How Do Abusers Gaslight Victims (& Advocates)? | BTR.ORG

How Do Abusers Gaslight Victims (& Advocates)?

by | Abuse Literacy

Is gaslighting just another popular buzzword, or is it a calculated maneuver that abusers use to keep women stuck?

Dr. Jessica Taylor, author of Why Women Are Blamed for Everything and Sexy But Psycho is on the podcast. Read the full transcript below and tune in now for more.

Abusers Use THESE PHRASES to Gaslight YOU

Wondering if you’ve been a victim of gaslighting? Dr. Jessica Taylor and Anne share some of these common phrases and conversations that abusers may use with victims to distort their reality and cause them to wonder if they’re capable of discerning truth:

  • “I’ve asked our family and friends to pray for you.”
  • “You’re overly emotional.”
  • “You’re mentally unwell.”
  • “Have you been taking your medication?”
  • “Have you considered going to therapy?”
  • “No one is going to believe you.”
  • “No one is going to support you/like you/believe you/listen to you.”
  • “I know you care about our family, and ever since you started ______ (listening to this podcast, reading this book, talking to this friend, etc), you’ve been disconnected/too “feminist”/hurting our family, etc.”
  • “The light in your eyes is gone – I think you’ve lost the Spirit.”

Abusers Use THESE PHRASES to Gaslight Advocates

Advocates include YOUR family, friends, clergy, victim advocates (such as DV workers), medical care providers, and others:

  • “She hasn’t been taking her medication.”
  • “Please pray for her – she needs all of our help right now.”
  • “She’s been acting unusual lately.”
  • “I’ve done all I can.”
  • “I’m worried she’s losing her mind.”
  • “I’m scared she’s going to leave the Church.”
  • “She’s been violent with me and the children.”
  • “I think she’s cheating on me.”
  • “I love her so much, I wish she’d come back to us.”

BTR.ORG Is Here For You

It’s scary, isn’t it? When you realize that you may be a victim of psychological violence.

We are here for you. Attend a BTR.ORG Group Session today to process your trauma in a safe place.

Full Transcript:

Anne (00:00):
It’s interesting to me that I was on sort of this kick about how the media does not get it right long before the murder of my friend’s son, Om. So we cover it here again. This interview happened before the murder of my friend’s son, so as you listen, keep that in mind. I have Dr. Jessica Taylor, the author of Why Women Are Blamed for Everything and the newly released Sexy But Psycho. She has a PhD in forensic psychology and is the director of Victim Focus. Welcome, Dr. Taylor.

Dr. Jessica Taylor (00:37):
Thank you so much for having me.

Anne (00:40):
Dr. Taylor is amazing and I’m gonna have her start by introducing her organization, Victim Focus, and then also talking a little bit about her books.

What is Victim Focus?

Dr. Jessica Taylor (00:48):
Victim Focus is six years old. We work all over the world. We have tons of free resources of understanding abuse, misogyny, violence, grooming, sexual violence, domestic abuse, assault, harassment, victim blaming, rape myths, beliefs, narratives, stereotypes. I wanted to create this hub of everything that could be useful to women and girls who’ve been subjected to male violence. So that’s what it’s become and it’s just growing and growing and growing.
Then as part of that, I wrote Why Women Are Blamed For Everything after I did my PhD. The PhD in forensic psychology specialized in the psychology of victim-blaming of women and girls who’ve been subjected to male violence, and how women and girls are convinced to self-blame as well, and the trauma that that obviously then compounds. Because you’ve already been through so much and then you’ve got this added level of victim blaming from maybe your friends, your family, your ex-partner (or whoever it was), even services and professionals.

Why Women are Blamed for Everything & Sexy But Psycho

And then on top of that, you’ve got almost this social grooming for you to take responsibility for what happened. I wrote Why Women are Blamed for Everything because of that, and then after that I wrote Sexy But Psycho.
Why Women Are Blamed for Everything looks at the psychology of victim blaming and self-blame of women all around the world. Sexy But Psycho looks at the way that we convince women and girls that they are mentally ill when they are trying to disclose abuse, trauma, violence, rape, assault, child abuse. It’s very, very common for you to be re-framed as having a personality disorder or mentally ill. So that’s what Sexy But Psycho is about.

“[TV] just sensationalizes violence against women and girls”

And then this week on Monday we released the item, which is the first ever trauma-informed manual of mental health that has absolutely no disorders or medicalized language in it. It’s like an A-to-Z of every possible trauma response and coping mechanism that is likely to happen when you’ve been through trauma.
So it’s been a wild journey. I started doing TV and Netflix and stuff a couple of years ago, and generally speaking, if I’m commissioned to do TV, which I do probably two or three series a year now, it’s because a producer is usually asked for a victim voice. Somebody who will stand up for the women in that documentary because that happens so little. There’s so much true crime-type doc stuff out at the moment and it just sensationalizes violence against women and girls, like murder and rape. And there’s very rarely a voice like mine that’s constantly reminding the audience that, ‘This is what it would’ve been like for this woman and this is how terrified she would’ve been and this is why she felt like this.’ So it’s been amazing to do that as well.

“…not as helpful as people think that it’s going to be.”

Anne (03:48):
That’s wonderful. I’m so grateful that you’re doing that. And I wish more people would do that. Right now I’m on sort of this kick where, at least in America, currently a lot of the news will say there was a “domestic disturbance”, like they were having a fight and then he killed her, rather than saying he was abusive and he killed her. And then it’s interesting because at the bottom of that article they’ll say, “Call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline” as if calling a number is…I mean it will help for sure, but those of us who have dealt with it and are living it, we’ve called those numbers, and it was not as helpful as people think that it’s going to be. But even just the reporting of it prior to linking to that at the bottom is very misogynistic and sort of like “the alleged”, or that she was a part of it somehow.

Mutualizing and Neutralizing

Dr. Jessica Taylor (04:41):
Well, I call that mutualizing and neutralizing because, you know how you just gave the example of they are having a fight or it is domestic. It’s like it re-frames this whole system of power and control and abuse from one person to the other as this mutual, neutral, almost like a relationship problem that is, “It’s six of one and a half dozen of the other”, it’s like, “Oh, you know, they’re as bad as each other”-type narrative. And that’s absolutely not true in abuse. There is the point of abuse that it is systematic. It’s about power and control. It’s about the perpetrator getting something out of controlling, destroying, breaking down that woman. It’s not mutual, but the examples you just gave minimizes it and trivializes it, doesn’t it?

“Instead of listening, they accused us”

Anne (05:36):
I’m so grateful for women like you who are sounding the alarm about this. Why do you think it took some of us so long to understand what was actually happening? For example, that when we said, “Hey, this is what’s going on”, and then instead of listening, they accused us. But we didn’t figure that out for a long time. When I say we, I just mean women in general, like from the beginning of time <laugh>. I feel like now there are many, many women who understand this and they can see it for what it is. But there are also so many women who still can’t and therapists and institutions and court systems and others that cannot see it. Why do you think it took so long for some of us to recognize what was happening?

“Lots of women and girls grow up in abusive households”

Dr. Jessica Taylor (06:25):
I think there’s multiple answers to this. I mean, the first answer for me is that we are groomed from birth as women and girls to tolerate, accept, minimize, normalize, and even sexualize the violence and abuse and power that’s used against us. And that is a insidious, careful, global, considered process. And it’s very successful. Which means that lots of women and girls grow up in abusive households. They’re abused by dads, granddads, uncles and brothers, which my research has shown repeatedly that brothers and dads are very likely to be the first perpetrators against a woman or girl. And then you go on and get into these relationships and these men and teenage boys then dehumanize you, harm you, abuse you, assault you, rape you, whatever it is. But you have been so successfully groomed from birth that it’s either normal or that if they do these things, “It’s your fault, you must have caused them to do that.”

“Lots of [us] have been through male violence where you don’t even know you’re in it”

And so you internalize it over a period of time. There is nothing to sound the alarm about, there’s nothing to disclose, there’s nothing to report, because to you, that’s your normal, that’s your life.
And lots of women listening will recognize that at some point, all of us have been in a situation like this. If you’ve been through this, which I’m assuming lots of your listeners and you and me have been through male violence where you don’t even know you’re in it, you’re living in it every day. And to some extent, your life is at risk. Some of the violence and the abuse can be life-changing. And yet you still haven’t really clicked in to what it is you are living in and how it’s deliberate, it’s systematic. The perpetrator, your partner or your ex, wants that to happen. They’re enjoying it, they’re taking something from it, and so it takes a long time.

“You will very often question everything that’s ever happened to you”

The other thing I think that means that it takes ages for us to click in and to realize what’s going on is that perpetrators will often do a great job of convincing you that it’s you with the problem. They will gaslight you. They will re-frame you as mentally disordered, that you don’t remember things, that you overreact, that you are overemotional, that you’re hysterical, you know? And so you will very often question everything that’s ever happened to you, like, Did it really happen like that, or am I overthinking it? Am I over-analyzing what he just said? Was it really as bad as I’m making out? Maybe I’ve remembered it wrong, maybe he’s right. And I think that we have created, over millennia, a culture of convincing women that they’re just mentally inferior and they don’t remember things. They don’t understand things, they’re over emotional, they overreact to everything. And it means that we second guess everything.

Emotional & Psychological Abuse & Sexual Coercion

Anne (09:18):
Here at BTR, we focus on emotional and psychological abuse and sexual coercion. Not that that doesn’t involve physical assault at some point or another because it can, but we want to focus on that because I feel like it’s easier to see the physical abuse even if you don’t understand it. For example, if someone punches a wall, you might not think you’re being physically intimidated per se, or that that’s physical abuse, but it is. So women can be living in that and not recognize it.
And the emotional and psychological abuse and sexual coercion is so difficult to see because it’s all of those manipulation tactics and deceit. And so for so long because you weren’t necessarily getting punched in the face or tied up or something like that…I would say most of our listeners are in that category where they haven’t necessarily been punched in the face or experienced a physical violence.

Emotional & Psychological Violence

This type of emotional violence of trying to completely dismantle somebody’s reality is extremely emotionally violent and it’s extremely psychologically abusive. And that is what is so concerning to me. It also is concerning to me that you never have physical violence without emotional and psychological abuse. It ramps up and it starts from psychological and emotional abuse.
So if women can recognize the psychological and emotional abuse, my hope is they can get to emotional and psychological safety, which is super important. But that’s also the foundation of safety because if you’re psychologically safe and emotionally safe, chances are you’re also going to be physically safe as well. Maybe not, but my audience is people who are being abused by their partners, so I guess I’m not talking about on the street, some random person coming up to you. So if your partner or if your husband is going to physically abuse you, you can know they’ve also emotionally and psychologically abused you.

Dr. Jessica Taylor (11:24):
Yeah, definitely. Because even if you’ve been physically assaulted, the likelihood is that they’ve already sort of set the scene for that behavior anyway through emotional manipulation and coercion. And then once they’ve committed that assault, they will then slip right back into that emotional and psychological manipulation in order to either cover what they’ve done or convince you it wasn’t that bad, or to convince you not to tell anybody, or that you led them to do that, that you pushed their buttons, that they wouldn’t have behaved like that if it wasn’t for what you said or what you did, all that sort of stuff that’s going to go on.

“Years and years of almost just total mental destruction”

Dr. Jessica Taylor (12:02):
But I identified very much with what you’re saying as well, obviously from a professional perspective as a psychologist but also from a personal perspective, because the marriage that I was in years ago was generally not at all physically abusive. There was a couple of incidents towards the end and then I left, but actually it was years and years of almost just total mental destruction. And I was lucky that my coping mechanism was studying and reading books and working and I had this little escape.

The Calculated Breaking Down of a Woman’s Sense of Self

But I think once he figured out that that was the escape, that was what he started attacking. So it was this constant like, “Oh, you think you’re so clever, why are you always reading those books? You think you’re so good. You think you’re going to be something and nobody really likes you. You’re never going to go anywhere, nobody’s going to be your friend.” And if I ever made a new friend, it was like, “Oh, she probably doesn’t even like you, she probably feels sorry for you.”
It’s this constant trying to break you down piece by piece. And for a lot of women that have also lived through that, it stays with you for a long time. You question yourself, it affects your self-esteem, it affects the way that you understand yourself. It affects your confidence in your own judgment and even things like your ambition, your dreams, your decision making; it changes your worldview.

It changes your view of self and of your relationships and makes you question things about yourself and about people who do care about you and stuff because somebody has constantly got in your head that you’re not worthy or you’re worthless or you’re not good enough, or you’re stupid or you’re ugly or no one will ever want you.
And in a way, I get what you’re saying about how people are going to really struggle to identify that they’re being abused. If you’ve been punched in the face or something very physical has happened, there is something very tangible about that. But when you are constantly being gaslit and emotionally manipulated and you’re being put down and belittled and laughed at and being made to feel like you’re going crazy, it almost sometimes feels like you’ve got no evidence. Like you can’t really prove any of it and that nobody’s going to listen.

Gaslighting can be obvious, Gaslighting can be subtle

Anne (14:23):
For listeners of this podcast, there’s some very insidious types of abuse too (I would say that the type of emotional abuse that you’re describing is very hard to see when you’re in it. But it’s also can be kind of obvious if someone’s saying you’re stupid or you’re ugly or something). There’s these really subtle ways of emotional and psychological abuse, like, “I love you so much and I care about you and I’m just really worried about you. You haven’t been remembering things correctly”, or “I’m concerned because I know our family is our top priority, and as you read these books…”, and in my case a lot of victims that listen to my podcast, their husbands will say to them, “I know you care about our family and ever since you started listening to this podcast, it’s been damaging to our family.”

“Subtle ways of maintaining the status quo”

And so very, very subtle ways of maintaining the status quo and not having her see what’s really going on. Here’s a really good example that I heard recently. In my particular faith, you can say certain things that, in general, the culture is like, Oh, I know what’s going on, and it might not be true: One man called all of his wife’s friends and all of her family and everyone and said, “Could you please pray for her? She’s really struggling right now with her faith”, which wasn’t true at all. But all he had to do was say that to all the friends and family and say, “She just needs extra prayers because she’s really struggling with her faith and she’s feeling really apart from God right now. And so she could really use your help.” And that was so undermining to who she was, to what she was trying to do because then as she went to friends and family for help, they were like, “Oh, if you’re struggling with your faith, maybe that’s why you want to leave. Maybe that’s why you’re saying this stuff. Because he’s such a nice guy and he wants everyone to pray for you”, so these really subtle ways.

“He’s such a nice guy and he wants everyone to pray for you”

I am concerned with abusers who are learning healthy ways of talking through therapy, through books. Yes, they’re weaponizing it, but they sound like they’re saying the right thing sometimes. And it is intended to continue to oppress women, and that’s what we see here a lot. That’s the main thing I want to warn women about, because even the flat-out you’re-never-going-to-do-anything stuff that’s awful and sometimes you can’t see that. This other stuff is so subtle and so coercive and almost impossible to see sometimes until you take a step back and look at their actions and look at what they are doing.

Dr. Jessica Taylor (17:07):
Yeah. I think this is fascinating because I think you’re talking about a level of skill here and intelligence here on the perpetrator’s side where they’re either learning to mirror, as you say, “healthy” ways of communicating where they’re actually weaponizing them very successfully. Or they are generally quite intelligent sort of people anyway, so they’ve learned over a period of time as a perpetrator that they don’t need to use physical violence to have total control and to completely destroy somebody and keep them exactly where they are. Because for some perpetrators like that, they know not to cross that as well. They know that if they were to leave a mark on you or to do something physical, that would all kind of give you a way out and you would be able to identify what was happening.

“I’m worried about my wife – she’s struggling with her mental health”

But if they can just keep you in this place that is constantly undermining you, but doing it in a way where you can’t even completely be sure that that’s what they’re doing, that is a really difficult place to live as as a woman. That you can’t figure out exactly what it is that’s happening to you because you, you’re not 100% sure that is happening at all. And in terms of how this relates to my work, the closest that I can get to this and my experience is that I see a lot of men that do the whole telling the family, telling the doctor, telling the counselor, whatever, “I’m really worried about my wife. I think she’s struggling with her mental health. I really think that she needs to get some support and I think we all need to support her and we need to be there for her because she’s really struggling at the moment. And I really think that she should be referred into the mental health service so that she can get the right medication and the right help and treatment.”

“Once you’ve framed her with a mental health issue, everything can be covered up”

And it’s obviously, it’s all part of the manipulation because once you frame her as having a mental health issue, everything can be covered up. Everything she says can be denied. Everything she says can be belittled or can be brushed away. I remember I was working years ago on a helpline for women who were in domestic abuse and or had been raped. I remember a woman ringing and she’d been having therapy with us on and off for a couple of months and it was going really well and she was getting ready to leave this guy and then he turned up at the service, and the service had a secret address. I don’t know how he found us, but he did.

Anne (19:43):
When you say service, do you mean therapy?

Dr. Jessica Taylor (19:45):
Yeah. He showed up at the center. We call them a sexual assault and rape center or domestic abuse center, so they’re essentially clinics.

“I could see right through this guy”

Dr. Jessica Taylor (19:55):
She wasn’t actually in there at that time. I think she might have been at work or something like that. And he turned up and he played this sort of, “Oh, I’m so glad that I found this service and I’m really concerned about my wife and I just feel like I need to talk to one of you and I just need to give you this information because she’s not been taking her medication. She’s on these antidepressants and anti-psychotics and I’m just really worried that she’s not been taking her medication. I’ve been telling her every day she needs to take it and she’s been getting delusional and she’s thinking things aren’t real.” And I’m listening to him thinking, Yeah, right, as if I’m going to believe that she’s very lucky that he came across somebody like me. Because I could see right through this guy. I knew he was deliberately setting her up so it sounded like all of her disclosures to us were, because she wasn’t taking this medication. I knew what he was doing and he did it in such a…he cried, “I’m so worried about my wife and I just want the best for her.” I knew exactly what he was doing, but it worries me that so many of these perpetrators that approach it in this way are very, very good at manipulating professionals as well, aren’t they?

Anne (21:13):
We’re going to pause the conversation here and continue it next week, so please stay tuned.


You May Also Like


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Emotional Safety is Possible

If you've been stuck in your husband's emotional & psychological abuse for years, these steps will help you end the chaos and feel peace.

Check your inbox for Your Next 3 Steps to emotional peace. Taking these steps can change your life! We'll be with you every step of the way.