The Twilight zone (aka Gaslighting): manipulating someone into questioning their own memory, perception or sanity.
It used to be so simple: you never questioned your judgement of what was right, what was wrong, and what your motives were. But now you are in doubt. Could it be that your perception of things is very subjective? Maybe you even have some hidden faults that you are overlooking? Could you be very selfish without even realizing it? So selfish that you are in denial of your own mistakes? Are you misjudging things in your favor? Are you minimizing your wrong and inconsiderate behaviors in order to hide them from yourself?
The (possibly unexpected) answer is a firm NO. How do I know this? Because if you're asking yourself these questions in an attempt to self-evaluate, this guarantees that the answer is "no" with about 99.99% certainly. Lack of self introspection is part of the same package the above described behaviors come in (science-proven fact). So, if you indeed had this bouquet of problems, you would NOT be questioning yourself. At least not very easily. Funny how human psychology works.
Self-knowledge is very important, and is part of Kim's self-improvement Masterclass but it is also important to be able to tell the difference between true self-knowledge and toxic shame. If you felt that the first paragraph described how you tend to feel on a more or less regular basis, you are probably a victim of gaslighting.
What is gaslighting? It is a term used by professionals to describe something you are likely dealing with on a daily basis, without even realising that your sanity is gradually being messed with. And before you can address this issue and resolve the situation, it is important to "know and recognize your enemy" and be able to see gaslighting when it occurs. Let's take a look at the story below -- have you been there and can you relate?
Dan smiled widely when he saw Rachel in the doorway.
“Oh hey darling, did you sleep okay? Shall I get you some electrolytes? I bet your head hurts after last night!” He winked, cracking eggs into the frying pan.
Rachel frowned. She’d only had two glasses of wine last night and her head was fine.
“Dan.. I’m upset about what you said last night,” she started. “You.. I wish you wouldn’t call me names.”
Dan looked puzzled. “What do you mean, names?”
“You called me a bitch. In front of Mark and Sam.”
Dan laughed. “No I didn’t! Oh sweetheart, you were tipsy.” He flipped the eggs. “I said sometimes you like to bitch. With Sam. And I meant it affectionately.” He shook his head, chuckling softly to himself. “You know, you should consider not drinking so much when you’re out with workmates.”
Rachel felt ridiculed, and somewhat flustered.
“Mark and Sam… Mark sent me this message… he heard it…”
Dan looked at her with condescending eyes.
“Rachel can’t you see that Mark wants to sleep with you? That’s why he’s trying to drive a wedge between us. All that friendliness and kindness… I guess you think he’s just ‘being nice’?” Dan made air-quotes with his fingers. He put the eggs onto the plate, still smiling and shaking his head. “God, I can’t believe you can’t see how sleazy he is. Are you really that sweet and innocent?”
She sat down at the table in silence as Dan put a plate in front of her. Maybe she had been a bit tipsy. Could she really be sure about what had happened?
If you cannot relate yet, read on.
The story above paints a picture of a '"Grandiose narcissist". (As much as I hate the term ''narcissist" I have to use it, since there is no better one. However, if you keep reading this journal, you will learn that there is no actual self-love in a narcissist, but the behavior is actually triggered by the lack of it). But back to the point. Depending on one's personality type, NPD manifests itself in two different forms: as "a grandiose narcissist" or as an introvert "vulnerable narcissist" Here is the story in the same setting, involving a gloomy, Vulnerable narcissist:
James didn’t look up when Katy appeared in the kitchen doorway. He focused on making coffee, deliberately adding it to the percolator, screwing the top on. His face was sullen.
Katy tried to lighten the mood, speaking brightly.
“Morning! Any chance of getting in on that coffee?”
James shrugged. “I guess.” He lit the stove and busied himself wiping up coffee grounds.
Katy took a deep breath. “Um.. I’m a bit upset. About… about you calling me a bitch last night. It’s just that it was in front of my friends and it was a bit embarrassing, you know?” She finished with an involuntary nervous giggle.
James stopped wiping and his face darkened as he turned to face her. “I knew you were going to blame me for that.”
Katy was quiet, frantically thinking of ways to defuse the situation.
He went back to wiping the bench with agitated jabs. “If you weren’t so drunk, you might have heard me correctly. I said I wanted you to stop bitching at me. Which is entirely different! And have you considered asking me why I said that?”
Katy felt herself slipping into ‘compassionate carer’ mode. She knew she wasn’t drunk last night, given that she’d only had two glasses of wine, but it didn’t seem like a good time to argue that small detail.
“No.. I… what did I do to upset you?”
James kept wiping silently, refusing to acknowledge or look at her. She asked again.
“James, what did I do?”
He glanced at her accusingly. “Why don’t you ask your darling Mark? You sure seemed to be enjoying talking to each other last night, didn’t you?”
Katy’s mouth dropped open and she almost laughed despite herself. Mark was a work colleague who she’d spoken to for ten minutes about the department reshuffle. She knew better than to ridicule something he felt when he was like this though. “James, I… Mark is just… seriously, it is nothing, I don’t even know his last name.”
She put her hand on his arm, and he pushed it off, then turned and strode out of the room.
Katy stared at the empty kitchen counter. Maybe she should have acted more reserved at the party. After all, she knew that James had gone through a painful breakup due to infidelity before he met her. Maybe she had unknowingly triggered flashbacks. “I better watch it next time”, she told herself.
If you have a good eye for the situation, you may have noticed that in both stories the girl's behavior is not the real reason or trigger for what is going on. In both examples, the guy is doing what he is doing for an ulterior reason: to avoid facing responsibility of calling her a bitch in front of their friends and thus making her feel very embarrassed.
Inability to own up to their mistakes is one of typical "symptoms" of NPD. The reason for that is because NPD is a result of trauma or neglect (usually in early childhood) that had crushed that person's self-esteem and destroyed their sense of self-worth. They feel inferior, inadequate, and ashamed -- and adding more shame through admitting to more inadequacy makes them feel way too vulnerable. A small reminder of our mistakes and imperfections is like a tap on the shoulder for a "normal" person: it's a casual, friendly reminder... unless the shoulder is severely sunburned. The "shoulder" of a person with NPD has been "sunburned" by the trauma they had experienced)
What does a person with NPD do to avoid causing themselves this additional pain? An extravert (a charismatic Grandiose narcissist) will try to divert attention from the issue by inventing another issue -- the kind where he can pose as a hero. He has long ago invented an alter-ego for himself, a facade that he can hide behind. In that alternate reality, he wins all the battles, has the power to do anything he ever wanted with ease, and -- most importantly -- is not bothered by his imperfections. (This is a trauma response to excessive toxic shame, emotional hurt or chronic neglect he had been subject to some time in his past.)The only problem: this is NOT actual reality. So he constantly needs to twist the actual reality just a little bit, to make it fit.
And, unfortunately, if you happen to be part of his reality, he will try to twist you as well. A behavior termed as Gaslighting results: a person with NPD will change and twist the facts ever so subtly, he will interpret perceptions a little bit differently than what a general reasonable person would (oftentimes claiming that he has a "deeper insight" or the ability to read people and situations better than an average person) -- and will try to convince you that if you disagree with him, you must be missing facts or lacking the ability to interpret the situation correctly -- in other words, being naive or not life-smart. (BTW, I refer here to a person with NPD as a "he" and the victim as a "she" just for the ease of things. This condition can affect both genders, so please do not draw any conclusions from my pronoun use)
If the person affected by the NPD happens to be an introvert, it makes it hard for them to maintain a charismatic personality as a front. This person will use the exact same gaslighting tactic, and for the same reasons, but his gaslighting will manifest itself differently: instead of playing a hero and try to divert your attention with a glamorous act or over-exaggerated attention, he will clam up and play a victim. This is a "Vulnerable Narcissist" . (Do you see how we have the exact opposites here: hero -- victim, an outgoing act -- clamming up. These are two sides of the same coin, consistent with your personality type)
In either case, their gaslighting will eventually condition you to question your motives, your judgement and your very perception of reality. So be very careful: once you are confused, it will become very difficult for you to tell healthy self knowledge from the unfounded accusations of guilt. (By the way, the difference between self knowledge and toxic shame is simple: self-knowledge is based on reality, toxic shame -- on a lie)
The term gaslighting comes from the name of an old movie (Gaslight- 1940). There, the tactic is portrayed and is used to cover up murder. The mainstream psychology articles often say that this is the first time and place it has been described. This is, however, incorrect. The first recorded incident of gaslighting took place in the Garden of Eden, when the Devil was trying to convince Eve to go ahead and eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. "Did God really say - do not eat from this tree?", he asked. In other words, "DId you really hear him correctly? Did you understand it correctly? Could you be misinterpreting things? etc, etc etc". Simply put, "You better question your memory and perception, Eve".
Gaslighting is very serious, folks. It is not to be taken lightly. From the standpoint of energy medicine, narcissists have the ability to penetrate the protective layer of our biological filed, and thus deliver their message on the subconscious level as unquestionable truth. This, of course, is a subject for a whole different article, but the main takeaway for the purposes of our discussion is this: gaslighting is extremely hard to spot and resist.
I will give you an example from my personal experience. A few days ago, I met for lunch with someone who had done me a lot of wrong: stole from me, wrecked my credit, put my marriage in jeopardy, even made death threats. I came prepared to discuss my agenda firmly (let's not go into the details of what that agenda was, it is private and not relevant here). I am also trained, guys, in recognizing gaslighting, in dealing with NPD tactics and in handling situations like this. At yet, by the end of the conversation I was somewhat going along with his reasoning and seeing justifications for his cause. It took me about a day to sort it all out once I came home and gave it some thought, and all things eventually fell into the right perspective -- but think where I would have been if i A) did not have the training and experience that I do in these things B) was in the situation longer than 1.5 - 2 hours that it took us to eat lunch. In fact, it is common knowledge that highly professional therapists who are not specifically trained in NPD, would side with the narcissist every time when conducting marriage counseling.
Major takeaway: if you are seeing parallels here, do not brush the situation off. If you are experiencing galighting in your relationship on a regular basis, this means that you are in a relationship with someone who has NPD. You have heard it correctly. We all can resort to gaslighting in order to get what we want -- and most of us has done so, a time or two. But if you are experiencing gaslighting IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP ON A REGULAR BASIS, you are dealing with someone with NPD.
Now, in mainstream psychology, this is a death sentence. According to their advice, the best thing you can do once you detect NPD is get out of that relationship as quickly as you can. And there are reasons for that. As we've discussed above, gaslighting (being only ONE of the tactics the narcissists use) is very dangerous: it will eventually warp your sanity, if you do not so anything about it. Also, these relationships tend to get progressively worse, and result in physical and emotion abuse, and oftentimes even violence. Again, please do not take any of this lightly.
However, I also notice that BECAUSE of the imminent threat of this death sentence, many people who make this unpleasant discovery immediately go into denial:
My boyfriend who I fought so hard to get all the way through high school -- and finally succeeded -- CANNOT have NPD!
My fiance does not have NPD: he has a lot of emotional trauma from all the neglect in his childhood. He confided in me -- how can I betray him by leaving him now?
My wife does not have NPD: I rescued her from an abusive home, and she feels I am the only person in the world who cares about her -- and you want me to leave her now?
The truth is, we may not be ready to leave the relationship, And some of these relationships we may not be able to leave. What if the person with NPD is your child? Or parent? (Here we are only discussing NPD in marriage related relationships, however) But the bottom line here is: yes, a relationship with someone who has NPD is no cakewalk, and CAN INDEED be dangerous. But you may not always want to make the choice leave... Mainstream approach does not consider this an option.
The option to stay in the relationship, however, does exist, although I am not aware of anyone besides us (myself here and the author of the approach, Kim Cooper) who offers it. But my own and Kim's personal success stories, as well as numerous clients' testimonials speak for themselves: yes, narcissism CAN be cured.
Now, I said it was POSSIBLE -- I did not say it was EASY. It is going to take a lot of time, effort and tears. But also remember: very likely you got into this relationship, because you're an empath by nature and you wanted to be there for that person, and help them. Well, you're likely THE ONLY person who is in a position to help them. If this is your goal, be of good cheer: if this approach worked for me, Kim, and others, it means it can be done.
But also remember: you do not have to. The choice to stay in a relationship needs to be your own. Yes, such relationships can be dangerous, and are not something to play around with.
So, I want you to be very honest with yourself. Are you in a relationship with someone who has NPD? If yes, you need to act now, before NPD destroyed your life. (Let's put it this way: it is a very contagious disease -- and it will get passed on to your children as well, possibly for several generations).
So, if your answer is yes, you have a decision to make. There are only two choices, if you want this story to have a good ending:
1) Leave or start making serious, tangible plans to leave this relationship
2) Start managing your relationship as an NPD relationship, not a "normal" one.
Give yourself time to think, and do not make this decision when you're mad, after a fight or when recovering from general anesthesia (JK). But once you make this decision, make it final.
In either case, research subjects related to Narcissism. If you decide to leave, there is plenty of information out there on how to do it.
If you decide to stay, then the market is pretty much limited to us.
Start with the basics: these two books with give you a good understanding of who these relationship work and -- most importantly-- what to do, specifically in order to take control of the situation:
Back from the Looking Glass describes Kim's personal story and gives the foundations of her approach
The Love's Safety Net and corresponding Workbook (sold together) will cover the practical part of the specific steps and actions that you will need to take in order to stop and prevent abuse (physical and emotion) and fix other issues of your relationship.
Each comes with the additional option to join our Facebook Support group (can be purchased separately) where the author (Kim) will answer your questions, and where you will be able to have the support of other women and men who "have been there, done that"