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A Gaslighter's Secret Strategies

By Tricia Kinsman
In Hope & Healing
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If you have been in close relationship with a narcissist, you probably have experienced something mental health experts call “gaslighting”. Gaslighting is a manipulation strategy used to gain power over someone for a variety of reasons. But it is truly designed to allow the narcissistic abuser to hide, blame or control. We’ve probably all experienced some form of this in our lifetime. But chronic gaslighting is the tool used most often in narcissistic relational abuse.

In the book Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People - and Break Free, Dr. Stephanie Sarkis details how gaslighters typically use the following techniques:

1. They tell blatant lies.
You know it's an outright lie, yet they are telling you this lie with a straight face. Why are they so blatant? Because they're setting up a precedent. Once they tell you a huge lie, you're not sure if anything they say is true. Keeping you unsteady and off-kilter is the goal.

2. They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof.
You know they said they would do something; you know you heard it. But they out and out deny it. It makes you start questioning your reality—maybe they never said that thing. And the more they do this, the more you question your reality and start accepting theirs.

3. They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition.
It might be your kids or your identity. They know which things are most important to you, and those may be the first things they attack. If you have kids, they tell you that you should not have had them. They will tell you that you'd be a worthy person if only you didn't have a long list of negative traits. They attack the foundation of your being.

4. They wear you down over time.
This is one of the insidious things about gaslighting: It is done gradually, over time. A lie here, a lie there, a snide comment every so often...and then it starts ramping up. Even the brightest, most self-aware people can be sucked into gaslighting—it is that effective. It's the "frog in the frying pan" analogy: The heat is turned up slowly, so the frog never realizes what's happening to it.

5. Their actions do not match their words.
When dealing with a person or entity that gaslights, look at what they are doing rather than what they are saying. What they are saying means nothing; it is just talk. What they are doing is the issue.

6. They throw in positive reinforcement to confuse you.
Suddenly the person who was telling you that you didn't have value is now praising you for something you did. This adds an additional sense of uneasiness. You think, "Well maybe they aren't so bad." They are. This is a calculated attempt to keep you off-kilter and questioning your reality. Also look at what you were praised for; it is probably something that served the gaslighter.

7. They know confusion weakens people.
Gaslighters know that people like having a sense of stability and normalcy. Their goal is to uproot this and make you constantly question everything. Humans' natural tendency is to look to the person or entity that will help you feel more stable—and that happens to be the gaslighter.

8. They project.
They may be a drug user or a cheater, yet they are constantly accusing you of that. This is done so often that you start trying to defend yourself and are distracted from the gaslighter's own behavior.

9. They try to align people against you.
Gaslighters are masters at manipulating and finding the people they know will stand by them no matter what—and they use these people against you. They will make comments such as, "This person knows that you're not right," or "This person knows you're useless too." Keep in mind it does not mean that these people actually said these things. A gaslighter is a constant liar. When the gaslighter uses this tactic it makes you feel like you don't know who to trust or turn to—and that leads you right back to the gaslighter. That's exactly what they want: Isolation gives them more control.

10. They tell you or others that you are crazy.
This is one of the most effective tools of the gaslighter, because it's dismissive. The gaslighter knows if they question your sanity, people will not believe you when you tell them the gaslighter is abusive or out of control. It's a master technique.

11. They tell you everyone else is a liar.
By telling you that everyone else (your family, the media) is a liar, it again makes you question your reality. You've never known someone with the audacity to do this, so they must be telling the truth, right? No. It's a manipulation technique. It makes people turn to the gaslighter for the "correct" information—which isn't correct information at all.

According to Psychology Today some people who gaslight others are aware of their actions and have even studied how to improve their techniques. A gaslighter who is unaware of their actions continues their behavior because of the "payoff" or "boost" they get from it each time. Childhood experiences, a desire for control, or a personality disorder are common reasons a person may gaslight others.

The more you are aware of these techniques and behaviors, the quicker you can identify them and avoid falling into the gaslighter's trap.

In Mending the Soul we explore emotional abuse and how it has affected you and your relationships. There is hope for transformation and healing waiting for you. Registration opens for this class on November 29th. Please visit www.irvingbible.org/emotionalsupport to register and join others who have experienced similar abuses.

For more information or questions about any of our Hope and Healing classes, you can reach out to Tricia at [email protected].

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