Gaslighting: The narcissist’s favorite tool
What you’ll learn here:
- What gaslighting is
- Why narcissists and other manipulators use it
- What some common gaslighting phrases are
- How this affects you as the target over time
- And finally, I’ll give you some tips to deal with gaslighting so you can save your sanity
Gaslighting is a covert aggressive way of distorting another person’s perception of reality to the point that that person questions their sanity or their memory.
Gaslighting is crazy-making, it makes you think that you’re actually going crazy.
Gaslighting is a way of hiding the abuse.
Gaslighting is lying with a goal.
The motive behind the gaslighting is to make you think that you’re crazy or that your memory doesn’t work right. So you can’t trust yourself and your perceptions of reality.
This means you’ll defer to the abuser for an account of what’s real so slowly over time the abuser becomes the authority over your life.
Gaslighting takes place in relationships, like one-on-one relationships. It takes place in friendships, in family, in work, you’ll see gaslighting on the news, you’ll hear gaslighting coming from politicians, corporate shills, cult leaders, advertising commercials, etc.
There’s a great book called The Sociopath Next Door by Dr. Martha Stout. She interviewed a lot of incarcerated sociopaths and then asked them about gaslighting. While most of them didn’t know the term gaslighting, when she explained it to them they all said that they loved to do this.
So Dr. Stout concluded that gaslighting is their favorite tool in their box of tactics.
I saw that with my own mother the day that I confronted her on the abuse over two years ago. She flaunted how much she loves gaslighting in front of my dad and I.
Gaslighters are compulsive liars.
Why do they use gaslighting?
They will use gaslighting to gain power and control over others.
They will use gaslighting to convince you that they’re right and your perception of what happened is wrong.
They will use gaslighting to dismiss your feelings, your needs, your perceptions of reality.
They will use gaslighting to minimize or to erase the abuse that took place.
They will use gaslighting to play the victim.
They will use gaslighting to evade responsibility.
They will use gaslighting to fabricate conversations or events that never happened.
They will use gaslighting to reneg on an agreement or a promise that they previously made.
They will use gaslighting to make you feel like you’re crazy or something is really wrong with you.
Gaslighters will say things like “I didn’t say that, that didn’t happen, it’s not a big deal, or you said…” and then they’ll fill that in with something that you never said.
They’ll tell you you’re crazy or you’re paranoid when you start to question things.
They’ll tell you you’re unhinged when you start to emotionally react to the abuse.
They’ll tell you you’re mentally unstable, that you’re overreacting or you’re hypersensitive.
They will tell you so-and-so said something about you which never happened just to make you feel like that person is against you or doesn’t like you.
They’ll tell you everyone thinks that you’re… and they’ll make something up just to make you feel afraid to speak up.
The really really covert ones will tell you things like “no, no my love I didn’t mean it that way. I just meant I’m concerned about you and I just want the best for you…”
Those are the really tricky ones because on the surface they look so plausible.
They’ll tell you things like “it was just a joke”. That’s usually the more overt type.
They’ll tell you things like “I only did that because you abandoned me when you went out with your friends one night this week”.
They’ll tell you you must have dreamt that or I must have dreamt that.
They’ll tell you that you seem to have a problem with, for example if the gaslighter is continuously late and you’re upset about that because it feels like disrespectful to your time which it is, and the gaslighter says “you seem to have a problem with time”.
Do you see how these phrases could sound normal? At the same time they’re used to completely distort your perception of reality.
They’re used to make you think that you are a certain way that you’re not. They’re used to control you. They’re used to get the gaslighter out of trouble.
How does gaslighting affect you as the target over time?
Gaslighting creates the effects of:
Keeping the silence
Feeling like you’re losing your mind
Difficulty making judgments and decisions
Feeling like you’re always apologizing
You’re second-guessing your memory
Feeling a sense of false guilt
Feeling like you aren’t good enough
Believing in what the abuser is saying over what other people are saying or what you think that other people feel or even what your own perceptions or feelings are.
Gaslighting can drive you to the point that you have a nervous breakdown.
It can make you then in the future have a compulsion for clarifying accuracy.
So if somebody tells you a story and they say Tuesday then later they’re talking about it and then they say Wednesday. You’re going to say “whoa you said Tuesday before. Now did you mean Tuesday or did you mean Wednesday?” Maybe they said “this summer” when they told you about something that was going to happen and then a week later they say “next summer.”
It can be really important for you to clarify details about reality because of all that training in gaslighting. Sometimes people just misspeak and make mistakes but other times you might be uncovering gaslighters when you clarify inconsistent details. You’ll always be able to tell the difference based on their reaction to your request to clarify accuracy of what happened or what was said.
There’s a woman named Ariel Leve. She wrote a childhood memoir called An Abbreviated Life. It’s about growing up with her narcissistic mother on the Upper West Side of New York, a very privileged life. Her mother partied with Andy Warhol and other big names like that. So she wrote about the horrible abuses that she went through in childhood and she described in a lot of her interviews about the book that “the erasure of the abuse was worse than the abuse.”
If you’ve been through this you know exactly what she’s talking about.
The good news is that gaslighting only works if you don’t realize what’s happening. But once you catch on it doesn’t work anymore.
I have some tips for you to deal with gaslighting:
1. Notice the inconsistencies between what a person says and what they do or what they say one day and what they say another day. Use your ability to feel, to sense if something feels off or not quite right. Validate your intuition first before comparing versions of reality with someone else. Don’t just automatically defer to what someone else says with their perception of reality. Write things down so you don’t forget. Record conversations if you need to. If too many of these kinds of conversations are going on, where the person’s denying what they said or did, or there always seems to be an excuse or diversion from it when it happens, then maybe you need to start recording those conversations. Go get a reality check from someone outside the situation.
2. When you’re really certain what happened, own your reality. Speak up with conviction about your perception of reality and notice the other person’s response.
3. Don’t try to rationalize with the person once you realize they’re gaslighting you. You can’t rationalize with a person like that.
4. Don’t try to get a gaslighter to take responsibility for what they’re doing. The whole reason they’re doing it is to avoid responsibility.
5. Opt out of any unnecessary interactions with gaslighters and when possible cut them out of your life entirely because they are putting your sanity at risk.
6. Reprogram your self-talk to remind yourself what reality is when those doubts start to creep in, when you start to doubt yourself or you hear the voice of the gaslighter in your head trying to confuse you.
Keep in mind not all disagreements about perceptions of reality are gaslighting. It could happen that two people have different perceptions of reality. For example when you consider eye witnesses of crimes and events, notice how sometimes it really differs. What one person saw another person didn’t see. They saw it differently. So things can sometimes differ from one window of perception to another. However, if you notice this is a pattern, if you notice that many of these situations are happening over and over again and you keep feeling like something is off, trust your intuition. Trust your intuition if you feel like it’s gaslighting. It’s rare that you actually get proof from the abuser. The feeling is the proof.
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