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Central to a narcopath’s modus operandi is Gaslighting – the subtle and ongoing manipulation of reality, designed to undermine their victim. Recognising its signs and patterns is an important part of understanding the campaign of abuse, and assisting in a victim’s recovery.
The term is named after the 1940’s film “Gaslight” in which a husband tries to drive his wife to insanity by repeatedly adjusting the brightness of a gaslight when she is not looking. As a victim, you may sense that you are losing your grip on reality, you feel crushed, you are frequently questioning yourself, your memory, your feelings, your perceptions. You may even think that you are going insane.
Gaslighting in Practice
PsychologyToday lists no less than 11 ways in which this can be done:
- They tell blatant lies.
- They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof.
- They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition.
- They wear you down over time.
- Their actions do not match their words.
- They throw in positive reinforcement to confuse you.
- They know confusion weakens people.
- They project their own faults, weaknesses and misdemeanours onto their victim.
- They try to align people against you.
- They tell you and others that you are crazy.
- They intimate to you that everyone else is a liar, and vice versa.
The sort of things that they might do include
- They move or remove items of yours – such as hiding your keys, removing and disposing of your favourite clothes, moving your bookmarker etc.
- They discredit you by making others think that you are unhinged, irrational, unstable, depressed.
- They carry out their gaslighting with a mask of confidence, assertiveness and/or fake compassion to undermine your sense of reality, and reinforce their versions, ideas and wishes.
- They will change the subject, or at least the focus of the conversation, so as to prevent you establishing and asserting your reality.
- They will minimalise your version of the truth, and indeed trivialise your right to be heard and understood.
- They will refuse to acknowledge or accept your thoughts and feelings.
- They will deny the truth, and with conviction.
- They will reframe reality with subtle twists that often include elements of fact mixed in with falsities
Recognising the Signs
Being gaslit is very insidious and hard to spot. But if you regularly sense the following around a certain person, you may be a target of gaslighting:
- Something is “off” about this person, even though you may find it difficult to either pinpoint or describe.
- You frequently question your ability to remember past events or facts.
- You feel confused and disorientated.
- You feel that you are walking on eggshells around this person – you are on edge and feel threatened but you don’t know why.
- You feel obliged to apologise frequently for what you do and/or who you are.
- You feel inadequate, never quite good enough. You sense you are falling short of expectations, even though you may be unsure as to what these are.
- You fear that there is something fundamentally wrong with you, that you may be losing it, that you are becoming neurotic.
- You feel that you frequently overeating or that you are too sensitive.
- You feel overwhelmed, hopeless, isolated, misunderstood and depressed.
- You find it hard to trust your own judgement, and will often defer to your abuser.
- You feel uneasy and scared, but don’t know why.
- You feel that you have regressed, and lack the confidence and spark you had in the past.
- You have a sense of guilt for not feeling happy like you used to.
- You feel afraid to speak up, to express your opinions, desires or emotions. You bite your lip instead.
What does Gaslighting look like?
Examples of comments used to Gaslight are:
- You don’t have any real friends.
- It was all your fault.
- I was only joking.
- You’re being too sensitive.
- No, I didn’t say that.
- You’re making things up.
- Stop your false accusations.
- God, you’ve got issues.
- I don’t have time for your nonsense.
- You’re playing games again.
- You’re imagining things.
- You must be bipolar.
- You’re making stuff up.
- What is going on in your head?
- You’re losing it.
- You’re a nut job.
- You’re crazy.
- You’re twisting things.
- I worry about you sometimes.
- You’re getting upset over nothing.
- Why are you getting so defensive?
- You need help.
- I think you need to see a doctor / therapist / shrink.
- No-one likes you.
Narcs are pathological liars. Often their lies are very difficult to spot, but once you have rumbled them for who they really are, you can see the lies for what they are. And they are extraordinarily barefaced. This explanation, by self-confessed narc Lucy Langdon, best explains why it is they lie so much:
Why do narcissists think that repeatedly denying obvious truths will cause people to believe their lies?
< Types of Narcissistic Abuse | Gaslighting | Projection and Accusations >
Are Gaslighters Aware of What They Do?
How to deal with Gaslighting | Ariel Leve / YouTube
Books on the Subject
Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People – and Break Free