What is it ?
Gaslighting is a term which describes the psychological abuse perpetrated by the narcissist on his /her victim . Victims commonly say they thought they were going insane at the hands of the crazy making Narcissist. Beware! This can happen to anyone, not just the emotionally vulnerable. A friend of mine who I would class as strong ,well educated, savvy and street smart, fell victim to gaslighting. And then there’s me ….holder of several post grad qualifications, someone who thinks she is a reasonable judge of character , generally well liked , well travelled …..none of these things saved me .
Why is it called Gaslighting?
Before I educated myself about terms relating to Narcissism I used to think that Gaslighting was a metaphor for how the victim felt ie. as if standing under a gas light in the dark along with the narcissist but not being able to see anything outside the area where the lamplight is shining! In other words kept in the dark except for what the narcissist wants you to see ! Well I wasn’t too far wrong! I had it sorted in my mind….I was right about living in a fog of confusion! LOL!
“Gaslight” is the name of a stage play from the 1930’s in which the husband goes about convincing his wife that she is the crazy one when she tells him that the gas lights are dimming on occasion . They were in fact going dim, but he denied the fact and told her she was imagining it . It was all part of the husbands elaborate plan to confuse his wife and have her believe his further lies. Ultimately she does fall victim to her abuser and begins to question her own sanity which is, of course, exactly what he wanted. Sadly , gaslighting does not just happen on stage or in the movies. It is one of the most disabling things that happens as part of narcissistic abuse . The lies , the double standards , the accusations, the belittling followed by the praising …..which of course, has you thinking ……..did he just say that, did he actually just say something good about me ? You are left doubting your own perception of events and because you tend to want to believe what you’re being told by those who are important in your life , you start to question your own judgement .
How do you know is happening to you ?
You don’t….not in the beginning anyway! It begins subtly then ever so slowly builds up to a point where you KNOW something is wrong and that you ARE being lied to…..you are being GASLIGHTED but have no idea about how to respond. To start with you dismiss contradictory statements, criticisms and put downs justifying your thoughts by telling yourself that the narcissist is working too hard or wasn’t thinking straight or it was just an off the cuff meaningless statement. You think it was just a slip up , a one off . Why ? Because you trust, love and care for them and believe that they would never be deceitful or do something to hurt you. Gradually as the tangled web of deceit starts to unravel you start to openly question or even refute what you are being told. Here’s the thing though and I’m sorry to have to say this but by arguing the point with a narcissist you are on a fast train to nowhere. All it does is infuriate the liar even more and encourage him to go further in his efforts to discredit you. And then the cycle starts again …..you start to doubt yourself all over again because you think ,just maybe, it is you who is the crazy person after all . But over time and as you start to really look back over the history you begin to realize that you are actually being brainwashed by this power tripping maniac who cannot allow you to expose him for who/what he really is……a control freak who is covering up for his underlying feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and need for approval by others. Therefore he has to up the ante in his campaign to discredit you by involving your closest family and friends by telling them that you are unstable and the cause of any problems in the relationship .
Strategies of the gaslighter (and how they affected me?)
They are the manipulators to end all manipulators. They gather an army of “believers” around them, people who they think will trust them no matter what and set about telling them that YOU are crazy. Sadly often times he is able to get them “onside” and keep feeding them his lies about you. Yes…. it was so long before I woke up to what was going on behind my back.
They LIE …oh how they LIE …daily, hourly… They isolate you (or their scapegoat, commonly a child or younger person on whom they can heap blame) Slowly but surely… Denying that they ever made a certain comment/statement. I cannot count the number of denials I was subject to ……
Denying that a certain incident ever happened. Often
Undermining. Constant daily undermining which crushes your very soul. Daily occurrence. Criticizing but then praising just enough in the next sentence to keep you sucked in to thinking he/she really does care. This was a frequent occurrence for me ….
Accusing you of “twisting” the facts! Oh my goodness , how often was I accused of that ! Telling you that you CANNOT say what you believe to be true. You MUST agree with him. I was repeatedly told “you have blinkers on , you cant see it can you , you’re blind to it, you’re crazy”. No concept of me being able to have my own perspective!
Telling the victim that she is “not pulling her weight” in certain situations ie.work, family etc. Yes
Telling the victim that “she should be more grateful for all the things he has done for her “. Yes
The gaslighter operates so that initially the victim has just enough strength to keep bobbing up for air but eventually due to unrelenting stress and exhaustion he/she withdraws and submits ….which is just what the gaslighter wants. Yes, until I could take no more of being treated like a mushroom…
Accusing YOU of doing what THEY are doing ie. cheating , lying, gambling etc Yes
Denial of the victims reality …this is the BIG ONE for me ! It was so so mind bending for me…its almost incomprehensible for me to now believe that I fell for it . Now in recovery it still makes me cry to think that I was reduced to questioning my own reality . Things that I absolutely knew to be true, I suddenly found myself questioning. It was and is still heartbreaking for me and I am forever scarred .
What are the long term effects of gaslighting on the victim? Gaslighting can have dramatic and devastating effects on the mental health of the victim of the narcissist. The self esteem and self confidence of the individual is completely eroded as is the ability to trust their own judgement and indeed to trust other people. The effects of this kind of mental torture /abuse has been likened to the psychological trauma inflicted on prisoners of war . Ultimately, and especially when gaslighting has been happening for a long period of time , the mental capacity of the victim is brought into question by those around them. These people, be they family or friends, may still not believe that the narcissist is responsible for the declining mental health of the victim. This complicates the situation and plays into the hands of the narcissist. The individual may not want anyone close to them to know once they realise that they have been painted as the villain, for fear that they wont be validated. The victim is so emotionally spent and confused by this time that they also start to question their judgement and actually begin to believe that are not worthy. They frequently become depressed and withdraw due to the fact that they lack any confidence in their own abilities. Victims of abuse are sometimes driven to the point of suicide such is the damaging effect that gaslighting has on them. They lose who they were , they lose their reality and sadly often they lose their lives. How to heal after gaslighting? Be gentle with yourself. Be kind to yourself. Begin to trust yourself and your decisions. It was NEVER YOUR FAULT . Don’t beat yourself up by going over and over scenarios by yourself ……..BUT do see a trauma therapist as part of the healing process if you can . Having a specialist trauma psychologist validate my feelings has been the best thing I’ve done . Take your time..Rome wasn’t built in a day remember! Nor should you expect to rebuild yourself in a day ! There will be sunny days when you get a lot of “reconstruction” done but there will also be stormy days when you have to rest and you just cant do any “rebuilding”! (I hope you liked my analogy!)
Cry when you need to …crying is a wonderful natural release so don’t hold those tears back! Feel all your emotions and express them however you need to. P.S. I have been known to kick a cardboard box around outside until I was exhausted and the box was in tatters! It felt so good!
Give yourself some love for having survived and recognize that the characteristics that made you vulnerable to this narcissist are the very same ones that people like about you. In my case , I’ve often been told Im a “heart on the sleeve “girl, a nice person , a good person. What made you vulnerable can also make you strong again!
When those “bad” feelings relating to the abuse arise , try not to suppress them , just try to let them be . Breathe deeply for a few minutes , acknowledge those feelings and eventually they will pass . Trying to ignore them only means they will come back to bite you ! Sorry about that!
Go with your gut …you know they are now saying that we have two brains …the head brain and the gut brain. Gut instinct is said to be as important if not more important than what the head brain is telling us .
So……speaking of your gut …. look after it , feed it well with lots of healthy and nourishing foods to ensure its in tip top condition! Its going to be playing a leading role in getting you back to your former vibrant wonderful self!
P.S. Remember…beware the “charmer”..NO CONTACT is the ONLY way to avoid being sucked back in. ….
Stay strong and take good care. Recovery takes time and you are vulnerable .
Please feel free to add your experiences below. xxx