What is Gas lighting?
Gas lighting is a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or members of a group, hoping to make targets question their own memory, perception and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilise the target and delegitimise the target’s belief (wikipedia.org).
The term was taken from a 1944 film by the same name, about a woman whose husband manipulates her into believing that she is going insane. In the movie, the woman’s possessions would go missing and the husband would tell her she removed them, however she had no recollection of doing so, she would hear footsteps coming from upstairs and the gaslight dim and brighten but her husband would claim it was her imagination. He continued to gaslight her as his plan was to have her declared insane and committed to an asylum.
Gas lighting is a tactic that the narcissist and manipulative abusers use to cause you to question your sanity and reality, its also used to break down your will to fight and resist. You’re left doubting and questioning and wondering about your own perception of situations and circumstances. The narcissist purposely denies things they have done, and makes out like you are going crazy. He does this so convincingly, you almost begin to believe that you’re wrong, and he is right. It starts of little by little, one small thing here, another there. Gas lighting is designed to break you down mentally to the point where you cannot trust your own judgement or reasoning. You’re always confused and you’re always second guessing yourself (did I get it wrong…is he right…am I going crazy?). Gaslighting occurs in relationships, in the workplace etc.
Why do Narcissists do this and what are the effects?
Its all about control, just about everything the narcissist does is about controlling you. They want to control the way you think, the way you talk, who you associate with – your whole life. It’s a power trip for them. They want to fill you with shame and guilt.
They’re jealous of you, and hate all that is good about you and your character. Deep down inside they know there’s something wrong with them (they just don’t want to admit it)and they’re not willing to change and be better human beings. They know they can’t be like you so they want to break you down, make you crazy( “I can never be as good as you – so I will destroy you!”). They want to mess you up so that you’ll be of no use to anybody when they’ve finished with you.
Gas lighting is also a way of protecting themselves against feelings of shame which is what they try to avoid at all costs. They don’t want to carry the shame of being wrong so they want to project the fact that they are wrong on to you ( I’m not wrong, you are, I’ve not made a mistake, you have made a mistake).
Gaslighting destroys your self confidence, and self esteem, you’re always thinking everything’s your fault. You’re overly sensitive and anxious and people who are close to you will have noticed the change in you. Even you yourself will know that something is not right, but you won’t be able to identify what it is.
My Experience with Gaslighting
The Narcissist in my family would discuss some issue with me and decide a course of action, (of course he would not carry it out) then because he hadn’t done anything the following week, he would deny we ever had a discussion or came to any decision. He mostly does this to cover up his inaction. I’m left wondering whether we actually did decide or had the discussion.
I was accused of not doing things properly and generally made to feel like I was crap, it really affected my self confidence and self esteem, which I’m only just recovering from. The funny thing is , when he was left to do the same tasks, he was worse than I was. When I pointed this out to him, he claimed that he never insinuated that I was not good at my job, that it was my imagination or I was lying.
He would tell me some thing very personal about his childhood and then when in conversations with him, I would bring it up, he would adamantly claim he never told me that, it must be my imagination because that was definitely not true and he never told me anything like that. That was when I realised he was lying (I didn’t realise it was gaslighting at the time) because there is no way I would have imagined the details of his life like that. It’s just crazy and so devious how they behave, it just reveals how mentally messed up they are.
It got to the point where everything that went wrong in any situation, I was at fault. I was supposed to have done this or this and I would question whether we had a discussion about it, and he would give the time and place we discussed it. And I would have no idea what he was talking about! Sometimes he would go on a rant and say things like, ‘ do you think that you are good, well, you’re not because you did this or that”. He made me question myself, my character.
I didn’t realise all this until I read about gas lighting, then I realised I wasn’t going mad and that it was all him.
How to protect yourself from Gaslighting
Here are some tips to deal with and protect yourself from gaslighting:
Just understand and realise that it’s not about you at all. There is nothing wrong with you and everything wrong with them. They’re the ones who are mentally and emotionally unbalanced and they’re trying their best to mess you up too.
If you’re in a situation where you’re feeling confused or unsure about details of certain discussions/ events, or you have no recollection at all ( and you know you have a good memory) then you’re probably being gaslighted. Trust your intuition. Don’t accept what the other person is saying as absolute truth unless it can be proven.
If you’re in a relationship with the person, if it is a friend, you should consider cutting all ties with that person at least for your own peace of mind. You should really think about whether you want such a toxic person in your life- a person who makes you feel like you’re going crazy. If the person is your boss or co-workers you should also seriously consider whether you want to continue working in that environment, find out if you can transfer to another department or team.
If possible, try to keep a record of any private conversations in a diary . With the narcissist in my family, I make sure I record conversations with him on my phone, just for private use, of course(ideally you are required to inform a third party if you’re recording them) just so I can refer back to the conversation again if I’m in doubt.
Don’t argue with them, that’s what they love and you’ll never change their perspective. They are master manipulators, you’ll never win an argument with them. They live in their own little world where they are always right and everyone else is always wrong. Just get as far away from them as possible.