Opinion: Gaslighting and psychological abuse need to be addressed on campus

Psychological abuse is prevalent and requires more awareness

College students can be extremely susceptible to various forms of dating violence and abuse. During this stressful transitional period in one’s life, it is crucial to identify symptoms of abuse early on.

Gaslighting is categorized by the National Domestic Violence Hotline as a form of psychological manipulation that forces one to question their perception of reality and memories, through behavior associated with emotional abuse and narcissism. 

Awareness about intimate psychological and verbal abuse is critical and needs to be more commonly known around ASU's campuses. When discussing intimate partner violence, attention is primarily directed toward physical abuse due to more easily identifiable symptoms. However, psychological abuse can be hard to prove, causing the victim to normalize the symptoms and leaving them stuck in a dangerous cycle.

ASU consistently promotes its counseling resources, annually hosting multiple campus-wide events to promote initiatives against domestic violence and sexual assault awareness. 

However, although the University addressed gaslighting in a seminar in February, ASU has yet to create a specific annual event, such as Denim Day, to promote psychological and verbal abuse awareness. This problem is far more important than just two hours of education.

National polls show that the issue of gaslighting is not commonly known or understood. A 2017 poll by YouGov found that 75 percent of American adults had not even heard of the term. However, this does not mean that many Americans have not experienced behavior that could constitute gaslighting —a third of females and 24 percent of males said they had been called "crazy or insane" in a serious manner by a romantic partner.  

Gaslighting is often done by trusted individuals, friends or romantic partners to gain power or control over an individual, making it that much harder to recognize. It has been referred to as “the attempt of one person to overwrite another person’s reality," essentially altering another's perceptions for their own benefit. 

Gaslighting consists of the abuser wearing down the victim mentally over time through psychologically abusive tactics by creating a codependent relationship, giving the other false hope, lying and exaggerating. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists psychological aggression, like gaslighting, as a part of "intimate partner violence", which it views as a “serious, preventable public health problem that affects millions of Americans.”

Amber Douglas, a practicum counselor at ASU, said that it is important to notice the red flags early on before they intensify, naming deceit as a key indicator. 

“Little lies here, snide comments there, it's a really intentional and abusive cycle,"  Douglas said. 

Forty-three percent of college women reported experiencing abusive dating behavior, and  one in five college women reported being verbally abused in a relationship, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

"If you have a relationship with someone and they're consistently setting out to make you think that you're crazy, then it's going to make you question your judgment, your intellect, your sense of self-worth and not have a great deal of security or stability,” Douglas said. “Sometimes they need counseling, it just depends on the level of gaslighting and trauma that has occurred."

ASU recently launched the Devils 4 Devils peer counseling program in order to help create an “emotionally healthy community” at ASU. The purpose is to help students reach out to others, including recognizing “signs and symptoms of mental health and distress.” 

While this is a step in the right direction, the University needs to raise awareness about the various types of dating abuse, which are all important and dangerous.


Reach the columnist at hncumber@asu.edu or follow @hncumber on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors. Want to join the conversation? 

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