The impact of repeated, subtle power manipulations causes significant self-doubt. After a while, people who experience that kind of emotional trauma react as if they have been traumatized. They do become sensitivento any kind of comments that causes self-doubt to an already fragile emotionalbstructure. They do act in a defensivebmanner, far out of proportion to the original comment. And the emotionally fragile person begins tobstrike out emotionally, out of a sense of self-preservation, causing their ownbemotional damage to their spouse and their children. The person who originally caused the emotional damage may not even be the spouse, it may be a prior relationship, perhaps even a childhood relationship. The person who begins reacting to real or perceived emotional abuse can end up with significant personality disorder traits of their own.

There is also the very real possibility that either the Aggressor (the person making the statements) or the Target has a personality disorder, or at the very least, has traits of a personality disorder. Someone who has a personality disorder has very black and white thinking, with limited insight into their own behavior. The person has emotional reasoning, assuming that if he or she feels that way, it must be a fact. Further the person often projects problems onto other people, so that he or she cannot be at fault. This is especially true of narcissism, where the person has an extreme preoccupation with self, and feels superior to other people. To a narcissist, if the gaslights are flickering, it is because that is the reality, and the other person must have the same reality. The purpose is not to convince the other person that she or he is insane, but to have the narcissist view of reality confirmed.

Being the psychologically complex beings that human are, there is often another layer, in which is using the psychologically correct language becomes an emotional attack. The first layer is the person who is emotionally targeted by another person (the “target”). The second layer is the reaction and overreaction of the person being targeted, in a way that makes it appear that the person being targeted is the abusive person. A third layer is when either the Aggressor (the personal making the first emotionally attacking statements) or the Target figure out through some limited research on the internet what kind of language is psychologically correct to identify yourself as the victim. Here’s what I mean. First layer – Husband tells Wife that she is a terrible mother and the children would be better off with him and he should divorce her and take the children for the children’s protection. The Aggressor is intentionally making statements to cause self-doubt, when the statements are not correct. Second layer – Wife reacts by screaming at Husband, that she hates him, and he causes all of the drama by insulting her, and he should just die. The Target defensively reacted. Third layer – Husband then responds in an overly calm manner that Wife needs to make “I” statements, that she cannot appropriately have a reasonable conversation when she is overly emotional and accusatory, and that her emotional volatility is clearly symptomatic of borderline personality disorder. By the time you have many levels of action, reaction and redefining action, it is difficult to
unravel who is the target and who is the aggressor. By the third layer, the Target has been hit with several attacks of self-doubt: her parenting, her fitness as a parent, and her mental instability. Nothing has been done to address the issue of the psychological attacks. To make it more complicated, of course, it is possible that Wife really does have a personality disorder, and her husband is really the target, not the aggressor. The behavior is the same.

Although it is more obvious in women, and occurs more often in women, the pattern of behavior is by no means limited to coming from men to
women. It could just as easily have been the woman telling the man that he is the one being abusive because he is not responding to her demands in the manner that she requires. Husband is then in a no-win scenario, because he is either abusive because he is causing wife to feel threatened, or he is abusive because he doesn’t recognize that his actions are causing wife to feel threatened.