- Gender and Relationships
Gaslighting - Ambient Psychological Abuse
Doubting the Integrity of Your Own Thoughts
The term "Gaslighting" comes from the 1944 movie Gaslight starting Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. In it a husband slowly drives his wife to insanity, by secretly adjusting the intensity of the light in their home and denying he was doing so. Her reaction to this he used as the basis to convince her and the world she is insane.
If you are being gaslighted, your gut view of truth will be negated. History as you know it will be rewritten. You will not trust yourself anymore. Then when your confidence is completely eroded, your abuser will find you easier to manipulate. It is a form of mind control that is implemented through ambient abuse.
Though Gaslighting is not only used by narcissists, it is one of the main weapons in their arsenals. Someone with Narcissistic personality disorder needs to preserve an image of themselves as perfect. Do to the fact that they are completely self-centered, they often do things that upset people or are seen by society as amoral. In order to preserve the image of perfection, to themselves, the people in their lives and the ones they are actively abusing, they use gaslighting as a way of rewriting past and present history.
Here is a hypothetical example. A narcissistic mother resents her child because she is convinced she would be a famous Hollywood star, if she had not become pregnant. She deliberately breaks her child's toy, in what appears to be a random accident while vacuuming. She then tells the child to replace it with their own allowance. When the new toy is in the house, she would say, "You have two toys now, if your father was alive he would never be so lenient." This has several uses, it denies her abuse in the first place, it makes the child wonder if the other toy really exists somewhere in order to cover it up, and depresses them by reference to their dead father, so traumatized the child is easier to mentally control. She is also saying look what a wonderful mother I am, while at the same time as being an abusive one.
An example in a marriage is a man who justifies his infidelities, by telling himself someone as successful as he is, should be able to have his pick of attractive women. His wife complains about his affairs and he convinces her that it is because she is unattractive and overweight, when she clearly is not. When she cries over his insults he slaps her and says, "Look what you made me do!" He tells his friends she is a nag and is driving him away. The friends tell their wives, who advise her to get a makeover and change her behavior or she will rightly lose her husband. When she turns a blind eye to his next affair and books an appointment at the beauty parlor, she has been effectively gaslighted.
If You Are Being Gaslighted - Beware of Projective Identification
It may take you a long time to realize it is happening. You will have the nagging feeling that something is wrong, but the alternative, accepting that someone important to you is willing to destroy you emotionally and mentally is unbearable. Your mind may try to protect you with selective amnesia. Start paying clear attention to everything they say and look for proof of its veracity. If possible try to get some space and a new perspective. Seek qualified professional help where possible.
Be very careful that projective identification is not happening. This is where your abuser is treating you in such a way, that a negative part of their personality is projected on you, in a self-fulfilling prophesy, where you act it out for them. This can be combined with gaslighting. For an example, a parent who is a closet drunk, encourages their child to be "young and party' and then insists that they start attending AA meetings, while at the same time gathering the whole family for an intervention.
The bottom line is to trust your gut instincts, believe in yourself and the sovereignty of your own thoughts and soul. Gaslighting is a serious attack on both. It is a destructive form of abuse that should be understood and never tolerated.