One of the top tactics narcissists (and those with narcissistic tendencies) use on their victims is called gaslighting.
Gaslighting is a manipulative attempt to take control of someone by making the person feel as if they are losing their sanity.
Narcissists typically attempt to shift responsibility for their own behavior through gaslighting.
Gaslighters often use what is near and dear to the victim’s heart to evoke shame. An example of this is, “See how your child is acting? You should never have had children. Look at how your sensitivity is rubbing off. That child is a mess, just like you!”
The most common statements that narcissists make when gaslighting are: “You are crazy!” “You made that up!” “You are a fake!” “You are sick!” “That didn’t happen!” “You are too sensitive!”
How is any of this possible? Why would anyone accept or allow gaslighting? The examples of gaslighting that I can give are unlimited, but let’s work with one. (Note: A narcissist can be male or female. I chose to use a female in this example for simplicity.) The young wife (Naomi) fell “head over heels” in love with her husband (David) when they were dating. He initially showered her with a dramatic grandeur type of love.
Naomi came into the relationship with a heart of respect and dedication—with a mindset of determination that the marriage would be solid regardless of what it might take. She did not foresee emotional abuse.
David swiftly picked up on Naomi’s soft-hearted and devoted values, but this did not “feed” David’s ego. What Naomi did not realize is that David had grandiose ideas of what his sex and love life should look like. He soon began to stray outside of the marriage.
David began to arrive home from work later and later, and then one night, he did not come home at all. The next morning, he made up a convincing story, and he backed it up with gaslighting. His arsenal included the statements, “You are over-sensitive!” and “You are fabricating!” When Naomi cried in disbelief and frustration, David replied, “Quit acting like a fool! You need to grow up! You need help!” Shame washed over Naomi, and she wondered if she was overreacting.
Naomi is an example of a victim that is deeply emphatic and one that believes in sheer dedication to a marriage. Like many other empaths (a person with the ability to understand the experiences and feelings of others outside of their own perspective…one that may automatically sense, and feel, the emotions of others), Naomi knows that she is indeed sensitive in that respect, but that she is not overly sensitive to the point that she loses a sense of reality. But, this is where the narcissist is often able to wear a person down, leaving them doubting their self-logic. After months and years of gaslighting, weariness and confusion can set in—victims will often begin to question their own perception.
An emphatic person, especially one who feels heartbroken after being emotionally abused by their loved one, may cling to the thought that they can make a difference in their marriage or relationship. They believe that if they do or say the right thing that their partner will love them as they once did and that their relationship will heal. They then adopt the heavy role of repair-person, not realizing that the narcissistic behavior may/can/most likely will continue despite their efforts.
Victims commonly do not know that they need to work self-preservation boundaries into their lives. The bottom line is that the victim of narcissistic behavior does have a problem (i.e., partnering in a toxic relationship), but typically they ARE NOT THE PROBLEM.
In our next blog, we talk about triggers related to gaslighting, and prevention through boundary setting.
Have you been a victim of gaslighting? What tactics have you used to preserve your well-being?