Do you think that you are a victim of a narcissist gaslighting tactics? By the end of this article, you’ll know exactly what gaslighting is, what the tactics are that they use in relationships and in breakups and how to stop it.
If you are dealing with a narcissist, you’re dealing with gaslighting because they all do it; all different forms of narcissists. No matter what kind you’re dealing with: whether it’s the malignant form, the grandiose form, or the covert form. They all engage in gaslighting and especially the covert form.
To start off, I’m going to give you a definition of gaslighting and then I’m going to give you some examples of what it looks like in regular relationships in general and then also what it looks like when you are either divorcing a narcissist, breaking up with a narcissist or dissolving any kind of a relationship with a narcissist, even if it’s a business partnership or a friendship.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation and abuse that is deliberately designed to try to make you think that you’re crazy and more importantly from the narcissist or sociopath’s perspective, it is designed for them to self preserve and maintain control over you or whomever their victim is.
The term gaslighting actually came from a play and then a movie called Gaslight from the 1940s where the husband was intentionally trying to make the wife think that she was crazy. So what he would do is mess with the gaslights in the house. He would blow them out or turn them down. Then she would say, “Wasn’t that just lit?” He would respond, “Nope, wasn’t lit.” So obviously, you must be crazy.” I think she did eventually even end up going crazy. So that is the term that we now use for people who inflict psychological abuse on another person in order to try to gain control over them and make them think that they’re losing their minds. As I said, it’s especially a favorite tactic of covert narcissist because it’s a really under the radar type of abuse.
It’s not overt abuse,. It’s not physical abuse. It’s not outwardly calling someone a horrible name. It’s not calling them stupid. It’s much more subtle. It’s much more lethal in a lot of ways; much more toxic, and very, very stealth and insidious. Because it’s so stealth, because it’s so toxic, because it’s so insidious, it can actually cause the victim to start feeling anxiety and depression. You do start feeling like you’re going insane. It invokes feelings of problems with self-esteem or worthlessness. You really feel traumatized. It literally sucks the life out of you. I mean, you’ve heard narcissists be referred to as energy vampires. They literally drain the life out of you and it can cause forms of PTSD. It is deeply traumatic and it can be very difficult to get over if you’ve been subjected to it for years at a time.
One form of gaslighting is lying and how it will look is if you ask them if they did something, they’ll lie and say that they did it even if they did not. Then when you catch them in their lie, then they manipulate the situation in some way so that was your problem. For example, they’ll accuse of confusing the conversation so that it didn’t happen the way you thought it did. So they just out and out lie then when you catch them in the lie, they manipulate the truth about it.
An example of how that form of gaslighting might look in a divorce they will promise that they are going to deposit money in a certain bank account. So you go and you keep checking the bank account because they said they took care of it and you will keep not seeing the money in the bank account. Days go by and you say, “You said that you put the money in the bank account, and it’s not there.” Well then they come back and they’ll say, “Oh, I never said that I was going to put the money in the bank account. What I said was that I was going to pay the bills.” And you say, “No, no. I have this email that says, I asked you if you put the money in the bank account and you said you took care of it.” And then they say, “Well, what I meant was that I would take care of the bills, that I’ll just pay them directly. And so you misunderstood what I was going to say.” Then of course they don’t even pay the bills directly. So it’s this game that that goes on with you where you’re just on constant pins and needles wondering what’s going on. It’s their way of maintaining control over you and also making you think that you’re crazy.
Another form of gaslighting is manipulation. An example of this is you think that you had a conversation about something, maybe it’s about scheduling or maybe you decided that you weren’t going to do something on a particular weekend or maybe you decided that you were going to do something together. Suddenly that’s changed and they’ve manipulated how that was going to look as well.
How that might look in a divorce or a breakup situation is that they’ll come to you and they’ll say, “Here are three choices for how we can settle and resolve our differences and our issues and you say, “Okay, I pick number 2”. You think finally, I’m just going to give them what they want so I can be done with this. You think to yourself that you can live with number 2. You go through all of the machinations of figuring out if this is the right decision and resign yourself to that choice thinking this is finally going to be over, and then once you’ve given them your acquiescence to their option, well, the game has changed. Again. They will blow up the deal by blaming it on something you did, or claim that a part of it was never part of the deal, or that something else was always understood to be part of it that you never heard of. The truth is that it was deal that was never going to be had. They don’t want to settle the case. They want to make your life as miserable as possible. They want to get as much as they possibly can.
The third form of gaslighting is deflecting or blame shifting and how this looks is that if you call them out on their behavior and you say, “Aha, this is definitely something that you didn’t do. You said you were going to send this email on this day and you didn’t do it.” Well then they deflect, or they blame shift. It wasn’t their fault. Another example would be that you call them out on something in the middle of a conversation by calling them irresponsible. Then they’ll turn around and they’ll say, “I don’t like your tone. I don’t like the way you said that.” Or they might accuse you being the irresponsible one.
In a divorce, deflecting or blame shifting might look like this. You guys have an agreement to use a co-parenting app for all of your communications for the child. Then out of the blue you get a message in the co-parenting app that says, “Thank you so much for agreeing to change weekends with me and give me Johnny on your parenting time next weekend.” You immediately write back and you say, “As you know, we were supposed to use our co-parenting app for all conversations around changing the schedule and you didn’t ask me about this and this conversation never took place.” Then the next thing you’re going to hear is, “Oh really, really? You’re so petty that we have to use an app, really? I mean, I guess if you’re just that petty and you’re that immature that you can just have a regular conversation that we have to use the app for everything!” Suddenly it becomes your fault.
So here are a couple of things that you can do about gaslighting. Remember, you are not going to stop them from gaslighting, but what you can do is shut them down in some way so that it doesn’t affect you. So my suggestions or ways that you can protect yourself from what they’re going to continue to do. Think of the narcissist as the wild animal. They will never be tamed. You just have to assume that they’re going to be whoever they are. So the first thing that you can do is realize what’s happening.
Once you start to take a step back and you can start observing them as if they are a 2 year old having a tantrum on the floor and say, “Oh well there they go again, being their narc-y selves”, that’s the first step in not bringing this into yourself and starting to get over those feelings of anxiety and all of that, when you can really start seeing them for who they are. Just realize what’s happening and take a step back.
Second, don’t take anything personally that they do. Realize that everything they do is all about self preservation. When you realize that everything a narcissist does is just really about them and has nothing to do with you because they can’t see past themselves, that nothing is about you. They don’t have the ability to have any empathy. They lack total empathy for anyone except themselves. Remember they have no internal sense of value. They’re trying to grab everything they can from the external. So this whole thing of gaslighting you is self preservation and trying to control you and control their environment.
Third, reach out and connect with other people who have been targets or victims, survivors and thrivers of narcissistic abuse because these are your people. These are the people who understand where you’ve been and where you’re going and what you need to do to heal yourself.
Fourth, create hard and fast boundaries. Just decide this is how much communication you’re going to have with this person and what the communication will look like. When you recognize the signs of what they’re doing and that they’re lying, just don’t allow them to get away with it. Don’t allow that to continue to happen. You’ve noticed it, you’ve decided not to take it personally, so now you’re just going to just keep it over there away from you.
Fifth is to seek professional assistance. If you can’t afford a therapist or you don’t have insurance, maybe there is some clergy member or somebody that you can talk to or some kind of support group in your community if you want to talk to somebody who has training around helping people through trauma and dealing with how to get over the abuse and all of the feelings of anxiety that you probably have as a result of dealing with this for years.
Finally, is if you can, I always advocate to start planning your exit from the relationship. I obviously understand if you have children together or there’s a financial constraint, or there’s other reasons why you feel like it’s best for you to stay in the relationship right now, then that’s what you need to do. But, eventually, eventually I would suggest that you try to shut down everything with that narcissist. There’s never a good way to try to have a relationship or be in relationship with the narcissist. They just aren’t capable of doing that.
If you are dealing with a narcissist and you want to know more about how to communicate with them, come join me at my FREE Webinar, the 3 MUST HAVE Secrets for Communicating with a Narcissist. You can sign up for that RIGHT HERE.