'I was gaslighted into a mental clinic'
WHEN Connie* first met her now ex-husband, she knew it was going to be something more than simply a fleeting relationship.
Connecting online, their relationship flourished - and within five months of meeting - the pair were engaged.
"He was very nice and giving," the 46-year-old from Georgia in the United States told news.com.au.
"When he proposed, he took me to New York City and it happened in Chinatown.
"I was very vulnerable and had been single for a long time, but he said all the right things. "He did drink, but I was in love and I thought I could change him."
Connie, who now works as a medical assistant, said the marriage was only short lived. After suspecting her ex of cheating, he became verbally abusive - and the "gaslighting" started.
"He would misplace my keys and put them somewhere else so I looked crazy," she explained.
"He was using fluorescent paint so I would see writing on the wall at night, but it wasn't there during the day. I'd question what's on the wall, and he'd say I was crazy and that nothing was there.
"I spent a week in a mental hospital because I was seeing things that weren't there, and I even went on medication because I thought I was going crazy. It was all very psychotic, and it was really evil."
Gaslighting is described by social commentator Ruth Ostrow as "a covert form of manipulation, intimidation or psychological abuse, sometimes called 'ambient abuse', where false information is presented to the victim, making them doubt their own memory, perception and, quite often, their sanity. Using denial, misdirection, contradiction and mixing of the facts, it attempts to destabilise the victim's beliefs."
Connie said when she tried to question him about his behaviour - the texting and her suspicions - he started to crack.
"I believed in the beginning that he loved me," she explained.
"But as soon as I questioned him about anything, he would throw a rock through a window.
"I couldn't deal with the controlling behaviour and wanting to control me and everything that I was doing.
"He was cheating on me, and when I found out and started questioning him about it, he would immediately go in to a rage and say that I had no business asking him anything."
Connie, who now has a small Facebook page dedicated to helping others who feel they are being gaslighted by their partners, says she's only recently started to get her confidence back after leaving the toxic relationship.
"I have been to counsellors who think my ex-husband wanted to keep me around, but he didn't want me asking any questions," she explained of the abuse.
"He wanted to be able to live his life and do his own things, but not have me interrogating."
Connie says since starting the Facebook page, more than 1300 people from around the world have joined to discuss their horror experiences.
This week, British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will be looking to toughen the law on "gaslighting" in the UK, after MPs raised the issue in an emotional moment in Parliament.
Earlier this year, Natalie Lewis-Hoyle - the daughter of deputy speaker Lindsay Hoyle - took her own life after allegedly having been in a "coercive" relationship.
In the UK, gaslighting has been a criminal offence since 2015 as a form of psychological abuse, carrying a jail term of five years.
"This is a crime," Connie said. "Everything was good until I met him."
"This is far greater than hitting someone. To put someone in a mental hospital ... it's worse than anything. I've had so many people laugh at me and say I'm ridiculous. People don't understand, because it all does sound crazy.
"But there are people out there getting destroyed by this, and it's mostly strong women. He gave me a lot of hurt but I am building myself back up now."
Full names and identity has been withheld for legal reasons.