The late comedian Richard Pryor had a joke that went… His wife walks in on him having sex with another woman. Pryor tells his freaked out wife, hey, she didn’t see anything! “Who are you going to believe, me — or your lying eyes?”
That pretty much sums up gaslighting — the problem isn’t the bad behavior, the problem is YOU. Your lying eyes.
Gaslighting is more pernicious than just lying. It’s about denying your reality. The term is taken from a play “Gas light” (made famous in a 1944 film version with Ingrid Bergman) where the villain uses a variety of tricks to convince his wife that she is crazy, so that she won’t be believed when she reports strange things that are actually occurring, including the dimming of the gas lamps in the house.
It’s an effective tool of manipulation, especially when used against nice people (otherwise known as codependents), who are all to eager to believe that the problem might be them. Because there is control in that. If the problem is you, well then you can just try harder to fix it. This is great for the cheater, who then engages in a campaign to keep the focus on you, and how you’re falling short of the mark — and off the dimming gas lamps and their secret life.
Cheaters will tell you to doubt your senses, your cell phone bill, and their unexcused absences. They may insinuate that you have a mental illness. That you’re overly sensitive. That you should see someone for that depression. They may even accuse you of cheating. Pretty much anything to throw you off the trail is fair game. The goal is to put the blame on you and make you doubt your own perceptions.
When affairs are exposed, betrayed people actually feel relief — I’m NOT crazy.
If you’ve been gaslighted, don’t feel bad for having doubted yourself. It’s totally normal to see the world through your own moral lens. Because you wouldn’t cheat, it’s very hard to imagine that your spouse is doing that. You aren’t the stupid one for being duped. Your cheater is an amoral POS for playing on your trust and your willingness to give the people closest to you the benefit of the doubt.