found someone he really loves.

He’s not engaged. He’s married. But you can see the work of a master manipulator in action here: Pretending like she’s somehow the bad guy who squeezed some kind of secret that wasn’t hers to know, while also continuing to lie to her. And I would bet a lot of money he made her feel bad about begrudging him this, when she should be mad because he’s a fucking liar and he is almost certainly lying to his wife.

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The effects of gas lighting on the victims are heartbreaking:

I ended up calling him one last time, and I know I needed it. I needed it because I’m so desperately in love with this man still, and I couldn’t see whether he was a jerk, psychopath, liar, or just someone good whom I love who acted badly. I know what he did was inexcusable, but I forgive him. We were aiming for the near impossible. I’ve tried so hard to ignore how difficult it would be for us to eventually be in the same place given both our situations. I think ultimately that was why he gave up on us: it was our impossibility, and the incredible hardship both of us would have had to suffer. And most of that hardship would have been on me. I really do believe that he wanted to spare me years of being an outsider in a society that would oppress me and even now still oppresses him. His engagement made me doubt everything—who he is, all our time together, every word and every touch. But he must have loved me so very much, this man whom I truly respect and admire, to have lied for so long and to have struggled for so long. He cried so much, not crocodile tears but ones of deep, deep sadness. I recognized them because I’ve cried so many of those tears too.

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And that’s why it works. You don’t want to believe that someone kisses you and tells you they love you because they are fucking with you. That will make you fear that you are unloveable, a fear that the gaslighter is counting on. (Many will also seed that idea, act constantly exasperated with you to suggest no one else could put up with you, or even outright tell you that no one else could love you.) Even now, she’s trying to create a face-saving narrative about how it’s just an engagement or that it just happened, when the reality is much more likely to be that he never intended to be with her and has just been toying with her while intending to marry this other woman, for the fun of it.

Example number two, via Dear Prudie:

Six weeks ago my husband of almost three years took off. I came home from work to find him standing in the kitchen with a suitcase, saying that it was nothing personal but he needed to get away for a while, and then he left. I didn’t hear from him or see him for five weeks. I was hurt but I was also frantic with worry. I thought we were very happy, and this came completely out of the blue. He didn’t go to work (they said he’d taken a leave of absence), hadn’t spoken to any of our friends about this, and his parents claimed he wasn’t in touch with them. He came back last Thursday. He refuses to answer any questions about where he was and what he was doing. He is also a little angry with me for “involving” our friends and family in “his” personal business. I am torn between thinking that he was having some kind of crisis and thinking that he’s spent the last five and half weeks with another woman. Now that he’s home, he seems to want me to forget this ever happened and pick up right where we left off. I have told him that he needs to tell me where he’s been and what he’s done, or he can leave again. He says he’s not talking about it anymore and is not going anywhere. What should I do?

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This woman doesn’t seem as far gone, thank goodness. This man is depending on the natural inclination to try to work it out instead of divorce, but hopefully she won’t succumb to that manipulation and just leave his ass immediately.

But again, you see all the tools of the gaslighter on full display. He uses our cultural prejudice that assumes men are more rational and “objective” than women in order to bully his wife into accepting some flat-out unacceptable behavior. The “crazy bitch” card often doesn’t even need to be bluntly played. Knowing that he has it in his hand is often enough for women to second guess themselves. He clearly hopes that by acting all put out and even betrayed by her perfectly reasonable expectations, he can bully her into thinking she’s the bad guy here and that she needs to hustle to gain his forgiveness for her “weird” and “crazy” behavior. The accusation of disloyalty because she tried to find him is a nice touch, asshole.

I’m not 100% that he was with another woman. Just 99%. God only knows what he’s telling that woman. Probably that he’s single.

Most gas lighting is more subtle than these examples, of course. It’s about making you feel “crazy” if you ask for basic respect or making you feel “slutty” if you want more orgasm equality in bed or making you feel like a “nag” if you want to share chores equally. Sometimes, a lot of otherwise well-meaning people might do this on occasion in a moment of weakness and pettiness, but they apologize for it, acknowledge that it was manipulative, and don’t make a habit of it. But people who do it all the time, refuse to admit that’s what they’re doing, and treat your feelings like they are nothing but a pain in the ass? These are extreme examples, but a good learning tool to see what the pattern looks like.

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