What is gaslighting?
It is a kind of emotional abuse used mainly by narcissists. It makes the individual that the narcissist is abusing think that they are crazy. It is a way to create serious doubt in the mind of the abused person. This person will then think that they are wrong and that what they thought happened, never actually happened and that what the narcissist is saying is the truth.
What does gaslighting do to the victim?
Gaslighting is a very damaging kind of abuse as it can lead to the person losing confidence in themselves, doubting whether they are altogether sane or whether they see reality as it is. Victims of gaslighting often become anxious and depressed and can even start developing symptoms of psychosis.
How do narcissists gaslight?
Narcissists make use of a number of methods to gaslight their victims, below are some of the more common ones:
- They deny that something that actually happened did happen – they in fact rewrite history. This is often used when there is physical abuse or something that has hurt the narcissist’s victim – they deny that it happened or that it happened the way that the victim remembers it, making the victim question their memory and sanity.
- The narcissist twists information in order to gaslight. They may give some of the truth, often information that the victim already knows to be truthful, and then twist the rest of the information to make the victim feel as if they misunderstood the situation or overreacted.
- They hold back information that is crucial to understanding something from the victim. Without this information, the victim cannot completely understand what has occurred and believes that they have not correctly understood the situation, making them doubt their ability to comprehend reality.
- Lies form a major part of gaslighting. Withholding information, denying something happened or twisting information are all forms of lying. But they will then accuse the victim of lying.
- They know that the victim is questioning their reality after being gaslit so they destabilise the victim by attacking their character, especially those traits that are good, such as kindness, gentleness and empathy. Remember, they are overcome with jealousy and will attack all those good things that they are so jealous of.
What can you do if you are being gaslit?
- The narcissist’s behaviour will always be very different to what they are saying – in fact, it will be quite the opposite. So ignore their words and examine their behaviour – what are they doing? Are they doing what they say they are doing or is it the very opposite of that? If so, stop listening to their words and start listening to their actions.
- Are they using things and people that you love against you? If someone really loves another, they will respect those things and people that that person loves, not use them against them. If this is happening to you, recognise that you are being gaslit and take a step back to get a clearer view.
- The best indicator is that you have become a shell of yourself. If you used to be a vibrant, happy and confident person and since the start of your relationship you are withdrawn, sad and confused about who you are, take this as a very big warning sign.
Remember, narcissists are empty people, driven by extreme jealousy and the need to decimate people before they move on to their next victim. You don’t have to stay with someone that makes you feel bad about yourself – that is not a loving relationship. If you are made to feel bad about who you are, stop and reassess what is really going on.
I am going to describe narcissistic personality disorder, how one ends up like that and how to recognise if you are in a relationship (whether that is a friendship, love relationship, collegial relationship or if your family is a narcissistic family setup) and what to do then.
How does someone become narcissistic?
There are other personality disorders besides Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), such as Anti-social Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder. They are all ‘created’ by similar mechanisms, which is a disruption in the formation of the personality at a young age. That disruption could be a traumatic experience, or lots of changes (like moving homes, moving schools), or a parent placing the child in the middle of themselves and the other parent, or a parent excusing the bad behaviour of a child where the child never has to take responsibility for the bad stuff that they do, etc. Overall though, what happens is that the personality of the affected child doesn’t form properly and ends up containing lots of pathologies. I sometimes describe it like a cheese with lots of holes in it where the cheese should be a solid block.
People with NPD are usually very intelligent (IQ wise and not EQ wise). Their intelligence helps them to scheme and create situations which will hurt others and benefit them.
It is important to remember that personality disordered people are very unlikely to change. There is a difference between personality and behaviour – one can change behaviours if one wants to, but it is very difficult to change a personality once it is formed.
How to tell if someone is narcissistic
In reality, narcissists are just shells of people who need to hurt others to survive – they don’t know any other way to survive. The power and energy they get from seeing others hurt sustains them – it’s like their food. They usually choose sensitive, kind, empathic, emotionally intelligent people that forgive easily. They get a great source of ‘supply’ (their food) from the people that they abuse and once they are done with one, they will discard them and move onto the next. There will never be a time in the narcissist’s life that there is not someone that they are abusing, until they die.
A person with NPD will have some or all of the following features:
- Enjoy hurting others (emotionally and/or physically) and go out of their way to do so. The way in which they hurt can be dangerous and they will place you in a situation that could be extremely dangerous for you and even threaten your life
- They lack remorse – this means that they are never sorry for any harm that they cause
- They lack empathy – they don’t feel guilty or bad for anything that they do
- They cannot take responsibility for anything whatsoever – everything is someone’s else’s fault (mostly yours)
- They do not see any bad in themselves whatsoever (they are all good – you are all bad)
- They lack any depth of personality – on the surface they may seem like the most caring, loving individuals, but that is just all a show
- They are insincere (they say things but then do exactly the opposite or they judge others to do things that are bad but do those very things themselves)
- They are judgemental
- They are manipulative (they are so good at this that you probably won’t recognise that you are being manipulated until long afterwards)
- They are very charming (that’s how they get others to believe them)
- They are emotionally immature and often say inappropriate things (like sexual comments at a dinner table, for example)
Narcissists use several tactics which you also need to be on the lookout for and recognise them for what they are. They include:
- Smear campaigns – they will drag your name through the mud to anyone and everyone that will listen. They will especially smear your name to people that are of some kind of influence, such as pastors and priests, spiritual advisers, attorneys, the legal system, the health system and health practitioners, family members, teachers, mental health practitioners or anyone else that they can turn against you. Things that they say about you will usually contain an element of truth just so that they can be believable but mostly are lies.
- Flying monkeys – they will use others to emotionally abuse you. Once they have done their smear campaign on you, they will ‘recruit’ other people to attack you on their behalf.
- Hoovering – when they see that you are on to them, they will turn on their ‘nice side’ again, pretending to be kind, empathic, etc. to draw you back in. When you are back in, that’s it, they will become their horrible selves again.
- Using enablers – they will usually have a few enablers around them that make their abuse of you easier or worse for you. The enablers just watch it all happen and don’t say a thing. They are complicit in your abuse.
- They create a bad situation to which you will react, such as telling (usually not truthful) nasty stories about you and when you react, they use your reaction as evidence that there is something wrong with you. Nobody sees what they have done (i.e. creating the bad situation), everyone sees your reaction though and it provides them with the ammunition that they want. You are the one that looks ‘crazy’ to everyone else.
- They use your pain, suffering, sensitivity and anguish against you as if it was something bad or was wrong. In that way, they try to create shame in you and make you believe that you are a bad person with a bad character. They want to make you dependent on them and if you are shameful of yourself and think that you cannot live without them, that is the reaction they want.
- They will make you think that you don’t have a right to think, feel or act at all but they have every right to do whatever they want to do.
- They will make sure that they ‘reserve’ their abuse for you when nobody else is looking, or do it very subtly in front of a room full of people. They then present a charming, caring, empathic face to the rest of the world. In that way, when you tell others about their true nature, nobody will believe you.
- They play the blame game like a pro. They will blame you for everything in their lives, including things that happened when you were not there!
You can see from the above that you are dealing with a nasty, sick person and a bad situation. You can also see from the above that this is not normal behaviour and so it is IMPORTANT to remember that they are sick, you are not.
You will also find that there are people that want to excuse the narcissist’s behaviour – they are called ‘abuse apologists’. They justify, excuse, diminish and generally tell you to accept the narcissist’s abuse. Don’t listen to them, no matter what they say and no matter who they are!
What happens to you if you are in a relationship with a narcissist or are part of a narcissistic family
Narcissists will use you to survive and they use you by abusing you, either emotionally, psychologically or physically or all three. They will make sure, (in the beginning of your relationship with them if it is a love relationship), that they show a ‘nice’ side of themselves which is completely false. They are clever enough to know what you will fall for and they will make sure that they give that to you … for a short while. When they start showing their true colours, you will take responsibility for the relationship not working and think to yourself, “If I try harder at that” “If I change in that way” etc. etc. etc. etc. You will end up with no self-esteem, low self-confidence and just a mere shell of yourself.
Narcissistic abuse leaves people with complex trauma. It takes a long time to recover from this trauma and a lot of hard work on oneself to eventually get over it. So rather than stay (whether in a love relationship, a friendship or a family) and just keep being abused, rather do one or more of the following:
- If you can cut contact completely, then do so. If you can’t cut contact completely, then cut contact as much as possible. You may feel lonely, sad, or nostalgic about the relationship and be tempted to go back. The narcissist will also hoover (see above about hoovering) you into going back – DON’T!
- Establish boundaries: Say no if you don’t want to do something. You don’t have to cater to their needs, ever. You are worthy yourself and can do what you want to do in your life.
- Embark on some self-love: Start caring for yourself and giving yourself the opportunity to think, feel and act in ways that you want to do. You are good enough just as you are and you need to love yourself. Remember, it is them that is ill, not you.
- Observe, don’t absorb: This technique has been made famous by an American Psychologist Ros Rosenberg who works tirelessly on the topic of narcissism and educating people about narcissists. He himself comes from a narcissistic family. I would encourage you to read some of his writings and watch some of his videos. You can find him on Twitter, YouTube or on his website https://www.selfloverecovery.com
- Educate yourself: Read up as much as possible so that you can empower yourself. You don’t deserve to stay in a relationship with an abuser, no matter who that person is to you.
I hope that this has helped you to understand narcissism better and empowered you if you are in a relationship with a narcissistic to free yourself from their clutches.