What does the term "gaslighting" mean and where did it come from? Read all about it here, and tune into the Daily Nectar Podcast Episode "A Narcissist vs. The Ego" to learn more.
Gaslighting is a colloquialism describing the subjective experience of having one's reality repeatedly questioned by another.
Gaslighting” originates in a British play-turned film from the 1930s. The play was called “Gas Light” and the plot is about a husband who mentally and emotionally manipulates his wife into believing she is crazy. He changes the intensity of the gas lamps within their home & does other crazy-making things like knocking on the walls and moving around household items.
Here’s my version of being with a Narcissist:
Suppose you have a rug. A beautiful wool rug with all of your favorite colors. It sits in the entry way.
One day it’s gone. It’s not in the garage or the laundry room or anywhere.
You ask your partner where it is.
He says he doesn’t know.
You wait a few days, thinking it’ll show up somewhere. That either your nanny or housekeeper moved it, or your mom surprised you and took it to the dry cleaners or there’s some other plausible explanation.
A week later you ask again. Now the narc tells you that you never had a rug there.
But you know you did. You remember buying it. You remember bringing it home.
You also remember that he tripped on it recently and got mad at you about it.
You ask - did you throw it away?
He says no, there was never a rug there. And if there was, I wouldn’t touch it. You probably did something with it and forgot.
You look in the dumpster, the trash cans. Nothing.
Months go by and you miss the rug. You finally buy a new one but it’s not as pretty. At least its washable.
He trips over it.
He then goes on a rant about why he threw the other one away.
A narc will tell you the sky is purple to the point that he’ll convince you you’re colorblind and need to go to the doctor and optometrist and ophthalmologist. You get so fed up and so crazy, you might actually go. You get clean reports from all of them. You see fine. The sky is blue. It’s written in the doctor’s notes that you print out and bring home.
The narc looks at the notes, weeks later, and says:
"Obviously the sky is blue. Everyone knows that.
Why did you waste your time going to all these appointments?"
You remind him of your conversation.
He maintains, we never had that convo. You’re crazy. Why are you always trying to fight with me? You’re so controlling!
Suppose that your partner takes you, and he takes what he takes when he wants it.
And then in the middle of him taking from you
Taking it all from you
Because you don’t want it.
And then suppose that he sees and feels you crying and then he tells you that
You’re ruining it for him.
You’re being emotional and sad and ruining it for him
He can’t enjoy himself.
You’re making it awful for him.
How could you do this to him?
Because now you’re crying in the middle of sex.
Who does that? Who cries during sex and is all weird and sad.
So suppose that he says you’re pathetic.
And now he doesn't even want you anymore.
You made this bad and you ruined it.
So suppose that he gets up to leave.
To leave the room.
And suppose you’re left there in the fetal position, crying still.
Even more alone now.
Because he took it and he left it.
And he told you were bad in the middle of it.
Now not only has he taken from you he’s told you that you’re
He doesn’t want you anymore.
And then suppose on some weird level he feels maybe bad about it.
Or maybe it’s not that he feels bad, it’s just that he knows you feel bad.
And if you feel too bad, then he can’t get more of what he wants from you.
So suppose that he plans a date night for you. A surprise date night. So after work you show up half dead inside and his parents are there waiting. Without warning.
Suppose that he yells surprise - I’m taking you out! And has flowers and everything. He’s put on this show and he’s invited people to come watch it.
You stare at the flowers and smile for the people, while you’re hollow inside.
Suppose that on this date, he says he wants to talk to you about something. You think it might actually be a connection, a conversation.
It’s actually a trick question.
He asks you where you stand in this relationship.
You ask for clarification.
He goes on to say. I’m here. I stand here, as the head of this household. As the man. As the Christian man.
Where do you stand?
I tell him - beside you.
I guess? I don’t want to be beside him anymore. It feels like a version of hell. But I answer how I think I’m supposed to so I won’t be in trouble.
Wrong, he says.
You stand behind me.
I am here.
You’re behind me.
Suppose that’s how it is. Suppose that he quotes a bunch of verses from the Bible to explain how this is true, and how I’m bad if I don’t follow. I’m bad again.
Suppose he tells you that you're too controlling, too loud. You keep trying to have a say in things and suppose that, it’s just not how God wants it.
Suppose that this little conversation is just a gateway to have the even bigger conversation that I need to keep working full time, and leaving the babies with sitters so that he can keep pursuing all of his dreams and aspirations of owning his own company, no matter how long it takes. It might be one year, it might be five.
Shit, it might even be ten or twenty.
But remember. You will make the money and I will decide how we spend it. I will decide when we take trips or don’t. When we eat out or don’t.
Afterall, I am a very important person who is destined for great things.
Suppose he even tells you that you wouldn't understand, you just don’t have the same work ethic he has, or the same drive. You’re able to settle. He’s not. He’s incapable of it.
And on top of that, suppose that you got together when you were a teenager. Suppose that this is the only love you’ve known. The only person you’ve been with. Suppose your entire family is also very religious and that divorce is the worst thing.
Suppose that you go home that night. You hug your babies. They look up at you with their big beautiful eyes and you want to give them everything they deserve: a world full of love and parents that are still together.
Suppose that you spend everyday stuffing all of your needs and feelings so that you can hold all of this together for them. You don’t have time to break down. You don’t have the luxury.
Suppose you actually quit your corporate job and build a business just so you can spend more waking hours with them, and hug them a little tighter during the days.
Suppose that at some point, you realize you can’t fill their world with love, when there is a narcissist in it with you. Suppose you realize one night, and it hits you dead between the eyes, that you can’t make someone else love you, and that what your babies are actually seeing everyday is opposition, conflict, anger, lies, uncertainty, bullying, fear.
And suppose that the only option you now have, is to set the whole thing on fire.
And build something new.
Suppose you realize you have a moral obligation now, to teach them the way of love. And if you have to do that on your own, then you will.
"It’s better to be alone than to wish you were" as the saying goes.
THAT is a glimpse into gaslighting. That is the deep dark hole of being with a narcissist vs just someone that has an ego.
...or someone who is immature.
...or someone who is just an as*hole.
At least that's how I heard it anyway. I'm not a psychologist, but I have done some homework on the subject matter from people I love.
Listen to the podcast to hear more, and to follow along in the Narcissism Series.