Gaslighting is defined as the manipulation of a person by having them question their sanity, and like the term, Narcissist, it has found its way into our everyday speech. So exactly how does a Gaslighter work, and who is susceptible to his/her manipulation?
Not surprisingly, empaths make great magnets for Narcissists and Gaslighters. The greatest characteristics of empaths are their overwhelmingly big hearts and their acute sensitivity. Empaths can care more for others than they might even for themselves. This makes them very susceptible to the manipulations of a Gaslighter.
So, how does gaslighting work? First, it’s important to realize that what the Gaslighter wants is control, and like most abusive personalities, the way they get to do that is by preying on your insecurities and making you dependent on them. They start by attacking and rocking your foundation, what’s near and dear to your heart, and by making you feel that there’s something not quite right about it and you. I have a friend who is a nurse; she loves and takes pride in her profession. Her Gaslighter doesn’t miss an opportunity to belittle her profession. According to him, nurses are “wannabe doctors” who don’t have what it takes to actually be a doctor. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth- my friend never wanted to be a doctor and she’s loved by every patient that’s lucky enough to be in her care, yet his criticism erodes her pride in being a nurse.
Another thing a Gaslighter will do is to make you doubt what you know. They do this by either telling you a full out lie which they will deny or by saying they didn’t say something you know they did. The reason this makes you doubt your sanity is because people don’t normally act that way. If a friend told you that they wanted to go for coffee later on in the week, you certainly wouldn’t expect them to tell you they said no such thing when you reached out to firm up the date. If they did, you’d be a little off kilter because who would say that they never said something so benign and silly like they wanted to meet for coffee, when they actually did? What’s unsettling about this tactic is that when done often enough, your inner dialogue can go from a dismissive shrug to “Well, you know how bad my memory is.”
Like many other abusive personalities, Gaslighters also use mental emotional schemes to isolate you. Remember, the name of the game here is control so the Gaslighter wants you to feel alone and separated from others so that you become dependent on him/her. Whether it’s trying to point out faults, inconsistencies or full out deception in your friends, the Gaslighter makes you believe that he/she is the only one who truly has your back. Ironically enough, while pointing out how untrustworthy your friends are, the Gaslighter will also make derogatory statements about you, your so-called insecurities, and mental instability to both you and the outside world. “Oh, don’t worry about her, she’s always takes things personally,” or “That’s just the way he is; he’s always reading way too much into things,” are common statements you’ll hear from a Gaslighter.
Another common approach used by Gaslighters is projection. They will often accuse you of what they feel and believe. This is an effective unbalancing technique for a couple of reasons. First, the natural response is the desire to set the record straight regarding your true feelings, and when that doesn’t fly, the Gaslighter uses this as yet another example of how unclear and unsure you are about your thoughts and feelings. They might even go to the extent of blaming your inability to think and act clearly for the problems in the relationship.
You may be asking yourself why anyone stays in a relationship with a Gaslighter. Similarly to other abusive relationships, the Gaslighter isn’t always demeaning. Every now and then he/she will compliment you, do something thoughtful and kind, or even praise you. This goes a long way in keeping you off-balance. Because you know they can be kind and wonderful, like a smoker craving nicotine, you’re looking for and waiting on the fix. When you get it, mentally the validation that you were seeking reinforces that he/she isn’t such a terrible person because of the kindness they showed you.
Although empaths and highly sensitive people are prone to Gaslighters and Narcissists, they are not the only ones who are subject to such abuse. Anyone who puts the needs of others above their own is susceptible to manipulation which is why it is very important to take time to take care of not only your mental and physical needs, but your spiritual and emotional needs, as well. When we are not centered and balanced we leave ourselves prone to getting taken advantage of. In a recent study I conducted on betrayal, I identified five stages from Betrayal to Breakthough. The first stage is the set up. In all of my participants, including myself, there was an imbalance between the mental/physical and the emotional/spiritual facets of their lives. They were so busy taking care of business, that they didn’t tend their emotional and spiritual well-being. This imbalance runs the risk of leaving you vulnerable to being exploited.
So what can you do?
- Get clarity- know and understand your thoughts and feelings.
- Take time for yourself- meditate, journal, exercise- this will help you to be centered.
- Set healthy boundaries- know what you will and won’t accept from others.
- Be aware- knowing and understanding how manipulators work, can help you to avoid being controlled.
- Don’t be afraid to walk away- we are all here to help each other learn and grow. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with releasing that which doesn’t serve you with light and love.
No one likes to be taken advantage of, knowing and understanding how Gaslighters work prevents you from falling prey to their emotional fires.
Have you had an experience with a Gaslighter that you’d like to share? Let me know.