Gaslighting: A common form of brainwashing in which an abuser tries to falsely convince the victim that the victim is defective, for any purpose whatsoever, such as making the victim more pliable and easily controlled, or making the victim more emotional and therefore more needy and dependent.
Here is an excellent article on gaslighting that details how insidious and innocent-seeming these manipulations can seem, especially at the onset:
We tend to think of an “abuser” as some amped-up sort who pummels a partner with his/her fists – where I think most of us have been abusive from time to time, and some of the worst abuse is emotional – and the effects last long because the victim turns the blame inward – because that person has been led through trust and love of the abuser to believe the hurtful things that are being said.
“Convincing a person that their memory is not in accord with the facts ultimately leads to a distorted view of reality and an inability to trust one’s own judgment. The desired end result is usually to foster a sense of extreme dependence (often on the part of a spouse or significant other); that the victim desperately needs the gaslighter to help him/her remember facts correctly. The abuser may, for example, move objects from their original locations and then insist that the victim in fact misplaced them. The abuser may consistently deny ever having said a thing (that was in fact said), or may repeatedly insist that their victim did in fact a say a thing (that was in fact never said). The victim eventually comes to believe the gaslighter’s definitions of “what really happened” and accept this false projection as truth.”
(from the above-linked Polyamorous Misanthrope article)
This practice is only exacerbated by the fact that many abusers isolate their targets from family, friends, other people who could provide a much-needed perspective check and psychological validation that would counter the psychological damage and loosen the abuser’s hold.
Even though the BDSM community often gets a bad rap in popular media, depicted as a cesspool of abusive and manipulative relationships, in my own life, I found that the worst gaslighting took place at the hands of two of my most vanilla partners.
These days, much of my bond with my Dom thrives on transparency and our ongoing relationship with and service to our local kink community. I know and have personally experienced that is not the case in every relationship, D/s or not.
It verged on epiphany to learn of gaslighting, to have a name to put with a damaging pattern of behaviors, and now that I know of it, I want to let as many people know as possible. It is an important issue, and personal knowledge of it is the key to protecting yourself and limiting its pervasiveness.