You may have heard the term gaslighting in your travels and, if you’ve ever been involved with a narcissist (my sincerest sympathies), you have most likely experienced gaslighting firsthand. But what exactly is gaslighting? And how is a perfectly sane person made to question, even doubt, their own sanity? I’m glad you asked.
The term gaslighting comes from a 1938 play, Gas Light, wherein a husband, who murdered their wealthy neighbor in the apartment above, surreptitiously causes his wife to go insane by convincing her that their dimming apartment lights, and the footsteps she hears (in the now purportedly empty apartment), are all figments of her imagination.
Does that sound like a familiar dynamic? Even though you know you’re not imaging things, your narcissist keeps telling you that you are? Or perhaps they assure you that they didn’t say or do something that you very clearly recall they did? This is a standard narcissistic tactic to further trauma bond you to them as well as to cause you to become subservient, no longer trusting your own judgment or lucidity. Here is a short checklist of seven statements the narcissist employs to plant the seeds of self-doubt that begins the process of chipping away at your sanity.
Seven Things the Narcissist Will Say to Gaslight You:
- “I was only joking!” Or, “You have no sense of humor/You’re too serious.” A nugget of knowledge to tuck away in the recesses of your mind, “In all jest, there is a measure of truth.” Many times, the narcissist will say something, “jokingly,” when it’s really their passive-aggressive attempt to say hurtful things in a surreptitious effort to denigrate your self-esteem and decry your self-worth so you begin to doubt your value in both the narcissist’s eyes and the relationship. “If I’m not good enough for him/her, s/he’ll start looking for someone else who is.” This type of self-deprecating, downward-spiraling thought process begins a person on the path to certain emotional and mental destruction. And, as an aside, your narcissist is (was) probably already seeking new sources of narcissistic supply the entire time. It quite literally isn’t you. It truly is them.
- “You’re crazy,” “You have issues,” or, “You need help.” The narcissist is planting the seeds of doubt, knowing that, with time, you will come to rely on them and their twisted interpretation of the reality they want you to embrace. This tactic is especially effective when the narcissist is able to publically provoke a reaction from you, thus justifying their assertions to any and all present that you are unstable and they are the victim.
- “You’re too sensitive,” or, “You’re overreacting.” These are favorite turn-to phrases of the narcissist’s. The very thing that attracted them to you in the first place – your sensitivity and kindness – they are now berating and attacking in an attempt to undermine your sense of self. While my narcissist never actually said these words, it was inferred on more than once occasion. The fact is that empaths are very, very emotionally aware people. This is not to be confused with someone who is, indeed, “too sensitive,” or needy/clingy. Empaths have the ability to tap into, and share in, another person’s pain. It is a very rare skill that few people possess. Never let the narcissist cause you to be ashamed of being a caring and empathic individual. Otherwise, as the narcissist continues this emotional and psychological covert attack of the very essence of who you are, you will find that you start asking yourself if you are too sensitive. As time goes on, and the narcissist’s surreptitious attacks continue, you will begin shutting down emotionally and start to lose yourself in your own nightmare of negativity.
- “You’re insecure/jealous/possessive.” How many times have you heard these words when confronting your narcissist after witnessing them blatantly flirting with someone else and or having inappropriate conversations albeit written or verbal? This was a common tactic with my narcissist. I can’t even begin to count the number of times she had conversations with other men wherein the dialog and behaviors were conspicuously flirtatious and completely inappropriate for someone who was supposedly involved in a committed, monogamous relationship. When I would confront her, she would say things such as, “You’ve obviously never dated someone who is very beautiful, before.” (Yes, she actually said that.)
- “You’re the problem, not me!” I have to admit, my narcissist was very adept at placing blame without pointing fingers. The number of times she feigned ignorance and refused to admit that her actions and or words were damaging to the relationship is mindboggling. “I thought he was just being friendly when he asked for my phone number.” Naturally, discord would ensue and, somehow, she very deftly turned the situation around to where, as in number 4 (above), I found myself apologizing even though I had done no actual wrong. While she never actually claimed I was the problem, it was insinuated. As with most narcissists, when they’re hoovering and trying to convince you to give them, and you (as a couple), one more chance, they will very often agree to attend counseling under the guise of fixing the relationship. Case in point: My narcissist, during one of many hoovering sessions, agreed to go to counseling. I thought, “Finally! We’re going to make it. We’re going to make things work.” After just two counseling sessions together, she stated, “Sweetheart, I really don’t feel this is helping us. Perhaps you should continue to go alone so you can address your childhood trauma.” Do you see how adeptly she circumvented culpability? She didn’t see any value in delving deeper into what vexed us, as a couple; however, I should continue to go because there was something wrong with me. This is a common narcissist’s ploy to project accountability on the other person instead of accepting responsibility for their role in why the relationship simply isn’t going to work and, quite honestly, never will.
- “You just won’t let the past go,” or, “Why do you keep digging?!” Those were two common questions my narcissist would ask of me. At the time, I was so caught up in the throes of thinking the problem was me, that I found myself apologizing when I knew, on some deep level, that I honestly hadn’t done anything I needed to apologize for. It was only well after things ended between us that I came to realize the reason I kept “digging” was that she kept trying to bury the truth.
- “I never did/said that! You’re imagining things.” This is probably one of the most destructive rebuttals/defenses. At first, you’re certain you aren’t recollecting inaccurately. You did see/hear them do/say that! But, after a little dizzying, circular logic, and equally circular arguing, you begin to doubt your own ability to correctly and intelligently recall events and conversations. Once this happens, you’re well on your way to going down that particular rabbit hole from which few return whole and intact. And it isn’t long before the narcissist has complete and total control over your very sanity. Now, they can tell you that events did, or did not, transpire in whatever fashion or order they so desire, and you believe them because they’ve successfully convinced you that your memory cannot be trusted.
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? Do all of them sound familiar? Congratulations! You have been groomed and unceremoniously emotionally and psychologically raped by a narcissist. What? Do you think rape is too strong of a word? Rape – an outrageous violation; an act or instance of robbing or despoiling a person. Narcissistic manipulation and abuse sounds like rape to me. Just because it’s not an egregious, sexual assault makes it nonetheless abominable or unforgivable, nor does it make the series of events any the less genuine or authentic. Perhaps what hurts the worst is that your narcissist knew exactly what they were doing when they perpetrated these atrocities against you. And not just once, but over and over again, ad nauseum. There is nothing to forgive here because there is no remorse from your narcissist. To be truly forgiven, they must first have regret for their actions. And they won’t. They never truly will. If you forgive them, you condone what they did to you. If you carry legitimately justified contempt for them, you are irrevocably tied to them even though they have moved on to someone new. It’s a Catch-22. So what do you do? My beautiful friend, you have to do the same – move on. Many times, the sad reality with moving on is it’s more about coming to whatever uncomfortable peace with what the narcissist did to you than it is about getting over someone by getting under someone new – differences my narcissist could never seem to comprehend.
Regardless of what you’ve been falsely led to believe, the problem is not you. Yes, you are indeed broken. The truth is we’re all a little broken. But you are a whole person who was broken by a broken person. You are not a broken person – there’s a big difference. In time, you will heal; they will not. In time, you will be whole again; they will not. Forget forgiving someone who unapologetically violated you on so many different levels. They are forever broken. They will never have a healthy, happy life or relationship. Just know that one day, you will be healed and whole again. Until then, the power your narcissist held over you will slightly wane with each passing day until it’s finally nothing more than an infinitesimal spark that briefly flashes one last time in the darkest recesses of your mind and heart before it is forever suffocated in the silence of the narcissist’s vacuumous absence. Take solace in the knowledge that you will heal.