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Gaslighting is the term for an insidious type of psychological abuse that a narcissist uses to gain more control of the partner. This is done through manipulating the partner’s perceptions of reality, and deliberately confusing the partner’s memories of conversations and events. This causes the partner to doubt herself, and her feelings, memories, and experiences. Gaslighting victims often describe feeling like their brains are scrambled eggs.
The term gaslighting is derived from the 1938 play “Gaslight” by Patrick Hamilton, which was made into the 1944 film starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. The plot centers around Paula, and her evil husband Gregory’s attempts to drive her insane by manipulating her perception of reality.
This is a common “plot line” in relationships with narcissists.
Gaslighting can be very subtle, nuanced, and is particularly pernicious because it leads to the partner becoming her own tormentor. The narcissist scatters seeds of doubt, including denying things that were said, or done. These seeds take root in the partner’s mind, who ruminates, questioning her feelings, perceptions, and memories of past conversations and events. The narcissist, figuratively, hands over the shovel, and the partner digs holes of doubt in her own mind. The internal conflict is distressing, and exhausting.
Awareness of gaslighting, and gaslighting tactics, is the first step in avoiding becoming a victim of it, and/or, leaving a toxic relationship if you realize that you are being gaslighted..
Common gaslighting tactics
1. Reframing and/or distorting the partner’s recall of events and conversations, even denying things that were said, or happened
2. Minimizing and invalidating the partner’s feelings and emotions, saying things such as, “It wasn’t that bad,” “I can’t believe you got upset about something like that,” “Most people wouldn’t react that way/get so upset”
3. Diminishing the partner’s thoughts and ideas by interrupting, changing the topic when the partner is talking, making the partner feel like her thoughts and opinions are meaningless and unimportant
4. Spreading rumors to portray the partner as unstable
5. Twisting the partner’s words, insisting that the partner said things, or means things that she doesn’t
Signs that you may be a victim of gaslighting
1. Questioning your own feelings, and wonder if they are right/ok/acceptable
2. Thinking you can’t do anything right
3. Automatically assuming blame when something goes wrong
4. Wondering if you are reacting in the right way to your partner, i.e. are you being too sensitive? Not loving and patient enough?
5. Feeling insecure, anxious and unsteady emotionally
6. Becoming detached from your own feelings
7. Replaying events and conversations over and over in your mind
8. Having a difficult time making decisions, worried that you will make the wrong one
9. Feeling like you are in a mental fog
10. Feeling like you are continually being misunderstood, and have lost the ability to communicate well/clearly
Gaslighting is a serious form of abuse, it’s toxic. The safest and best thing to do in a situation that involves gaslighting is to leave it, and stay away. Permanently.