One of the most truly extraordinary devices of the human species’ evolution is our ability to have come up with language. From the capacity for abstract thought, which grew as did our brains, the development of language hasn’t been an exclusively human trait -even coyotes have up to 45 different vocalizations they use to communicate- but the extensiveness of its use certainly is.
Language is the bedrock of our societies, communities, cultures and socialization.
It can be used to soothe, comfort, tell, explain, discuss, mention, gossip, extrapolate and so much more. It can be used as a weapon of war, a harbinger of peace, or a spiritual exploration, a conduit of song or chant or a 13 year old’s spilling the beans to their best friend. Language is a truly extraordinary development and humans are some of the greatest proliferators of this incredible system of communication.
Not that it isn’t without its faults. Language has a lot of detractors, understandably so. There have been moments like JFK’s receipt of two separate messages from the Kremlin during the Cold War: one which threatened to go to war and another which offered peace. JFK replied with a reply stating that he would respond to the saner message. In the midst of the closest nuclear crisis to date, language kept the world from a probable global holocaust.
That being said, language can also be used to manipulate, cajole, to push fear and terror, to hurt and dismay.
Words can hurt…a lot.
In one of the most insidious usages of language, gaslighting has become a method of extreme manipulation often utilized by sociopaths, psychopaths, malignant narcissists and others with disturbing personality disorders/psychopathic tendencies.
Gaslighting refers to the manipulator -the gaslighter- imposing circumstances which simply aren’t real, upon their chosen victim (the gaslightee). The victim may then experience shock, terrible fear or terror, or even a psychic break as a result. Gaslighting originated in phraseology with the 1938 play by Rick Henderson, “Gas Light”. Here a man (the gaslighter) turns the gas light in his home’s attic further and further down, lowering the level of light supplied, while insisting to his wife (the gaslightee) that he isn’t touching it. She experiences a breakdown due to her belief that her husband is telling her the truth even though all of her sensory, behavioral, emotional and psychological experience otherwise attests that he is not.
Gaslighting is a popular tactic these days, especially favored among people who derive pleasure from others’ pain.
Perhaps the worst of these is a malignant narcissist, for while this person appears to be charming, kind, attentive, caring, affectionate, involved, even loving, they are in reaity everything but.
Here we’ll explore several phrases commonly used by narcissists wielding gaslighting technique:
You’re too sensitive OR you’re overreacting.
Someone who says this to you may be genuinely concerned that you are too close to a problem to really understand it, or too concerned about something to be subjective. These phrases can also be used, however, to make you question whether or not you really are overracting or being too sensitive when you are in fact being appropriately critical. Often a gut reaction is helpful here. When you instinctively feel strongly about something and someone else questions it, if your first response is to say they’re wrong, there is a good chance you’re right.
It can also be helpful to step away from the situation for a moment and consider it from a fresh perspective. It can be difficult in times when crisis or drama are prevalent to act with a cool head. Sometimes geting some distance will show you in fact if the person is manipulating you or not.
You need to let it go OR why are you bringing this up?
Again, this can often just be a response from a concerned friend. It may however be a demonstration of the person’s power over you, calling into play your need to question yourself. Again, if you feel resolute about your course of action, there is no reason to second-guess your course of action. Trust your instincts. If you feel you’re being manipulated, it’s a good idea to get away from that person entirely. Or perhaps question their motives. Why on Earth would they say something like that to you? If they really have your best interests at heart, that will be revealed. If not, that will be, too. Usually with a lot of backpedaling and smooth talking.
You’re the problem here, not me.
Anyone incapable of admitting their own responsibility, especially in a situation where they are clearly somewhat culpable, is being manipulative and using gaslighting tactics to try to scare or push you otherwise into confessing responsiblity which isn’t yours to take. It always takes two to tango.
I never said/did that. You’re imagining things.
This one is the crux of the gaslighting manipulation tactic, because it is an outright lie. They absolutely said or did that, and you are not imagining things. Their resolution that you are absolutely wrong, especially if you know you are absolutely right, is gaslighting at its purest and most simple. They will tell you anything to confuse you or raise your ire, because it destabilizes you. Don’t allow this to happen. Stay firm in what you know to be true. When they realize they can’t manipulate you, hopefully they will slink off and out of your life.
It’s just a joke.
Here’s the thing about jokes: they’re funny. If you can’t find the humor in it, there’s no joke. It’s not funny, and that person is trying to destabilize you. Again, be strong!! If it’s not funny, it’s not a joke!
You’re crazy OR you need help.
Insinuating -or, just stating outright- that a person’s mental health status is possibly dysfunctional is NOT something brought up casually in a conversation or argument. If someone is stating this to you truthfully, they are probably doing it in a very calm and gentle way, trying to get you to get help. If they are throwing it at you as an insult, they are gaslighting you. Very simple.
You’re insecure and jealous.
Accusing a person of being insecure and jealous usually reveals more about the accuser than the person being accused. Generally speaking, if you’re making such accusations it’s because you are actually the insecure or jealous one, not the person who you’re saying is insecure or jealous. You have absolute permission to walk away from their insecure, jealous, malignant narcissist nutball anytime you’d like.
Watch your words and be careful how you use them. Language is an amazing invention, but it can bring pain and fear as easily as it can joy and love. Try to keep on the positive end of those experiences less than the negative one. You’ll be happier and so will your friends and loved ones.