Understanding & protecting yourself from gaslighting
If you’ve been involved with a narcissist, the chances are extremely high that you have been subjected to gaslighting. I want to share with you some important information about gaslighting, and what you can do to protect yourself if you’ve been or are still being, gaslighted. Your sanity depends on knowing how to spot it, and how not to let it affect your mental wellness. Of course, these steps should be temporary measures because I always urge you to get out of the relationship, but if that's not immediately possible, then you have to take steps to protect yourself. The first step in the process is understanding what you are dealing with, so let’s first look at gaslighting actually is.
What is gaslighting?
Briefly, gaslighting is an emotional abuse tactic used to manipulate you into questioning your own perceptions. The term comes from a 1944 film where the bad guy keeps doing things to make his wife doubt her sanity. For example, he keeps hiding special items of hers, then telling her she’s to blame for losing them. She begins to think she’s losing her mind, and having no clue that he’s the cause, she relies on him even more – all part of the narc’s strategy. The gas lighting in the house keeps dimming, and she hears knocking on the walls… when she tells him, he says she’s imagining it. But of course, he’s responsible for both things happening.
Gaslighting in today’s world of narcissism is basically the same. Narcissists are adept at making you doubt your own reality and they are so convincing, you start really wondering if you're going out of your mind. They are incredibly tenacious in their application of this tactic, and can keep it up endlessly, for years, if need be. They won't give up and they won't give in.
The scary thing about gas lighting is that it’s very insidious and can take many forms. So for example, narcs will lie to you - with a straight face – and even though you know it’s a lie, it throws your mind into confusion because it makes no sense. When you try to call them out on it, they’ll dance around it, change the subject, give you the silent treatment, walk out of the room or the house, sulk, tell you you’ve got it wrong… anything but admit that…. well yeah, it was a lie. Narcs don’t do admissions of guilt, mistakes or wrong doing. EVER.
Another thing they’ll do is deny they said or did something, even though you have concrete proof. They’re so convincing in their denial that you start wondering if you could be wrong. Deep down you know you’re not, but because this kind of behaviour makes no sense, or because you’ve been subjected to it as a child and consider it ‘normal’, you let it pass, or you find another way to interpret the behaviour.
There’s no point in arguing with a narcissist anyway, and you know it, because you can’t win an argument. They’ll start word-weaving or word-salad-ing to run circles around you and you often end up not knowing what the point of the conversation was in the first place. This is further complicated when the Narc throws in positive reinforcement during such encounters. They might pick some random compliment out of the blue, which can do any or all of three things…
1) flatters you and reminds you of the good times, and the reason why you love them
2) it reinforces your belief that of course he/she still loves you and...
3) it throws you completely off the scent of where you were.
The more they do this, the more you become emotionally unhinged. If you’re still at the stage of being in love with your Narc, a huge part of you is desperate for them to be right… so you’ve got this additional conflict going on deep inside. You know they’re wrong, but you don’t want them to be.
I must mention here that gaslighting can have serious emotional consequences – it can lead to depression, anxiety, insomnia, cognitive dissonance, and all sorts of psychological trauma, not to mention that it can annihilate your self-worth, have you second-guessing yourself about everything, and thinking that you’re losing your mind. So please don’t under-estimate the damage it can do.
You may even think that they ARE unbalanced and possibly mentally unstable, but because you’re in love with them, that caring part of you comes to the fore… you start believing they can’t help it, they don’t mean it deep down… you tell yourself they really DO love you.
Or, being the kind, caring, empathetic person that you are, your nurturing spirit kicks in and you think….
And this is one of the biggest and most fatal mistakes you can ever make in a relationship with ANY narcissist… you think that you can fix them. Your love for them is strong enough to overcome any obstacle, and you really believe this.
When you get to this point of making excuses for them, or thinking you can fix them, you’re on very dangerous ground indeed, because the simple truth is, you can’t fix them. They don’t want to be fixed, and as far as they are concerned, they’re not broken.
Another thing they’ll do is project. They’ll insist that you’re doing all sorts of crazy things, when it’s them doing it. So for example, if they’re constantly flirting in front of you, they’ll accuse you of flirting, or cheating, with every man/woman you meet… even the overweight, ageing, delivery person when you have to sign for a package at your door or the spotty-faced teenager who delivers your pizza. Denying it is useless. They’ll twist your denial into something else. They’ll say you’re denying it to hide your guilt! You just can’t win. The real damage this causes is that you start to withdraw from people – you don’t want to interact with anyone lest they accuse you again, and this is the start of social isolation – another of the narc’s strategies to control you.
All of this can soon have you lying to yourself, second-guessing yourself,… and you’ll often start lying to others to cover up what’s really going on, you’ll keep asking yourself if you’re too sensitive or reading into things too much – a 100 times as day. It’s all part of the pattern and the narc knows it. They are systematically eroding your personality and breaking you down.
Another thing they’ll do is tell you that everyone ELSE is a liar, and they’ll tell you lies that they’ve made up – saying this is what your family member or friend really thinks about you. You’ll feel deeply hurt, confused, and wonder could it possibly be true? If you try saying that you’re going to confront whoever it was who’s supposed to have said this, the Narc will use more lies to cover up the possible outcomes of what might happen… for example, they’ll say ‘Of course your mum isn’t going to ADMIT she said that! Are you stupid?’ Or, ‘Do you really want to embarrass your mother by bringing that up?’ or, if you’ve gone as far as to get the denial about the lie from your mum, and you tell the Narc this, he’ll say something like ‘Well of course she would say that – to YOU’….It’s utterly confusing, and plants seeds of doubt in your mind, but that’s the whole point. That’s their game. And this happens again, and again, and again.
All of these tactics, used skillfully, and repeatedly, will seriously undermine your sense of self. These are not all the techniques, by any means, but I’ve covered a few to give you an idea about what to look for if you’re not sure if you’re being gas-lighted. Also look out for being trivialized, not being listened to, ignored, having things you’ve said or done ‘forgotten’, and generally anything that leaves you feeling rejected, unimportant and worthless. I’ll soon add another blog about gaslighting phrases to watch out for!
So if you ARE being gas-lighted, then what do you do about it? How do you protect yourself from this and retain your sanity?
5 Tips to protect yourself from gaslighting
So yesterday I went through a whole bunch of gaslighting phrases you’re likely to hear if you are dealing with a narcissist. It can be much easier to use my ‘counteract’ strategy, if you also follow the five practical tips I’m about to share with you here. If you’re worried about gaslighting because you’re still involved in some way with the narc, these tips will bullet-proof you.
Tip No 1
My most important advice in this is to ground yourself in reality. You KNOW you’re not stupid, you know you’re not losing your mind and you need to trust your gut! You owe it to yourself to stand firm in your belief in yourself. Grounding yourself is really important for your emotional wellbeing. This means that you stand firmly, with both feet planted on the ground, and affirm what you know and don’t allow your version of reality to be questioned or changed by the Narc. Even if you don’t bother arguing the point, KNOW in your heart and soul that what you know, saw, heard etc, is the truth. Then, look at the next 4 tips that will really enhance your grasp on reality and these steps will make it much harder for any narcissist to play cat and mouse with your reality.
Tip No 2
Keep a log – and keep it in a safe place, password protected so that the narc can never access it. If you’d prefer to have a physical record, like a journal or notebook, think long and hard about where you can hide it and how accessible it will be to safely write in it. Your work desk or somewhere the narc can’t possibly access it might be best, but if that’s not possible (maybe you work from home, or don’t work at all), then you have to get creative about where to hide it! If your narc is aware of it, they may get their hands on it, read it and use it to belittle you further, and possibly even destroy it.
- If you’re worried about the Narc spying on your phone, create a secret email and send yourself notes/info from your normal email, then delete it from your sent email. This way you have access to information that they can’t ever see.
- Take photos – of anything that might come up for question.
- Record conversations – find a way to do this discreetly so that the Narc doesn’t know you are doing it. This kind of information is to prove to you without a doubt that you’re not crazy, you’re not losing your mind, and you know what they said/did, and you are not going to doubt it.
BUT – one thing you should NOT do, is use that evidence to prove to the Narc that you are right and they are wrong – and guess why? The answer is, even in the face of the smoking gun still in their hand, they will deny, twist and talk their way out of it. The evidence is for YOU to keep sane while you hopefully, find a way out of the relationship.
Tip No 3:
Reach out to someone you can truly trust. It can be an enormous help to be able to talk about what is happening with a trusted family member or best friend, if you know you can absolutely trust this person. If you can’t (and that is the case for a lot of people), try to find support in another way. Perhaps you have a pastor or spiritual guide who you know you can trust, or find a support group, either online or in your community, and get the help you need. Know that you are not alone and you will get through this.
Tip No 4
I always advise getting out if you can, but if you can’t, learn the grey rock strategy because that, along with the tips I’ve shared in the emails this week, will help you to keep your sanity until such time as you can get out. I’ve got a video about that on YouTube you can watch, just click the link below.
Tip No 5
Start working on reclaiming your self-worth. If you can afford to work with a therapist, do so. If not, search online for healing tools that you can use to help you rebuild your confidence. I have an excellent series of videos on YouTube that you can watch!
Click the link below to check those out.
Formulate an exit strategy and get out of the relationship, if you possibly can. I do know there are situations where it’s not possible, and these usually involve children, but ultimately, you goal must be to free yourself from the relationship. Cut loose, go no contact, and start rebuilding your life from the inside out, because you are worth it. As ever, when you know your own worth and value, it becomes much more difficult for anyone to hoodwink you. Step up for yourself. You deserve better than to be belittled, invalidated and made to feel worthless.
This article was updated 19/01/2022