Gaslighting, what is it, and how it alters your reality

Happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise, and anger are the six basic emotions psychologist Paul Eckman identified during the 1970s. Basic emotions that he suggested are universally experienced in all human cultures.  He later expanded his list of basic emotions with pride, shame, embarrassment, and excitement.

These basic, or core, emotions, we all have bumped into them in one way or another in our relationships where they are experienced on a deeper level when it concerns our romantic relationships. In a healthy relationship, these core emotions are experienced in a balanced manner. We can talk about our feelings with those people we share these emotions with in order to minimize the duration of the lesser moments, to learn from ourselves and others, create a mutual understanding, and have a healthy and close bond with the ones who are most important to us.  But, when you are in a toxic relationship this is a one-way street, a business contract set up by a narcissist, these fundamental emotions are being used against you in a very twisted way.

PIC: Gaslighting is one of the sickest forms of narcissistic abuse you will experience when dating a psychopath. It is their secret weapon of ultimate mind control and they use it all the time to torture and psychologically abuse their victims.

There are numerous ways for the narcissist to execute their manipulative mind games but in a nutshell, the narcissist’s happiness becomes your reward, they punish you by making you doubt yourself and feeling sad, and their fear (insecurity) and anger become your daily stress and confusion.  As for the emotion of disgust, this is what the Narcissist displays in projecting and leveling the emotions of their victim(s).  The emotion of surprise, well, this is what most of these individuals often experience and translate as shame.

This wry way of thinking is caused by the narcissist being incapable of experiencing any depth of vulnerability and thus projects his/her shame and rage outwards onto carefully chosen ‘targets’ in order to not have to ‘carry’ his/her shame and rage within him/herself.  The result is them gaslighting you and using you as a flying monkey in order to maintain the controlling power over you…their victim. The narcissists start to brag, exaggerate, and lie about their greatness and self-esteem which suggests that they are trying to convince themselves to disguise hidden self-loathing and feelings of inferiority.

Realizing that you are literally dealing with narcissistic abuse, suddenly changes everything. And with ‘everything’ I really mean everything. As you start to wake up from the narcissist’s altered reality, crawling out of this murky nightmare of sadistic mind games, you have to reprogram your self-image, your entire thinking, and emotions and is forcing you to step into a period full of confusion. And, most of the time, with a feeling of loneliness. This feeling of loneliness is spawning from the fact that the narcissist has already voiced his/her smear campaigns and worn the victim badge too many times with too many people meaning, others will not listen to you when you say “What you see happening here is not what is happening at home”. They think you are the problem!

This ‘wake-up call’ kicked in my front door during the 2nd week of Nov. 2020. A moment that cannot be erased from my memory…ever!  Anyway, shortly after picking up the scattered pieces the chaotic months that followed had left behind, I did a lot of work in understanding and breaking down the diagnostic codes about how and why these toxic individuals do the things that they do. This 2-year journey in both deep self-reflection (what made me realize that the physical and mental abuse I grew up with is NPD and has created with me not being able to voice my personal boundaries from an early age what, in turn, made me, as an adult, attract these toxic individuals)  and gaining the knowledge on the ‘world’ the narcissist is living in and their abusive mind games, I briefly discussed in my previous articles.

Gaslighting others to make you the problem

Those who are in, are about to, or just broke free from a narcissistic relationship know the scenario well. Behind closed doors, in a narcissistic relationship, is devaluation, manipulation, lying, criticism, anger, rage, and, unfortunately, in too many cases also physical abuse. But then you are with other people, with family, friends, colleagues, and the narcissistic person in your life is all of the sudden the most charming and gracious person you have ever met.

He/she remembers people’s names, pulls a chair out, takes the hand of an older relative and helps them down the stairs, they pay the check for everyone, they compliment people…they even compliment you!. You feel that you have gone through the looking glass and into the matrix.  You look at this narcissistic person and think “What, wait…this person is actually really great!  I was so wrong. He/she is so cool. My standards are too high.  I am so lucky to be married to him/her. I need to stop overthinking this relationship.”  And then, just to confirm your thoughts of you being married to this great person, your friends, family, and colleagues, tell you “Oh, you are so lucky! What a great person you have married. He/she is so nice.”

As you go home you feel kind of warm and fuzzy, even in the car. But then the front door closes when you enter your home and the face looking at you is not the same face of the person who pulled out a chair for an older relative, helped someone down the stairs, picked up the check, or complimented people.  The face of this person is now unseen, unsympathetic, and contemptuous. The warmth, the charm, the friendliness…poof…it is all gone. Now you are really confused. What is real?!

This back and forward…we had such a good time at dinner versus they are lying and manipulating me. But we laughed a lot during that movie versus criticizing and devaluating me a lot. That back and forward is the architecture of the narcissistic relationship.

These relationships are always 3 steps forward and 4 steps back. But the cognitive distancing that you experience imperceptible means that you focus on the 3 steps forward and you don’t notice the 4 steps back. You are always falling behind one step at a time. And so, over time, it becomes easier to blame yourself than to recognize the narcissistic abuse in the relationship.

These big grandiose shows of generosity and solicitude in front of other people, especially other people who matter to you, that is the ultimate gaslighting trick of the narcissist. Because now everyone is in on the delusion. People only see the generous, helpful, charming person. And because most people out there don’t understand or recognize narcissism and gaslighting, they think you are the problem.

Don’t become the narcissist’s property

Those who are on the receiving end of the equation of this narcissistic abuse can be e.g. anxious, sad, have difficulties with social interactions, and experience self-doubt. Unfortunately, other people might actually see the victim of narcissistic abuse as the problem and the sunny narcissist as the saint for putting up with his/her negative partner who is complaining about the relationship.  This is because they have fallen victim to these people collectors by accepting the narcissist’s false stories and smear campaigns as reality. This is exactly what the narcissist is looking to support their false self-image, aka masking.

The narcissist person who needs narcissistic supply is no fool. They often know that they need to put on a show to get supplies. They are interpersonal sprinters but they can only wear the mask of charm for so long before the exhausting gets to them. And then they are back to being their malcontent and contentious selves.  That is why the mask comes off as early as the car ride home.

They are a ‘charmer’ in public but they are a cruel manipulator at home. Although many might think it is, it is actually not a disconnect. The narcissistic person is doing what the narcissistic personalities do, getting their supply in public and then getting rid of their tension and regulating their shame by attacking you.

Now, this cycle of being generous and charming in public and abusive and mean in private is a profound gaslighting experience because it leaves people questioning their perception and their reality. It is why, over time, these relationships leave people so anxious, so confused, so full of self-doubt, so helpless and so hopeless.   And to people out there who are not in these relationships but maybe had that experience of your friend or someone close to you who is suffering in such a relationship but your experience has been of the grandiose public version of the narcissist, recognize that this dichotomy is a thing.

To summarize part one of this trilogy, try to recognize that overall these toxic individuals are suffering from a chronic victim mentality, aka victim badge.

Victim mentality is a psychological term that refers to a type of dysfunctional mindset which seeks to feel persecuted in order to gain attention or avoid self-responsibility. People who struggle with the victim mentality are convinced that life is not only beyond their control, but is out to deliberately hurt them. This belief results in constant blame, finger-pointing, and pity parties that are fuelled by pessimism, fear, and anger.

It is easy to distinguish this type of person from the true victims. Simply paying attention to their facial expressions, body language that is contra to their words, poor walking posture, and the constant pessimistic tone of voice will be enough to raise some red flags.

  • They try to justify what happens to them as a type of curse or as someone else’s fault.
  • As a result, they increase their victim mentality until they alienate the people around them.
  • They tend to hold on to feelings like bitterness or jealousy and avoid taking any possible responsibility for their misfortunes.

Don’t be that person who says “Well, I don’t see it because they are always so nice to me.”  Instead set limits by using your boundaries effectively in order to get through any interactions with these types of people without falling into self-loathing or feeling guilty about what you have done wrong. It is important to understand that victim narcissists cannot be changed. Instead of wasting any more time on them, focus on making positive changes in YOUR life instead!

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