Sex Addicts and “Gaslighting”

Posted on December 6th, 2014

Sex Addicts and “Gaslighting”When dealing with sexual addiction, it is important to recognize the damage that sex addicts do to the people around them, especially if the addict is married or in an otherwise committed and supposedly monogamous long-term romantic relationship. One of the ways in which sex addicts commonly harm their partners is unofficially known as “gaslighting.” Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where false information is presented, usually repeatedly, causing the victimized partner to doubt his or her perception, memory, judgment, and even sanity.

The term originates from the 1938 stage-play, Gaslight, which was famously adapted for the silver screen in 1944. In the story, Gregory (played in the film version by Charles Boyer) convinces his wife Paula (played by Ingrid Bergman) that she’s imagining things, most notably the occasional dimming of their house’s gas lights, as part of his ongoing effort to steal her deceased Aunt’s money and jewels. (The lights dim whenever he is in the attic, searching for the Aunt’s treasure.) Over time, Gregory’s persistent lies cause Paula (and others) to question her sanity.

Certainly the plot of Gaslight seems somewhat outlandish in today’s modern world. However, the concept of denying a person’s intuitive sense of reality is a relatively common form of emotional and psychological manipulation and abuse, especially when it comes to infidelity in the course of sexual addiction. In short, sex addicts cover their tracks with excuses, half-truths, and outright lies. Usually these fabrications start out small and seem reasonable and believable. Over time, however, as the addiction escalates, so do the lies. Nevertheless, the addict, attempting to cover his or her behavior, perpetrates these mistruths with absolute conviction, causing the worried partner to wonder if he or she is simply being paranoid and unfair. In this way the betrayed spouse may wonder if he or she is the problem, if his or her emotional instability is the issue. Thus, in the face of gaslighting, betrayed partners can lose faith in their ability to perceive reality.

Sadly, even emotionally healthy people are vulnerable to gaslighting, primarily because it starts slowly and builds over time. It’s a little like placing a frog in a pan of warm water and then turning up the heat. Because the water temperature rises only gradually, the frog never even realizes it’s being cooked. In the exact same way, loving spouses are duped into thinking they are crazy and paranoid. Needless to say, this constant denial of reality is incredibly traumatic to the victim.

The Sexual Recovery Institute’s Founder, Robert Weiss, has often stated that in cases of sexual addiction, it’s not any specific sexual act (or acts) that does the most damage to a trusting partner. Instead, it’s the betrayal of relationship trust caused by all the lying and secret keeping (i.e., the gaslighting). And this trauma is compounded when the betrayal of trust is chronic, occurring repeatedly over a long period of time, as is usually the case with sexual addiction.

Eventually, gaslighting always takes a toll, creating in victims a stress pileup that leads to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and other painful issues. One study looking at the wives of sex addicts found that, after learning about their husband’s serial infidelity and all of the lies that supported it, a majority of these betrayed spouses experienced acute stress symptoms characteristic of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Such is the intentional psychological abuse that sex addicts perpetrate on their spouses, partners, families, friends, employers, and anyone else who might get in the way of the compulsive sexual activity.

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