How to Recognise Gaslighting When it is Happening to You.
What is “Gaslighting”?
Over the years of my practice, I have been asked this question quite frequently: "What exactly is gaslighting?” or "What does the term "gaslighting” really mean?” The clinical term for gaslighting is a form of psychological and emotional abuse used by narcissists in order to instill extreme anxiety and confusion into their victims to the point where they no longer trust their own memory, perception or judgement. The techniques used in gaslighting are similar to those used in brainwashing, interrogation by law enforcement and torture in psychological warfare. This is why victims feel a sense of confusion, manipulation and often feel as though they are going crazy.
You may even know, deep down, that what the narcissist is telling you is completely wrong, but they have somehow manipulated you into believing the lie because they use this technique to frequently and systematically withhold factual information from you by replacing it with false information. Being gaslighted is a terrible form of abuse because it causes the victim to question their own sense of reality and identity.
You may have found this blog because you were searching the internet for anything that could give you some peace of mind from what is happening to you. Gaslighting will leave you asking yourself questions like, “Did this really happen?” or “Am I going crazy?" There are a lot of blogs, videos and content on the internet trying to explain what gaslighting is, but what I want to offer you in this series is how to recognize it and protect yourself from it when you are experiencing it yourself.
Are you being Gaslighted?
Gaslighting can happen in a romantic relationship, a family dynamic or even in the workplace. It is very hard to live with and it is emotionally and psychologically draining to be around people who are doing this to you all the time. If you are being gaslighted, after a while, you will become completely and utterly confused. If you can answer “yes" to 2-3 or more of the following questions, it is likely you are being gaslighted.
1. Does this person try to persuade you to doubt your senses or the truth of what you are thinking and feeling?
2. Do they try to convince you to believe their side of the story and make you believe that what you are thinking is wrong?
3. Do they react badly every time you do not believe what they are saying or when you do not accept their version of the truth?
4. Do you find they become rather persistent and will not stop the argument long after you have asked them to stop or after the argument has seemingly been “resolved”?
5. Do they bully you into accepting all of the blame, claiming they were 100% right and that you were completely wrong?
6. Do they twist and turn the truth so they look like the victim and you look like the perpetrator and are always at fault?
If you found yourself answering “yes” to most of the questions above, I’m sad to say that this form of abuse is likely happening to you.
Why am I being Gaslighted?
You may be asking yourself, “Why am I being gaslighted?” or “Why is this happening to me?”
Here are a few reasons why…
1. Hiding. One of the main reasons, or most probable, is that the narcissist is hiding something from you that they do not want you to know. If you are not told the truth or if the truth is being bent, it is easier for them to feed you lies so you believe them. In this way, you become easily manipulated and unsure of what is or is not the actual truth.
2. Change. It is possible that you are being gaslighted because the narcissist wants to change something about you. Something you are currently doing does not match up with the narcissist's expectations of you. Therefore, they will try to change that by using gaslighting to manipulate you into doing what they want you to do. Thus, making you comply to the narcissist’s expectations.
3. Control. The narcissist is always trying to manipulate and control. It is part of who they are. The more they can manipulate the truth (benefiting them or making themselves look good), the easier it will be to control you (or to make you look bad). This tactic leaves you confused because you do not know what is reality or fantasy.
You will want to believe the narcissist because you love them and you trust them. You will question yourself by thinking, “How could someone who loves me do this to me?” But remember, the narcissist does not love anyone but themselves. Their idea of love is quite different than a normal person’s view of love. In any “normal” relationship with a boss, relative or partner, you would never be constantly questioning yourself about what your reality actually is.
How am I Being Gaslighted? // Examples of Being Gaslighted
The narcissist will attempt to make you doubt any bit of evidence you have against them or the lies they are trying to make you believe. For example, if you know something the narcissist is saying during an argument isn’t the truth, the narcissist will do everything in their power to convince you otherwise. They will do this to make you feel ashamed and will even imply that if you do not agree with them, it may result in negative consequences for you.
Because this abuse is done very insidiously, you feel as though you are the one going crazy. You know the truth, but it is being said to you that that what you know is not the actual truth. For example, if someone told you, “The sky is green," you would internally know that the sky is actually blue. If you were to look outside the window and see that in fact, the sky is blue, you would turn back to this person and say in confidence, “No, the sky is blue.” But the narcissist would continue to tell you, despite all reality, “No, the sky is green.” Therefore, causing you to doubt your own sense of reality.
You could have a sister who is very narcissistic who will talk to all of your friends, your mother or your other family members behind your back. You may not fully realise what is going on, but you will feel something is off within your relationships where your parents or friends are not really talking to you because of the lies she has been telling about you. This kind of behavior will make you feel as though you are at a disadvantage because how could you possibly defend yourself in these situations when you don’t know for certain what kind of lies are being said about you? This kind of treatment only induces feelings of unrest, inadequacy and anxiety.
What Will Happen When You Begin to Notice the Abuse
When you start to pay attention to behavior you may not have noticed before, little things will begin to spark your attention and you should take notice. These behaviors can be recognized by noticing your spouse spending unnecessary amounts of time on their phone or if they suddenly make excuses to be away from home more than usual. They may even do something like hide credit card bills from you or keep other important financial information from you.
When you begin picking up on these “little things” you will start looking for them, and become paranoid. Being paranoid all the time causes you to have anxiety and anxiety will make you act out of character. You wouldn’t normally act this way, but their behavior and actions are causing you to respond in a paranoid demeanor. I assure you, that you are not crazy. This is all caused by the abuse of gaslighting.
Why You Should Never Call Out/Battle Your Abuser
Please do not think you are going to get an apology from the narcissist, even if you find out the truth and are able to prove it. They will never apologize. They will continue to see flaws in your argument or with the evidence of truth you have presented and they will counteract it. Even if you know the truth and are 100% right, you are not going to win against a narcissist. They won’t accept it.
Gaslighting is a trick played by the narcissist in order to win at a game you did not know you were playing. They need to win at all costs. So, do not waste your breath. Do not waste your time trying to prove your innocence or the truth. If you try to battle them in an argument, they will claim you are being too dramatic or too sensitive about the topic or discussion. Again, this will cause anxiety and tension to build up inside of you because, deep down, you know the truth.
Why Narcissists Gaslight Their Victims
1. Manipulation and Control. The main reason every narcissist gaslights their victims is for the purpose of manipulation and control. They use this tactic to influence your mind in order to get you to do whatever they want you to do. Gaslighting is part of the narcissistic supply. It is their drug. It is something they feel they have to do in order to survive. Whether the narcissist is overt, covert, semantic or cerebral—they all want and need control. They need to know they have control over certain situations, their environments and most definitely over the people around them.
2. Boredom. The narcissist gets bored very easily. They live in a constant state of boredom, so they are always trying to initiate change or something to capture their attention. In turn, they will create drama or chaos to stir up your emotions, causing you to be upset. When they cause you to feel like this by triggering you through gaslighting, they have their ideal outcome. When you are upset, they are able to tell you a whole bunch of lies, tell you what their expectations are of you—and because you are feeling weak, you may just go right along with it in order to keep the peace.
3. Unrealistic Expectations. They have unrealistic expectations for their lives and they want you to perform according to those expectations. If you don’t, you will be reminded or put down until you fulfill the correct role they expect you to play—no matter how unrealistic or unachievable that may be. Narcissists have a specific role for each person in their lives, providing them with a certain type of narcissist supply.
Ways to Protect Yourself from Emotional Abuse/Gaslighting
Over a period of time, this type of abuse causes health issues and psychological problems for the victims. This is why it is so important for us to protect ourselves. Ideally, we would want to do “no contact” with any abuser, but I know this is not always possible. Here are some ways to protect yourself from emotional abuse in the future:
1. Knowing is key. If you know you are dealing with an emotional manipulator, try to prepare yourself for the manipulation ahead of time.
2. Do not react. Narcissists love both negative and positive attention from you. Any kind of attention feeds their ego. You can anticipate that there will be some form of drama when you are in their presence, so when they say these things to you, try to prepare yourself mentally to not react the way you would have previously.
3. Set personal boundaries. Set these boundaries before you come into contact with the narcissist so you are prepared to say, “No” when they try to cross them. Know that your boundaries or your opinion will not be valued, but stay strong and keep them in place. This will help you to exit the situation before it escalates.
If you are in close proximity to a narcissist, whether they are a friend, coworker, family member or partner—you will be gaslighted. You will be controlled and you will be manipulated. This just comes with the territory. At the end of the day, these are narcissistic traits. This is done because they are feeding off you, and the best way to protect yourself is by going no contact with toxic people.
I hope this has helped you to better prepare yourself for this type of emotional abuse.
Until next time,