Surviving Narcissism

I Am Not the Problem | Triggers from Gaslighting | Boundary Setting Gaslighting TriggersHave you ever felt the sting of a past experience jump out at you—and it triggered memories of abusive gaslighting, which led you to question, “Where did that come from? I thought I had buried all of that!” It happens to most, if not all of us, that have experienced gaslighting.

When these memories arise, we often wonder, “What can I do to make this go away?” There are steps that we can take, but it does not involve changing the gaslighter or hitting the delete button on the memory.

From the mouth of a non-brain specialist (me), I believe that we have no control over the elaborate encoding and storage process that takes place in our brain, but, I do believe that we can change the impact and guard the trajectory of specific memories (because memories are a product of a physical change within our brain).

“Thoughts are real, physical things that occupy mental real estate. Moment by moment, every day, you are changing the structure of your brain through your thinking. When we hope, it is an activity of the mind that changes the structure of our brain in a positive and normal direction.” – Dr. Caroline Leaf, a cognitive neuroscientist, author of the book Switch on Your Brain.

Are boundaries a part of mental real estate? Yes! When we set boundaries, we change the “structure of (y)our brain through (y)our thinking.” We create a mindset of hope (a feeling of expectation and desire for certain thing(s) to happen) vs. allowing the undesirable memory to grow larger and to mentally beat us up. When we have no boundaries in place, we allow the past to become the present and the future, and we add to the unpleasant memory with the lies that we unconsciously accept (i.e., gaslighting—”You are crazy.” “You are too sensitive.” “You made this up.” “If it weren’t for you…I wouldn’t be like I am.”).

So, let’s go back to the first two paragraphs of this blog. Something triggered you to remember the narcissistic words said to you via gaslighting, and now you are wondering why. You thought you had buried “all of that.” You in-turn blame yourself for being sensitive (remember, you aren’t being sensitive…these memories have unconsciously been hard-wired into your brain), and you chastise yourself for remembering the episode(s) to begin with! Ugh! What do you do? Set a boundary.

The abuser/narcissistic person may or may not be in your life today, but by setting a boundary in place, you develop a mindset. You change your brain and subsequent memories which affects how you react when the memories pop back in. The boundary must be strategically set on realistic expectations, the foundation of: I am not the problem.

Let’s dig into the boundary I call I AM NOT THE PROBLEM: The narcissist typically blames you because they do not take responsibility for their own behavior. They blame you when they do not get what they want. They blame you because they lack empathy (and refuse to see the situation as it truthfully is). The narcissist attempts to gaslight you as a means to alter your reality and to gain control of you. But, you are not the problem!

When you gain the mindset of I AM NOT THE PROBLEM, you set a mental boundary that bolsters you from the abuse of gaslighting and any memories surrounding it. Your (long) mission statement is (and repeat after me), “Regardless of what I do, I cannot change (insert name of gaslighter). I accept this, and my role in life does NOT involve taking responsibility for the repair of (him/her). I am rooted in the truth that despite any emotionally abusive words, I am the owner of my values, my beliefs, and my thoughts. I trust my instincts. I trust myself. Nobody can, nor will, remove that TRUTH from me.

So, the next time a gaslighting memory pops up, or, when you find yourself in a gaslighting situation, visualize and declare the boundary I am not the problem. 1) You are not over-sensitive. 2) You cannot change this person. To change, they must admit that change is needed, and they must accept professional help (and, by the way, therapy for Narcissistic Personality Disorder typically does not work). 3) Do not react. 4) Do not wonder why you cannot forget the gaslighting.

You cannot permanently bury your memories, but when they do make an appearance you can be the master alterer before your brain puts them back into storage.

Disclaimer: As a life coach, I do not “treat” mental or brain issues. I coach. I guide through a series of listening and asking questions. I help clients reach their goals—everyday life goals that people can achieve without therapy. Clients who need treatment for trauma, disorders, or any mental issues or illness, are referred to therapists and counselors.

Surviving Narcissism

Gaslighting | Narcissistic Manipulation gaslighting

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?