He was 6-foot-4 with thick, dark hair and a winning smile; he seemed like the kind of man that her parents would have loved her to marry. In the beginning of their relationship, he complimented her daily on her beauty and sweet demeanor and always held doors open so she could pass first. When she struggled with schoolwork, he gently motivated her to try harder; to the outside world, he appeared to be a positive force in her life.
“One night at a friend’s house-party, he quietly said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to get a house like this together?’ I was stoked because we were falling so hard for each other. The next day I teased him and brought it up. He got angry and denied ever saying it.”
Occurrences like this began happening more frequently. Her boyfriend would make comments and later deny having said them. He began calling her ‘crazy’ and she began to question her own sanity. After a few months of this behavior, she heard the term “gaslighting” and realized that’s what her boyfriend was doing to her.
According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the results of domestic violence cost employers up to $13 billion each year because 1 in ten women and 1 in twenty-five men miss work or school as a result of enduring domestic abuse. Domestic abuse can encompass any unwanted physical contact or emotional abuse, which may be more difficult to spot since there are no obvious flesh wounds. When children are exposed to abuse, some are more likely to abuse drugs, dabble in teenage prostitution, run away from home, or attempt suicide.
“In vulnerability we’ve found community. I think that is the power of shared experience; it not only gives a voice to the survivors, but it provides strength in numbers as well. I’m not alone, and the thousands of women sharing their stories are not alone,” said Beverly Gooden.
Gaslighting happens very gradually in a relationship and is difficult to spot at first. Victims feel confused or crazy, second-guess their own thoughts, constantly make excuses for the partner’s behavior, and often feel as though they can never do anything right. The victim begins to feel isolated and depressed until relying on the abuser becomes a normal part of reality. Gaslighting is an “extremely effective form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity,” states the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Once the victim no longer trusts their own memory, it is easier for the abuser to take a firm grip on their life.
Communication and boundaries are the building blocks of a healthy relationship. In a healthy relationship, each person should be able to feel comfortable and safe when explaining what he or she are and are not comfortable with. Whether it comes to personal space, sexual consent, time with family and friends, personal time alone, or finances, a healthy relationship will have boundaries and one partner will not try to control the other. The National Domestic Violence Hotline says “it’s not consent if you’re afraid to say no.”
Several resources include the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline (800) 799-7233, U.S. National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline: Love is Respect (866) 331-9474, and Women’s Law which has legal information for victims of domestic violence. It is crucial for victims to understand that the abuse is not their fault.