It’s not unusual for a woman to hearthe words “you’re crazy” from the manin herlife.
Don’t believe it for a moment, says Yashar Ali in arecent article,AMessage to Women From a Man: You Are Not Crazy.”
Of course most women know it’s not crazy” to want closeness or to express hurt feelings, at least deep down; it’s refreshing however to read an article by a guy talking about his own past use of “gaslighting” — a tactic men use so often to silence theirpartner’s voice and influence, it seems automatic (to both the gaslighter and the gaslightee).
Because the habit is so ingrained, conceivably, many men maybeaware when they aregaslighting. Itis after all,a quick-fix way at any moment to end a conversation he doesn’t want to be in, and more specifically, to redirect itsfocus to “her problems” of nagging and beingtoo “emotional,” “controlling,” “crazy” or “sensitive,” etc.
Because women are conditioned to collaborate and empathize, this tactic can send a woman’s brain into an exhaustive wheel-spinning mode of explaining, complaining, crying, begging,pleading, etc.(and women’s socialization leaves them more susceptible …), and deceive a man’s braininto making several false, misleading(and unfortunate) conclusions.
For one, they interpret the effectiveness of this thought control tactic tosilence their partner’s voice as “proof” of men’s superiority, rightfuldominance, strength and intelligence comparedwomen’s, etc., and thus get tricked into relying on atactic that harms their relationship, and gradually pushes their partner away.
In truth, gaslightingis a major obstacletoformingahealthy, vibrant couple relationship — emotional intimacy. For most female partners, for example, a failure tobuild emotional intimacyoften means agradualloss of interest in sex.
And what does itspell when a man doesn’t get sex (his way of connecting to love)and a woman doesn’t getemotional intimacy (her way)? Adisaster..Suddenly, a male partner canfeel confused and exhaust himselfdoingeverything he knowsto do (except what works) to get their partner back to wanting sex. In time, both feel increasinglyscared, insecure, and unloved, at a loss how to get back what they once had, or was it all an illusion?
Although the details are different for each couple, the pattern is similar, and widespread.
In a 1998 study of 130 newlywed couples designed to explore predictors ofdivorce or marital stability, marriage researcher and author Dr. John Gottman and colleagues, labeled this observed behavior of husbands–as”bat-em-back” — due to the force with which husbandsautomaticallyacted to cut off any attempts of wives to influence. To the researchers, thisintentionalbehavior was likened to that ofabaseball player at the plate, ever ready to “bat” a home run.
This and subsequent studiesfoundthat a husband’s”refusal to accept influence from his wife”– in effect, gaslighting –ishighly predictive of divorce. On the bright side, findings also showed that ahusband’s “acceptance of influence from his wife” iseven morepredictive of a stable and happy marriage.
Naturally, the problem here is not male partners, rather thesocial conditioning that trainsmen to anxiously feel they haveto prove masculinity on the basis of how different they are fromwomen — and in general that meansavoidingthe “soft” stuff their female partners want, such as romance, nonsexual touch, doing things she wants or likes (without feeling emasculated), etc.
Culturally speaking, wedon’ttrust that a baby boy willgrow to become a manin the sameway thatanacorn becomes an oak tree. We expect mento be on guard throughout their lives toprove they are the “real”thing, and not “sissies” or “gay” and the like.And men’s fears are real; everyone is”watching,” male and female, ready to shame them to get backon track. (This shaming has intensified in last two decades.)
As Ali notes, gaslighting is a result of social conditioningrooted ina set ofbeliefs regarding gender roles and masculinity, such as that:
- Women’s opinions don’t hold as much weight.
- Women’s wants should not be treated as legitimate.
- Men should neverexpress regret when their actions have caused pain.
From boyhood, for example, men are taught to regard a woman’s attempts to form closeness as dangerous. This leaves the male gender ina dilemma: control them–or be controlled. In other words, the message is for men tokeep their distance and be on the alert not tofall for the”emotional” stuff; itemasculates men and turns them gay.
This “get the enemy or they’ll get you” normstems froman ideology of”might makes right” favored by oligarchs from the beginning of history. Itkeeps a ruling fewin power, andprepares menfor training to fight wars. It fails however to prepare themto partner with their wifeto form a healthy and passionate partnership.
As a form of thought control, gaslighting can cause any unaware brain to go into mental states of doubt and confusion.
The conditioning to use the tacticofgaslighting is also a form of thought control, a training that teachesa human beingto notdo what is natural to all humans, male or female, and that is: to feel emotions of vulnerability and pain, such as empathy, compassion for self and others. Instead they are taught to hate and disdain vulnerable emotions and to associate them with those who are weak, inferior, childlike, or gay.
This is topsy-turvy belief systembecause itpropels men to take high risks and run toward real dangers,in order to avoid the dangers of … mutually sharing of vulnerable feelings, a prerequisite to both partners feeling closer.
Naturally, whenthis training begins in childhood, asoften occurs formen (and an increasing number of women), it’s more likely to be enduring … meaning resistant to change.
The training to administer gaslightingprevents the development ofempathy and compassion-based responses, and thus keyattributes of what it means to be human. The result? A range of behaviors which, on one side of spectrum, consist of narcissistic tendencies and on the other side, a full blown sociopathic disorder.
It is not healthy for human beings, male or female, tolearn to deny feeling pain, their own and their partnersin order to prove theirstrength and worth, and to be”expected” to maintain a one-up position in relation to their partner, especially with regard towhose pleasures, wants, needs take precedence, etc. They are expected totreat their partner as they would a potential adversary, vying for power. They are expected to prove their ability to dominate. To most men, whether they openly say so or keep it inside, it’sa competition, and she’s vying for control and he either has to stay in control, or at best make sure she does not getthe control she wants.
The idea of forming a partnership of two equals who love to make one another happy (in ways other than sex) is not on most men’s radar screens.
This social conditioning teachesboth men and women however to think of one another as needy and weak.
From this worldview, it makes sense that men behave or act as if it’s their “job” to socialize a female partner to “know their place” in the relationship by undermining or dismissing their influence on a daily basis.
And thus, gaslighting is a defensive strategy that protects men from participating in “unmanly” things. By saying “No” to their partners, they avoid relationship processes that they’ve been conditioned to associate with weakness, inferiority, and low worth. And thus they proudly say “No” to feeling their own and their partner’s pain — and treat women like they’re “crazy” most likely because, deep down, that’s what they’ve learned to believe to feel manly.
Similarly, parents are socialized to socialize their children to obedience using a punitive parent-knows-best approach. (According to sociology books, it’s part of an overall ideology that normalizes a top-down master-slave social order.)
It also makes sense that, when women ask, most male partners keep their thoughts to themselves.
A new view of men and women as first and foremost human beings with very real emotion-drives to form healthy partnership relationships would be refreshing. This would free both tomutually share and respect and enjoy one another’s strengths, and support and treat one another as capable of growth(instead of treatingeach other as one another’s “projects” that need fixing).
The situations in which a man tends to gaslight canwidely in intensity or extent.In general, gasligting tends tooccur in situations where are asking for emotional closeness, communication, time together,participatingwith chores, stoppingahurtful behavior, thoughtfully responding to thechildren’s feelings, and so on.
In general male partners use gaslightingin response to their partner when she is…:
Seeking more emotional closeness, such as when she asks him:
- To have more heart to heart talks.
- For adeeper commitment.
- To give some attention to improving their relationship.
- To share thoughts and feelings.
- Toexpress affection and warmth.
Standing up for herself, such as when she asks him:
- To not make her the butt of his jokes.
- To callif hes going to be late.
- To notget upsetwhen she saysno to sex.
- To apologize for a hurtful action.
- Fortouch andaffection that doesn’t lead to sex.
- To do something together that shelikes.
Criticizes something he did as hurtful or upsetting, such as when she asks him:
- To stopcommunicatingwith an ex.
- To stop calling her using derogatory terms.
- To stop correcting herin front of others.
- To show respect or interest in hearingheropinions.
- Tonot gawk, stare or signal interest in otherwomen when together.
Seeking collaboration at home, such as when she asks him:
- Tohelp soshe is not overloaded with chores after her work day.
- To bemore involvedin the children’s lives.
- To help withtransport ofchildren to and from babysitter, school events, etc.
- To spend more timetogether as a family.
- To not interrupt when she’s talking or talk down when he responds.
This list is not comprehensive, and thankfully, there are also exceptions. Like Ali, somemen become aware of this conditioning, and reject it for a win-win model of relationship building.
Here are a fewexamples that are typical of gaslighting, as a way to redirect silence a partner’s attempts to bring up an issue, and redirectthe focus to what’s “wrong” with her instead:
- You’re too sensitive.
- Listen to yourself, you’re losing it.
- You’re so childish.
- Here you go with your irrational stuff again.
- I’m not arguing. I’m trying to talk sense into you.
- You’re crazy, out of your mind.
- Everybody knows how controlling you are.
- My job is more important. You just do busy work.
- I don’t answer your calls because you just ramble about nothing.
- So I’m late, get over it. Are we going out or not?
- You’re always making things up.
- I’m not trying to control you. You’re taking out what your ex did on me.
Gaslighting neverreally works for men(or women, or parents for that matter). It is defense strategy, a reactiveway to avoid feeling the fears associated with the formationof emotional intimacy and closeness in a relationship. Turning love intoa competition for who has a voice and doesn’t, whose needs are valued versus whose are not is a lose-lose proposition, guaranteedto prevent both from growing as individuals and reaping the benefits of a great partnership.
It’san illusion, not power. (A smokescreen hiding a path that destroys relationships, a deadly cliff.)
The fact is, humans do not liketo be dominated(not even children), and any habits of treating a partner like a childoracting like a parent “who knows what’s best” destroy and harmgenuine intimacy.
Learning how to get comfortable with uncomfortable emotions so that you develop healthy skills for authentic communications is essential to both partners. In a couple relationship, real power is not aneither-or question, it’s rather both-and. Real power is a choice for both to use theiramazing abilities to imagine and create a healthy vibrant and passionate partnership and friendship.
Besides, it’s much more fun when both partners fall in love with making one another happy, as you did in the beginning, remember?