Gaslighting is a method of abuse used by narcissists and other abusers to keep their target psychologically off balance. Gaslighting usually involves the abuser trying to make the victim doubt his or her own sanity, perception, memory and self-worth. The abuser persistently questions the victim’s behaviour, personality and mental attitude till the victim starts to doubt themselves as well.
For example, a gaslighting narcissist may pick his victim on a small mistake she did, then starts harshly criticizing and telling her how stupid and insane she is for doing that mistake. Most abusers are usually skilled at this behaviour; they don’t attack their victim on something the victim is confident about. Instead they usually pick something that the victim is flawed at, then attack their whole personality and sanity based on a single small mistake or a normal flaw.
So, why do narcissists and other abusers gaslight?
1. To Lower The Victim’s self-confidence
A confident person is not the one who does everything perfectly but the one who understands that making mistakes is normal and nobody can or should be perfect. When the narcissist harshly attacks the victim on small or non-existent mistakes, they are conditioning their self-confidence to depend on being perfect, which is an unattainable goal. In my book “growing beyond the narcissist” I explained how when someone tries to do everything perfectly, his self-confidence is destroyed.
Gaslighting like other abuse tactics can lower the targeted individual’s self-confidence in many ways. On of damages that gaslighting causes is distorting the victim’s perception of reality. For example she may start believing that she is less attractive because she have a particular flaw. Once the victim’s perception of reality is shaken, they may start doubting everything about themselves.
Losing self-confidence happens gradually that the victim cannot tell what is happening. They may realize later that they developed self-doubts without knowing where they came from.
To Make The Victim Easily Controllable
Narcissists need and crave control over others especially those who are close to them. In my article: what makes narcissists panic, I said that narcissists need to control people around them and this desire increases when they have lost control over their own lives. Controlling someone gives the sense of control once again.
Now, controlling a person who is self-confident in an abusive way is harder. That’s why narcissists need to shatter their victim’s self confidence to make them easily controllable. Narcissists themselves lack self-confidence and they see confident people as a threat that’s why they never want to see their victim confident.
To Destabilize the Victim When He or She is Improving
Narcissists and other abusers usually keep a close watch on their victim’s behaviour, mood and interactions with other people. If anything going on suggests that the victim’s confidence, independence or well being is improving, the abuser usually tries to neutralize them through gaslighting and other manipulation tactics.
For example a narcissist may realize that his partner is happy and feeling good for reasons they don’t understand then start criticising them on the small mistake they did in the morning. The abuser does this out of fear that the victim might grow strong beyond their control.
Gaslighting and Hiding Own Flaws
Gaslighting also helps the narcissist hide his own flaws. If the victims is constantly reminded of how their personality, behaviour, or perception is flawed then they would remain on the defensive and there would be no time to evaluate the abuser.
Sometimes gaslighting and similar manipulation tactics are used by the narcissists and other abusers when they are feeling flawed or shameful about themselves in order to prevent the victim from evaluating them.