It’s not usual for a woman to hear the words “you’re crazy” from the man in her life.
Don’t believe it for a moment, says Yashar Ali in a recent article, A Message 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 their partner’s voice and influence, it seems automatic (to both the gaslighter and the gaslightee).
Because the habit is so ingrained, conceivably, many men may be aware when they are gaslighting. It is 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 its focus to “her problems” of nagging and being too “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 brain into making several false, misleading (and unfortunate) conclusions.
For one, they interpret the effectiveness of this thought control tactic to silence their partner’s voice as “proof” of men’s superiority, rightful dominance, strength and intelligence compared women’s, etc., and thus get tricked into relying on a tactic that harms their relationship, and gradually pushes their partner away.
In truth, gaslighting is a major obstacle to forming a healthy, vibrant couple relationship — emotional intimacy. For most female partners, for example, a failure to build emotional intimacy often means a gradual loss of interest in sex.
And what does it spell when a man doesn’t get sex (his way of connecting to love) and a woman doesn’t get emotional intimacy (her way)? A disaster.. Suddenly, a male partner can feel confused and exhaust himself doing everything he knows to do (except what works) to get their partner back to wanting sex. In time, both feel increasingly scared, 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 of divorce 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 husbands automatically acted to cut off any attempts of wives to influence. To the researchers, this intentional behavior was likened to that of a baseball player at the plate, ever ready to “bat” a home run.
This and subsequent studies found that a husband’s “refusal to accept influence from his wife” — in effect, gaslighting — is highly predictive of divorce. On the bright side, findings also showed that a husband’s “acceptance of influence from his wife” is even more predictive of a stable and happy marriage.
Naturally, the problem here is not male partners, rather the social conditioning that trains men to anxiously feel they have to prove masculinity on the basis of how different they are from women — and in general that means avoiding the “soft” stuff their female partners want, such as romance, nonsexual touch, doing things she wants or likes (without feeling emasculated), etc.
Culturally speaking, we don’t trust that a baby boy will grow to become a man in the same way that an acorn becomes an oak tree. We expect men to be on guard throughout their lives to prove 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 back on track. (This shaming has intensified in last two decades.)
As Ali notes, gaslighting is a result of social conditioning rooted in a set of beliefs 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 never express 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 in a dilemma: control them–or be controlled. In other words, the message is for men to keep their distance and be on the alert not to fall for the “emotional” stuff; it emasculates men and turns them gay.
This “get the enemy or they’ll get you” norm stems from an ideology of “might makes right” favored by oligarchs from the beginning of history. It keeps a ruling few in power, and prepares men for training to fight wars. It fails however to prepare them to partner with their wife to 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 tactic of gaslighting is also a form of thought control, a training that teaches a human being to not do 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 system because it propels 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, when this training begins in childhood, as often occurs for men (and an increasing number of women), it’s more likely to be enduring … meaning resistant to change.
The training to administer gaslighting prevents the development of empathy and compassion-based responses, and thus key attributes 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, to learn to deny feeling pain, their own and their partners in order to prove their strength and worth, and to be “expected” to maintain a one-up position in relation to their partner, especially with regard to whose pleasures, wants, needs take precedence, etc. They are expected to treat 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’s a competition, and she’s vying for control and he either has to stay in control, or at best make sure she does not get the 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 teaches both 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 to mutually share and respect and enjoy one another’s strengths, and support and treat one another as capable of growth (instead of treating each other as one another’s “projects” that need fixing).
The situations in which a man tends to gaslight can widely in intensity or extent. In general, gasligting tends to occur in situations where are asking for emotional closeness, communication, time together, participating with chores, stopping a hurtful behavior, thoughtfully responding to the children’s feelings, and so on.
In general male partners use gaslighting in 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 a deeper commitment.
- To give some attention to improving their relationship.
- To share thoughts and feelings.
- To express affection and warmth.
Standing up for herself, such as when she asks him:
- To not make her the butt of his jokes.
- To call if he’s going to be late.
- To not get upset when she says “no” to sex.
- To apologize for a hurtful action.
- For touch and affection that doesn’t lead to sex.
- To do something together that she likes.
Criticizes something he did as hurtful or upsetting, such as when she asks him:
- To stop communicating with an ex.
- To stop calling her using derogatory terms.
- To stop correcting her in front of others.
- To show respect or interest in hearing her opinions.
- To not gawk, stare or signal interest in other women when together.
Seeking collaboration at home, such as when she asks him:
- To help so she is not overloaded with chores after her work day.
- To be more involved in the children’s lives.
- To help with transport of children to and from babysitter, school events, etc.
- To spend more time together 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, some men become aware of this conditioning, and reject it for a win-win model of relationship building.
Here are a few examples that are typical of gaslighting, as a way to redirect silence a partner’s attempts to bring up an issue, and redirect the 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 never really works for men (or women, or parents for that matter). It is defense strategy, a reactive way to avoid feeling the fears associated with the formation of emotional intimacy and closeness in a relationship. Turning love into a competition for who has a voice and doesn’t, whose needs are valued versus whose are not is a lose-lose proposition, guaranteed to prevent both from growing as individuals and reaping the benefits of a great partnership.
It’s an illusion, not power. (A smokescreen hiding a path that destroys relationships, a deadly cliff.)
The fact is, humans do not like to be dominated (not even children), and any habits of treating a partner like a child or acting like a parent “who knows what’s best” destroy and harm genuine 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 an either-or question, it’s rather both-and. Real power is a choice for both to use their amazing 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?