Reverse Shaming is the Newest Form of Gaslighting

If I point out that you are shaming someone, that is not the same thing as me shaming you.

As a fat woman, I’m pretty well acquainted with being shamed. I’ve experienced people shaming me for my weight, my eating habits, my audacity in looking for love in the body I happen to inhabit. Most of the shaming I run across feels old hat, but once in a while, something new develops. Several times in the past few months, I’ve seen or experienced what I’ve come to think of as reverse shaming.

Here’s how it plays out. Joe Blow says something to me which clearly shames me. I point out that Joe is slut-shaming (or whatever). Joe replies with a condescending, how-could-you tirade about how that is not what he meant at all and accuses me of shaming him.

Accusing someone of shaming you because they stood up for themselves or someone else is an attempt to change the narrative so that you can be right and make them wrong. It’s a form of psychological warfare and gaslighting, and it’s not okay.

On my story How One Night Stands Helped Me Heal, a reader left the following comment:

I supported you every moment through your story. I think any man or woman should be able to live the lives they want if it makes them happy.

However, those that choose to live a high multi partner sex life, should never lie to a future potential long term partner about their previous sex life. It’s not fair. My ex girlfriend has lied to me about the number of men she slept with and it matters. Yes it does!

Statistics have proven that people with a higher number of sex partners are more likely to cheat and or give up quickly on a relationship.

Considering I am looking for a life partner, it would be nice to know the truth on previous sex partners. I would not continue a relationship knowing this. And anyone with a high number shouldn’t waste people’s time otherwise it’s just selfish.

My ex told me it was 11. Cough — through the few years I was with her it was at least double maybe triple due to the stories she told. She ended up leaving the relationship just as statistics said she would.

She could have saved us 4 years of wasted relationship time if she would have just told the truth.

For the women out there that are still looking for a long term relationship….opening your legs to high numbers of men takes you out of their long term plans. And as it should…. We should all try to gravitate toward our own kind of people. Makes for better relationships.

I probably should have realized this wasn’t going anywhere good when it started out with an “I supported you through every moment,” followed by a huge buuuuuuuuuut.

I see someone who was hurt, and that sucks, but his being hurt was not about the number of sexual partners his ex-girlfriend had.

What I see in this comment is someone who was hurt, and that sucks, but his being hurt was not about the number of sexual partners his ex-girlfriend had. Throughout the comment, he suggests that women who have multiple sexual partners are liars, unable to commit, unable to maintain healthy relationships, selfish, and a waste of time.

The shame game is strong, and the comment is dripping with superiority. The implication that all of this shaming is supported by science is ludicrous. Because I am who I am, I’m not likely to read a comment inciting this level of judgement and not reply.

Among other things, I explained that framing slut shaming as just a difference of opinion doesn’t make it not shaming. I pointed out that I have not, nor would I, encourage dishonesty between partners. I questioned whether he’d considered that his partner left not because she was a giant whore, but because she was in a relationship with someone who clearly looked down on her. When he replied, he went full force into attempting to reverse shame me.

Rather than respond to my comment as a whole, he fixated on the first two sentences and my pointing out that he was slut-shaming. This was the main event, reverse shaming-wise.

The full comment can be found here, but for our purposes, here are some highlights.

Your talking about slut shaming? You my dear just tried to shame me for keeping my numbers low. As a man I find that keeping my numbers low… I’ve increased my value toward women “I want to attract”.

It just happens that if you decided to live it one way and then jump back, you may not hold the same value anymore.

This man and many more like him has kept his numbers low because we don’t want to attract the “wrong” type for us to maintain a long loving relationship. I personally take pride in keeping my numbers low. Why would you shame me for that?Would it make sense for a gay man to have a relationship with a heterosexual woman? I would hope you say no.

My point is no different. And for you to try and “shame” me because I choose to not have a relationship with a gay man when I’m not gay, or a overweight woman when I’m not attracted to overweight, or a woman that has had numerous meaningless sex with everyone in my town…. All being not my type.. Shame on you Rachel! Shame on you.

Here’s the thing, claiming that you’re not judging anyone or that everyone has the right to behave how they want to isn’t very convincing when it’s followed by five paragraphs of judgement and condemnation. This kind of behavior is a weapon used by abusive people to try and convince others that they are in the wrong.

Claiming that you’re not judging anyone isn’t very convincing when it’s followed by five paragraphs of judgement.

The commenter continually compares people with a high number of sex partners to liars living immoral lives, and this is the crux of the shaming. He says that women who have slept with “high numbers” of men have less value. In those exact words.

Rather than recognize any of the problems with what he’d said, he turned around and literally shamed me. Common traits of people who like to shame, and who might pull this reverse shame tactic on you, include insisting that you’re not accepting them, that you’re misunderstanding, or that you’re judging their behavior. But that’s not how shaming works.

There’s no such thing as reverse-shaming. If I point out that you are shaming someone, that is not the same thing as me shaming you. When people slut-shame, they are attempting to invoke feelings of guilt and shame about behavior or facts that are not anything to be ashamed of. They are using their personal beliefs and values as a weapon to belittle another person.

As I told this particular Joe Blow, I would not shame him for his choice of having few sexual partners. However, I believe that maybe he should be ashamed of the way he characterizes and talks about people who make different choices than he does.

Accusations of reverse shaming go hand in hand with several classic strategies employed in gaslighting.

Direct contradiction

Insisting that you’re not saying a thing in the same sentence or conversation where you say that thing is a classic form of gaslighting. You can tell me that the sky is orange, but if I’m standing beneath it looking up at blue, telling me something else doesn’t make you right. It may make me doubt myself and feel a little crazy, which is a tactic abusers use to control their victims.

False equivalencies

Comparing choosing not to sleep with dirty used up sluts to not dating a gay person if you’re straight is such nonsense I don’t know where to begin. If I say “A is wrong” and you reply with “Well, what about b then? And c? And d, e, f, z?! Do you think THOSE are wrong too?” that should be a huge red flag.

In addition to attempting to compare things that are not the same, this tactic seeks to misdirect by getting you to respond to those things rather than continue discussing the point you were making.

Rewriting conversations

I never once showed a lack of acceptance of this person’s sexual lifestyle. I didn’t say his sexual preferences were wrong. If people want to go through life having only one or two sexual partners, that’s totally their prerogative. Good for them! We should all be allowed to live in a way that feels right to us.

Gaslighters often attempt to put words in your mouth so they can concentrate on those words rather than the ones you actually said.

He tried to rewrite the conversation we were having by saying that I had somehow judged him. Gaslighters often attempt to put words in your mouth so they can concentrate on those words rather than the ones you actually said. I pointed out the way he was talking about women, and his ex-girlfriend in particular, was judgmental and not okay. I never said he needed to get laid, or that he should be a slut or sleep around more.


Because one of the goals of gaslighting is to make someone doubt themselves, condescending is an effective strategy. Many people have a visceral, lizard brain response from their inner child when someone hits them with words meant to make them feel small.

If someone refers to you as my dear, honey, or sweetheart during a contentious exchange, it’s not an offhanded accident. It’s a way for them to indirectly show that they’re bigger than you. The tone is obvious: Oh, you silly woman, you misunderstood me. Well, no, I didn’t.

Disliking someone’s criticism of your attitudes or points of view does not mean that they are shaming you. It may mean they’re disagreeing with you. It may mean that they think you should examine your biases.

When someone shames you, their goal is to point out your wrongness in order to induce guilt. The impetus is to take you down a peg, or perhaps to assign blame. Without these motivations, exposure of bad behavior is not an attempt at shaming. It is more likely an attempt to educate, defend someone, assert one’s values, or provide refuting information.

If your response to someone pointing out problematic behavior or language is defensiveness and the instant urge to make them feel bad about what they’ve said, it’s probably time to examine why that’s your first response.

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