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Rob Porter allegations detail common traits of domestic abuse, experts say

NBC News/February 9, 2018

By Elizabeth Chuck

The White House staff secretary who resigned following allegations of domestic abuse has put a spotlight on “incredibly common” patterns of violence against partners, experts say.

The allegations surfaced Tuesday against Rob Porter, an influential senior aide in the Trump administration, from two ex-wives: Jennifer Willoughby and Colbie Holderness. Both told that Porter was verbally and physically abusive, with the abuse beginning on their honeymoons. They confirmed their account of their allegations to NBC News.

Porter has denied the allegations as “simply false” and “outrageous.”

“I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign,” Porter said. Some in the White House were quick to jump to his defense.

Regardless, experts say the case brings attention to how misunderstood domestic violence is, and shows how hard it is for women to speak out against a spouse.

While domestic violence can begin at any point in a relationship, it’s a “very common story that it’s only after the couple are married that the violence, or certainly the more severe physical violence, begins,” said Kiersten Stewart, director of public policy at Futures Without Violence, a national nonprofit dedicated to ending violence against women and children. She added that sometimes the abuser has been emotionally controlling or verbally abusive before then.

“There’s no one trajectory of violence, but that is not uncommon at all,” Stewart said.

Victims also feel less inclined to leave once they’re in a long-term, committed relationship, said Cindy Southworth, the executive vice president of National Network to End Domestic Violence.

“You’re not as likely to walk away because you’re already invested. You’re on your honeymoon,” Southworth said.

Porter’s ex-wives have not alleged abusive behavior prior to their honeymoons. In a blog post, Willoughby said Porter cursed at her on their honeymoon and a month later “physically prevented me from leaving the house.” She also described Porter allegedly punching glass in front of her and yanking her out of the shower to yell at her, all the while presenting a wholesome public persona.

“Everyone loved him. People commented all the time how lucky I was. Strangers complimented him to me every time we went out. But in my home, the abuse was insidious. The threats were personal. The terror was real. And yet I stayed,” she wrote.

The experts say a dual personae is often seen in abusers, and makes the victim less believable when she comes forward.

“That’s incredibly common and, sadly, why abusers often get away with it for so long,” Stewart said. “It’s one of the things that women who are victims struggle with the most. They’re often just not believed. So often, people say, why doesn’t she just leave or try to get help? She often does. But people don’t believe her.”

Domestic violence is alarmingly common: One in four women will experience severe physical violence from a partner at some point in her lifetime, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. But experts fear it’s misunderstood.

“I do think that we struggle with the perception that we solved domestic violence, that this is a problem of the past, or that certain groups of people struggle with it, and that’s not true at all,” Stewart said.

In reality, according to Southworth of National Network to End Domestic Violence, “It cuts across every education and income level, race, class — you name it.”

Domestic violence isn’t only physical, although many people, including victims themselves, mistakenly believe it to be, Southworth said. Victims often dismiss other abusive tactics, such as a husband forbidding his wife from seeing her family or friends, that predicate any physical violence.

“There are other subtle things happening, and because they’re so subtle, they’re not so obvious,” she said.

And domestic abuse isn’t an anger problem, even though it sometimes appears like one.

“Instead, it’s this deep-ingrained belief that ‘I’m entitled to do this to you because I own you,'” Southworth said.

‘He wasn’t happy until he had me all to himself’

BBC News/January 17, 2018

When two women wrote about how they had been “gaslighted” – made to question their sanity by an abusive partner – many readers, male and female, got in touch to share similar experiences. Here, three of them explain how they were left feeling utterly isolated.

I moved from southern England to a small Scottish village to be with the love of my life, a handsome and charming man who made me feel more alive and special than I ever thought possible.

Just before I moved, a friend said he thought my boyfriend wouldn’t be happy until he had me living in the middle of nowhere, far away from anyone and all to himself. At the time I laughed it off but it turned out it couldn’t have been more true.

At first he was completely attentive. He worked away as a lorry driver but he called every morning, throughout the day and last thing at night. I thought this was really nice of him but I started to notice he was really ratty if I missed a call because I was in the bathroom or in a shop. He became more and more short-tempered when I told him I had begun to make friends, causing us to have arguments on the phone.

One day, after he had left for work, a woman from the village asked if I would like to go round to her house for some wine. I had a really nice evening. When I got home, my mobile had several missed calls and many text messages. I had left it behind and not thought about it. The text messages started off asking why I wasn’t answering the phone, and descended into calling me all sorts of horrible names, accusing me of being out with other men and so on. I couldn’t believe what I was reading – this had come out of nowhere. I sent him a text explaining where I had been. He immediately called and shouted at me for 10 minutes, not letting me speak.

These arguments would make me feel terrible and he would blame me for not being able to concentrate or sleep because he was worrying about me, and therefore a danger on the road. But then he would send lavish flowers and I would feel grateful he wasn’t angry with me any longer. I lived in a constant state of confusion and worry, never knowing what I had done to make him angry, and worried in case he had an accident.

Another time, when he was home, I was walking up the lane to our house when the farmer who owned the land stopped by. We leaned over the farm gate and had a long chat, looking out at the beautiful view. When I went into the house my boyfriend was sitting in a chair, staring at me. He kept denying there was something wrong, but he wouldn’t speak to me and kept glaring. Eventually he said he knew what had been going on all this time – I was making a fool of him and having an affair with the farmer! I couldn’t believe my ears, but he wouldn’t listen to me.

I soon stopped visiting my friends in the village. I didn’t dare go out in the evenings because he would call the house phone to check where I was. He didn’t like me going out to work either, so I was pretty much stuck at home in the middle of nowhere. In some ways it was a relief because I didn’t have to pretend to people that all was well.

I spent the next nine years walking on eggshells, never knowing if I was doing the right thing or the wrong thing in his eyes. His ultimate punishment was to attempt suicide. He did this more than once after an argument, which completely destroyed my confidence in myself. I was a confident, independent person when we met, and by the time he eventually left me I was a shell.

He would also try to make me think I had gone mad by claiming I had said things that I knew I hadn’t.

Silly things, like I’d make spaghetti Bolognese and he’d accuse me of adding carrots just to upset him, even though I followed the same recipe every time. Or he would say I hadn’t cleaned a room when I had, and would clean it all over again.

Taken individually, those incidents seem stupid and trivial but he would be so convincing that I would start to question myself. I actually thought there was something wrong with my memory.

I couldn’t argue any more. I couldn’t get my brain to think of a good response because his arguments were completely irrational. It was easier to just agree. I became a quiet, dull person – a shadow of my former self.

What is gaslighting?

  • The term comes from a 1938 stage play Gas Light in which a husband attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane – when he dims the gas lights, he insists she’s imagining it
  • It is one tactic of coercive and controlling behaviour that aims to make a victim doubt themselves, their perception of events and even their own sanity, with devastating consequences, says Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid
  • Techniques include calling into question the victim’s memory of an incident, trivialising a victim’s thoughts or feelings, accusing the victim of lying or making things up, denying things like promises that have been made, and mocking the victim for their “misconceptions”
  • Some of the signs to watch out for include: feeling confused, continually apologising to your partner, having trouble making simple decisions, and withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to make excuses for your partner
  • Am I in an abusive relationship?

I didn’t really look like myself either – he didn’t like me going to get a haircut because I had a male hairdresser, so I started cutting my own hair. I stopped wearing make-up or high heels. If I wore nice clothes, I was “dressing up” for somebody. I had to think about everything I did.

Before, I was confident, I was always happy, always laughing. If I laughed at something on TV, he would get angry – he thought I was laughing at him.

I trained myself not to be happy. Friends of mine have said, “How on Earth do you do that?” But it’s the only way to cope. If you don’t let yourself be happy, you can’t get too hurt or upset by what’s happening to you. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, looking back.

I made two failed attempts to leave. But mostly I felt like I’d made my bed with this person, and I had given up too much to be with him. I hoped it would all turn around and it would be OK – but it never was. It’s a bit like a dog that isn’t treated well – it stays loyal to the person that feeds him.

The day he told me we were splitting up I thought I had won the lottery but a few months later, he decided he wanted to get back together. When I refused, he tried to lure me back to the house. That was really quite scary. He was on a mission – if he couldn’t have me, then nobody could. I was afraid he was going to kill us both.

I spent about three years hiding from him, constantly moving house. I completely disappeared.

What I didn’t realise was that it would take years for me to get back to being myself and repair the damage he did to me.

I will never forgive him and I’m telling my story so that hopefully it might help somebody else.

Caroline, UK

How to Know If You’re a Victim of Gaslighting

Spot the behavior, and the side effects, and begin recovery.

Psychology Today/January 13, 2018

By Darlene Lancer, JD,MFT

Gaslighting is a malicious and hidden form of mental and emotional abuse, designed to plant seeds of self-doubt and alter your perception of reality. Like all abuse, it based on the need for power, control, or concealment. Some people occasionally lie or use denial to avoid taking responsibility. They may forget or remember conversations and events differently than you do, or they may have no recollection—say, due to a blackout if they were drinking. These situations are sometimes called “gaslighting,” but the term actually refers to a deliberate pattern of manipulation calculated to make the victim trust the perpetrator and doubt his or her own perceptions or sanity, similar to brainwashing. (See “How to Spot Manipulation.”)

The term derives from the play and later film Gaslight with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. Bergman plays a sensitive, trusting wife struggling to preserve her identity in an abusive marriage to Boyer, who tries to convince her that she’s ill in order to keep her from learning the truth.

Gaslighting Behavior

As in the movie, the perpetrator often acts concerned and kind to dispel any suspicions. Someone capable of persistent lying and manipulation is also quite capable of being charming and seductive. Often the relationship begins that way. When gaslighting starts, you might even feel guilty for doubting the person whom you’ve come to trust. To further play with your mind, an abuser might offer evidence to show that you’re wrong or question your memory or senses. More justifications and explanations, including expressions of love and flattery, are concocted to confuse you and reason away any discrepancies in the liar’s story. You get temporary reassurance, and increasingly, you doubt your own senses, ignore your gut, and become more confused.

The person gaslighting you might act hurt and indignant or play the victim when challenged or questioned. Covert manipulation can easily turn into overt abuse with accusations that you’re distrustful, ungrateful, unkind, overly sensitive, dishonest, stupid, insecure, crazy, or abusive. Abuse might escalate to anger and intimidation with punishment, threats, or bullying if you don’t accept the false version of reality.

Gaslighting can take place in the workplace or in any relationship. Generally, it concerns control, infidelity, or money. A typical scenario is when an intimate partner lies to conceal a relationship with someone else. In other cases, it may be to conceal gambling debts or stock or investment losses. The manipulator is often a narcissist, addict, or a sociopath, particularly if gaslighting is premeditated or used to cover up a crime. In one case, a sociopath was stealing from his girlfriend whose apartment he shared. She gave him money each month to pay the landlord, but he kept it. He hacked into her credit cards and bank accounts, but was so devious that to induce her trust he bought her gifts with her money and pretended to help her find the hacker. It was only when the landlord eventually informed her that she was way behind in the rent that she discovered her boyfriend’s treachery.

When the motive is purely control, a spouse might use shame to undermine his or her partner’s confidence, loyalty, or intelligence. A wife might attack her husband’s manhood and manipulate him by calling him weak or spineless. A husband might undermine his wife’s self-esteem by criticizing her looks or competence professionally or as a mother. To further isolate the victim and gain greater control, a typical tactic is either to claim that friends or relatives agree with the manipulator or to disparage them so that that they cannot be trusted A similar strategy is to undermine the partner’s relationships with friends and relatives by accusing him or her of disloyalty.

Effects of Gaslighting

Gaslighting can be very insidious the longer it occurs. Initially, you may not realize you’re being affected by it, but gradually you lose trust in your own instincts and perceptions. It can be very damaging, particularly in a relationship built on trust and love. Love and attachment are strong incentives to believe the lies and manipulation. We use denial, because we rather believe the lie than the truth, which might precipitate a painful breakup.

Gaslighting can damage our self-confidence and self-esteem, our trust in ourselves and reality, and our openness to love again. If it involves verbal abuse, we may believe the truth of the abuser’s criticisms and continue to blame and judge ourselves, even after the relationship is over. Many abusers put down and intimidate their partners to make them dependent so they won’t leave. Examples are: “You’ll never find anyone as good as me,” “The grass isn’t greener,” or “No one else would put up with you.”

Recovery from a breakup or divorce can be more difficult when we’ve been in denial about problems in the relationship. Denial often continues even after the truth comes out. In the story described above, the woman got engaged to her boyfriend—even after she found out what he’d done. It takes time for us to reinterpret our experience in light of all the facts once they become known. It can be quite confusing, because we may love the charmer, but hate the abuser. This is especially true if all the bad behavior was out of sight, and memories of the relationship were mostly positive. We lose not only the relationship and person we loved and/or shared a life with, but also trust in ourselves and future relationships. Even if we don’t leave, the relationship is forever changed. In some cases when both partners are motivated to stay and work together in conjoint therapy, the relationship can be strengthened and the past forgiven.

Recovery from Gaslighting

Learn to identify the perpetrator’s behavior patterns. Realize that they’re due to his or her insecurity and shame, not yours. Get help. It’s critical that you have a strong support system to validate your reality in order to combat gaslighting. Isolation makes the problem worse and relinquishes your power to the abuser. Join Codependents Anonymous and seek counseling.

After you acknowledge what’s going on, you’ll be more able to detach and stop believing or reacting to falsehoods, even though you may want to. You’ll also realize that the gaslighting is occurring due to your partner’s serious characterlogical problems. It does not reflect on you, nor can you change someone else. For an abuser to change, it takes willingness and effort by both partners.  Sometimes when one person changes, the other also does so in response. However, if he or she is an addict or has a personality disorder, change is difficult. To assess your relationship and effectively confront unwanted behavior, get Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People.

Once victims come out of denial, it’s common for them to mentally want to redo the past. They’re often self-critical for not having trusted themselves or stood up to the abuse. Don’t do this! Instead of perpetuating self-abuse, learn how to stop self-criticism and Raise Your Self-Esteem. You also need to learn How to Be Assertive and Set Boundaries to stop abuse.

Cheating and manipulation: Confessions of a gaslighter

BBC News/January 11, 2018

By Megha Mohan

Greg, a Canadian lawyer, is 28 but he’s already had 11 serious relationships. He says each of those relationships ended with infidelity, on his part, and severe self-doubt on the part of the women. He is a self-confessed “gaslighter”.

“Looking back it’s clear that I was gaslighting the women and slowly making them second-guess their version of reality,” he says.

He’s speaking out now to give insight into the mind of a gaslighter, and to warn women of the tell-tale signs.

Gaslighting has been described as psychological abuse where false information is deliberately presented to the victim – the purpose being to make the victim question their own memory and perception of events.

Greg learned that he was a gaslighter recently, while in therapy.

He pinpoints the start of his behaviour to a relationship when he was a 21-year-old law undergraduate.

Paula was four years older and completing a master’s degree. Greg describes the relationship as “romantic but unsteady”. He soon began sexual encounters with other women behind her back.

But Paula was an intelligent woman and soon picked up that Greg was being unfaithful to her. Greg says that in order to continue cheating, while still maintaining their relationship, he had to “alter her reality”.

He began identifying “techniques and pathways” in which he could manipulate Paula – laying the groundwork in order to make the lies that would come later more believable.

“Paula was extremely intelligent, but I was aware that I was leaving traces of infidelity in the digital world, on social media,” says Greg.

He said he made jokes over a period of time pointing to her “obsession” with social media, making her feel that she was suspicious in an unhealthy, even “crazy” way.

“I deliberately used demeaning language to make her lose confidence in her reading of the situation, of my infidelity. She was ‘paranoid’, she was ‘crazy’, she was ‘full of drama’.

“I’d say this all as jokes. But they would build over time, and she then started to believe.”

The desired effect was achieved. Paula, who had suspected his infidelity, began to wonder aloud if perhaps she had been wrong to doubt him, if her judgement had left her. While she still had her doubts, Greg says she had started to question herself and apologised for suspecting him, vowing to spend less time on social media.

“Gaslighting as a term has been overused,” says Dr George Simon, psychologist and author of international bestseller In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People.

“Gaslighting is when you know in your gut that you have a situation read right, but the other person is trying to convince you that you have read it all wrong. If this happens over a period of time one’s sense of reality slowly erodes. There is a scale to gaslighting, from lying and exaggerating to controlling and domination. Greg was on the less extreme part of the scale but definitely on it.”

Another tactic Greg used was to discredit other women. Some were women Paula had never met – the women he was cheating on her with. Others were Paula’s own friends.

“I’d construct narratives where these other women, the ones who could reveal my behaviour, were women who couldn’t be trusted, where they were liars.

“And despite Paula’s better judgement, despite saying she was a feminist, she would then trust me and take a dislike to women whose version she would now no longer believe, even if she did meet them and found out they weren’t these terrible human beings I made them out to be.

“I was isolating her from those who would tell her the truth.”

After Paula, Greg embarked on a series of other relationships. He says that the women came from a variety of backgrounds and had different personalities. The pattern continued.

“There are two traits that people – and we must say people as men are also vulnerable – who are prone to being gaslighted share,” says George Simon.

“One is conscientiousness. People who have a conscience, people who generally do the right thing and are trusting, because they are trustworthy in nature.

“The other is agreeableness. You want to treat people well and get along. You don’t want to unnecessarily rock the boat in your relationships.”

For Greg, there was a third quality that the women he gaslighted all shared. They were all intelligent and successful. Intriguingly, he says this was a key factor in how receptive they were to being gaslighted.

“I’ve dated a doctor, an engineer, a well-known social media personality.

“From my experience it’s not true that it is vulnerable or insecure women who are susceptible to gaslighting. These were successful women but that came with a perception of what they thought a ‘successful’ relationship should look like and they shared that. They gave me a blueprint to what they were looking for in a man.”

The women, he says, approached relationships like they did their careers. With a checklist of qualities, often from relationships depicted in films, and high expectations.

They wanted stimulating conversation peppered with attentive charm and humour. They were also looking for men who could match them in their success – men with impressive careers who also owned property and had financial security.

This kind of checklist narrowed the field of suitable men considerably, he says, and made it easier to play to their desires.

“When you are gaslighting, you see the narrative that the other person wants the relationship to follow and you then go about setting how that fits in with what you want. As a result, you do little things over an extended period of time that increases the likelihood that the partner will accept your narrative over their own.

“In my case, I have never been aggressive, violent, issued threats, or blackmailed anyone. There has literally been nothing stopping any of these partners from telling me to get lost. But none of them ever did.

“So for a long period of time I didn’t feel like the villain.”

But now, he says, he is aware of the consequences of his actions.

“These women were intelligent and I felt that if they wanted to, they could have questioned the narrative I was spinning. But now I’m aware that is a flimsy argument where love is concerned.

“I wanted the experience of multiple partners and the ego boost that came with that, so I justified my behaviour to myself for years.

“I guess, as a lawyer, I was able to explain away discrepancies in my story to girlfriends and convince myself that I wasn’t a bad guy.”

Some tactics of gaslighting, including isolating the victim from sources of support and depriving them of means needed for independence, could fall under the “Controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship” section of the Serious Crime Act of 2015, in England and Wales.

But controlling or coercive behaviour is not a crime in Canada, and the same is true in many parts of the world.

Recently Greg told a friend about his behaviour and his friend confessed that he too had been a gaslighter.

“My friend is a writer, so I guess he’s also good at constructing narratives.”

He says that if there is one piece of advice he would give women who are being gaslighted it’s to speak to a male friend about it.

“Women in friendships often tell each other what they want to hear. Or if women do have searingly honest friends, this friendship seems to come under strain when one woman enters an abusive relationship.

“For some reason women seem to accept honesty better from male friends than female friends.

“I was wary of the male friends of my ex-girlfriends. They could often see through my behaviour and good male friends don’t allow a friendship to break.”

Greg says there was no one thing that caused him to seek help to deal with his gaslighting – he just grew weary of his own behaviour.

He wouldn’t say he’s cured yet, but he hopes he’s on his way there.

George Simon says whether Greg can be cured or not depends on what type of gaslighter he is. There are two types, he says.

“Some individuals have learned these behaviours from early childhood experiences. Their manipulation rose out of some kind of personal pain and this is how they operate in the world. They developed a strategy to cope in life that was borne out of some trauma. There is hope for those individuals.

“Then there are the narcissists. The ones that have no belief in anything bigger than themselves. There’s less hope for them and any change usually involves a huge, life-changing, catastrophic reckoning that shakes them to their core.

“And that may never come.”

Greg and Paula’s names have been changed

Gaslighting: The ‘perfect’ romance that became a nightmareGaslighting: The ‘perfect’ romance that became a nightmare

BBC News/November 29, 2017

Nicole spent years living with a charming man, but she always seemed to be doing something wrong. Eventually she began to realise that it wasn’t her that was the problem, it was him – and when she met one of his previous girlfriends, Elizabeth, everything made sense. Here Nicole tells her story, followed by Elizabeth.

Other people seem to manage it, sharing a life with someone, content and peaceful in each other’s company. But the thought of a relationship still terrifies me. Many years on, I still well up with panic at the mention of my ex’s name – that charming man who I feared and adored in equal measure.

A charming, beautiful, successful man had made me his. He was everything I could ever dream of. He was a high-flyer, his charisma was magnetic and I was entranced. When I was with the charming man doors opened for us and the best tables suddenly became available. We travelled the world for his work, staying at the best hotels and eating at the finest restaurants. He seemed to be able to charm his way through life in any language.

But I failed him.

I ruined everything: dinners, conversations, evenings out, holidays – by mentioning an ex’s name, getting my purse out in front of his friends or wanting to carry my own passport and money when we were overseas.

He could be furious for days. My inappropriate behaviour had shown him up, he didn’t know if he could continue being with someone like me, he could do so much better.

I also ruined birthdays and Christmases, simply by being “too stupid and cruel” to understand what was best for him.

He wanted me to buy him expensive presents: “It’s just £4,000, use your savings,” he would say.

“But those are life savings,” I replied. “I can’t touch them, it’s impossible. I want to make you happy but I can’t afford that.”

The charming man cried – I had let him down and nothing I did could make up for it.

He didn’t sleep much, so neither did I. I was not allowed to “ruin his night” by going to sleep before him. If I did, he woke me in the early hours, wanting to talk about our relationship and what I was doing wrong. I was exhausted. I felt like I was going through life in a blur, catching sleep whenever and wherever I could. The disabled loo at work became a refuge for a lunchtime nap.

Why didn’t I leave sooner? Well, he was charming and my family loved him. And I was at an age where life was a blur of engagements and weddings. Well-meaning relatives would tell me that I was next. The tick-tocking sound of my biological clock got louder as the weddings made way for christenings.

Besides, I adored him and this incredible man had chosen me. He was troubled and I had to help him. I knew I hurt him so I wanted to make it better.

If I went out with my friends he would lock himself in his study. His cries would echo as he curled up under his huge leather-topped desk, so I hardly ever went out without him.

He told me I was easily replaceable and showed me pictures and letters from the other women who wanted him, so I would cry and try to be a better girlfriend.

Whenever it got too much and I did try to leave, he would curl up in the foetal position in front of the door crying and screaming at me not to leave him – so I didn’t. I would sit on the floor and hold him, promising that I would work harder to make it better.
It was exhausting, but relationships are hard work and no-one is perfect.

Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship

In 2015 the Serious Crime Act – England and Wales – was changed to recognise controlling or coercive behaviour in a relationship.

Controlling behaviour: A range of acts making a person subordinate and/or dependent on their abuser. These include isolating them from sources of support, depriving them of means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.

Coercive behaviour: A pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.

“You will never do better than him, he’s perfect, don’t you want children?” people would say.

It got to the point, though, when I knew I couldn’t stay.

It felt as if my body and brain were breaking down with the sheer exhaustion of having to manage life with this man. I put on weight, but I couldn’t exercise because he didn’t like me to be away from him. Food became my biggest comfort.

I dreaded the thought of leaving, but was terrified at the thought of spending the rest of my life with him.

Eventually an opportunity to escape arrived, and I was able to pack up my possessions without him suspecting my real reasons. With support from my sister, I was able to drive away, and collapse in an exhausted heap on her kitchen floor.

It took therapy for me to understand that it wasn’t normal for your partner to take the bathroom door off the hinges because you had “left him” to go to the loo or have a bath.

I used to treasure my moments of solitude sitting in the bathroom with a book. When I was with him I would clock-watch, thinking about when I could next escape for a few minutes of peace behind that locked door. He soon got wise to this and my heart would sink every time I heard the screwdriver in the hinges, with him crying that he just wanted to be with me.

When I first said these things out loud I could begin to recognise that it was madness but at the time it was just my reality.

Therapy opened up a whole new world of understanding and terminology: words like “narcissist” and “gaslighting” were new to me. I had no idea abuse could look like this.

It was through therapy that I understood that I had been “gaslighted” and that my perception of the world had shifted during those years of trying to do the impossible – to satisfy a narcissist.

I finally realised that I wasn’t the cause of our problems: I had been set up to fail.

But there was still more to learn.

It was my therapist who suggested I contacted the charming man’s ex.

“Really?” I said. “But she was crazy, she attacked him.”

The therapist just nodded sagely and reminded me of all the other ways in which he had twisted reality. He was always the victim – nothing was ever his fault in the alternative reality he had created.

What is gaslighting?

  • Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation and abuse that makes people question their own memory, perception, and sanity
  • The term comes from a 1938 stage play Gas Light in which a husband attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane – when he dims the gas lights, he insists she’s imagining it
  • There are three stages to gaslighting in a relationship: idealisation, devaluation and discard
  • In the idealisation stage the victim is whisked off their feet as the gaslighter projects an image of themselves as the perfect mate
  • The devaluation stage hits hard: the victim goes from being adored to being incapable of doing anything right, but having tasted the ideal they are desperate to put things right
  • Then comes the discard stage where the victim is dropped, ready for the next one – this often happens simultaneously with the idealisation, or grooming, of the next victimI tracked down his ex. Now living overseas, she sent an instant reply to my nervous message. It said:

“Yes, I want to talk to you, I have been waiting for you to get in touch.”

The moment that the phone connected, I felt a surge of relief: here was someone who understood. We spoke for four hours, finishing each other’s sentences. She had spoken to other women who had come before me – the charming man had never been single for long.

Hearing about their tales of depression and suicide attempts was chilling. This charming man was systematically destroying lives.

Yet on that summer day there was hope: in the background I could hear her husband mowing the lawn and children playing in the garden. That snapshot of a shared life, of a family life that had once seemed so terrifying, suddenly seemed within reach.

I hear the charming man has a new girlfriend. I want to tell her to: “Run! It’s not you, it’s him, the law has changed, what he is doing to you is illegal, you can stop him.”

But I know that for now I am just another crazy ex. She needs to approach me in her own time. For now all I can do is to live life to the full, to provide that little slice of hope on the day she finds me.

Years earlier, Elizabeth had fallen for the charismatic man. This is her story.

I was young, educated, and independent, in my first serious job. I was living in the big city, eager for love and to be loved. I was willingly swept off my feet by this handsome man, and did I mention charming? Very. Love notes and sexy weekends away – I thought I had it all, the perfect romance.

Then there was that ball. The invitation was firmly in the diary, a date not to be missed. I had ordered a new dress, booked a hair appointment. My friends were excited for me – this Cinderella really would go to the ball. Except that the date of the event suddenly changed. “It’s this weekend?” It clashed with a long-planned trip home to see my family.

“What a shame,” he said. “You must have got the dates mixed up – you don’t mind if I take another female friend do you? Just an old colleague I had a fling with once. I wouldn’t want the embarrassment of turning up without a date – after all it was your fault this mix-up happened.”

The humiliation, the lies. “That’s strange,” my girlfriends said. “Are you cross with him?”

Defending him. I blamed myself. After all, how stupid must I be to have confused those dates?

The bouquets, the lavish gifts, the shopping trips to find “suitable professional wife clothes” – we weren’t engaged, it was just an idea he dangled over me, like a prize.

The dinner dates to fancy restaurants booked on the same night I went to exercise classes with the girls. I tried to accommodate both: “Could we make it 8pm please? So I have time to shower after the class?”
“Oh sorry, another time perhaps,” he said. “I suppose it’s not that important to spend time with me.”

“I guess it’s only one class,” I thought. I didn’t go to the gym again for three years. Funny how things creep up on you.

Three years into our relationship I was sitting in a sexually transmitted infections clinic, alone and ashamed – I had an STI. “How many sexual partners have you had in the past three years?” the nurse asked. “One,” I replied. How could this have happened? There must be some mistake.

My mother said: “Has he hit you?”

“No,” I said, tears rolling down my face.

“Well darling, he has a good job, you need to sort this out – you won’t find any better you know!”

I couldn’t go back to my rented home because he’d seduced my housemate. She told me what had happened and told me to leave him, but how could I trust her? She probably just wanted what I had – after all, wasn’t it perfect?

I went on “sick” leave from work. “Taking some time out,” the GP called it, as he prescribed Prozac.

Our mutual colleagues sent me “Get well soon” cards which read: “So glad he is looking after you so well.”

He carried on as normal, the successful man at work, asking female colleagues out to dinner – “getting to know our staff” he called it.

One night, in the car parked in his driveway, I saw him with another woman. I vomited in a bush. The humiliation. “How will I show my face socially ever again?” I wondered. “How do I confront him?”

He said it was innocent, that I was being paranoid. When I had a panic attack, he told me to “Take the tablets.”

Even as I write this, years later I’m haunted by the “what ifs” – what if I’d behaved better, could we have stood a chance?

“You were the only person I have ever truly loved,” he’d say. “I would have made it work, but you just ruined it for us.”

The sound of the lawnmower in the garden where my beautiful children are playing is interrupted by a phone call from someone who understands. It’s like looking in a mirror: what’s happened to us suddenly becomes clear. The hope I can offer her gives me a sense of catharsis and healing.

We are not alone.

Both women have been given pseudonyms to protect their identity

Manipulative people brainwash their partners using something called ‘perspecticide’ — here are the signs it’s happening to you

Business Insider/October 15, 2017
By Lindsay Dodgson

Living with a controlling or abusive partner is confusing and draining. They blame you for things that weren’t your fault, or that you didn’t even do, and you become isolated from your friends and family in an attempt to keep the abuser happy.

The way you see the world can also completely change, because it may be dangerous for you to know the truth.

Lisa Aronson Fontes, a psychology researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and author of “Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship,” told Business Insider the word for this is “perspecticide.”

She said the word, which basically means “the incapacity to know what you know,” was first used in the literature on the brainwashing of prisoners of war, and has also been applied to people in cults.

“In an abusive or controlling relationship, over time the dominating partner changes how the victim thinks,” Fontes said. “The abuser defines what love is. The abuser defines what it appropriate in terms of monitoring the partner. The abuser defines what is wrong with the victim, and what she needs to do to change it.”

Over time, the victim — or survivor, if that is your preferred term — loses sense of what their own ideas, goals, and thoughts were. Instead, they start taking on those of their dominating partner.

“Through perspecticide, people give up their own opinions, religious affiliations, views of friends, goals in life, etc,” Fontes said. “I am not talking about the natural mutual influencing that occurs in all intimate relationships — this is much more nefarious and one-sided.”

Someone can fall into an abuser’s trap in a number of ways, but it’s often through psychological, emotional, or physical abuse. Once the victim has been hooked and reeled in, their partner starts to bring them down with belittling comments and insults.

However, they often pause the abuse with intermittent periods of kindness and warmth. This means the victim is trauma-bonded to their partner, constantly trying to make them happy, because they believe they deserve to be punished if they don’t.

Victims become prisoners in their own lives.
The controlling partner might cut off resources like money and transportation, practically keeping the victim a prisoner. By living in fear, the victim changes how they view themselves and the world.

Fontes recalled several stories of people who had been controlled by their partners. All her examples were from women who were being abused, but it’s important to note that emotional, psychological, and physical abuse can happen to anyone.

One man convinced his wife she could not have her own toothbrush, because married couples share these things. He also never let her have any privacy — she wasn’t even allowed to close the door when she was using the bathroom.

Another husband slept all day so he could keep his wife up at night. He deliberately didn’t let her sleep, controlled what she ate, and hid her medication, which all made her physically weak. Eventually, she even forgot her age because everything down to the way she walked was managed by someone else.

Other stories involved a woman who believed her partner could read her mind, when really he was spying on her with cameras in her house and trackers in her belongings. Another man actually told his wife he had inserted a microphone into her fillings to monitor where she went all day.

“He was actually monitoring her through other routes, but she believed what he said — she had no other explanation for why he knew everything about her days,” Fontes said. “Of course, anyone who she told this to thought she was crazy. This isolated her further.”

For the victim, their life is overwhelmed with wondering how to appease their controlling partner. Fontes said they may even experience physical signs of stress over time such as changes to eating and sleeping, head or back aches, and digestive problems, because they are too worried about their partner’s wrath.

“A person who is being coercively controlled — even without physical violence — does not feel free to live their own life on their own terms,” she said.

If you think you might be a victim of abuse of any kind, you can talk to your GP in confidence, or contact organisations such as Women’s Aid and Victim Support.


What’s ‘Love Bombing’ And How To Tell If You’ve Been A Victim Of It

From showering you with gifts to messaging you non-stop throughout the day, we delve into the worrying behaviours of a ‘love bomber’, who might have convinced you they’re ‘the one’.
Elle/August 2, 2017
By Katie O’Malle

A bunch of flowers delivered to your office. A surprise romantic getaway to a secluded countryside cottage for the weekend. A thoughtful phone call when you least expect it. All the signs of the beginning a of loving, caring relationship, right?

Well, perhaps not. In fact, they might be signposts for the opposite, or what is commonly known as ‘love bombing’.

According to Dale Archer, a psychiatrist and author, ‘love bombing’ occurs when people are showered with over-the-top displays of attention and affection. And, we’re not just talking romantic gestures and the occasional home-cooked meal, but romantic conversations, talks of the ‘future’ together, and constant contact via social media, phone calls and messages. The difference between a solid loving relationship and one that is subject to ‘love bombing’ is what happens next…

More often than not, ‘love bombing’ is when these displays of ‘affection’ are grandiose and really over the top, leading people to quickly think they might have found their ‘soul mate’ or ‘the one’. However, they soon find the loving, caring, affection, and understanding behaviour from their partner flips, resulting in unreasonable, controlling and manipulative traits.

What is ‘love bombing’?

In essence, ‘love bombing’ is a form of conditioning tool (otherwise known as a form of abuse), whereby one person in the relationship drowns the other in displays of ‘love’ to maintain power and control.

‘Healthy relationships build slowly, and are based on a series of actions, not a flood of words,’ Archer writes for a blog post titled ‘The Manipulative Partner’s Most Devious Tactic’ for Psychology Today.

The term is widely believed to have been first used by the Unification Church of the United States in the 1970s, whose cult leaders used love as a form of ammunition ‘to con followers into committing mass suicide and murder’, according to Archer.

‘Pimps and gang leaders use ‘love bombing’ to encourage loyalty and obedience as well,’ he writes.

How does it work?

First things first, all relationships are different and just because a partner showers you with love and affection does not mean they’re narcissistic or have psychopathic tendencies that might lead to ‘love bombing’. Some people genuinely are very loving and thoughtful and these sorts of gestures continue long into the relationship with no catch.

However, those who use ‘love bombing’ as a form of control often reinforce their love for their victim by showering them with affection when they act in a certain way that pleases the abuser, and later they will punish that person for behaving in a way that the abuser doesn’t like.

For example, an abuser will post an adorable snap of the two of you at dinner to Facebook, for all to see, with an equally mushy caption about how much you mean to him and how happy he is to be spending the evening with a gorgeous creature like you. The same person, though, when you head out for a dinner without him or go to a club with your friends, will call you ten times and accuse you of cheating/abandoning/not caring enough about him.

”Love bombing’ works because humans have a natural need to feel good about who we are, and often we can’t fill this need on our own,’ writes Archer.

How do you spot ‘love-bombing’?

Getting butterflies, falling head-over-heels, and feeling like you’re falling madly in love with a new boyfriend/girlfriend is very normal in the early months of a relationship.

But, according to Archer, potential love bombing victims often find themselves trapped into having constant contact with a partner, which ultimately convinces them the intensity of the communication is a sign of success and love.

‘If extravagant displays of affection continue indefinitely, if actions match words, and there is no devaluation phase, then it’s probably not “love bombing”,’ adds Archer.

‘On the other hand, if there’s an abrupt shift in the type of attention, from affectionate and loving to controlling and angry, with the pursuing partner making unreasonable demands, that’s a red flag.’

Who is vulnerable?

Joe Pierre, a Health Sciences Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, explained in Psychology Today that narcissists (aka common ‘love bombers’) are attractive because they display behaviours such as self-sufficiency, confidence, and ambition. Meanwhile, Deborah Ward, author of the book Overcoming Low Self-Esteem with Mindfulness suggests in a different post for the publication that victims are attracted to partners who remind them of their parents.

Quite often, people who have experienced family trauma or turmoil might choose relationships with individuals who show similar traits to their family members, as a way of filling the void or in an attempt to fix what was ‘damaged’. However, this tendency isn’t to be taken as a sign of weakness necessarily, but of potential empathy, argues psychologist Perpetua Neo.

‘People think often if you are attracted to a narcissist, you tend to be someone quite weak and very passive in your life… but they tend to be very high achieving women,’ Neo told Business Insider.

‘A very common trait I see in my clients is they’re over-empathetic… but you stop empathising with yourself, because you explain everything away for other people,’ she adds.

How do you avoid being ‘love bombed’?

When the ‘love bombing’ turns into making a victim feel unappreciated, guilty or devalued, they often strive to get their relationship back to the ‘good old days’, when their partner would shower them with affection and surprises. However, Neo argues that those former positive behaviours were illusory.

‘They “love bomb” and then they devalue you, so you’re always on high alert, and you never want to do anything wrong.

‘Because of that your standards are lowering, your boundaries are getting pinched upon, and you lose your sense of self,’ she adds.

The best thing to do with a new relationship is to take things slow, keep perspective and remind yourself of boundaries so not to feel trapped in a ‘love bombed’ relationship.

Archer urges people to remember the advice: ‘If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.’


‘It’s like being in a cult for one’: Read 14 tactics used by coercive controllers

East Anglican Daily Times/March 7, 2017
By Gemma Mitchell

Experts in the field of domestic abuse gathered in Suffolk to explore the intricacies of a crime that is “invisible in plain sight”.
A sold-out audience filled the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds on Monday, March 6 for the third Conference on Coercive Control, with presentations from a line-up of celebrated professionals.

Keynote speaker was American university lecturer and author Lisa Aronson Fontes, who described a manipulative relationship as “like being in a cult of one”.

Dr Fontes said dangerous romances often started out happy, with abusers using methods that seem loving, such as constant texting or not wanting to be around anyone else.

She added: “It looks like the care that many women crave, then over time that warm beam gets narrower and narrower and she wants to get that back and she feels like it’s her fault she doesn’t have it.
“Her life is then spent looking for ways of getting into that light again.”

One form of abuse that survivors often feel unable to talk about, Dr Fontes said, is sexual coercion, violence and degradation. This includes revenge porn, sex on demand and forced prostitution.

“Coercive control feels like being trapped in a cage and you can’t get out and you don’t know where to turn,” Dr Fontes added.

Professor Evan Stark, a forensic social worker and lecturer, praised the criminalisation of coercive control – calling it a “revolutionary moment in our women’s movement”.
According to Mr Stark, around 25% of women in abuse relationships are never assaulted, and in some cases it is “low level” harm which police may not take seriously, such as biting, pushing and shoving.

This is where the new law, which was passed in England and Wales in 2015, can come into play.

It carries a maximum prison term of five years for perpetrators who repeatedly subject spouses, partners and other family members to serious psychological, social, financial and emotional torment.

Mr Stark deems coercive control a “liberty crime” that turns victims into “slaves in their own homes”.

He added: “When you smell the suppression of freedom the stench of injustice reeks through society like a great wind.”

Dr Jane Monckton-Smith, an expert in domestic homicide and stalking, told the conference abusers often used coercive control because they were experiencing “separation anxiety” – a fear of losing someone.

She said: “They do not want to be separated from this person that they control because that person is absolutely fundamental to the way they feel about their life.”

It is this trait that can lead to a domestic murder, Dr Monckton-Smith said.

She added: “Some killers say to me once they kill someone it’s like a relief, they don’t have to worry about owning her anymore because she’s gone.”

Organiser Min Grob said she was “ecstatic” about how well received the Conference on Coercive Control had been since she launched it last year.

She added: “What I wanted to do is have coercive control pitched at a level that anyone can get more knowledge or understanding, from frontline workers, professionals and people in relationships or those who know someone who is being coercively controlled.

“It is a day of learning because coercive control is invisible in plain sight and even if you don’t realise it we all know someone in our family that could be being coercively controlled.”

Ms Grob, who has experienced domestic abuse in the past, said putting on an event like this made her feel “safer”.
Here are 14 ways coercive control can exist in an intimate relationship:

– Controlling access to a phone and social media

– Enforcing a certain diet

– Prohibiting or limiting contact with friends, family and health services

– Monitoring and controlling a person’s time or movement

– Regulating what clothes, make up, hairstyle is worn

– Continual belittlement, telling someone they are worthless

– Harming or threatening children

– Jealous accusations

– Constant phone calls, texting and emails

– Controlling access to money and transport

– Forcing sex

– Name calling

– Refusing contraception

– Preventing a person from working and sleeping

With Coercive Control, the Abuse Is Psychological

The New York Times/July 7, 2016
By Abby Ellin

Lisa Fontes’s ex-boyfriend never punched her, or pulled her hair. But he hacked into her computer, and installed a spy cam in her bedroom, and subtly distanced her from her friends and family.

Still, she didn’t think she was a victim of domestic abuse. “I had no way to understand this relationship except it was a bad relationship,” said Dr. Fontes, 54, who teaches adult education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

It was only after doing research on emotional abuse that she discovered a name for what she experienced: Coercive control, a pattern of behavior that some people — usually but not always men — employ to dominate their partners. Coercive control describes an ongoing and multi-pronged strategy, with tactics that include manipulation, humiliation, isolation, financial abuse, stalking, gas lighting and sometimes physical or sexual abuse.

“The number of abusive behaviors don’t matter so much as the degree,” said Dr. Fontes, the author of “Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship.” “One woman told me her husband didn’t want her to sleep on her back. She had to pack the shopping cart a certain way, wear her clothes a certain way, wash herself in the shower in a certain order.”

While the term “coercive control” isn’t widely known in the United States, the concept of nonphysical forms of mistreatment as a kind of domestic abuse is gaining recognition. In May, the hashtag #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou took off on Twitter, with users sharing their own stories.

Last December, England and Wales expanded the definition of domestic abuse to include “coercive and controlling behavior in an intimate or family relationship,” making it a criminal offense carrying a maximum sentence of five years. To date, at least four men have been sentenced under the new law.

“In this approach, many acts that had been treated as low-level misdemeanors or not treated as offenses at all are considered as part of a single course of serious criminal conduct,” said Evan Stark, a forensic social worker and professor emeritus at Rutgers University, whose work helped shaped the new law in England and Wales.

Dr. Stark, the author of “Coercive Control,” noted that the English law pertains to a course of conduct over time. American law still does not address coercive control; it deals only with episodes of assault, and mainly protects women who have been subjected to physical attacks. But in about 20 percent of domestic violence cases there is no bodily harm, he said.

Coercive control often escalates to spousal physical violence, as a 2010 study in The Journal of Interpersonal Violence found. “Control is really the issue,” said Connie Beck, a co-author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at the University of Arizona. “If you can control a person’s basic liberties verbally — where they go, who they see, what they do — you do not necessarily have to hit them regularly, but if a person is not complying, then often physical abuse escalates.”

To a victim of coercive control, a threat might be misinterpreted as love, especially in the early stages of a relationship, or when one is feeling especially vulnerable.

Dr. Fontes, for example, was in her 40s and newly divorced when she met her ex-boyfriend. He was charming and adoring, and though he was a little obsessive, she overlooked it. Never mind that she has a PhD. in counseling psychology, and specializes in child abuse and violence against women.

“For a person looking for love and romance, it can feel wonderful that someone wants to monopolize your time,” she admitted.

For Rachel G., 46, a mother of three who lives outside Boston (she didn’t want her full name used to protect her privacy), the manipulation was all-consuming. Her ex-husband made them share a toothbrush, and wouldn’t let her shut the bathroom door — ever. He set up cameras around the house, and fastened a GPS in her car to track her movements. Sometimes he would show up at her work unannounced, “always framed as him needing to know where I was in case the kids needed me, or because he missed me and wanted to see me, but it was just his way of regulating my behavior.”

She was miserable, but stuck it out for 18 years. It never occurred to her to leave: She had three children, and “he had convinced me that I would be unhappy anywhere,” said Ms. G., who does fund-raising for a nonprofit. “I wasn’t only a bad wife — in every respect — but I was a negligent mother, or an overbearing mother, I was unsupportive of him, I was a bad cook, I prioritized work over family, my family liked him better than me, our friends liked him better than me. The worse I felt about myself and doubted myself and internalized his view of me and the way the world should work, the more submissive and accommodating I became.”

In the end, it was he, not she, who filed for divorce, after catching her in an extramarital affair. She is not proud of her actions, but she is grateful it got her out of the relationship. “I would never have left if he hadn’t filed,” she said. “I was afraid.” Since then, she has been trying to re-establish connections with family members and friends.

Dr. Fontes ultimately left her partner after four years. The decision came after she spent two weeks away from him, and realized how diminished she had become. “There were repeated telephone calls and emails every day, but it was such a relief to wake up and go to sleep without having to check in with this other person,” she said. “I recovered a sense of who I was as a separate person, my own opinions, my own perspective.”

7 Ways to Tell If Your Partner Might Be Manipulative

Everyday Feminism/November 23, 2015
By Suzannah Weiss

“I think I do it to distract myself.”

I was telling a friend about my newly acquired habit of picking the split ends from my waist-length hair.

“From what?”

“Anger.” I thought about it. “I’m angry all the time.”

“With who?”

My eyes darted around the room. I was scared to admit it. “My boyfriend.”

I was so petty. The words came flooding back from my subconscious. How could I be so petty as to resent someone who never yelled at me or physically hurt me, who I loved and wanted more than anything to get along with?

But all the fights that seemed resolved every time he dropped me off at my apartment kept creeping back. Once I’d realize they weren’t resolved, I’d put on Friends reruns and pick at my hair to forget them, the red tips gathering on my white sheets.

It didn’t matter anyway. I was just overreacting. He was so loving and kind in so many ways. I couldn’t just let things go, could I?

I couldn’t. The memories would resurface days and weeks later.

There was the time I refused to lend him money because he hadn’t paid me back last time, and he sarcastically responded that if I want to treat our relationship like a set of transactions, then we’d might as well put everything on a spreadsheet and never get each other gifts.

Selfish. Greedy. Viewing relationships like transactions. That was me. So petty. Such an underserving girlfriend.

The truncated hairs fell one by one, severing the half of me still angry he never paid me back.

“Name one other time I’ve been unreliable,” he asked in order to make me justify my decision.

“You never read my thesis.” He’d said he would “later tonight” one day in January; it was March.

“Of course I’m going to read it. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. It hurts that you don’t believe in me.”

I was hurting him. I didn’t believe in my own boyfriend.

Never mind the money. Never mind the thesis. What was wrong with me?

This was the guy who had surprised me by arriving at my apartment with newly bought ingredients and cooking me dinner. Who had patiently reassured me about all my body image concerns even though I must have sounded ridiculous.

But I was so mad.

Mad he wouldn’t pay me back the money he owed. Mad he didn’t keep his promises. Mad he turned this all around on me. Mad at him for making me mad at myself, and mad at myself for being mad at him.

I picked one hair after another, lost in the hypnotizing strands.

My brain was as split as the tips of my hair. I couldn’t tell which half of me was right.

While caught in this cacophony of conflicting thoughts, I went to a book fair with my boyfriend and a title caught my eye: The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans. This should be interesting, I thought. I’m interested in psychology. I stuffed it into my paper bag, all-you-can-fit for five dollars.

It was only during that fleeting moment between our kiss goodbye and my Friends reruns that I admitted to myself why I had really bought that book.

The next day, I opened it instead of my computer. As I half expected, I saw myself – both selves – scattered across the pages.

And in the midst of those pages, I learned that gaslighting – my partner’s technique of making me doubt my thoughts, feelings, and perceptions – was an abusive manipulation tactic. For the first time, I saw why his behavior stressed me out. And it wasn’t because I was a bad partner.

If you can identify any of these six patterns in your own relationship, you may not be a bad partner either. You may simply have been manipulated into believing you are one. If you find yourself in that position, I hope this list helps you the way The Verbally Abusive Relationship helped me: by providing an explanation for your distress other than your own inadequacy.

1. Conflicts Never Feel Resolved

If conflicts from days, weeks, or months ago still bother you even though you’ve discussed them with your partner, it’s possible they manipulated you into believing the discussion was over before it was.

My partner accomplished this manipulation by deflecting blame onto me.

Even if the action under discussion was his, I was just looking at it from the wrong angle. He’d tell me what the right angle was, and I’d feel guilty for not seeing things that way in the first place.

When our arguments were “resolved,” the resolution was usually that I had to work on myself because I was overreacting or my expectations were unreasonable.

Making someone feel oversensitive and unreasonable is gaslighting.

For example, one night, I was painting an instrument he’d built. After he told me what to paint and hovered over me complaining that I was doing it all wrong, I got mad and left the room. When he asked what was wrong, I yelled out of frustration, “You’re so clueless!” (Admittedly, I could have handled this better as well.)

He then gave me a talk about how I needed to stop calling him names like “clueless” to back him into a corner with no choice but apologizing. I panicked. Could I be the manipulative one? Would he break up with me?

I went to the bathroom, and when I got out, I was relieved to find him standing there holding his cat. We stood together and pet her like nothing had ever happened. Forget about my anger toward him. I was just relieved he wasn’t mad at me – so I dropped it.

Our fights went on like this for months, with me getting hurt and then repressing that hurt so he didn’t get mad at me.

As they started getting worse, a friend encouraged me to end the relationship. “But you fight with your boyfriend,” I pointed out.

“Our arguments end, though,” she said.

Finally, I saw why I could never get our arguments out of my mind: None of my concerns were ever addressed. They were simply deflected onto me.

I had stopped taking issue with his actions because I wasn’t allowed to, not because I felt better.

In a healthy relationship, your partner hears you out if you’re upset, and their goal is to avoid upsetting you in the future, not to debate whether you should have been upset in the first place.

2. When Your Partner Hurts You, You End Up Apologizing

Repeatedly gaslighted into believing my feelings were wrong, I grew remorseful for feeling them. Conversations would start with me believing he’d hurt me and end with me apologizing for getting hurt.

He’d convince me I was not only too hard on him, but also myopic. “Life is too short to get mad,” he’d say. “Can’t we just enjoy this nice day together?”

I’d tear up and think about how much I loved him and hated to taint our precious time together and thank him for reminding me what’s important in life and hug him and apologize for being so petty.

I’d go home on a high, feeling like I’d had a revelation about picking my battles, though the high would fade once I realized the conflict wasn’t resolved.

My concerns became results of my own pettiness. They didn’t matter – I was oversensitive, after all. I couldn’t be trusted.

Feeling like your feelings can’t be trusted to the point that you apologize for them is also a sign you’re being gaslighted.

3. You Don’t Feel You Deserve Your Partner

If someone makes you feel like the source of every conflict and convinces you that you’re shortsighted for getting upset, as my partner did by telling me it was unproductive to get angry and that it was my choice to be hurt by him, you may begin to feel like you don’t deserve them.

In fact, I wondered if I would drive all my future partners away for being so over-critical.

I grew to believe he was noble for resisting the urge to argue and I was small-minded in comparison. Thank God he was there to steer me back on track, I’d think. He understood what life was about.

Terrified I didn’t deserve him, I squashed my negative feelings to try to make myself more deserving.

This is what manipulative people want.

“It’s important to remember that you are not the problem; you’re simply being manipulated to feel bad about yourself, so that you’re more likely to surrender your power and rights,” psychologist Preston Ni writes in Psychology Today.

Since I was constantly trying to prove I was deserving, my partner always got what he wanted from me.

4. You’ve Done Things That Make You Uncomfortable to Avoid Conflict

Manipulation occurs when someone tries to force you out of your comfort zone. And I’m not talking about going on a spontaneous trip or trying a new food – I’m talking about disregarding your physical, emotional, or financial boundaries.

Manipulative people have sneaky ways of making their partners think their comfort zones don’t matter.

My partner’s chosen method was convincing me my comfort zone was unreasonable and that respecting it would mean disrespecting his.

The first boundary he coaxed me to cross was my standard for safer sex.

Since he’d had unprotected sex since he’d last gotten tested, I wanted him to get tested or use a condom before sleeping with me. He told me condoms hurt, so I asked him to get tested – for months.

He kept saying he would make appointments but never did. Eventually, he confessed that doctors’ offices made him anxious. He told me he’d only had unprotected sex one time since he was last tested and she said she was STI-negative, so it shouldn’t be an issue. I got sick of having the same discussion over and over, so I gave in and had unprotected sex.

My decision was not safe either, but it was understandable given the alternative. I didn’t want to dishonor his own feelings about condoms or doctors’ offices and put him out of his comfort zone.

The next boundary he wore away at was financial. Since I made more money than him, he argued, I should cover our dates when he was short on cash.

I had enough money to pay for his meals, so I again felt petty that it made me uncomfortable. Why was I putting my own ability to save money over his ability to enjoy our time together?

He also got me to cough up cash by telling me I was privileged and couldn’t understand what he was going through. I didn’t want to be unsympathetic, so I helped him out. I was afraid I’d be an inconsiderate, spoiled girlfriend if I didn’t.

As these stories show, his weapon of choice was not overt aggression, but intellectual, seemingly rational arguments. If I couldn’t justify my boundaries intellectually, I couldn’t have them.

That’s the ultimate manipulation – not violating the boundaries you’re defending, but convincing you to take them down on your own.

5. They Don’t Answer Your Questions Directly

My partner once taught me a trick for job interviews.

If someone stumps you with a question, he said, change the subject. Talk about how passionate you are about your work, how you always give it 100%, how you don’t like to say 110% because that’s an imaginary standard that doesn’t hold us accountable. By the time you’re done, the interviewer won’t remember what they asked you.

I soon realized he took this same approach to our conversations, which explained why so many of them left me wondering “Where did this all start?” only to realize they started with me unhappy.

When I’d try to tell him something was wrong in our relationship or even discuss a problem in my life that wasn’t about him, he’d bring up a tangentially related experience of his own or an abstract philosophical concept that had nothing to do with us. It was maddening.

Manipulative people do this so you can’t expose them.

Instead of confronting their mistakes, they divert your attention to something else, often with an emotional story that you’d feel bad interrupting. So, you comply with their subject change and try to forget how the conversation started in the first place.

Unfortunately, if it started with something important to you, it comes back to haunt you later.

6. You Feel Like Two Different People

One minute, I’d be complaining about my partner to my friends and family. The next, I’d be defending him against their claims that he wasn’t good for me. One minute, I’d vow to change my ways and hold him to lower expectations. The next, I’d be angry with him for not meeting the expectations I held.

I felt like I had split personalities, my allegiances constantly shifting. My thoughts were muddled and confused.

But after gaining an understanding of manipulation, I realized the version of me that was aligned with him was not based on my own original thoughts. He had manipulated me into advocating for him.

In fact, when I defended him, I sounded just like him. I ranted about how misunderstood he was. “Gas prices are ridiculous these days,” I’d point out when my friends found his habit of backing out of plans due to insufficient funds inconsiderate. “There was only one time he could have gotten anything,” I’d say to downplay the whole STI debacle. “I’m not perfect either,” I’d remind my friends, repeating something he liked to remind me.

I was in the middle of defending my boyfriend’s decision not to share any of the food in his house with me when my dad yelled, “Snap out of it!” Something clicked, and I realized I had been upset about all these things, too, before my partner convinced me they were no big deal.

Thankfully, I had family and friends who stood up for me – and stood up to me when I was gaslighting myself. Eventually, it became impossible to play the roles of both the loyal girlfriend and the friend and daughter of people who wanted the best for me. I had to pick one version of myself.

So I decided to speak up.

7. They Manipulate Your Beliefs About the Manipulation Itself

If you want to confront a manipulative person, Ni writes that they behave like bullies, so as you would stand up to a bully, “be sure to place yourself in a position where you can safely protect yourself, whether it’s standing tall on your own, having other people present to witness and support, or keeping a paper trail of the bully’s inappropriate behavior.”

But sometimes that doesn’t work. In my case, my partner used my “paper trail” as further evidence of my own pettiness.

That September, I pointed out that he still hadn’t read the thesis he promised to read in January. I didn’t even care about the thesis anymore, but I wanted him to understand why I had trouble putting faith in him rather than portraying my lack of trust as an attack.

“You didn’t have the right to yell at me for calling you out on not reading my thesis,” I said.

“Yes, I did.”

And that was about when I knew our relationship was headed downhill for good.

I was starting to see I didn’t deserve to feel like an ice queen for asking to split expenses or like I had to compromise my sexual boundaries to make him comfortable. And I knew that as long as I stayed with him, I would feel those pressures.

I dragged myself out of that relationship kicking and screaming, but I haven’t looked back since.

In her follow-up book The Verbally Abusive Man: Can He Change?, Evans writes that some verbally abusive people can change if they truly understand what they’re doing, which usually requires therapy, while others don’t recognize themselves as abusive.

When you confront a manipulative person, they will either take a good, hard look at themselves, or they will manipulate you into unseeing the manipulation.

That’s the final sign that you’re in a relationship with a manipulative person – and a loud and clear signal that they won’t change.

By the time of that conversation, I had already seen my partner’s manipulation too clearly for him to deny it, no matter how convincing his arguments were.

I hope that if you are being manipulated, what was previously fuzzy and confusing and so maddening you wanted to tear your hair out has come into focus for you as well.

Over two years since I ended that relationship, I’m still learning to view myself in a more positive light. I still gaslight myself all the time, but when I catch myself doing this, I try to remember my negative feelings are a sign something’s wrong, not a character flaw.

And I no longer pick my split ends.