Do you keep questioning your own thoughts and perception of reality? Do you feel like you are going crazy, confused or losing sanity during your relationship? Are you apologizing a lot or do you feel like you are ‘not enough’? Your narcissistic partner, or possibly parent, might be ‘gaslighting’ you.
There can be written many books about the crazy manipulative things a narcissist or a sociopath does. Gaslighting is one of the finest art forms of manipulation of some narcissists. It’s mental abuse and very disturbing.
This article focuses on this specific manipulative behaviour called gaslighting and my aim is to get you to gain knowledge and recognize this behaviour. It’s essential to recognize it because if you’re unknowingly exposed to this it will drain your energy and you will slowly disconnect from yourself.
If you prefer listening rather than reading a lot, you could watch my youtube video about gaslighting as well (this article is more in-depth).
I will give an example from my experience and some general examples and signs of gaslighting in order to recognize it and then I will talk about how it can possibly affect you. I will give some tips at the end of the article on how to possibly deal with this. I will write mainly from the position of having a relationship with a gaslighter, but the same dynamic applies when having a parent or someone in your close environment using gaslighting.
The earlier you realize what is happening the better. Realization is needed to start a process of regaining trust in yourself. If you experience or experienced gaslighting you will likely need time to recover and work on your confidence and self-worth. I think the most important thing after emotionally detaching is shifting attention from the narcissist to attention for yourself and your energy. You deserve your own love and kindness!
What is gaslighting exactly?
Gaslighting is ongoing manipulation and brainwashing to cause the victim to have ever-increasing self-doubts and eventually have them lose their own sense of perception, identity, and self-worth. It happens slowly and is done in a way that makes it hard to realize it’s happening when you’re in it. It’s thus very abusive behaviour.
The term gaslighting has its origin from a play called Gas Light (1938), where a husband dims the lights in their home and keeps denying that the lights changed to his wife. He did all of this in order to drive her crazy. This is exactly how it works, as the wife will start to question whether it’s her eyes going bad or if it’s perhaps in her mind. She is not considering that he might be lying and gets convinced she is going insane slowly.
Causing doubt in someone else can be done unconsciously in a milder form when for example someone is defending themselves when feeling blamed. The difference between this and gaslighting is that the latter is ongoing abusive manipulation in order to hurt or control others. A narcissist that uses this manipulation will not apologize for what happened or think it’s wrong.
Some examples of what a gaslighter repeatedly could say are:
-‘You are just crazy, that never happened!’
– ‘Are you sure about that? Your memory isn’t always that great.’
– ‘It’s all in your head, you are making things up randomly!’
I will go further into examples and behaviour later. First, let’s see why anyone can be a victim of gaslighting.
Everyone could be a victim
Yes, sadly every person could be a victim of gaslighting. A narcissist that uses this technique could be very charming or seem like a nice person. The narcissist could even have a job where he or she helps a lot of people. You would have no reason to suspect this person would be playing brutal games of manipulation.
So when the process of gaslighting begins it will feel bad to second-guess this person and you might even feel a bit guilty about this. These feelings will be used and magnified and you become slowly more disconnected from your intuition. You will feel more and more confused and this could eventually end in an abusive relationship.
We all have doubts and uncertainties, which is healthy. It’s a human characteristic to search for an answer within yourself. If someone tells you something with a great amount of certainty you would probably believe it based on trust and question yourself before you start to question the other.
This is because most human beings wouldn’t suspect someone is trying to manipulate them in this way. This simple characteristic of basic trust, believing in good intentions, is abused by someone that is gaslighting another person. Therefore, anyone could be a victim and it’s thus important to recognize this behaviour to protect ourselves.
My narcissistic father is an expert in this technique, which had the consequence of my mother slowly driving herself crazy with doubts and insecurity. He is a very intelligent and ‘charming’ man and seemed to develop his manipulation techniques during the years.
An example of what my father accomplished by slowly brainwashing my mother was that he got her permission to go on vacation with his secretary (mistress) and her children because he ‘really needed’ a vacation to recover from all of his hard work. My mother would eventually say it’s for the best that he went. He would thus go with her instead of with his own family.
As children, we would wake up in the morning and he would be gone. My mother seemed empty, tired, and had the task to explain our father was going on vacation with another woman and family. We had a family dynamic of not speaking up when my father was around and being fearful and very toned down, so we would never speak to him about it. We all just kept pretending for years.
He pulled this off by being insanely annoying and frustrated in the weeks before, being more and more restless and just making my mother tired mentally. My mother would eventually say ‘just go’ to get rest and he would leave in the middle of the night. He did this several times so I learned to recognize the pattern of his behaviour changing in the weeks before and could predict when he would be going again soon.
She seemed confused all the time, ashamed, and had no focus in her head. She kept things a secret from family and friends, which isolated her. Sadly, she was in general very disconnected from herself and the victim of very slow gaslighting. I will now go into some examples of gaslighting.
Gaslighting behaviour examples
There are many gaslighting techniques a narcissistic partner can use. I will give some examples of this kind of behaviour so you get some insight into what someone could do. There is a lot of variety in which behavior there could be and also to what extent it might happen. It comes down to how repeatedly this sort of behaviour occurs and if you recognize how it affects you.
1. Lying with certainty and sticking with it
Obviously, when dealing with narcissists there will be a lot of lying involved. You know that they lie but it can be quite amazing to what extent they can lie. The lies can be like a well-fitted suit and they can be very convincing.
It seems like they believe their own lies or fake persona. If you like or love someone you might have trouble believing they are lying when they are really convinced about it. This can create self-doubt.
A narcissist seems to have no truth. They lie and lift themselves up by putting others down. They can make false accusations and show ongoing criticism. A narcissist will distort facts, create falsehoods, and use negative coercions.
2. Denying and demanding proof
A narcissist can deny he or she said something without blinking. You know they said it, but they just deny saying it. They can demand that you ‘prove it’, which obviously could only come from your memory. When you’re emotional and constantly manipulated it can be hard to stick with your memory.
You could start to question your memory and what happened. The consequence can be that in time you accept their reality more often and thereby letting go of your own memory. This can be a slow process in which you might even blame yourself for saying things or for not remembering correctly.
3. Tricks to confuse you
The narcissist could hide stuff or switch its place in the house. This causes that you can’t align reality with your memory. If your car keys were somewhere else than where they normally are, you would start to wonder how that happened. This can be very confusing.
Another form of manipulation is being given the wrong information. Possibly someone called and the narcissist will tell you what they said and change it up a little. Or they will give you the wrong address number so you would end up at the wrong place. When you talk about it later it will obviously be because of your memory!
4. They can’t take criticism
In general, a narcissist responds childishly when he or she gets feedback on their negative behavior. On the one side, a narcissist could choose to fight using for example denial, blame, or a temper tantrum. On the other side, the narcissist could choose to take flight and, for example, leave, avoid or use the silent treatment.
The thing is they see the relationship as a competitive game and they want to win it. Very often they will take the offense to win this ‘battle’ called human interaction. This means they aren’t likely to admit flaws or own up to anything. This is an important sign of dealing with a gaslighter.
5. Other manipulations
Some example phrases your abusive partner might use to confuse, trivialize, etc:
‘You are trying to confuse me’
‘Not again this argument!’
‘What’s up with your memory?’
‘You are just making stuff up in your head’
‘Who gave you this crazy thought? Your sister?’
‘You are too sensitive’
How to recognize it? Signs of gaslighting
There is a great variety of manipulative behaviour to eventually drive someone insane. The clearest signal is thus when you see yourself getting more doubts about your perception and your memory. This would mean you often feel tired and confused.
You can find a lot of possible signs of gaslighting, of which I summarized a few:
1. You question whether your feelings are justified, if you are too sensitive and dismiss your feelings (disconnection with your emotions).
2. You are second-guessing yourself and past events (disconnecting with your memory).
3. You are apologizing all the time and trust the judgment of others over your own (disconnecting with your judgment or feeling).
4. You make excuses for your partner or withhold information from friends and family (disconnecting with your transparency).
5. You think something is wrong with you and question if you are a ‘good enough’ partner (disconnecting with your self-esteem and self-worth).
6. You feel something might be off and you don’t feel like yourself anymore. You might feel joyless, less confident, and wonder why you aren’t happier (this is a message from your intuition you might ignore).
7. You often feel confused, blurry, can’t focus, and can’t make simple decisions (being mentally tired).
8. You are constantly reminded of your shortcomings, flaws, undesirability, you walk on eggshells and feel insecure (disconnecting with self-esteem and being yourself).
You could see how many of these signs you notice. If you are a victim of gaslighting you will feel stuck/alone. You are isolated and disconnected from your environment and yourself. Deep down, you will know you deserve better!
Observing and writing things down
It’s important to discover whether you are being gaslighted by documenting what happens for yourself. If something happens more often and you’re fairly sure it’s not possible, just write it down. It can be very simple things, but it can help you to determine that something is off about the situation and it’s not because of your memory.
By observing and writing it down you can find out inconsistencies between stories and you will know for certain when someone is lying or denying something. You could also try recording conversations.
Possible long-term effects when being gaslighted
I will describe some possible more long-term effects when being a victim of gaslighting. Depending on how far and to what extent you have been gaslighted there could be the following long-term effects.
1. You don’t believe people are generally good and kind anymore
A lot of people live life with the view that people are good at heart. This view is sadly exactly what a narcissist abuses. They use your trust to create doubts within yourself. This person seemed to love you and he turned into pure evil. The person appeared to be the exact opposite of what you thought and it’s terrifying to find out for the first time someone can do such things.
2. Your trust in yourself is damaged
When being gaslighted someone tried to have control over you by manipulating and driving you slowly insane. It’s all about making you feel unstable and doubting your own reality. This affects the trust you have in your own thoughts and your perception of reality.
3. Your trust in other people is negatively affected
A narcissist will emphasize your negative thoughts about other people. This can be done in an aggressive way but also in a very stealthy manipulative way. You could be stimulated to think the world outside is bad and people can’t be trusted. You could become very suspicious about other people and feel neurotic or paranoid. A narcissist will try to isolate you and disconnect you from friends and family. This is to create more dependency.
4. You don’t want to have a relationship again
This is a logical consequence at first if you had a relationship with a narcissist. You have been lied to and manipulated from the start. It goes from what seemed to be a perfect relationship to having a relationship with someone who drains the life out of you. Therefore, it can be challenging trying to find love again and open up for this possibility.
5. Your children or your siblings could be alienated from you
A narcissist could try to alienate your children or your siblings for you. As they have no boundaries, they could tell horrible lies about you and paint you black. This is all to get the full attention of these people. They might fall for it and still be under the influence of the narcissist. I wrote an article about the web of control of a narcissist if you want more information about people under their influence and how a narcissist works.
6. You seem to forget who you are
The slow process of manipulation could make you forget who you are. You could become quite numb. All attention and energy were being directed at the narcissist, which could mean you possibly quit your job, became more dependent, or stopped doing some hobbies.
Tips in shifting attention to yourself again
The above list honestly is pretty disturbing and depressing. It’s very brutal how gaslighting works, so I think it’s essential to shift the attention to yourself again. You were manipulated into slowly killing yourself from the inside because of this mental/emotional abuse.
It’s thus time to start the process in the other direction again! This means a process of trusting yourself more, feeling more positive energy, developing, and being more kind to yourself. It’s hard work and there will be grieving first when you realize you are being gaslighted.
I hope the following tips might be helpful to you somewhere in the process of healing.
1. Forgive yourself
Before you can even start the process it’s essential to recognize what happened and try to forgive yourself for being in that position. Yes, it’s easier said than done and you might feel a lot of shame or blame yourself. Do know that anyone can become a victim.
You really can’t blame yourself for being the victim of a narcissist, as they have no conscience and are masters of manipulation. You lost some psycho game you didn’t even know you were in. It’s great you trusted someone and you had good intentions. It’s not your fault someone abused this.
2. Learning to protect yourself by setting boundaries
It’s essential to protect yourself from this kind of manipulation by setting boundaries for yourself. This doesn’t have to be too complicated. When you are the victim of a narcissist your boundaries will have been pushed slowly, as you weren’t aware of it. The one thing you have learned is to become aware of it and you can now choose consciously to protect your boundaries.
3. Meditating and kindness to yourself
A great way to make you stronger is meditating. It will help with your focus and gaining clarity. It learns you to be more in the here and now and become less attached to your thoughts. Your negative thoughts and feelings were emphasized and ‘trained’ for a long time when gaslighted.
Therefore, it’s important to work on acknowledging your thoughts and feelings without any judgment. I love the following quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh:
‘Whatever feeling you have, you give it a name, you acknowledge its existence, and then you shine the light of your awareness on this feeling to gain clarity. Breathe in and breathe out in this awareness.’
‘Conscious breathing is the best way to stop and to calm our anxiety, fears, and anger. You can always practice it. All attention is with your breathing. It’s essential to stop en come back to yourself.’
Personally, Buddhism and mindfulness helped me in the process of coping with suffering. I would recommend books from Thich Nhat Hanh, as he is all about kindness. You might be interested in my article with some tips in Buddhist meditation and my article about practicing conscious breathing.
4. Reconnect with those you trust
Some narcissists aim to weaken your support system. If you have become more isolated it can be a challenge to reconnect with family and friends. There could be a shame about the situation. If possible talk to friends or family members that you trust.
Focus on the people who show you real kindness, care, and/or love. Know that there are still a lot of kind people in this world! Also, it’s a great step to go to a therapist or mental health professional. Reconnecting and seeking help means you think you are worth it. I know I think you are worth it!
5. Faith in the healing process
You might feel alone. People that show kindness will always appear, but the most important person to give you kindness is yourself. This would mean it’s even more important to work on receiving your own love and kindness, as you have a lot of love to give!
Have faith in the healing process. This might be hard and it will take time, but I hope inside you know you are enough and worth the hard work of healing.
You will regain confidence and self-worth by working on it. It’s all about taking small steps in the right direction. Learn to be (more) kind to yourself and be proud of every little step. You will come out stronger!
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