What is it?
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes including low self-esteem.
Where does the term come from?
It comes from the 1938 stage play Gaslight: set in 1880 a married couple, Jack and Bella, live beneath an abandoned flat once occupied by one Alice Barlow, a wealthy woman who was murdered for her jewels. The murderer was never found.
Bella is a nervous character, and the stern reproaches of her overbearing husband (who flirts with the servants) make matters worse. What most perturbs Bella is Jack's unexplained disappearances from the house: he will not tell her where he is going, and this increases her anxiety.Jack goes to the flat each night to search for the jewels, and lighting the apartment's gas lights causes the lights to dim in the rest of the building.
Bella is aware of the footsteps footsteps in the supposedly empty apartment and Jack persuades Bella that she is "hearing things." It becomes clear that Jack is intent on convincing Bella that she is going insane, even to the point of assuring her she is imagining that the gas light in the house is dimming.
Eventually a police detective called Rough leads Bella to realise that Jack is responsible for her torment and convinces her to assist him in exposing Jack as the murderer, which she does. The play closes with Jack being led away by the police.
What are signs of Gaslighting?
- Blatant lying or cover-ups.
- Denying conversations or events ever happened.
- Manipulating others to see you differently.
- Your self esteem slowly erodes away and you begin to question what is real. You start to think you are bad or crazy.
- Actions contradict words. Broken promises.
- Feel like you have to defend reality.
What does it look like?
For me there are two clear sides to the gaslighting. There was the gaslighting that existed in the relationship and then gaslighting that existed after I left.
- When I was I the relationship it was all very subtle. It was more of a gentle and constant undermining tactic. Invalidating the way I felt, my concerns, even my unhappiness. Suggesting I was “unwell”, making me feel weak. Making me doubt the way I felt or making me feel bad about the way I felt.
- In separation once it became clear the above subtle techniques wouldn’t work it became far more overt. The main and very obvious behaviour now is the lying and contradicting that goes on. Saying one thing, often in writing and then swearing blind the opposite later. I have countless examples of this and its very very obvious.
Things to remember:
I think that possibly Jack in Gaslight was not a narcissist, more likely a sociopath. He knew what he was doing. I think the thing to remember about narcissists is they behaviours are unconscious. The reason they can be so convincing is because the person they have lied to the most is themselves!
They haven’t just rewritten history or reframed the argument once. It is constantly evolving: it is happening in their head all the time. This is why it feels like the goalposts are constantly moving because they literally are. If you are in an argument with a narcissist this is happening in real time.
And remember its an unconscious act which is why even when you call them out on it they won’t accept it.
Two quotes from my account that put it into perspective:
“Arguing with a narcissist is like playing chess with a pigeon: no matter how good you are the bird will shit all over the board and strut around like it won anyway!”.
“Never defend yourself against a narcissist. They aren’t interested in being right or wrong they just want you to go crazy try gin to prove it.” - It’s about having you argue with them. They feed off it. It means they have control over you. The more wound up you get the stronger they feel!
How do you deal with Gaslighting?
- If you can, as with all Narcissists, just don’t engage and go ‘no contact’.
- If you can’t you need to remember that the narcissist isn’t interested in the argument but the arguing itself: they want you to fight with them, they feed off having that control over you.
- Don’t argue.
- Be consistent and be firm.
- Set your boundaries. Stick to your position and don’t fall for their techniques to lure you away from it.
- Be aware of their deception.
- Trust your intuition.
- Keep a record of what is said, keep copies of emails and messages and identify the gaslighting. It will validate you and our intuition and help you learn to trust your sanity!