Opening Up! by Deborah A. Griffiths


Imagine my surprise to learn that Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2022 was “gaslighting.”  Why the surprise? Truthfully, when researching information for my novel, Torched – Burnt By a Gaslighter, I learned of this word and its meaning. Twenty-five years ago, I left an abusive relationship under the guise of verbal abuse. Times change, more research happens, and terms become better defined. While the word has become commonplace, make no mistake that gaslighting is a form of domestic abuse and needs to stop.

            What is gaslighting? According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “gaslighting is the psychological manipulation of a person over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question their thoughts, reality, or even their memories.”[1]  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 43 million women and 38 million men have admitted to being abused. At the same time, one in three teenagers will experience physical, sexual, or emotional abuse from someone they are in a relationship with before they become adults. These statistics are staggering. Gaslighting can occur in the workplace, between a parent and a child, or, most commonly, in interpersonal relationships. Hollywood has provided an example of gaslighting with the 1944 film “Gaslight” by Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. Disney used animation to illustrate gaslighting in its 2010 animated film, “Tangled,” and, more recently, Starz’s series “Gaslit” with Julia Roberts showcases gaslighting in the political arena. Seeing it happen on the movie screen is much different than living the nightmare daily. I know. It happened to me and to millions like me.

            My story began forty years ago. I was eighteen and a freshman in college when I met “him.”  On the second day of class, he approached me asking for my notes, and as I turned around to speak to him, I quickly noticed his good looks. I gave him my notes and left for another class. Later that afternoon, he saw me walking and ran up to greet me, subsequently asking for my phone number, which I gladly provided.    A year and a half later, we married. My stomach flipped as I walked down the aisle the day I got married. That haunting feeling would return seventeen years later.

            A couple of months into the marriage, an incident occurred where he got so angry that he punched his fists through the wall and hit me across the face. I was stunned. I didn’t know what I did that was so bad to deserve being hit. Although nineteen at the time, I didn’t want to tell my parents for fear that I would have to admit that I made a mistake in getting married. Besides, I took a vow of “until death do you part” and was committed to keeping my word. There would be another incident of physical abuse later in the marriage, but that incident happened to my oldest child when I was pregnant with my youngest child. I hated the feeling that I had to choose between protecting my oldest while putting my youngest in jeopardy or vice versa. Years later, I finally forgave myself. 

            However, it was the gaslighting that took its toll. Things would be great for a while before he would lash out for no apparent reason. His excuses could range from not liking a meal, what I wore, how I looked, the house not clean enough, shirts not ironed correctly, etc. In addition, he found ways to keep me isolated. I wasn’t allowed to work outside the home, criticized neighbors I spoke with, and was strict about when I could talk with my family. I had not realized how isolated I was until years later. 

            One day, I purchased a national woman’s magazine that contained an article about verbal abuse. A few days after the purchase, I read the article.  One sentence caught my attention. The author indicated that she realized she was in an abusive marriage when her husband came home, and her stomach flipped. I immediately remembered my wedding day when my stomach flipped.

            My husband traveled quite a bit during this time, and I soon realized that when he came home, my stomach would flip. Soon after, I informed my husband that I wanted a divorce. He was unhappy and continued to pressure me to change my mind. The pressure was so great that I attempted suicide. My doctor told me that my environment was making me sick. I knew what I needed to do. The day I left, his parting words were, “You will never make it, and no one will ever love you.”. Guess what? I made it!

            Healing from domestic abuse is a daunting task but not an impossible one. We all heal at our own pace, and that’s okay. It’s taken me twenty-five years to fully open up about what happened, and I consider it part of my healing journey. I now want to open up more and help others by sharing my story and providing them hope that they can leave these types of relationships and successfully rebuild their lives. If you, or someone you know, is in an abusive relationship, please get in touch with the National Domestic Violence Awareness Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. More information on the red flags and the subtleties of domestic abuse can be found on my website at or in my novel, Torched – Burnt By a Gaslighter, available on Amazon.

[1] “Gaslighting,” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 June. 2022

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