I remember the day.
I was sitting in my own living room with him. I looked right at his face and paused. My brain was chugging along, a mile a minute. My mouth was moving and spiting out words and phrases I had rehearsed countless times should this opportunity arise. I stood and began to pace back and forth within what little free space I had in a 700 square foot apartment. I feverishly spoke, sharing all I had put together in my mind, all of the words that I knew to describe him finally ending with,
“You are selfish, narcissistic, sadistic, masochistic. I even put two and two together and believe you have antisocial personality disorder. In fact, I had a panic attack when I realized you truly could be like Ted Bundy. And yet here you are, in my home! I’m not afraid of you. I am proud of myself because I’ve basically conquered fear by having you here.”
He had his eyes on me the entire time. Those dark, piercing eyes. I can still see them. He sat there calmly, watching me. I didn’t know what he was going to say or do. Everything I have read about confronting a sociopath or narcissist advises against it. But in that moment, I didn’t care. It had been ages since we had seen each other and I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass me by. I wanted him to know what I knew. I wanted him to see that I could see who he really was inside. The public persona of a gentle and kind man after God’s own heart was a mask to charm and I knew it.
He stood, still keeping his eyes on me, and spoke finally.
“I am selfish. And I am narcissistic, even though no one has said that to me.”
I sat, exhausted from my rant. The weight of my burden lifted and I needed to rest. He has always been very perceptive. He was still watching me and could see the weariness in my soul and he made his next move.
“I know you said what you said, and I know you didn’t mean it. It’s ok.”
He had me. It happened so fast and my mind reacted to the guilt I felt for being unkind. I quickly spouted out,
“I know. I know”, I whimpered. “And I’m so so sorry.”
I hung my head. My entire being felt bad for what I had let escape my lips. My body language could have been read by a blind person. I couldn’t hide the automatic response. It required very little effort on his part because the psychological, mental, and emotional abuse had been going on for some time. Then, to solidify the “I’m really a good guy” part he played, he offered to give me a hug.
I felt so deeply confused.
This story is not only true, but is a perfect example of GASLIGHTING.
If you are familiar with the term, you know that already. But if you are uncertain as to what this term means and how it applies to this memory of mine, keep reading.
The term GASLIGHTING was coined from a movie by the same name, “Gas Light” made in the 1940s. In the film the husband attempts to drive his wife crazy by dimming the lights inside their home (they were powered by gas). When the wife notices the change and mentions it to him, he denies it. It’s a very simple and subtle form of emotional abuse designed to make the subject question their own reality; their feelings, beliefs, etc. This gives the abuser power and control, and the victim loses their sense of self. And we know that Mr. Toxic operates all of his relationships with power and control in mind.
In its simplest, it’s a form of brainwashing.
- Withholding: the abusive partner pretends not to understand or refuses to listen. Ex. “I don’t want to hear this again,” or “You’re trying to confuse me.”
- Countering: the abusive partner questions the victim’s memory of events, even when the victim remembers them accurately. Ex. “You’re wrong, you never remember things correctly.”
- Blocking/Diverting: the abusive partner changes the subject and/or questions the victim’s thoughts. Ex. “Is that another crazy idea you got from [friend/family member]?” or “You’re imagining things.”
- Trivializing: the abusive partner makes the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant. Ex. “You’re going to get angry over a little thing like that?” or “You’re too sensitive.”
- Forgetting/Denial: the abusive partner pretends to have forgotten what actually occurred or denies things like promises made to the victim. Ex. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” or “You’re just making stuff up.”
This psychological abuse is very covert and progressive in nature. Pathologicals know they mustn’t go full throttle with toxic behaviors at the beginning because it would be too jarring to the victim. Victims would pick up on the unhealthy aspects of the personality and abusers wouldn’t get their wants and needs met. The pathological must pace themself, move deliberately and slowly. They know what they are doing is wrong because they hide it.
According to author and psychoanalyst Robin Stern, Ph.D., the signs of being a victim of gaslighting emotional abuse include:
- You are constantly second-guessing yourself.
- You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” a dozen times a day.
- You often feel confused and even crazy at work.
- You’re always apologizing to your mother, father, boyfriend,, boss.
- You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier.
- You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.
- You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
- You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
- You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.
- You have trouble making simple decisions.
- You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
- You feel hopeless and joyless.
- You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
- You wonder if you are a “good enough” girlfriend/ wife/employee/ friend; daughter.
There is good news.
Once you become non-judgmentally aware of these signs, you can empower yourself to transform and make the changes needed to get out, get help, regain your sense of self, and move forward. [Tweet “No one deserves to be abused.”]
Look for more posts on power and control, emotional and psychological abuse, and harmful personalities.
If you need support, are ready to release your Hero Spirit deep inside, I’d love to hear from you. Hit me up!