I gotta admit that, right as I sat down to start writing this out, I found myself getting a little triggered. Even though I've been a marriage life coach for quite some time now, it wasn't until a couple of years ago that I really started studying the kind of mind games that narcissists and gaslighters play. And boy, are they doozies! When it comes to my own journey with these types of people, there is one guy, in particular, who was a master gaslighter in my life for many years. It wasn't until I stepped back and looked at the relationship from more of an outside-looking-in perspective that I saw just how emotionally abusive and manipulative he actually was. That's what's a trip about gaslighting. It can mess with your mind, heart and spirit so subtly yet so destructively that it will literally have you out here wondering if you're the crazy one.
Uh-huh. Did you just read that sentence and already feel a couple of knots forming in your stomach? If so, I'm going to share with you some clear-and-in-present-danger red flags that I experienced while being involved with a gaslighter. If you happen to see any of these in your own situation, please get out—or at the very least, some serious therapy—as soon as possible. Gaslighters tend to not be happy until they have felt like they've burned your entire soul to the ground. Even then, they will keep coming back to do more damage…if you let them.
GASLIGHT SIGN #1: He Doesn’t Take Responsibility for His Actions
First up. A gaslighter is a master deflector. No matter what promise they've made and broken, no matter what they've done that is straight up wrong, no matter what words they've said that have hurt you to the core, if you confront them about it, they will A) act like they don't know what you are talking about; B) try and make you feel like you are exaggerating or that you're being childish or petty and/or C) find some kind of excuse to make you feel guilty for bringing the issue(s) up in the first place. What all of this basically boils down to is they refuse to take responsibility for their own actions. The main problem with this is, anyone who doesn't want to be held accountable in life is someone who is not only not emotionally mature enough for a real relationship, but they're also someone who will probably hurt you over and over again. The reason why is it takes seeing and acknowledging what someone has done wrong in order to change one's behavior. You can't do this for them. They have to want to change all on their own. Gaslighters are so arrogant that rarely do they see the need to.
GASLIGHT SIGN #2: He Makes His Problems Your Fault (or Burden)
Something that a lot of gaslighters and narcissists have in common is childhood trauma and abuse, whether it be physical, mental, emotional, sexual or even spiritual (yes, there is such a thing as spiritual abuse; oftentimes, it's when one person manipulates religion in order to control someone else). When we don't heal from those wounds, we come up with cryptic and/or distorted ways to cope with our problems and issues. One way of doing that is to always make things someone else's fault.
When it came to the gaslighter that I was involved with, I remember one time when he lied to me about a relationship that he was having with another woman. When we all happened to be in one spot (a parking lot), this joker hopped into his car and drove off, leaving both this young lady and myself staring at each other. Because she nor I knew the history of our connection with him, she totally caught me off guard by telling me ALL of their business, including how he told her that they were going to get married and have kids someday. The next day, when he and I spoke, he yelled at me, claiming that I pressed her for the info (when really what happened was I got blindsided). He then told me that it was my fault that I found out that they were sleeping together…for years. Not once did he apologize for hiding the situation. He didn't address how getting ambushed like that hurt my feelings either. He just went on and on about how inconvenienced he was.
Sound crazy? Of course, it was. Gaslighters are crazy. Because their job is to alter your sense of reality and stability, they intentionally (and oftentimes aggressively) make it their mission to make you think that everything that is messed up in their world is somehow your fault. That way, you'll feel guilty to the point of believing that you should stick around to make things right…even when you've done absolutely nothing wrong.
GASLIGHT SIGN #3: You’re Always Justifying His Toxic Behavior
He hits me because he loves me. That is oftentimes the mentality of someone who is in an abusive relationship. Well, make no mistake about it, being involved with a gaslighter is definitely about being caught up in an abusive situation. He is unfaithful yet somehow you think it's because you're not cute enough or didn't please him enough. He does something wrong and you're the one who ends up apologizing. He doesn't meet your needs and so you find yourself doing more and giving more, hoping that it will motivate him to "show up" more often. Then, when your loved ones confront you about ish like this, you immediately get all sensitive and come to his defense. As insane as it seems, you actually find a way to try and justify why you are overextending yourself to the point of almost breaking. Meanwhile, the gaslighter is somewhere grinning to himself because he knows that, so long as you're taking up for his BS, you won't ever get around to calling him out on it—or better yet, setting boundaries, ending the relationship and moving on.
GASLIGHT SIGN #4: You Never Fully Know Where You Stand
This one really pisses me off to no end. It can't be said enough that the root word for relationship is relate. To relate is "to bring into or establish association, connection, or relation". And you know what? There is absolutely no way that you can relate without having some open and honest communication with the person you are seeing. While I think it's another article for another time that it's a huge sign of insecurity if you need to ask your significant other, "What are we doing?" every other week, there is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking clarity in areas where you may not have it (check out "Three Dates In. Should The Two Of You Move Forward? Or Not?" and "The 'Pre-Commitment Interview' Every Dating Couple Should Have"). If you try to have this kind of dialogue with a gaslighter, they will try and make you seem silly, maybe even "crazy" or troubled, because, the last thing they want to do is get real with you (or really anyone else). In their mind, so long as they can "bait you" with an emotional carrot, they are perfectly content. Because so long as you're wondering where things stand as you stand around romanticizing the situation as you hope for more, the easier it is for them to keep you on their proverbial hook. For how long? Years, if you let them (trust me, I would know).
GASLIGHT SIGN #5: You Look for Him, the Gaslighter, to Validate and Affirm You
Something that my clients know about me is, I do everything that I can to avoid using the word "vulnerable" as it relates to their interaction with one another. Because I am a pretty word-literal person and I know that vulnerable means "capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon" and "open to moral attack, criticism, temptation, etc.", the last thing I want couples to get into the habit of doing is thinking that one of the closest people to them should be seen as a weapon or an individual who constantly subjects them to moral attacks or constant criticism. Your partner should be a safe place and space. That's why I prefer the word, "dependent". It means "relying on someone or something else for aid, support, etc.". When you're dating someone who is healthy, you can be dependent upon them. But when you're with a gaslighter, vulnerable is exactly what you are, pretty much at all times.
In many ways, gaslighters are a lot like, as sex trafficking survivor and author Cyntoia Brown Long calls certain types of pimps, Romeo pimps. If you've ever read about a pimp's initial approach, he flatters and affirms a woman until she feels like she is precious to him; like he would never hurt or harm her. Then, once her defenses are down, he starts to tear her apart, bit by bit (although he wasn't exactly a pimp, Tank's character in the movie, The Preacher's Kid, depicted this pattern quite well). Why would any woman stay with someone who treats her that way? Because the guy initially built her up so high that she feels as if she needs his validation and approval in order to feel like she is of any true worth or value.
This is why gaslighters prefer people who have low self-esteem. In fact, you hardly ever see them with individuals who know they are the total bomb. When we recognize what we are truly deserving of, there is very little room for game-playing or emotional rationing. I know this because once I saw my own self, the gaslighter in my life ceased to hold much presence of even relevance to the point that, one day, he wasn't gone. I simply left. (Ain't heard much from him since either.)
GASLIGHT SIGN #6: You Feel Unstable, Uncertain and Unfulfilled Most of the Time
One more point about my former gaslighter. Have mercy, y'all. It's amazing—and in this case, by "amazing", what I mean is sad—how much your affinity for someone can cause you to overlook all kinds of toxicity. For instance, towards the end of my relationship with Sir Gaslighter, I said to him, "Don't act like our relationship was all in my head. Do you know how many times you've said I was 'the one' over the years?" Guess what he said back? "I mean, Shellie, I have the right to change my mind. Sometimes I feel like you're the one and sometimes I don't. It's still that way." This ninja.
Do you know what that translates to? First, a load of customized BS. Second, what he's basically saying is, "I'm going to say and do enough to keep you hanging on because I like how you benefit me. But I'm not going to give you what you deserve because I couldn't care less about your needs being met in return." Of course, he didn't care because gaslighters never really do. Gaslighters are selfish. Gaslighters are control freaks. Gaslighters aren't looking for love; they are, as I once heard Judge Lynn Toler refer to someone as being, "romantic criminals". And you know what criminals do—they do things that hurt others for the sake of personal gain, even if it puts normal morals and standards at stake.
Girl, I already know. If you just now recognized how much of a victim of a gaslighter you've actually been, it can be a really hard pill to swallow. Choose to see it as a supplement, though. Now that you see the manipulation and control for what it is, you can start taking steps to get control of your heart and even your life back.
Your gaslighter may be fine, charming and even great in bed. But I promise you, by design, he means you absolutely no good. All he's doing is abusing you and no good can ever come from that. Do your self-worth and his ego a huge favor—put the "fire" out. Let. Him. Go.
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