Have you ever met someone who seemed to always recall events in a completely different manner than how you know they occurred? No matter how sure you are, they glibly dismiss what you say, insisting on an opposite chain of events? Did you find yourself second-guessing your every move, not wanting to make decisions because you knew they would be wrong? Find yourself constantly apologizing? You may have been a victim of gaslighting.
Gaslighting is a behavioral trait of people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and is a complicated form of psychological abuse used by these individuals on family, friends, employees, significant others, to gain and maintain control. Gaslighting refers to gradually manipulating or twisting the truth over a period of time in order to cause the partner to doubt what they see, feel, think and know to be true. Victims will at times doubt their sanity. While some in early use of this trait are less skilled and more easily spotted, others have developed significant subtly and finesse over time, and may not be noticed until significant damage has been done. Over time the narcissist has redefined the reality of his/her victim and uses this as a control mechanism. Control may be over not only important aspects of the relationship, but also insignificant aspects: choice of clothes, how tasks are performed, even facial expression.
“Psychology Today” describes stages of gaslighting from the victim’s standpoint. First, the reaction is disbelief. “How could he possibly say that “I” was flirting with a man, when I know for a fact that it was he who was flirting with another woman?” for example. The victim finds the behavior strange, but thinks it is just an off moment, and may even make up excuses for the incident.
The second stage is defensiveness. The victim has realized that something just isn’t right. I KNOW I was not rude to him/her. Why are they insisting I insulted them? The victim questions the manipulations and asserts their knowledge of what they know is true. However, the conversation goes in a continuous loop with the narcissist continuing, with increasing incredulity, to insist that what they are saying is fact. This causes increasing stress and frustration to the victim. No matter what they do, or how hard they try to please this person, they are met with the same “flipping of the script”.
Finally depression sets in as the third stage. The victim gives up and has no faith in their own knowledge, memory, or abilities. The victim is unable to feel joy, and does not recognize him- or herself (again according to “Psychology Today”). They feel as if they cannot do even the most mundane tasks right. The victim blames themselves for not being a good enough wife, boyfriend, employee, friend, parent…
Once the gaslighting is recognized, this cycle of mental abuse can be broken, with time and support to regain the inner strength, and sanity, that were there, but called into doubt.
Relevance to National Paranormal Society: The incidence of psychological and other abuse is staggering. Narcissistic personalities are more common than one would think, and exist in differing degrees. Once a person doubts what they see, hear, feel, they are more likely to buy into the group mentality…”if others believe this, then I will too, since I can’t think for myself”. They may avoid looking for an explanation for activity due to low self-confidence. They may state whatever the gaslighter convinces them that they see/do not see, hear/do not hear. An objective investigator should watch the relationship dynamic. As investigators are not generally trained in this area, they should not attempt to intervene beyond their training, but consider this in their interactions and evidence analysis.