Gaslighting: Examples, Definition and How to Deal

Written by Angela Atkinson

(Prefer to watch/listen? Click here to see the video, which contains additional information, on YouTube)

A client told me that when she was school-aged, her mother would have a lot of trouble getting up on time in the mornings to get her off to school. Back then, no one had cell phones, and my client’s mom hadn’t bought her an alarm clock of her own yet – so she had no way to get up on time herself. My client would later learn that her mother had been dabbling in certain activities that were messing with her sleep schedule, but at the time, she wasn’t aware of it.

Anyway, she told me how, each time her mother would wake up late, she would be sort of verbally attacked. Her mother would say things like, “Well, you’ve made us late again!” And then would tell the school that her tardiness was because her daughter wouldn’t get up on time.

Another client shared that the one thing that gave her comfort growing up in her toxic family was her cat. Sadly, he passed away when my client was 14. And when he found out about it, her father told her to stop crying because she never really loved that cat anyway.

That same client ended up meeting and marrying a narcissist in her early 20s and was going through an ugly divorce when she first reached out to me. She told me that her soon-to-be ex-husband had a way of playing the same kinds of games with her. She said he was always making her doubt herself. He’d say things like:

“I never said that!” (When he’d CLEARLY said that!) followed by “You’re always making up stories,” when she insisted on what had actually happened. It made her feel like she was losing her mind. She literally started doubting her own perception and experiences. She said it went on for years and it wasn’t until she found an article I had written that she realized it really WAS NOT her.

And then there was the client who told me that her mother was always trying to make her think everyone was using her and would leave her when they were done with her. For example, her best friend in high school, her mother said, was only friends with her because no one else liked her. And when she got married, her mother told her that her husband was only tolerating her and that he would leave her when someone better came along. The underlying message was that the client better stay connected to her mother, lest she find herself lying in a ditch and alone when the bottom fell out of her life, which, as her mother said, it inevitably would.

I heard another story where a man kept telling his girlfriend that she smelled bad. This went on for so long that she became obsessed with being clean. She would ask perfect strangers to smell her, and of course, no one ever caught a whiff of anything unsavory – except for her boyfriend. She would later learn that his father had told her to always tell his girlfriend that she was smelly, because, he said, it would make her be extra clean and not want to get too close to other men.

What do these stories have in common, besides the fact that each of these people was clearly dealing with toxic people who might have also had narcissistic personality disorder? Each is an example of a very specific manipulation tactic that is used by narcissists and other toxic people called gaslighting. And that’s exactly what we’re talking about, today – gaslighting. And I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about it – what it is, how it works, the signs and how to recognize it in your own life – and what to do if it happens to you.

Hidden Signs of Gaslighting in Toxic Relationships

Gaslighters actively and intentionally confuse their victims in some pretty terrible ways. They might cut you down and build you up in the same day – and then tear you down again. And while they might come out with an unexpected positive point (think of this like a “crumb of affection” – it’s intermittent reinforcement and it leads to trauma bonding), they will often alternate this with outrageous accusations toward you with no logical reason.

The thing is that gaslighters make you feel crazy because they act like your reactions to their abuse aren’t rational. So if you find yourself feeling like you might be a little crazy (which is, of course, the end goal of the whole gaslighting technique) or even if you’re aware that you’re dealing with a narcissist and want to recognize it as it happens — understanding the signs can be the first step to making your life a little better.

That’s because, when you’re aware of the behaviors that cause the narcissist to engage in gaslighting, you can react differently and change the course of the outcome. Plus, this gives you the option to sort of look at it like a scientist – as in, logically and not emotionally. For me, that was one of the most important things I learned during my own recovery. I needed to be able to categorize and label the behaviors on a logical level. Once I understood on that level, then I was able to go back and figure out how my own emotions had been affected. At that point, I could connect the emotions and the facts, and move forward in a healthier way. I want to help you do the same thing.

Get more information on gaslighting and the hidden signs of gaslighting in this video.

Even the so-called normal relationships in our lives can suffer from misunderstandings and miscommunications, but when someone starts using the manipulation tactics involved in gaslighting, chances are they might also be a narcissist — and if you’re going to maintain a sense of self, you’ve got to understand what this is and learn what you can do about it.

So, how do you deal with gaslighting? The very best way is to use something called the gray rock method. You can learn more about the gray rock method here. 

Question of the day: Did you recognize any of the signs of gaslighting I explained today? Is it part of your reality? Share your thoughts, share your ideas, share your experiences in the comments section below this video, and let’s talk about it.

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