What’s the definition of gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation where the abuser inserts doubt into the victim's ability to recount events that occurred, creating confusion. Gaslighting literally denies the victim’s sense of reality. Narcissists are master manipulators who love to create chaos and confusion to deflect from their bad behavior. Narcissists cleverly manipulate our understanding and interpretation of events to a point where their victims literally don’t trust their own judgment. As a technique, gaslighting is meant to disorient and make people question their very perception of reality.
In order to help you recognize what gaslighting sounds like, here are some typical gaslighting phrases:
· You’re so sensitive.
· It was a joke. Can’t you take a joke?
· You always exaggerate.
· That never happened.
· You’re remembering it wrong.
· You should see a doctor. You’re really having trouble with your memory.
· It’s all in your head.
The term originates from the 1944 film titled “Gaslight” where the main character’s husband slowly manipulates her to make her believe she’s going mad. The film’s title originates from the gas lights used in the apartment in the film. The husband uses the gas lights in an upstairs apartment which causes the lights in his apartment to dim. The wife asks her husband about the dimming lights. He convinces her it’s merely her imagination, making her feel insane which is a primary intention of gaslighting.
Sometimes, it’s so subtle you hardly notice it happening. When my narcissist began gaslighting me, I tried not to engage because I was avoiding an argument. Then it got progressively worse. When I confronted him about the worst thing he’d ever done to me, he responded with very typical gaslighting phrases.
First, he told me it was a misinterpretation. He wouldn’t explain what was misinterpreted or who misinterpreted what. Then he said it was a joke. This should’ve been a red flag. There was nothing funny about the subject matter or his actions. He never elaborated. He then concocted an elaborate retelling of the facts, including events that never took place. Narcissists will do anything to deflect, deny and lie about what actually happened. They never take responsibility for their actions and they will never apologize.
My narcissist changed the past to fit his recollection – he saw himself as the victim. He was always turning the tables. When he recounts that story, he only remembers it his way, believing all his own lies. I wrote about this experience in my book "Wrecking Ball Relationships." You can get it here.
Be careful. When you’re in a long-term relationship with a narcissist, whether romantic, parent, friend, or coworker, you become conditioned to take responsibility for everyone. You begin to normalize the gaslighting as their regular behavior. It’s not normal. It’s not ok. You didn’t do anything to deserve it.