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This Is How A Friend Can Gaslight You — And Make It Feel Like It's Your Fault

“Gaslighting are lies with a purpose to confuse and control.” — Tracy Malone

What About Your Friends?

It was probably around the end of 2017 when I really started deep-diving into what narcissism really is. A part of the reason why I did it was because I was counseling some people who seemed to reveal some telling signs of being one. Then, because I am definitely the exception and not the rule when it comes to not being on social media, I was finding more and more data to support that it is creating more narcissists than ever before. Jump ahead a couple of years and I actually had a close relative who said, “Of course, I'm a narcissist. My mother and father are narcissists.” Boy, did that start to connect some dots as it relates to narcissistic abuse within my family tree and when it came to some of the friends and even guys that I picked — because it really is true that until you know better, it’s hard to do better.


As I started becoming a semi-expert on how to discern a narcissist before you find yourself getting beat the hell up by them (check out “3 Warning Signs You're In Love With A Narcissist” and “What If It's Your Parents Who Happen To Be The Narcissists?”), that’s when I began to learn more and more about gaslighting (check out “Gaslighting, Love Bombing & 5 Other Triggers To Call Out In Your Relationships”) and y’all…Y’ALL. Hmph. Matter of fact, the more that I learn about what it is beyond how much folks just randomly throw the word out into the atmosphere, the more I get that if a lot of us nipped gaslighting right in the bud, our lives would be so much more peace-filled and we’d have a lot more clarity on what the quality of our relationships actually are; including our friendships.

Last year, I shared some intel on what it means to date a gaslighter (you can read more about that here). Today, let’s get into what it’s like to be gaslit by a friend (or “friend”). Because the sooner you know the signs, the sooner you can know if that person is worth keeping in your tribe or not — because why choose to be “burned” all of the time if you absolutely can avoid it?

Gaslighting. Revisited.

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If someone were to ask me to provide a really quick and concise definition of gaslighting, I would probably pull from the author of the lead quote up top. Tracy Morgan also once said, “Gaslighting is an attempt to change the truth.” Some other keepers from the same writer include: “Gaslighting is mind control to make victims doubt their reality,” “Gaslighting is implanted narratives cloaked in secrecy,” and “Gaslighting is when you don’t remember things the same as they do.” OK, but just so that we’re all on the same page, let’s go just a bit deeper than that.

At the end of the day, gaslighting is a form of emotional and/or psychological abuse where the gaslighter tries to make the “victim” question their own reality when it comes to their memories, experiences, and even feelings that are directly associated with the gaslighter. And why would someone be so diabolic? It’s all about manipulation and control. Egomaniacs like to gaslight. Abusers like to gaslight. Narcissists like to gaslight. Control freaks like to gaslight. People who suck at taking personal accountability for their actions like to gaslight. Some would say that ghosters are also pretty good gaslighters because if you’re leaving someone to question what happened, that is messing with their feelings…right? And because ghosting is pretty intentional, that means that 8 times out of 10, that is exactly what you wanted to do in order to have some sort of control (or get some control back)…right?

And here’s the thing — so long as someone is able to keep undermining you and, as a direct result, keep you “unstable” when it comes to how to deal with them, in their mind, they have the upper hand. They are able to keep pulling strings that can sway you into all kinds of directions, all the while acting innocent or even like you’re the problem. When I tell you that gaslighting is evil…it really is so evil, chile. And that’s why, again, it’s so important — crucial even — to know when someone you consider to be a friend is actually doing it to you.

And because, unfortunately, gaslighting is super common, I wanted to share a few signs of when you’re being gaslit in a friendship (or you’re possibly doing it to someone else), so that you are very clear, moving forward.

6 Ways a Friend Can Gaslight You (Sometimes, Without You Noticing It)

1. They Can Have a Selective Memory

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When I tell you that I have a relative who is an Olympian gaslighter in this very realm? When it comes to what I had on in grade school or what I said 10 years ago, they can remember that. Oh, but call them to the carpet on some blatant physical, verbal or emotional abuse and, all of a sudden, they can’t remember. Chile, bye.

The reason why gaslighters like to get off of having a selective memory is 1) they want to try and mess with your own. For instance, while another relative of mine was still alive, this master gaslighter used to try and appear virtuous by saying that they didn’t want to speak ill of them and their narratives. Oh, but when that person died, all of a sudden, the gaslighter said they were a liar and too inebriated to recall what the relative had said about how the gaslighter got down. Of course, to the gaslighter, now it’s cool to say all of that because the person can’t defend themselves or contradict their story. Now the gaslighter remembers things like it was yesterday.

Watch people who try and act like you don’t know what you’re talking about when you know damn well that you do. Not only is it condescending as all get out, but it’s also their way of trying to make you become the “character” in the story they’ve written — or rewritten. Depending on the day. Either way, it’s gonna have nightmarish results for you if you let it continue to go on for a long period of time.

2. They Are Dismissive of Your Thoughts, Feelings and/or Needs

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Someone I know had a relative who was very ill. When a mutual friend of ours kept telling me that I needed to go and visit that person (the sick one), out of courtesy only (because I really didn’t have to do it), I asked the “friend” if they were OK with that. Their response was, “I need to pray about it” (if that ain’t passive-aggressive). What? Meanwhile, all kinds of other people were given “their blessing” to visit and it wasn’t until the individual was literally unconscious that I was contacted with a green light.

People who know me know that I am not passive-aggressive; if anything, I’m overly aggressive in communicating my thoughts and so, when that person reached out after their relative passed (no doubt to get sympathy), I shared how I felt about what they did. This was all email correspondence. Did they respond? Nope. And when I ran into them months later, did they say anything? Nope. Not about that. How in the world do you get petty on that kind of level and then how do we come back from a death?

Is this gaslighting? A billion times over because when you state how you feel about something or what a need is and your friend acts like you didn’t say anything at all, not only are they trying to invalidate you but they oftentimes want you to get so upset that you end up popping all of the way off, so that, that way, they can tell everyone how you victimized them.

Luckily, I learned about gaslighting before all of this went down. Still, that showed me, live and in living color, how that individual gets down. You ain’t gotta burn me at that level again, chile. I won’t fight you in the street about it but…we’re good.

3. They Are Big-Time Flatterers (with a Jacked-Up Motive)

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I say it often because it’s true — not even the Bible has good things to say about flattery (Job 17:5), so I don’t know why so many folks fall for it (well, other than receiving an ego boost, I guess). Anyway, watch out for the friends who ooze flattering words. For one thing, it oftentimes comes off as being super disingenuous. Also, it’s typically a set-up. They are trying to make you feel good so that they can get something out of you (which is basically the same thing as being disingenuous, right?). Or, it could be how they get out of apologizing for doing you dirty. In other words, when you confront them about something that either hurt your feelings or was flat-out wrong, rather than them owning it (more on that in a bit), they will deflect with some sort of compliment or praise — including praising that you didn’t react in the manner that they probably deserved.

Do good friends affirm one another? Yep. The key here is to pay close attention to the motive. Affirming is just about celebrating someone. Flattery is about buttering someone up for your own agenda. Or stratagem. It all depends on what you’re after in the long run. Motives are a trip, chile. Always pay a good amount of attention to them.

4. They Don’t Take Ownership for Their Actions

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Gaslighters don’t like to apologize. Gaslighters try and avoid confrontation at all costs. Gaslighters will even lie to get out of taking accountability for their actions. The reason why is because if they deal with things, head-on, in their mind that means they aren’t in control anymore and they always want to be in control.

A few years ago, I wrote about a former friend who ghosted the mess outta me (check out “I Was 'Ghosted' By My Best Friend”). When I wrote them a couple of years later to be like, “I really can’t believe you did that,” did they apologize? Nope. They went on and on about how they decided on their own that I didn’t want to be involved with them anymore.

Nope. The issue was they were going through a crazy marital situation. I had come in to help defuse it and told them that I would give them some time to work it out. I also gave them a firm date when we should revisit it all. Instead, they got a divorce and I’m pretty sure that’s why they got ghost; they didn’t want me to know that. And so, rather than just being honest, they tried to make it be like ghosting me is what I wanted. Whew, gaslighting is crazy.

Personally, I don’t trust people who can’t own their ish — straight up and flat-out. I think a part of the reason is due to how direct I tend to be. Another reason is because I’ve spent far too many precious years of my life surrounded by folks who like to play those kinds of games. If you’ve got a friend who wants to hold you accountable and yet you can never do the same thing for/to them…that’s a gaslighter. Be careful.

5. They Don’t Respect Your Boundaries in Your Other Relationships

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Last year, one of the articles that I wrote for the platform was entitled, “Why I Prefer My Friends To NOT Be Friends With Each Other.” I remember reading a comment on one of our social media pages that said I was childish and problematic. Honey, I guess. First, I doubt she read the piece, and second, experience has brought me to that place and my life has been so much better for it. See, if two people are already close before I come onto the scene or we all meet at the same time, it’s whatever. But getting all close with my people’s people just because they are? For what? That’s their friends and everyone deserves to have their own space and boundaries.

It's kind of a 2.0 way of thinking yet hear me out. None of us is perfect and even friends need a place to vent — even about us. I would much rather my friends go to some random (in my world) who I don’t even know than someone who is close to me. Doing the latter just makes stuff awkward, if not super messy, and who has time for that kind of stress when it can be avoided?

Gaslighters? Oh, they would hate my article because they like everyone to be close-knit. That way, they can sow seeds of division among everyone, so that all relationships feel a little off-kilter. And when everyone is feeling kind of insecure, they can do their best manipulative work. Gaslighters loathe relational boundaries. They don’t have as much power when those exist.

6. They Constantly Play the Victim

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Out of all of what I just said, probably the worst thing about a gaslighter is that they don’t know how to do anything other than play the victim. And because what they did to you is oftentimes right under the bar of catching a beatdown, they are pretty good at making it look like you’re just exaggerating what your issues with them are. UGH.

So, just what are some telltale signs that someone enjoys playing the victim role?

  • They refuse to accept responsibility for the things that they’ve done.
  • They will withhold their friendship until you apologize (even if they are wrong).
  • They live to throw pity parties.
  • If you do confront them about something, they will turn the issue onto you.
  • They act like they are above correction or criticism and so if you do it, you are just jealous (to them).
  • They are emotionally draining as all get out.
  • They like you to be on eggshells when it comes to dealing with them.
  • They will try and make you feel bad for what they did.
  • They place blame on anyone and everything else.

It’s basically like, if someone shares the pearls of wisdom, “Don’t play victim to the circumstances you created,” they will find some way to act like they have no idea what anyone is talking about. All they know is they are right for gaslighting and you are wrong for calling them out on it. And that reminds me of what another author by the name of Maranda Pleasant, once said — “People who harm you will blame you for it. Remember, an abuser will generally always play the victim, spin a story, tell everyone and then generally call you ‘crazy.'”

I know it was a lot, y’all. Gaslighting is a lot. I still think it was well worth discussing because if your gut has been telling you that someone doesn’t sit quite right in your spirit and you haven’t been quite able to put your finger on anything, perhaps now you can.

Gaslighting is the worst. The good news is when you don’t provide the “kindle,” there’s very little they can do to affect — or infect — you. So…don’t (any longer).

Featured image by Giphy

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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