You’re in the bar with the guys, bemoaning the end of your relationship. Maybe you say something along the lines of, “My ex goes nuts over stupid things. She’s just crazy!” The guys laugh, hand you a drink and say you’re better off out of it. Not one of you knows the marriage tanked because you were gas lighting your partner!
Nobody Wants To Deal With Crazy
Christmas Eve 2014. My boyfriend came into the room as I was getting ready for bed. “I have something to show you.”
“Okay!” I said excitedly. “Is this an early Christmas present?”
“No. This is serious.” He said solemnly. “I need to show you this email now so that you don’t find it in a week or a year and think I was hiding it from you.”
The email turned out to be from an ex-girlfriend who was reaching out to wish him a Merry Christmas and find out how he was doing.
Although I’m thrilled that my boyfriend was so open and honest with me, I’m slightly distressed by the implication of his decision to tell me right away.
Was he panicked that if I found the email I would overreact, that I’d go crazy? And what exactly constitutes an overreaction? What is crazy?
Crazy Is In the Eye of the Beholder
I would venture a guess that almost all of you agree that my boyfriend would assume I’d go crazy if I found the email. I would also predict that you’ve come to the same conclusion for very different reasons.
The male readers are probably thinking, Yea, of course, he thinks that you’d go crazy. Women are paranoid and always overreact.
The ladies are probably thinking, Yea, of course, he thinks that you’d go crazy. Doesn’t every man consider a simple question an interrogation, then tell you to stop overreacting?
Sound familiar to you? Sounds like gas lighting to me.
Gas Lighting – Is It All In Her Head?
Taking its name from the1938 play Gas Light, this phenomenon refers to making someone doubt him or herself. In the play, a woman becomes aware that her husband is trying to steal from her when the gas lights dim as he searches the attic for her jewels. When she brings it up, the woman’s husband convinces her it’s all in her imagination.
Were the same situation to happen today, the husband might tell his wife that she is being paranoid or overreacting. He might even accuse her of being crazy. The problems start when she begins to believe it!
Take a Look Back At Your Marriage
There are many articles out there about the consequences of society’s casual use of “crazy” in reference to women. If you’re like me, you’ve probably read a few, agreed with the content and then carried on without considering your part in it all.
So let’s do that now.
Harris O’Malley has written extensively about calling women crazy. As you read this excerpt from his piece in The Washington Post, take a minute or two to consider if any of this happened in your marriage. While discussing how and why we call women crazy, oversensitive or irrational, O’Malley writes:
“It’s the all-purpose argument ender. Your girlfriend is upset that you didn’t call when you were going to be late? She’s being irrational. She wants you to spend time with her instead of out with the guys again? She’s being clingy. Your wife doesn’t like the long hours you’re spending with your attractive co-worker? She’s being oversensitive.”
Sure, Blame the Men!
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not accusing all men of ruining marriages by calling their wives crazy, irrational, paranoid or oversensitive. Not at all.
I do, however, believe that by using those terms, men are excusing themselves from the situation. As O’Malley argues, crazy means “She was upset, and I didn’t want her to be.”
What You Say Is Not What She Hears
When I argued that my boyfriend seemed to be more concerned with his ex-wife’s comfort than my own, he told me not to be ridiculous. I’m pretty sure to him that meant: I would never do that. How could you possibly think that I would? I don’t want to argue about this because it’s not true.
To me it meant: You are being insane. Only a crazy person could see the situation in that way. Your reaction is completely invalid and irrational.
Inevitably, when I argue that my reaction is completely valid and I am not being irrational, he responds by arguing that I am being ridiculous because I’m getting all wound up about it when there’s nothing going on.
He claims we are arguing over nothing.
Nothing? My feelings mean nothing? Well, there may not have been anything to argue over before but there sure as hell is now!
A throwaway comment that accuses your partner of being irrational, crazy or too sensitive can quickly escalate into a full blown argument.
C’mon, Admit It!
You might think that your marriage is tanking because you argue over stupid stuff all the time, but if you trace that argument back to its roots, were you at all to blame?
Have you been clueless as to the effect your vocabulary was having on your relationship?
Is it possible you were the one making her crazy?
You Didn’t Mean to Do It
All is not lost!
You may have been gas lighting during your previous relationships, but it was most likely unintentional.
It’s important to note that it is not just men who gas light women. Women do exactly the same to men, it’s just that as a society we tend to use the terms crazy, oversensitive and irrational to describe women more often than to describe men.
Women who are gas lighting men might use different language but the end result is the same.
According to the Berkley Science Review, the warning signs of gaslighting include: an inability to make decisions, second guessing yourself when you do finally make a decision, and constantly asking yourself if you’re being overly sensitive.
Do any of these signs sound familiar? Was someone doing this to you?
Avoid Gas Lighting In Future Relationships
Preserving a marriage requires compromise. You both have to be willing to put in the effort to see a situation from your partner’s perspective.
If the symptoms listed above ring true for you, then you have probably been on the receiving end of gas lighting. The good news is that you now know the warning signs should they appear in future relationships, and should be able to recognize when you’re doing it to somebody else.
If you’ve never been on the receiving end, you’ll have to put in a bit of extra work. If you’re in a relationship, I’m guessing you would never want to make your partner feel anything less than amazing. But what if you do?
How To Make a Course Correction
Be mindful of the language you’re using. If you find that your partner is getting angry over “nothing” then stop for a moment. Is it nothing? Think about it from her perspective. What did you say and how did she interpret that comment?
The most important thing you can do is to have a conversation. My boyfriend still tells me I’m being ridiculous but a) I know what that means to him and b) he knows what it means to me. Before, he would call me ridiculous, I’d get angry and he would stand his ground.
Today, if he does call me ridiculous, I give him a bit of a sideways glance and he usually says something along the lines of, “Not ridiculous, I don’t mean it like that. We’re just in different places on this at the moment.”
Talk to your partner, understand her perceptions of what you say, explain yours and work toward a middle ground.
And whatever you do, don’t call her crazy!
Have you been on either side of gas lighting? Know someone who has? Leave your comments below, and remember to share this divorce advice for men with your friends!
Get more answers to your questions about women with Sara Gabriella’s post So That Explains It!
Aileen O’Leary gives you tips and tools for handling crazy with Winning Strategies for The Battle of the Exes.