Part Two of Four
As stated in Part One, the main goal of a narcissist is to get you to question your own reality. This has been termed “crazy-making” by some. Below are some of the tactics used to accomplish this. (In examples given, names have been changed.)
Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic in which a person plants seeds of uncertainty in the victim. The underlying purpose of this is to gain power or control. The self-doubt this creates will slowly lead to questioning your reality. The term gaslighting came from the 1944 film “Gaslight.” The film tells a story of a husband who systematically brainwashes his wife to the point that she thinks she is going insane. I was first exposed to this term when a friend of mine told me he thought my boyfriend at the time was gaslighting me. I am thankful that he spoke up because it began to open the door for me to discern some things that had been perplexing me for some time.
I just want to point out that this is a malevolent and purposeful act. Do not for one second think, “maybe he/she doesn’t realize what he/she is doing.” They know! Dr. George Simon says gaslighting happens in a deliberately slow, precise way to ensure that the victim doesn’t realize it’s even happening and that it is completely conscious behavior. Sometimes we think maybe they don’t realize what they are doing because sometimes they are so nice and times are so good. Of course they are not always mean, that would be too obvious. Remember the goal is to make you question your reality. What better way to do that than to keep you guessing whether or not you are imagining the bad times simply because the good times beckon to your heart.
It can be difficult to recognize gaslighting because the gaslighter may be incredibly charming. I would feel so guilty for questioning my boyfriend that I started ignoring my gut. When he loved me, he loved me so well. But then it would flip, like a light switch, and he would say the most confusing things to me and about me. The interesting thing is that my body finally began talking so loudly that I couldn’t ignore it anymore. My body started “vibrating.” It was the weirdest sensation because you couldn’t see movement; but it felt as if I were purring like a cat. I went to doctors about it and no one could figure it out. But then we decided to take a break from our relationship and the vibrating stopped. I didn’t relate it to our relationship until after we got back together, and the vibrating came back!
Here are some signs of gaslighting behavior. I am now very familiar with these from two of my previous relationships. You will notice that some of these behaviors will fit more of the overt narcissist, let’s call him Tom, and some will fit more of the covert narcissist, let’s call him Brad. To emphasize their goal of distorting your reality, I will italicize those words for you.
Gaslighters tell obvious lies. You know that they are lying. And they do it with such ease. I used to tell Tom, “You could lie straight to the face of God and get away with it.” But after all of those years, living with a liar, this is what I didn’t realize: the self-doubt their lies create in you is EXACTLY what they want! It is part of the abuse cycle to make you doubt your reality. It’s not about the lie, it’s about the control.
They will fervently deny things that you know were said or that you know happened. The purpose of this is the same as lying. They want you to doubt your reality.
3. Using what you love against you
Gaslighters will use what is closest to you against you. This happened a lot in different ways, such as with jobs and hobbies. But the most hurtful would be how Tom would use my children to hurt me. I remember crying one day on the way to college because I didn’t trust him with my son. When the kids were older he would lose his temper because too many lights were on or someone didn’t take out the trash or, or, or, or. Because if I could just get things right, he wouldn’t have to go off. At least that’s what I believed. So, I became a perfectionist, a disciplinarian, an incessant worrier. I have no idea who that person was, and my kids will forever remember me as that horrible person. I was so afraid. Every single day I was afraid. And every single day I questioned my perception of what was real.
4. The slow death of self
It now hurts me to hear people talk poorly of people in abusive relationships. They will say things like, “Why doesn’t she/he just leave?” Well, because of this slow death of self. The abuser will talk about you in ways that you know are completely opposite of who you are. The purpose of this is to make you doubt your reality. Sometimes this is delivered in funny, comedic ways. And sometimes even in front of other people. And when you trust those other people, but they just laugh, then you take it totally to heart and believe it as fact. I actually addressed this with some of those people after Brad was no longer in the picture. What I realized through those questions was that in most cases, it is indirect enough and/or funny enough that your loved ones won’t think it is a serious statement. But as the receiver, you know. You know because it has elements of things they have been telling you all along. The things that they want to become your reality. The death of self is obviously not a physical death, but an emotional, mental, and spiritual one. The victims of narcissistic abuse have slowly and manipulatively been led to believe that they deserve what they are getting, that what they are getting isn’t really what they think it is, and that they can’t survive without this person. They become a shell of a person. I used to say I felt like a “Stepford wife.” And one of the first things I did once I was out of that situation was get rid of every cardigan I owned!
In Part Three I will provide four more gaslighting tactics that narcissists use to distort the reality of their victims.