Gaslighting Women and the Social Taboo of Addiction

Gaslighting Women and the Social Taboo of Addiction

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

When it comes to getting help for addiction and barriers that stand in the way of receiving treatment, few are as insidious as gaslighting women. Women may find it difficult to speak up and ask for help for addiction. Addiction is, after all, a social taboo, and one in which women are expected to avoid in gender politics. In coming forward and seeking a solution, women may be led to doubt themselves and their experiences. This is called gaslighting.

Societal stigmas often herald men who receive treatment for addiction but shun women who have asked for the same help. If a woman is surrounded by a peer group that does not support her, she may doubt her own moral and intrinsic value. People who engage in this type of manipulation may do so for a variety of reasons and may not necessarily realize the harm it causes. However, the result is the same: gaslighting women.

Gaslighting can happen at any time or in any situation. Fortunately, there are ways for women to overcome this harmful tactic. It is never okay to use mental health to attack someone trying to better her life. At First Steps Recovery, we believe the best remedy for toxic behavior is to create a compassionate and inclusive environment that addresses the unique challenges women face. Read on as we discuss the intricate web of social taboos that surround issues of women’s mental health, substance abuse, and gaslighting tactics.

What Do We Mean When We Say “Gaslighting Women”?

The 1944 Ingrid Bergman film Gaslight follows a wife who doubts her sanity because her husband manipulates her. To accomplish this, he turns down the gas in their home, leaving the lights to flicker, and then denies doing so or even seeing the event. Eventually, his wife loses her grip on reality due to his machinations. From this, we get the term “gaslighting.” As with any psychological abuse, the devastation it can have on one’s psyche is as bad as physical abuse.

Navigating the healthcare system can be hard. Gaslighting women, or using manipulation to distort women’s reality and self-confidence, can affect women receiving proper care. When a woman sees a health care provider who dismisses her or her symptoms without serious examination, she is facing gaslighting. This tactic can make women feel they should keep their symptoms to themselves or even doubt those symptoms altogether.

Many people around us may want us to doubt our resolve to seek treatment for substance abuse. Some of these may be people who currently abuse substances. Medical professionals who have prescribed medications that lead to addiction may also deny the symptoms of addiction and delay treatment. What is important to remember is that women know their bodies better than anyone else. If a woman is going to trust an opinion, it should be her own.

The Long History of Gaslighting Women

Since ancient times, medicine has not exactly been friendly to women. In ancient Greece and ancient Egypt, the term hysteria was derived from the Greek word for uterus, “hystera.” It was a generally accepted fact that if a woman was emotional, it was because her uterus had become dislodged and was floating free through her body. This detachment was believed to “upset” the natural calm of her body.

By tying the act of being overly emotional to women only, societies have marginalized or dismissed women’s emotional experiences. This itself is a form of gaslighting perpetuated on women throughout history. Overcoming these deep-seated prejudices will require a complete redefinition of care for women.

How Gaslighting Can Lead To Substance Use Disorders

Gaslighting is one of the most common manipulation tactics individuals may face in abusive relationships. Women who face abuse in relationships can feel emotionally vulnerable and in need of an outlet or an escape. Experiencing this erodes their self-worth and distorts their usual view of reality.

When women face this kind of abuse, they may develop unhelpful coping mechanisms, including substance use. In turn, substance use can then be used by an abuser to further distort women’s reality, creating a vicious cycle.

Gaslighting Women Facing the Taboo of Substance Abuse

Once women have decided to get help for substance use, they may still face subtle manipulation. Women face a significant amount of judgment and societal stigma for addiction. Deeply ingrained taboos in our society concerning women and substance abuse can lead to gaslighting women.

The best way to mitigate the hazards of gaslighting women seeking treatment for substance use is to challenge stigmas. When a person challenges stigmas surrounding prejudices, they create environments that are judgment-free and inclusive. At First Steps Recovery, we create services tailored to meet our clients’ specific needs, creating safe spaces for healing.

Addressing the Needs of Women in Substance Abuse Treatment and Recovery

In challenging stigmas, it is important to create an environment where women receive gender-responsive support. Tailoring the treatment to the needs of clients is especially important when the practice of gaslighting women has created harm. The best way to provide gender-responsive support is by using evidence-based practices in treatment.

It is important to recognize that women have distinct paths to treatment and recovery that affect them differently emotionally. Women have many concerns when they go into treatment that may not be shared by men. Therefore, women need to address their fears and trauma as well as prejudices they may have faced before. These prejudices can concern issues such as gender roles and childcare.

At First Steps Recovery, the aforementioned types of treatment and evidence-based practices are how we create nurturing and inclusive environments for our clients. Our gender-responsive treatments empower women to meet the unique challenges they face. We combine individualized and group therapies as well as holistic therapies. Combined, these treatments pave the way to overcoming gaslighting women and creating successful and sustainable recovery outcomes.

In the 1944 film Gaslight, a housewife is manipulated by her husband and made to believe she is crazy as he controls her environment. In many aspects of their lives, women face gaslighting as a manipulation tactic designed to erode their self-confidence. This abusive tactic may lead to or exacerbate substance abuse in women and may be a barrier to women seeking treatment. The gender-responsive approach of First Steps Recovery aims to foster a sense of sisterhood and community. This approach allows women to feel understood, validated, and supported throughout their recovery. To learn more, call us today at (844) 489-0836 and discover a treatment process designed to meet the unique challenges faced by women seeking treatment.

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