Gaslighting is a form of narcissist abuse distinct from widespread use of words to attack and hurt another as a result of frustration and conflict. It is perhaps one of the most insidious tactics of emotional manipulation because of it’s intent to disturb a target’s sense of self and agency, safety and wellbeing, sanity and common sense.
This overarching goal of gaslighting to intentionally disrupt any attempt of victims to have a voice in their relationships, ultimately, to traumatize another into participating in their own abuse and exploitation is what makes it insidious. What could be more inhumane?
Not surprisingly, its methodical use is linked to persons that meet the criteria for narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders (NPD and APD, respectively). Key identifying characteristics of APDs and NPDs is that, in varying degrees on the spectrum, they not only feel no remorse for the emotional and relational trauma they orchestrate, but also derive pleasure from hurting and exploiting others, regarding this as an entitlement and “proof” of their superiority.
Other abusive communication patterns, such as stonewalling discussed in Part 1, do not compare to gaslighting in and of themselves. With that said, in the strategies of a psychopath, narcissistic abuse includes stonewalling and all of the above in combination with gaslighting,
The effects of gaslighting can be traumatizing, and should be taken seriously. Researchers have identified a cluster of PTSD-type symptoms that result from abusive relationships, proposing its inclusion in the next edition of the DSM, some labeling this narcissistic abuse syndrome.
A pathological use of gaslighting has at least 7 goals in mind, as follows:
1. To silence a partner into submission by making them feel their wants, needs, dreams, wishes, etc., as irrelevant or invisible.
Gaslighting shows up a lot in our culture. It shows up in all institutions, to include family, church, school, government, which divide humans into dichotomous categories of superior versus inferior, in other words, those that claim the right to speak and have a voice, and those deemed without right to do so. Wittingly or unwittingly, authoritarian parents teach children to take their place, to serve and obey without questioning, to be seen and not heard, and so on. Children grow up with the belief that those who rule over them “know what is best” for them, and that their job is to fear displeasing parents, to avoid rejection or abandonment, and so on. A similar yet far more intense dynamic occurs in couple relationships, where domestic abusers, mostly male, use gaslighting to train their partner, mostly female, to train them to think being treated like an object or possession that serves at his pleasure is “normal”; it is not. This is narcissistic abuse.
There is no reasoning with an abuser that gaslights, no sense of normalcy in the exchange. It feels like a “conversation from hell,” as one client describes it. The narcissist is ready 24/7 to derail any attempt of their partner to talk about her concerns, interests, pain, needs, wants, etc. He*** gaslights her to derail and shift the conversation away from her concern. This puts her on the defensive, trying to explain herself, listing examples, feeling increasingly frustrated. The gas-lighter accuses her of what he does, being selfish, controlling, demanding, never satisfied, and thus — shifts the focus to making her feel bad about not taking care of his needs, in other words, his favorite topic of “what’s wrong with her.”
Unbeknownst to her, when she defends herself, and lists all the ways she’s been good to him, i.e., loyal, trustworthy, etc., versus all the ways he’s failed or hurt her, this props up his ego! He’s proud of his wrongs, hurting her, even prouder that he feels no remorse! To him, her complaints are like marketing research; they tell him works, he’s on track, to keep doing what he’s doing! He also derives pleasure from getting her to spin her wheels, anxiously trying to prove her loyalty, her love, etc.! In the long term, this trains her brain to automatically silence and blame herself for his wrongs; to deny her feelings, concerns and needs as irrelevant in relation to his, to think it’s normal to remain invisible. It’s not normal! A person who needs to deprive another human being of self-worth and dignity has a serious pathology.
2. To disable a person’s brain from discerning truth from lies, luring them to participate in their own abuse or mistreatment.
A narcissist uses gaslighting to intentionally activate the stress response of another, to eventually condition them to surrender to his mistreatment and abuse. Repeatedly interfering with a person’s attempt to communicate with another — which is key human endeavor by the way — naturally tends to frustrate them, and does so to such as extent, that their brain automatically activates their body’s survival system. Research shows that, when the body’s survival reaction is activated, the areas of the brain for reflecting thinking, the frontal cortex, is put off line and temporarily disabled.
This derails the capacity of a person, in the moment, to think clearly, make sense or question what’s happening, get their point across, and so on. When such action is repetitive, this conditions or trains another person with an adaptive response known as “helplessness,” that is, the person finds it too painful to hope and believe in any other possibility, and thus surrenders in a comfort zone, of sorts, where they adapt, avoid thinking about their wants and needs or complaints about their abusive treatment, much less to stand up for themselves, or try to reason or get through to the abuser.
In this case, gaslighting is used to intentionally block another’s capacity to reflect and stand in their truth, to care for themselves, to engage in healthy feedback with another, etc., all of which are healthy, core human endeavors, by activating high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in their bloodstream. By doing so, the narcissist or psychopath achieves their goals which are to hide their abusive and wrongful actions, and to blame-shift even acts of sexual, emotional and, or physical assault to get the victim to, instead automatically questions her self, sanity and reality, and direct her focus to desperate attempts to protect herself by trying to address a narcissist’s complaints, unhappiness, real or imagined concerns. It’s not normal; it’s seriously pathological.
3. To give legitimacy to the use of abuse (emotional, sexual and, or physical) as an “entitlement” of those deemed superior to mistreat those deemed “weak” with impunity.
Socially, gaslighting has legitimacy in all major institutions. There are cults popping up everywhere from coast to coast, posing as “religious” organizations. They are not only granted tax free status, by labeling themselves a “religion” they are given carte blanche to systematically exploit target populations financially, physically, sexually and to use them as slave labor.
It starts in how our children are socialized think of violence against them as “necessary” means that persons of higher status use to maintain “social order.” Those with lower status are trained to forego asking for what they want, to be seen and not heard, and thus, it’s taboo for them to complain, regardless of mistreatment, abuse or deprivation. We also socialize children to rigidly adapt to gendered roles, in which boys and girls learn their self-worth depends on the extent to which they meet arbitrary standards of behavior for being “real” men or “good” women respectively.
Practices that train children to not do their own thinking, to obey without questioning, to serve at the pleasure of their superiors, and so on, however, put children at risk of being conned later as adults by cults and psychopaths, who exist for one purpose alone, and that is, to demand that they be treated as entitled to violate others rights, physically, mentally, financially — and do so with impunity.
4. To normalize the use of “fear tactics” by portraying those deemed inferior (i.e., women, children, other groups) as both “emotionally crazy” and “dangerous.”
Persons in authority positions are expected to use gaslighting, and to control those they rule over with fear-tactics, lies and illusions, reward and punish accordingly. Gaslighting is a continuous stream of lies, so to speak, with just enough truth, to keep the other confused. Trying to make heads and tails of nonsense an NPD or APD spews is a waste of time. Most of us have been raised to be unsuspecting. The last thing we want to believe is that someone is telling lies to intentionally keep others confused, so that they can more easily control them at every level (their thinking, beliefs, choices, feelings etc.)!
This shows up in couple relationship, where men are socialized to prove they wear the pants, by blocking the attempts of the woman in their lives to influence, express her wants and needs, make requests, collaborate, etc. Many men regard sex as the only “love need,” and thus, they reject their partner’s attempts to get empathically connect, to seek closeness and romance, viewing this as a ploy to for women to emasculate, then dominate men. In a sense, this socialization dehumanizes men, teaches them from boyhood to mistrust and associate their inner promptings with the “love stuff” that only “girls” or “sissies” like or want. It’s no wonder that narcissism can be described as a love deficit, a condition in which a person’s ability to feel love and express empathy has been numbed by an aversion to anything associated with being female! Usually by middle school, men learn to equate “sex with love.” Meanwhile, many women turn away from sex when the relationship with their partner is void of human affection, empathic communication, closeness, and other human connection experiences. Men fake the “love stuff” to lure females into sex; women fake orgasms to get men’s love. The rules for being “real” men and “good women” are a set up for toxic relationships, unhealthy for both men and women.
5. To reinforce social norm that only female partners, never male, are responsible if a couple relationship fails.
In the same way that children are socialized to keep their place, men are raised to think of women, as children that never grow up because of their focus on emotional connection, closeness and the like. From early childhood, men and women are instilled with fear to prove their adequacy in order to avoid rejection or abandonment, so that they work harder to obey and please authority figures. Men are expected to keep the woman in their life in her place, and thus, are expected to use gaslighting and other dominance tactics, to train a woman to mistrust their own thoughts, to hold themselves responsible for other’s happiness, and the success or failure of their relationships. Simultaneously, women are socialized to prop up, and remain sensitive to not threaten men’s masculinity, i.e., by denying or disguising their common sense, wisdom, memory, perception, and so on. This inhumane social order conditions men and women from childhood to accept that “the means justify the ends,” yet to what end? To maintain inhumane social structures that objectify and dehumanize both men and women as human beings?
6. To prove dominance and superiority in other to claim entitlements to exploit others.
It is used by bullies to control another’s thoughts, will, beliefs about self and the other. In effect, it’s a method of asserting dominance, to prove one’s superiority and right to subjugate, by displaying skills to terrorize and demoralize another. Gaslighting seeks to break a person’s will, and does so by instilling the other with fear-based doubts about themselves, their sanity, their worth, their mental ability to think or make decisions, their ability to love and be loved by others. In other words, it’s a form of treating another person to act like a slave, an object, and to do without their knowledge! As a thought control tactic, the narcissist’s goal is to break another’s will, to derail the other’s thought, self-talk and communication patterns, in such a way, that leads them to, eventually give up their right to express themselves, make reasonable requests or bring up any issues.
In effect, this might-makes-right value system legitimizes all forms of abuse on the most vulnerable populations. This makes it “easier” for those with a supremacist ideology, to deceive others (and themselves) into thinking those deemed “superior” are entitled to do what they please, to the extent they dupe others with gaslighting lies, illusions and con artistry.
NPDs and APDs are so obsessed with seeking evidence of their “superiority,” that they’ve worked diligently throughout history to eliminate, destroy or discredit evidence that indicates otherwise. In fact, most of our mainstream science and history schoolbooks continue to not include hard scientific evidence, that — all human beings, male and female, white and nonwhite, have amazing capacity to create and achieve great things, are hardwired to self-govern and collaborate to create enriching, life sustaining communities — given that is opportunities and enriching environments in which they are free to pursue happiness and realize their dreams. While not all NPDs turn into criminals, NPDs are at high risk of posing danger to others and thus society at large. It’s safe to say, that domestic violence perpetrators, rapists, pedophiles, mass shooters, cult leaders, and so on, use gaslighting to con others to treat them as entitled to abuse target populations.
7. To normalize “sex as love” and to degrade nonsexual affection as “emotional craziness”and “unmanly.”
It is a form of brainwashing which includes interrogation and emotional torture used in psychological warfare and law enforcement. It targets a person’s sense of confidence, self-esteem, value, ability to make decisions, resiliency, and so on. It reinforces might-makes right ideals, a topsy-turvy world in which cruelty, sex-normed love, and rejecting empathy and true-self full range emotions as weak. In the same way children are expected to learn to obey without questioning, and to think of respect and benefits are one-sided entitlements in relationships, men learn they are expected to enforce their entitled status, and use gaslighting to see that their needs for sex are prioritized, while her needs for emotional closeness are discredited as “emotional craziness” and “emasculating.
**** The use of male pronouns is supported by decades of research showing that domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, mass shootings, pedophilia, and other acts of violence are based on toxic belief systems that negatively impact both men and women, and prevent them from building healthy partnership relationships. Domestic violence, and violence against others in general, is not gender neutral. On the contrary, they are rooted in rigid adherence to gendered might-makes-right norms that idealize “toxic masculinity” for men (and “toxic femininity” for women). These norms idealize violence and intimidation as means of establishing male superiority and dominance (more often over females, and others, i.e., “weak” males). And though comparatively speaking, fewer female narcissists exist, they also rigidly self-identify with “toxic masculinity” norms. It should also be noted that, in many cases, women are mislabeled as narcissists, because society holds women to far higher standards when it comes to being nice, never getting angry (an inhumane expectation), serving at the pleasure of men, etc. See also post on 5 Reasons Narcissistic Violence Are Not Gender Neutral.