“Narcissism falls along the axis of what psychologists call personality disorders, one of a group that includes antisocial, dependent, histrionic, avoidant and borderline personalities. But by most measures, narcissism is one of the worst, if only because the narcissists themselves are so clueless.” ~Jeffrey Kluger
What is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is an ongoing form of manipulation that causes you to doubt what you see, hear and experience; in fact, to doubt your own perception of the world around you. Often used by toxic narcissists, it’s a type of brainwashing that can cause you to lose your entire sense of self. Repeatedly experiencing gaslighting will destroy your self-worth and cause you to question reality.
Where does the word Gaslighting come from?
The word gaslighting comes from Gaslight, a 1944 American film, adapted from Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play Gas Light, where a husband tries to persuade his wife to believe that she’s insane by causing her to question herself and her reality.
What Does Gaslighting Look Like?
It can be hard to detect gaslighting from outside the relationship. It is insidious, oddly subtle and emotionally/psychologically debilitating to the victim. During gaslighting, the toxic person makes declarations and allegations which are typically based on deliberate untruths and intentional efforts.
If you’ve ever had a friend, family member or co-worker who is a narcissist or who suffers from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), chances are you have been the victim of gaslighting, which is a manipulation technique they often employ to get what they want.
“Those who engage in gaslighting create a reaction — whether it’s anger, frustration, sadness — in the person they are dealing with,” writes Yashar Ali in a Huffington Post article. “Then, when that person reacts, the gaslighter makes them feel uncomfortable and insecure by behaving as if their feelings aren’t rational or normal.”
While the signs you’re being gaslighted may seem “obvious” to some people, the fact is that when you’re being manipulated by a narcissist, you can’t always see the proverbial forest for the trees.
So if you find yourself feeling like you might be a little crazy (part of the whole gaslighting technique)—or even if you’re aware that it’s happening and want to recognize it as it happens—understanding the signs can be the first step to making your life a little better.
When you’re aware of the behaviors that cause your narcissist to engage in gaslighting, you can react differently and change the course of the outcome. So what are the signs you’re being gaslighted?
Top 10 Warning Signs You’re Being Gaslighted
- Your Fears Are Used Against You—Many narcissists are very charming, at least when they want to be. Often, they will listen to every word you have to say and file away any vulnerabilities you reveal for later use. For example, if you told a narcissist you felt insecure about your weight, he might later make discreet pokes at it, or in a romantic relationship, make comments about others who are thinner than you are—in any case, he’s out to feel “better” than you.
- You Don’t Know Your Own Mind—Some narcissists will claim to know what you (or others) are thinking—and if you deny that your mind’s working the way they believe it is, they might just secretly think you’re lying. They might make a face or a gesture to indicate it—or in the most extreme cases of NPD, they might actually tell you that you’re lying—and even accuse you of lying to YOURSELF. Because of course, as narcissists, they can’t be wrong.
- You Don’t Know What’s Normal—If you are regularly being told that things are normal when, deep down, you know for sure they are not, you’re likely the victim of gaslighting. For example, say your toxic boss asks you to blatantly lie to a client about the safety of an item. When you refuse, you might be told that ALL employees lie on behalf of their employers and that if you don’t want to be a team player, maybe you should find another position.
- You’re “Diagnosed” With Major Issues—When a narcissist is lying or manipulating a friend, coworker or loved one, and isn’t getting his way, he may turn up the intensity by questioning your sanity. You might be called paranoid, stressed out—too sensitive or even hormonal. He might even tell you that you need therapy or meds to get through it. Again, it’s all about being in control.
- You Doubt Your Own Beliefs and Perceptions— You’re told that what you know to be true is not real. For example, if your narcissist mother tells you that your significant other is a loser and that you need to dump him, after a while, you could start to believe it and might even end up sabotaging the relationship because you begin to question your own judgment, thanks to regular conditioning during visits, phone calls and emails with her.
- You Can’t Remember Anything Anymore—The narcissist is infamous for selective memory; that is, he will deny that he said something that upset you if you confront him on it, or he will promise to do something and later tell you that it never happened. He might also use creative language to downplay his behavior and act as though your reaction is totally out of line.
- You Lie to Keep the Peace—You aren’t a liar by nature and you don’t lie to other people in your life. But due to the extreme stress caused by upsetting or angering the narcissist, you might find yourself at least bending the truth a little in order to avoid the verbal/physical abuse that is sure to follow any discussion or situation that is against the narcissist’s “rules.”
- You Stop Trying to Be Heard—As humans, we are programmed to share our experiences and thoughts with the people in our lives. But when you’re dealing with a narcissist and there are signs you’re being gaslighted, you eventually might just give up. You stop talking about yourself around the narcissist, and depending on the depth of your relationship with him or her; you might even stop talking about yourself altogether. Then one day, when someone asks you a question about yourself, you’re stumped. You might even forget HOW to talk about you.
- You Start Thinking Maybe You Really Are the Crazy One—The intensity of a narcissist’s manipulation tactics can really get to a person. And when you are looking for a solution (AKA a way to just END the disagreement or argument), you might just convince yourself that the narcissist is right—that there are things you could be doing better. And maybe you start to think that maybe his behavior WAS a logical reaction to your mistakes. Maybe you are the one who owes HIM an apology. And when you apologize, he eventually (probably) accepts your apology, only to later throw your “bad behavior” back in your face when it serves him.
- You Are Depressed—As a narcissist wears down his victim, she may become depressed and anxious. She will constantly question herself and feel generally hopeless. If you’re in this situation, you might feel exhausted from the roller-coaster ride your narcissist has been taking you on—and you might even think you’re just a little oversensitive (thanks to the NPD manipulation tactics you’re being subjected to.) You get confused and start to feel disoriented. And thanks to all those references to your paranoia and memory issues, you’re likely to seek help for depression rather than the actual problem—the gaslighting narcissist in your life.
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 start making some changes in your life.
Do you recognize any of the signs you’re being gaslighted as part of your reality?
Have you ever been the victim of gaslighting? How would you tell a friend to handle a toxic relationship that involves gaslighting? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section, below! (Feel free to comment anonymously if you prefer).