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I Was a Victim of Gas Lighting

by Courtney Cothron 4 years ago in advice

How One Woman Realized She Was Married to a Master of Manipulation

Gas lighting is a common technique used by abusers to take hold of their victims through mental manipulation.

No one thinks it will happen to them, they think the signs are easy to spot and even harder to fall for. But is mental manipulation really that uncommon? This is my own personal story of how I fell under the spell.

Recognizing the Signs of Mental Manipulation

"I'm tired of taking care of you and your mental instability. You're crazy and no one is going to put up with your lack of control. At least I loved you enough to keep trying to make this work. No one is going to put up with your sh**."

As I packed my bags, I knew this was just another tactic to make me stay compliant. After 3 long years, I was able to see through the fog and realize that I was a systematic victim of gas lighting. A term inspired by the 1938 play Gas Light, Gas lighting is used to describe a manipulation technique used to make a victim question their sanity and reality in order to make the victim become reliant on their abuser. This was not something I knew anything about when I said my wedding vows, but I would come to understand gas lighting first hand over the next 3 years.

Red Flag #1: Making Excuses

What began as a typical relationship started fraying the day my abuser lost his job. It wasn't a surprise, my husband and abuser would typically make excuses as to why he couldn't keep a job, everything from the boss not liking him, scheduling conflicts, to being blamed for other people's actions. I believed every excuse, but any time I would question him about his loss of employment, the conversations changed from concern about our financial situation to anger, asking me why I didn't believe him, and why I didn't support his decisions. Then most conversations twisted on me, where he would ask me why I didn't want to support our family or why I was being so hard on him. He had just lost his job, why couldn't I be more understanding? I was told frequently that my expectations were too high and that I should be grateful he would want to stay with someone so demanding. This was where it started. After 9 months of not having a job, I was exhausted fighting with him and giving him a reason over and over that was worth getting a job for. It didn't matter if we had no food, or toilet paper, because as long as he was "trying" then I should have been grateful he even put in any effort.

Red Flag #2: Lying for Gain

Most people would assume that it is easy to spot a lie, especially an unrealistic lie, but that isn't always the case when faced with a master of manipulation. When me and my abuser met, he would tell me about all the awful fights going on between him and his father, who was a preacher. My abuser told me how he was frequently choked and abused verbally by his father. After dating for several months, he had me convinced that his father was an abusive parent, and that my abuser would never survive in that type of environment. I offered him a place to sleep at my apartment, until he became persistent that if I let him move in he would take care of me and help pay the bills. After several months I relented and he moved in. It wasn't until after the marriage dissolved and I was long gone to realize that no abuse was going on in the home. I had been tricked into letting my abuser move in, and one step closer to becoming his puppet.

Red Flag #3: Arguments that Circle

Every relationship has arguments and disagreements, but most of them don't circle, turning the attention from the issue at hand to the person bringing attention to the issue. This may be the most common gas lighting technique, because it's easy to shift blame when being accused. when I would confront my abuser about his lack of employment, or his unwillingness to help me take care of our home and our animals, it always ended with me crying and apologizing, and none of my issues actually being addressed. When I would bring up how I need time for myself because I was working 40–50 hours a week and coming home to a filthy house that I would be responsible for cleaning, I was told I was being selfish and not wanting to contribute to our household. When I would ask him to get a job because I had not eaten in three days with nothing to eat, I was told I was being demanding and not supportive of my abuser looking for a job. When I would suggest places that were hiring, I was told I was always hounding him about a job constantly, or that I wasn't letting him look for a job that he could actually do. For every legitimate concern, I was met with anger, and always had the blame shift to me, I was always the one who was asking to much, demanding too much, being unrealistic, and told that my mental health was clouding my judgement and that my goals were unrealistic. It was after I left that I realized that keeping a job, or contributing to your household chores are not only reasonable expectations, but much needed ones for most relationships.

Red Flag #4: Degrading and Minimizing

One of the key ways that abusers manipulate their victims is to degrade their self esteem, making the victim feel so undesirable that they do not look to others to escape their abuse. One key tactic is to ignore the victim, then offer compassion and affection for a small amount of time, then ignore them again to lower their personal bar on what is considered affection. A year into my marriage and I was already groomed by this tactic. I would work a 12 hour shift at work, coming home seeking comfort from my spouse. I would come in the door, greeting him, and asking for a hug. He would often ignore me as though he didn't see or hear me come in. I would come up to him, emotionally distraught, practically begging him to at least acknowledge me. Several hours, or minutes would pass by before he would get out of the recliner he lived out of, come over to me and begin hugging me and ask me how I was feeling, offering a slight bit of compassion before returning to the recliner, usually to ignore my banter of job hunting, what would we eat that day without any food in the fridge, and how could we continue to survive this way. By this time, it was back to cold stares and silence. I would often take the dog to bed as he played video games late into the night, never a goodnight kiss or a "sleep well." It took months before someone mentioned to me that this wasn't typical for a relationship, after I noticed my friends having loving text conversations while my spouse was constantly asking, "Where are you? Who are you cheating on me with?"

When I started bringing up the lack of attention, I was met with harsh words, calling me "sex addicted" and claiming that I was "mentally broken." My abuser would tell me that I was clingy and emotionally dependent, while denying me basic human interaction most days. He began to minimize my feelings, telling me I was acting "clingy and needy" because I asked for a hug or a kiss. Every time I would bring up how I felt, it was minimized to make me feel like my concerns were not only unimportant, but "silly" or "emotional" even saying I was "overly sensitive." He would assure me that he loved me more than anything, and that I was simply demanding more than the average wife. This is how the abuser makes you start to really second guess yourself, because now even your perceived emotions on physical contact are warped, and you start to feel the titles of "mentally broken," really take hold of you. You start to believe you really are mentally broken. At this point I truly believed I was the problem and checked myself inpatient to a mental hospital.

Red Flag #5: Saying Sorry

After being released from inpatient, I thought that I would finally be the wife and woman I was meant to be, but my biggest and hardest lesson was yet to come. After being released I found that my relationship problems were not only still there, but they were about to manifest into something I wouldn't understand until many years later. When I returned home, the mess no longer bothered me, but my approach had changed. While in my stay I had learned healthy ways to talk to people using "I statements" and thought it would change the course of my relationship. When I would say "I feel like you are unwilling to help make this marriage work," I was met with anger, and again the blame was back on me. "If you weren't so mentally unstable I could probably make something of myself without you holding me back." We were back to a cycle of constantly shifting blame, but I learned in therapy to accept responsibility for our actions, so I was constantly apologizing for how I made him feel. When we talked about jobs, I was apologizing for making him feel pressured. When we talked about keeping the house clean, I apologized for not helping more. I was always saying sorry for everything I did but everything seemed to anger him. When we lost our apartment because he refused to work, we moved in with my parents. They would constantly fight, and I was always apologizing for my parents threatening to kick him out because I kept thinking I was doing the right thing and being the bigger person.

Reality hit when I saw he was sexting with another girl. Like usual the blame was put on me, if only I had been paying more attention to him, he wouldn't have strayed. This time, I had no apology to give. I contacted a therapist who first explained to me "gas lighting" and it was the most clarity I have ever had in my 3 years with him. It wasn't long after I made my escape. He cursed and threw things, choked me, tampered with my car, and packed my clothes with bags of shit in them. No matter what he did to me, I was resolved in my attempt to escape, and as he threw those last few words at me like knives, I couldn't help but sob as the tears streamed down my face. As I watched him fade from my rear view mirror, I knew my life could never be as bad as the days I spent as his wife, penniless, miserable, hungry and mentally destroyed.

Its been 2 years since I made my great escape. I'm still married to him, but he longer owns me or my body, and he doesn't have any contact with me or a way to find me. I have found peace, and I know now that I was mentally and physically abused by my husband, but there are many women like me who will fall into the trap set by those that claim to love them. I encourage all of you to take back your lives, and search for someone that will love you with every bit of their soul. I've finally let myself enter into a wonderful and supportive relationship with someone that truly does want what is best for me. There will eventually come a day where I will see my abuser in court to finalize the divorce, but when that day comes I will not only be ready, I will revel in the chance to look him dead in the eyes and know that I survived and overcame a master of manipulation.

For more information about abuse or for resources contact:

1-800-799-7233 or


Courtney Cothron

Courtney is a native Texan that doesnt fit the traditional Texas stereotype. She enjoys all things creative and hopes to distroy the stigma around bipolar disorder, mental illness, and domestic abuse. Her favorite thing ever is cheesecake.

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