Randi G. Fine, Author
Gaslighting is one of the most insidious forms of psychological abuse used by narcissists. The term comes from the 1944 Hollywood classic film Gaslight starring Ingrid Bergman. The story is about a woman who is slowly manipulated by her husband to believe she is losing her mind.
Gaslighting is a guileful and devious tactic, so effective that intelligence operations use it to interrogate prisoners of war. Make no mistake, gaslighting is psychological warfare.
All narcissists, whether they are parents, partners, siblings, friends or co-workers, use this method of psychological control. The tactic is used to confuse victims to the point of not trusting their own memory, judgment or perception.
So subtle and sneaky are narcissists with their cruelty that those on the receiving end find themselves questioning their own reality. Narcissists reinforce the confusion by telling victims that they are insane for believing what they believe to be true, or for not believing what the narcissist claims is true. They tell their victims that they didn’t hear what they thought they heard or see what they thought they saw, that they are imagining things, crazy, losing their minds, or over sensitive. Narcissists even remove or relocate things to confuse their victims and then deny the item was ever there or that they ever saw it.
The narcissist’s goal with this twisted, crazy-making tactic is to erode his victim’s mental stability by systematically chipping away at her self-confidence. By challenging the victim’s perceptions to the degree that she no longer trusts her own memory or judgment, he eventually renders her helpless, insecure, and unable to independently function. His narcissistic supply is secured.
There are five gaslighting techniques used by narcissists:
The abuser acts confused, pretends he doesn’t understand what the victim is telling him, and withholds feelings. He will say things such as:
- “Why are you trying to confuse me?”
- “You’re not making any sense.”
- “I’m not listening to you.”
- “How can I possibly remember that?”
- “You know I have a lot on my mind. Stop bothering me.”
- “I’ve already heard this.”
- “You know I don’t like to talk about that.”
- “I don’t have answers for you.”
- “I have no idea what you want me to say.”
- “How would I know?
The abuser questions the memory and thoughts of the victim, and then supports the accusation with previous examples:
- “You never remember things correctly.”
- “You always exaggerate things.”
- “You have a very active imagination.”
- “Get your facts straight.”
- “You have no faith in me.”
- “You are always jumping to conclusions.”
- “You heard incorrectly.”
- “You know I never said that.”
- “Remember how wrong you were last time?”
The abuser refuses to answer or comment, changes the subject, faults the victim for accusing or blaming him, or faults the victim for reacting the way she did:
- “I’m not going through this again.”
- “We already talked about this”
- “You are always looking for trouble/picking fights.”
- “I don’t get where you are going with this.”
- “You have to always be right.”
- “Just shut up already.”
- “Where did you get such an idiotic idea?”
- “That’s just nonsense.”
- “You are always complaining about something.”
- “Why can’t you leave well enough alone?”
The abuser makes the thoughts and needs of the victim seem unimportant:
- “That is hardly important.”
- “Why let something so stupid come between us?”
- “You’re just too sensitive.”
- “That has nothing to do with us.”
- “Get your priorities straight.”
- “Why do you let everything bother you?”
- “Stop analyzing everything.”
- “Why are you wasting my time with this?”
- “You always blow things out of proportion.”
- “Let it go already.”
The abuser denies that things ever happened or denies promises he made to the victim to prevent her from getting a resolution:
- “I never did/said that.”
- “That never happened.”
- “I have never been there before.”
- “I never saw/moved/took that.”
- “You’re confusing me with someone else.”
- “You are making that up.”
- “You are delusional.”
- “You never told me that.”
- “I never promised you.”
- “There is nothing wrong with my”
By creating confusion and anxiety, narcissists throw off their victim’s equilibrium. As a gaslighting victim you may experience any or all of the following:
- You wonder if you are the crazy one.
- You feel depressed, anxious, and hopeless.
- You don’t trust your perceptions, beliefs or judgments.
- You find it hard to make decisions.
- You are always apologizing for things you didn’t do.
- You cannot figure out why you are so unhappy.
- You lie to protect yourself and others.
- You don’t know who you are anymore.
- You have memory issues.
- You have lost your personal power.
- You give in instead of fighting for what you believe in.
- You get confused, disoriented or paranoid.
- You think you are too sensitive or over reactive.
- You don’t know what is “normal” anymore.
- You are the first to take the blame.
- You never feel worthy or good enough.
- You always feel guilty about something.
- You are exhausted and drained.
- You make excuses for your abuser’s behavior.
- You are fearful of your abuser.
- You have shut down your feelings and emotions.
Gaslighting can occur in any type of relationship to even the most discerning, insightful people. Intelligent people believe they are immune to this type of brainwashing, but they are no match for the calculating narcissist. Beware.