Trauma and Gaslighting

Gaslighting Quotes That Capture This Emotional Manipulation

  1. “Gaslighting is mind control to make victims doubt their reality.” — Tracy Malone.
  2. “Gaslighting is a subtle form of emotional manipulation that often results in the recipient doubting their perception of reality and sanity. In addition, gaslighting is a method of manipulation by toxic people to gain power over you. The worst part about gaslighting is that it undermines your self-worth to where you’re second-guessing everything.” — Dana Arcuri.
  3. “It frightens me because I feel vulnerable to attacks, an easy target for gaslighting. Phrases like ‘No, I didn’t say that!’, ‘You don’t remember,’ and ‘You must have forgotten,’ start rattling my brain and making me jittery.” — Ankita Sahani


The term Gaslighting became well known from a 1944 movie called Gaslight, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. In the movie, the husband attempts to convince his wife that she is insane by telling her she imagines things that are not happening. For example, he secretly sets the gas lights in their home to become dim and tries to convince her that the lights are not dim. In the end, a police officer becomes involved and uncovers the plot.

There are many cases of childhood trauma where family members state the trauma happened a long time ago, and it’s time to get over it. Some family members deny that it ever happened.

What is meant by gaslighting?

Gaslighting means undermining another person’s reality by denying facts, the surrounding environment, or their feelings and memories. Ultimately, the target of gaslighting may doubt their sanity.

The trauma of childhood abuse can have long-lasting repercussions that affect your understanding of yourself and the world around you. For many, the effects of abuse show up in dysfunctional interpersonal relationships resulting from attachment disruptions at pivotal points of childhood development. By examining the impact of childhood abuse on interpersonal relationships and therapy’s role in healing, people can better understand their experiences and the possibilities for recovery.

One result of childhood trauma can be dissociative disorders:

Dissociative disorders involve the inability to distinguish between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions, and identity. People with dissociative disorders escape reality in involuntary and unhealthy ways. Escaping reality causes problems with functioning in everyday life. In one case, a patient dissociated when she had to move from her apartment after many years. Any stress can set off this disorder.

The Impact of Childhood Abuse on Interpersonal Relationships

Emotional abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse are associated with distress in adult relationships. However, it is essential to remember that any abuse survivor can experience profound interpersonal difficulties, including:

  • An inability to trust: The ability to trust others is critical to forming and maintaining healthy relationships. However, when someone has experienced childhood abuse, that ability is often diminished or removed altogether. As a result, you may be reluctant to engage in honest and open relationships for fear of being betrayed or harmed. Staying closed off, guarded, or hypervigilant can make it difficult for others to feel close to you. You deny yourself the opportunity to form healthy and meaningful bonds. The lack of trust also affects all insecure attachment styles.
  • Avoidant attachment: Some people who do not experience the benefit of secure attachment in childhood must avoid attachment to others altogether. Avoidant people cannot trust others. It also arises because of extreme self-reliance. Many abuse survivors learned they could not rely on others to meet their attachment needs early. Those with an avoidant attachment may ignore those needs or attempt to meet them themselves. In adulthood, this typically translates to social avoidance or the formation of emotionally distant relationships in which you remain unresponsive to the needs of others.
  • Ambivalent attachment: Survivors of childhood abuse develop a weak attachment style. People with an ambivalent attachment style desire intimacy. However, they are ever watchful of change in the relationship, sometimes to the point of paranoia, “frustrated and resentful, particularly if you feel misunderstood or vulnerable.
  • Disorganized attachment: People who experience this style are deeply fearful of relationships. However, they crave emotional closeness. You are at once afraid of intimacy and of being alone. As a result, you may lash out if you feel ignored or unloved while being reluctant to show affection for others. These patterns create significant barriers to forming and maintaining healthy relationships.

People who experience childhood abuse are vulnerable to developing mental health disorders that compromise emotional and behavioral stability, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, borderline personality disorder, and Fragmentation or Dissociative Disorders. These illnesses present additional challenges to healthy interpersonal relationships, leading to re-traumatization and further emotional damage.

Please submit questions and comments to Dr. Schwartz at

The Scapegoat or Sacrificial Lamb

The bottom line is that making someone the scapegoat is abuse, whether that person is a child or an adult. Another way to phrase the problem is no one wants to be the sacrificial lamb.

Scape Goat or the Sacrificial Lamb

“The psychoanalytic theory holds that unwanted thoughts and feelings can be unconsciously projected onto another, who then becomes a scapegoat for one’s own problems.” 

“It’s too easy to criticize a man when he’s out of favor, and to make him shoulder the blame for everybody else’s mistakes.”

Leo Tolstoy

During the many years of my practice, I encountered some clients who complained they felt picked on and abused by their family of origin. Even though they were now adults, they reported feeling distressed and depressed over this problem.

While scapegoating happens, family members are unaware of what they are doing. They would deny it if confronted with their behavior. Often, scapegoating begins in childhood and continues into and throughout adulthood. For various reasons, these adults, during their childhoods, were the target of accusations, blame, criticism, and ostracism.

Why would a family choose a loved one to bully and scapegoat? The answer has much to do with the scapegoating concept and its purpose. Scapegoating is often a way for families to hide problems they cannot face. These problems include incest, parental infidelity, alcoholism, mental illness, and alcohol and drug abuse. These are just a few examples.

A parent with Borderline Personality or Narcissistic Personality Disorder can vent their frustrations, aggression, and hatred against one child by uniting the others who are made to believe that this one sibling is guilty of everything. In this scenario, the parent goads the other children to pick on the one. None of these stop in adulthood. Of course, the child whose personality is most like the personality disordered patient is targeted because that parent sees in the child everything they hate about themselves.

There is no way to underestimate the fears, self-hatred, and desperation the victims of scapegoating come to feel. The fact is that these people become depressed, anxious, withdrawn, and even, in the worst cases, suicidal. It is common for them to believe what the family tells them so that they accept all the blame and finger-pointing at them.

Individual and family therapy for helping people in this situation. Family members are often unwilling to attend because they believe nothing is wrong. Sometimes a client walks away from the family of origin and severs all ties. Severing family ties is always challenging.

The bottom line is that making someone the scapegoat is abuse, whether that person is a child or an adult. Another way to phrase the problem is no one wants to be the sacrificial lamb.




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