Friday, March 16, 2007

Gaslighting

I just received an email from a friend who doesn't realize that she is being gaslighted by her eldest (adult) child. So that makes me think I should touch on this subject here because it is a form of psychological abuse that narcissists often employ.

For a brief article on the subject of gaslighting with excellent examples of how this tactic is employed, click here. Gaslighting occurs when a person you trust to tell you the truth about reality, is, in fact, bending reality with lies. When this happens consistently over a period of time it causes you to question your sanity.

In the fifth season of the TV series "24" we see gaslighting in the relationship of President Logan with his wife. Because he is now the most powerful man in the world, his version of reality holds even more sway over her. He can recruit a powerful cadre of support for any and all versions of "reality" he decides to concoct. Mrs. Logan finds herself isolated psychologically because no one will validate the reality she is perceiving with her own senses. And when she becomes very inconvenient by insisting on her perception of reality, he threatens her with commitment to a loony bin. It is a particularly graphic and ugly illustration of this powerful form of psychological control and abuse.

If you find yourself often questioning your own sanity you need to suspect you are being gaslighted. In the absence of any who will support what you are seeing, hearing, and knowing, please give yourself permission to believe yourself. Gaslighting is a deliberate and evil tactic. So when you've determined that someone is doing this to you, it is past time to remove yourself from this person's sphere of influence.

Wikipedia has a brief entry on gaslighting.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Was glad to find this post in the archives this morning. It helps. Now if I can just hang onto my own perceptions and convictions.

Thanks, Anna.

Anonymous said...

I have so many examples of being told "that never happened" when I was a child I could not begin to count them. Violent -sometimes insane. My mother faked a suicide attempt when I was 15. I called the cops, when the cop arrived she was lucid, blood was gone & she told him I had a severe drug problem.

Anna Valerious said...

Absolutely diabolical.

whoknows said...

I tried for years to come to terms with my past which was always denied and had no witnesses prepared to speak. I put myself through university and just after I had finished and thought I was strong and over it all my mother came to stay for Christmas.

I confronted her on one or two things which she denied. Then she set about negating every memory I had, good and bad. She twisted and warped it all. She told me I was mad and imagined things.

I just about went completely mad. My whole reality was torn apart. I don't have much of a relationship with my brothers and sister. Seeing them brings everything too close. However, at that time the only thing that saved my sanity was that our mother had been gaslighting my sister also.

My sister phoned me one day out of the blue and we had a common memory which neither of us had spoken of before to each other but which in both cases our mother had told us was a lie. We remembered from different perspectives but there was enough in common.

To this day I still don't talk much about things. One of the reasons is that I doubt my own memories so I don't want to speak about them in case I made them up.

It makes it very easy for new narcissists to twist reality.

Joel said...

When I was little I always wanted a dog. My Ndad always told me about how he had a dog when he was a boy. I liked Snoopy so I wanted a beagle.

When I was 7, my Nparents finally caved in and "gave" me a puppy, a half-beagle mongrel (which was fine with me). Then they let the gaslighting fun begin.

First, they clearly specified that this was MY dog, not theirs, and that I was responsible for 100% of his care. Being 7, I agreed to this. I figured I could handle it but they knew that I couldn't. I was 7 for cryin' out loud. I could feed him, walk him, play with him and clean up his poop but my attempts to train him were a failure. That needed an older hand.

They didn't allow my dog into the house proper. He was only allowed in the basement and later he was chained outside to his doghouse. They wouldn't allow him to sleep with me or even in my room. The result was that the poor little guy was alone most of the time.

I did the best I could but the initial set-up conditions of treating the dog as an accessory instead of a family member and keeping him sequestered to prevent him and me from bonding worked just like my Nparents wanted.

Not long after my dog was relegated to the chain outdoors, I'd wake up every morning and he'd be gone. My Nparents told me for months that my dog must have a trick for getting off his chain (they convinced me my dog was Harry Houdini).

I'd freak out to find my dog gone every morning. I'd be worried about him all day at school and I'd search for him for hours after school. For months this went on until I found him hanging out with a nice family. They asked if they could keep him and I said "Yes".

I didn't find out until I was in my 30s that it was my Ndad who let my dog go every night. What kind of people are Nparents? Bent. They're just plain bent.

Alyx said...

Joel,
How simply cruel they were. They sure were hollow inside. We always had a family dog as well and they always stayed outside. When my parents would go shopping I would bring the dog inside, but she was a big shepard and didn't really like being inside. I thought it was funny that after I left the family home then the dogs got treated better than when I lived at home.
I am glad your dog found a good home, and was not bounced around like a pawn from your father. I wonder how he treated his dog when he had one.

Haunting Chicago said...

My boyfriend of three years is an expert as this; he has proposed to me, only to tell me the next day that he didn't; gotten me pregnant and then denied we'd had intercourse; and told me he had no plans for the day--then left for a week-long vacation five minutes later,then insisting he'd told me all about it. In three years, I had never once cancelled our plans or told him he couldn't come over to visit,which he did every single night--whenever he felt like it, though I have two little girls and have to get up at dawn while he sleeps till ten. A month ago, when we had casual dinner plans, I had to work because of an emergency with my business, and now he will not make plans with me because I "always cancel on him" He just finished rebuilding a house on our block that he said we were going to move into. We picked out the colors for "our" bedroom, "my" kitchen and my daughters' rooms, which he picked out himself. Now he says he never said the house was for us, and--a week after being moved in--everyone on the block has been allowed inside it but me. When this sent me into hysterics, crying, "Why can't I come in the house? What is going on?" He said, "Oh, honey, I asked you in a hundred times. If you don't want to come in, that's fine. Besides, YOU never have ME over."

Anna Valerious said...

Haunting,

I hope he is your EX boyfriend. If not, make him one soon! He is seriously f**king with your sanity. It's time to get out. Consider not dating until you can recover from this guy's attacks on your mind and soul. Then learn how to spot the character disordered within a few interactions rather than waste your life on one of these creeps ever again.

k...ski said...

My college bf was a midf***er as well. His father was an optometrist who examined my eyes once and ordered a pair of contact lenses for me. He told my that his son, my bf, would give them to me when they came in. Later, when I asked my bf about them, he told me he had given them to me, don't you remember? When I told him that if had given them to me, I would have them and not be asking him where the new contact lenses were. Then he said that he had left them in my house, but had just now remembered that he forgot to tell me. When I asked him where he left them, he said that he put them "on the table." "Which table?" "The one in the bedroom." "Which one in the bedroom?" He said that he remembered putting them on the dresser outside the bathroom door.
Fine.
So I called my house and had both my mom and sister looking all over the house, moving furniture, looking in the laundry hampers, etc. trying to find the contact lenses. Meanwhile he sat back and acted innocent, not offering to look through his suitcase again or call his mother and see if he had left them at his home.
I fell for it, hook, line and sinker.
I'm rabid with anger that he knew he hadn't left them for for me ANYWHERE and that he was getting a perverse pleasure watching three women go nuts hunting for soemthing that wasn't going to materialize.
I went the whole next year wearing old lenses that weren't the exact correct prescription because I couldn't afford to replace them. And for what? So that he could get off on watching me go nuts looking for them.
He also stole money from my purse and told me that I had accidentally dropped it and he picked it up ut forgot to tell me.

Dan said...

Hi Anna,

I left another post on your other piece on MN, but wanted to add to it a little here.
The woman I mentioned in it, who has gotten quite close to me, has been doing this "gas-lighting" to me I believe... It's taken other people to point it out, but I finally understand that her many direct (yet clearly derisive of my character) comments have been deliberate attempts to hurt.

She told me early on a list of wonderful traits she thought I had (she said I was her physical and mental ideal and even that she loved the sound of my voice), but then said she couldn't see us being a couple because I was intellectually so stimulating that it was hard to imagine me romantically. I pressed the issue for a while, but don't particularly like imposing myself on others, so let it rest and agreed to be friends.

Nonetheless, she would demand my continued attraction to her by provoking me in both subtly and also sometimes blatant ways (often whilst drinking - anything from text messages inviting sex to even once directly grabbing my crotch). But then when my interest would peak she would instead start telling me about other people who she found incredibly attractive, insisting that as friends we should be comfortable talking about such things. She also occasionally emails/texts details of all she wants in a partner and laments how much she misses "men", particularly big and powerful ones and how she is sick of guys who are passive. If ever I should get offended at the insinuation, she would tell me it wasn't intended that way and (even more offensively) she says these things because she forgets I'm even human some times. This last comment in particular I've found extremely troubling, as when I challenge her on it she insists it's actually meant as a compliment to my intellect; that she somehow sees in me a mind that is above being gendered. I responded that I don't like being denied my humanity and she merely scoffs.

As a disclaimer I must confess I’ve allowed her to get away with an awful lot and am therefore guilty of a great deal of weakness here. She has even warned me indirectly of her at times: at one point early on she advised me that I should find someone nice because a person like me (raw and vulnerable in her eyes) would be very “easy to torture” for someone like her. I’ve spent a bit of time wondering I keep embracing strange advances and vowing not to accept any more given how undermined I often feel after the rejections that follow, but it has been difficult to reign myself in.

Getting her out of my life may prove difficult, but how would you go about dealing with someone who does that? I've taken to being as assertive as I can, but she usually dismisses it as an over-reaction and then will ignore any attempts at confrontation until she feels enough time has passed for her to pretend the whole thing never happened (usually a day or two).

Anna Valerious said...

Dan,

There is a good reason that you don't find a plethora of information out there on how to successfully navigate a relationship with a narcissist...it can't be done. You may find methods that will allow for periods of detente, but there will always end up being battles engaged in at various, unpredictable intervals at the whim of the narcissist. I have only one suggestion and that is to get the hell away from her. If you absolutely cannot do that, then I'm sure you'll be able to work out what ways to employ to keep her somewhat under control if that is what you're determined to do. I'm not in a position here, not knowing either you or this woman, to tell you how to best handle her. You'll have to figure that out by trial and error. It'll never be possible to have a satisfactory relationship with her. All you can hope for is that you can maintain your self-respect while having to deal with her. Not gonna be easy. She obviously has no respect for you. The fact that you keep her in your life proves to her that you don't much respect yourself either. You should work on that...not on her.