The emotional abuse that occurs in a relationship with a narcissist is merciless and relentless. Narcissists brainwash their victims. They use several different methods of coercion in order to obtain control over their significant other. They threaten, degrade, shift blame, criticize, manipulate, verbally assault, dominate, blackmail, withdraw, withhold love and affection and gaslight their victims.
The dictionary definition of gaslighting is “to drive someone crazy” and narcissists use this method to keep their victims under their control. The term gaslighting was coined in the movie “Gaslight” from the 1940s. Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for her portrayal of a wife who is made to believe she is crazy and imagining things by her husband so he can gain access to her inheritance. He repeatedly lights a gas lamp in one part of the house, causing the other lamps to become dimmer. When Bergman’s character asks her husband about this, he denies that it’s happening and tells her she is seeing things.
They will deny saying things we know they said. They will do anything to cause us to make us doubt our own sense of reality. For example, one of our forum members here used to be married to someone who secretly moved the button on her pants and skirts to make them smaller so she thought she was gaining weight.
Put quite simply, gaslighting is a form of brainwashing. The narcissist denies that events ever occurred or certain things were said. Or they go to the opposite extreme and make up events that never occurred or conversations that were never had. This causes the victim to doubt what they’re hearing and seeing to the point that they begin to question their sanity.
When this technique is first used on someone, initially they know better. However, over time, the victim begins to believe the gaslighter. They start to believe they are imagining things, have some kind of mental illness or faulty memory. When one doubts their perception of reality, the gaslighter is able to control that person because they become completely dependent on the gaslighter for the truth.
A common tactic of a narcissist is to project their own issues on to their victim. This is an attempt to hide any actions or truths they do not want brought to light about themselves. It is their hope that by projecting issues of their own onto you it will distract you from their malignant behavior.
A narcissist wants you to believe you have problems and issues only he can understand and only he is willing to tolerate. By doing this, he believes you will begin to feel unlovable in some strange paranoid way and never leave him out of fear of rejection in the future.
*Self-professed narcissist and author of “Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited,” Sam Vaknin does an excellent job of describing how a narcissist abuses his victim when he writes:
“He infiltrates her defenses, shatters her self-confidence, confuses and confounds her, demeans and debases her. He invades her territory, abuses her confidence, exhausts her resources, hurts her loved ones, threatens her stability and security, involves her in his paranoid states of mind, frightens her out of her wits, withholds love and sex from her, prevents satisfaction and causes frustration, humiliates and insults her privately and in public, points out her shortcomings, criticizes her profusely and in a “scientific and objective” manner – and this is a partial list. Very often, the narcissist acts sadistically in the guise of an enlightened interest in the welfare of his victim. He plays the psychiatrist to her psychopathology (totally dreamt up by him). He acts the guru to her need of guidance, the avuncular or father figure, the teacher, the only true friend, the old and the experienced. All this in order to weaken her defenses and to lay siege to her disintegrating nerves. So subtle and poisonous is the narcissistic variant of sadism that it might well be regarded as the most dangerous of all.”
Gaslighting is incredibly cruel, yet very subtle. It is very difficult to see when you’re in the midst of a relationship with a narcissist. That is why it’s so important to establish NO CONTACT and distance yourself from your abuser. When you’re able to put space between yourself and the narcissist, you begin to see how abusive they really are. It takes time, but eventually by maintaining NO CONTACT you will deprogram from them.
Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com/ ) is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited, After the Rain - How the West Lost the East, and other books. He is an iconoclastic and highly controversial columnist.