I haven’t written an original narcissism article in awhile, and I was thinking about gaslighting today, so I thought I’d write a post about it.
Gaslighting is a defense mechanism commonly used by narcissists in order to diminish their victims and make them doubt and question their own reality. The term comes from the 1942 movie “Gaslight,” in which a young wife is abused in this manner by her husband, who almost succeeds in driving her insane by telling her she is imagining the gaslights in their house going on and off, even though he has been secretly playing with the gaslights himself to make her think she’s going insane. Gaslighting is one of the most sinister and crazymaking things a narcissist can do, and over time your self esteem and even your grip on what is real and what isn’t begins to erode. Dealing with a gaslighting narcissist is like looking into an endless hall of mirrors. It’s common for victims of such mindf*ckery to develop PTSD or complex PTSD.
Here are five common types of gaslighters, with examples that show what these darlings do to make us feel like we’re going crazy.
1. The “You’re Insane” gaslighter.
This type of gaslighter, when confronted with the truth about their disgusting and unacceptable behavior, accuses you of insanity, stupidity, or (in the case of women) your terrible PMS (gaslighting with a little misogyny thrown in for good measure).
You: I don’t think you should have told all our friends that you think I’m cheating on you, especially because I’m not.
Gaslighter: You’re imagining things as usual. Have you taken your meds today?
You: I hate it when you use that tone of voice.
Gaslighter: Oh, please, not this again. You must be on your period.
2. The “I never said that” gaslighter:
This type of narcissist is so far into their lies and denial he/she would sell you down that river in Egypt.
You: Why did you tell my mother I can’t keep a job?
Gaslighter: I never said that. This may be followed by a “you’re insane” elaboration to drive home their case that you’re the deluded one.
You: You promised me I could have some money to buy the kids new school clothes.
Gaslighter: No, I never agreed to that. I told you I don’t have the money. What part of “I don’t have the money” did you not understand?
3. The “Everyone’s Against You” gaslighter:
This is an especially mindfucking type of gaslighting, in which the narcissist draws other people into their attack on you, which may in fact not be the case but they can definitely convince you no one is on your side. If actual flying monkeys are being used, then a different tactic, triangulation, has become part of their arsenal of weapons they use against you.
You: Why do you always talk to me like you hate me?
Gaslighter: That’s just your overactive imagination again, but to be honest, I was talking to [names of friends, associates, or family members] the other day, and they all told me they think you’re very difficult to be around [or insane, stupid, etc], so put that in your pipe and smoke it.
This type of abuse can also be very subtle:
You: You are driving me crazy!
Gaslighter: Well, I wasn’t going to tell you this, but [name of friend, family member or associate] and I were talking, and we are all very concerned about you (“I’m/we’re concerned” is narc-ese for “I/we think you’re batshit crazy.”)
This next type of gaslighter is probably the most infamous and well known to most narcissistic abuse survivors:
4. The “You’re Too Sensitive” Gaslighter:
Narcissists love to call out the sensitivity of their victims as if it’s a character defect (and if we were raised by narcissists, we have probably learned to hate and be ashamed of our high sensitivity). It’s true that many abuse victims are highly sensitive, in fact some of us are HSPs. Narcissists are drawn to sensitive people because of their high empathy and tendency to become codependent and thereby good sources of narcissistic supply. At the same time they need us, they also hate and envy those qualities they seem to be so attracted to, and don’t miss an opportunity to take hurtful potshots. Even if they do or say something that would even hurt the feelings of someone as coolheaded as Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, they somehow make it your fault if you’re bothered by it because you’re just too damned sensitive.” It’s really just a variation of the “you’re crazy” tactic.
You: I wish you’d talk to me more respectfully when we’re out in public.
Gaslighter (dramatically rolling eyes): I do talk to you respectfully (lie). Your oversensitivity is really getting tiresome.
5. The “I Was Just Joking” Gaslighter.
Similar to the “You’re Too Sensitive” gaslighter, this one calls your sense of humor (or lack thereof) into question, even when their “joke” is clearly anything but.
Gaslighter: That dress makes you look fat.
You: (looking hurt): It does? But I’ve been trying to lose weight for you.
Gaslighter: Jesus, don’t you have any sense of humor? You can never take a joke.
To rub salt in the wound, they might even toss a little “Everyone’s Against You” into the mix and say something like, “Maybe it’s because you can’t laugh at anything that no one really likes you.”
There’s one more type of gaslighter that’s incredibly dangerous because they manipulate reality itself and then tell you there’s something wrong with you because you noticed. The abusive husband in “Gaslight” illustrates this well, by manipulating things around the house and then telling his wife she’s unbalanced and imagining things. This was a favorite technique of my ex, who often deliberately misplaced things I needed, such as my car keys, then when I wasn’t looking, he’d return them to their rightful place and chided me for being “careless.” He did this for shitz and giggles.
When you’re dealing with a gaslighting narcissist, nothing you do or say is ever right. They always have to have the upper hand and they always have to make you feel about 3 inches tall, because that’s the only way they know how to keep you weak and in your place so they can continue to prey on you for supply. They do this because their own egos are so fragile they need to put you down in order to make themselves feel better. He or she isn’t going to change. Arguing isn’t going to help, it will only make things worse. The best way to handle a gaslighting narcissist is to leave and never look back.