Gaslighting was a way of life for me while I was married to my narcissistic ex-husband. I just didn’t know it. Later, as I became aware of the various techniques of gaslighting, I realized that I had been a gullible victim of this technique. Perhaps I shouldn’t say gullible. The truth is that many victims of narcissistic abuse don’t discern what is happening because their own hearts are not evil. People have a tendency to perceive reality through the lens of their own motivations. If their motivations are pure, it rarely occurs them that others have wicked intent.
I frequently get emails from victims of narcissistic abuse. Often, I try to point out and describe gaslighting because it takes clarity and intention to successfully leave an abuser. So first let me start with a concrete definition.
Here is Wikipedia’s entry as a baseline understanding:
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s belief.
Note that gaslighting can happen to both a person and a targeted group of people. Gaslighting is commonly used by dictators and cult leaders who after all are just narcissists with real power. Still not sure if you have a boss, partner, or friend who is gaslighting you? Look for these signs:
An abuser will absolutely deny that events occurred even if you can provide evidence. This, in and of itself, can destabilize a sane person. An abuser will vehemently deny that he or she said such and such or that what you are talking about has any truth. Doing this over and over is actually a form of mind control. We begin to believe other’s versions of reality if they really stick to their story.
A narcissist will often lie utterly blatantly. Our general dedication to keeping the peace and avoiding public confrontation often keeps us from saying anything. But this lying is deliberate. It keeps the victim in a state of anxiety about everything the narcissist says. The game plan of the narcissist is to keep his victim from guessing his or her next move. If they can get you to accept what they say without comment, they have set up a precedent that allows them to play with reality.
Gaslighting attempts to alienate the victim from support. A common method employed is to tell the victim that mutual friends said terrible things about the victim. This drives a wedge in the victim’s mind between him or her and friends, even if they question the abuser’s truthfulness. Often an experienced gaslighter will say things like No one really likes you. You are so lucky to have me to stand by you. They want to secure your loyalty in order to better manipulate you.
Gaslighting is always an attempt to gain psychological control of another person. One way to do this is to criticize the victim harshly and then offer a couple of compliments. What this does is make those compliments seem really valuable and the supposed character flaws to be avoided at all costs. Someone who wants to please will fall for it every time.
I was just kidding! You are too sensitive. Stop taking everything so seriously says the experienced sociopath. This is another way of pulling the emotional rug out from someone. It simultaneously invalidates a victim’s true feelings while getting the narcissist off the hook. This becomes the free ticket out of jail for the abuser. After all, they didn’t really mean it. Or did they?
Gaslighting pulls out all the stops when it comes to seizing power. And one way a grown-up bully does this is by humiliating his or victim in public with devastating put-downs. I remember one man casually telling me how lazy and stupid his wife was while she stood there mute with her head down. She offered no protest because she had been married to this sleaze bag for twenty years. I imagine she believed it.
One of the ways my ex-husband tried to brain-wash was twisting and reframing situations. Things he had done were my fault. At one point he spent eight hours at night trying to convince me that I was destroying the family by working as an instructor at a local college than at a factory. He, himself, never held down a job during our marriage. By this time, I was on to him and knew him to be a destroyer. His parents were very confused by his crusade and why he would want me to take on a lower paying job that required far more hours.
Exhaustion wears out a person quickly. He woke me up and often the children as well and insisted that we redo chores we had not done correctly. He was just helping the kids be responsible, he would say. He would go on rampages and empty out closets and drawers because he wasn’t willing to live in a pigsty, according to his version of reality. I complied because then I could go back to sleep more quickly. He, however, mostly slept all day and was up all night. Exhaustion wears the fight out of a person. A boss that doesn’t give you time to recoup may be gaslighting you.
Do not, under any circumstances, kowtow to these gaslighting techniques. If you are the type who blames yourself for issues, you need to take special note of any gaslighting techniques. I always tell every woman who emails me to see a therapist skilled in this if she can. Sometimes we just need outside counsel in order to see what is directly in front of us.
And as a warning, I want to end with the scene where Jesus is judging the flock in Matthew 25. The righteous ask When did we see you hungry? Jesus’ response is that every time they fed the poor, they fed Him. But the unrighteous ask the same question. When did we see you hungry? His response is that when they did not feed the poor, they neglected Him.
But the very question is an attempt to gaslight Jesus when asked by the unrighteous. The question that in the heart of a whole person is about humility becomes an attempt to question Jesus’ version of reality in the heart of the unrighteous. In the heart of the cruel, the question When did we see you becomes an attempt to deny any wrongdoing. But the unrighteous do not perceive the magnitude of their affront to Jesus, who is Reality.
Do not be fooled. Abusers are after absolute control of you and your life. They are slippery devils but they are devils nonetheless.
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