…not to heal them, but to keep them lame and feed off the rich stew of their fear or dysfunction.
Recognising the tactics of a Gaslighter intellectually is one thing; but, as a regular reader commented so wisely yesterday, escaping them is not the same thing – nor, I would add from my own experience, is it a given.
I will explain why this is. Very often those of us who have been winged by the metaphorical duckshooters, and gathered in their often opulent and charismatic surface-charm bags, sense an unease, a feeling that something is not quite right, fairly soon – but the whole palette of the Gaslighter’s painting is mixed to project everything dark and forbidding onto our canvas, and everything of beauty and worth onto theirs. A major part of their strategy lies in convincing us that our forebodings are evidence of mental illness or an overly dramatic nature.
But the other nasty part of it all is this: Gaslighters are, in their way, highly attuned to us. They will have picked up every point of our lameness (the reason they bagged us in the first place) almost immediately – and will actively encourage it not just to remain, but to get worse. Adepts at planting the seeds of fear, they are also sufficiently clever to make sure they sprinkle their hints and dark omens gradually, so that we barely notice, and yet the net effect is crippling in the extreme.
Now, my next bit could prove controversial because there is much debate about what constitutes a normal response, and the whole field of human behaviour has wide parameters. However, I am suggesting that there are ways of recognising the world of the Gaslighter – because, ultimately, these people have little or nor genuine creativity and their behavioural traits tend to be rote-learned and conform to a definite pattern.
I am going to give a few tips concerning things I have noticed.
1)An abnormal response both to your triumphs and your tragedies. Allow me to explain further: The Gaslighter sees all relationship as fundamentally competitive. He or she is competing for the energy, the essence, the feel-good factor, the attention, and any of the victim’s positive traits he/she can filch. Thus, although such people can be – and often are – very good-looking, apparently caring and full of positive human characteristics on the surface, the extremes in the victim’s life will often engender a weird reaction: Jealous of any success (because it potentially heals your wings and allows you to fly free), they can be grudging in their praise, or significantly fail to acknowledge you at all, perhaps with a later rider that, in their view, you are not actually deserving of your prize because you are mediocre at best.
But it is when you ask for help that the want of empathy becomes abundantly clear – although they will often try and blame you for asking in the first place! You will often find yourself facing trauma by yourself because the Gaslighter has other, more important things to do, does not agree with the seriousness of your claim (to Gaslighters, everything you say or do is little more than an unproven claim!) or is paying you back for a perceived lack of support when he/she had a problem back in 1066!
Telling Gaslighters things in confidence is another huge clue. They will trivialise it if they possibly can, or suggest that you are lying, exaggerating or insufficiently wise/experienced/enlightened to recognise the truth (which of course they have reached virtual Guru status in).
2)Constant undermining and dismissive comments. Remember, for these people, relationships are not about intimacy or shared anything; they are about winning, coming out on top, being the best – and making sure you continue to be a lame duck/scaredy cat. My advice to anyone not sure would be to look back at the pattern of comments and responses. If there is a regular input of one-upman-ship, of put-downs both subtle and overt, of hogging the conversation whenever anything you say might, in their eyes, put you ahead of the game – you may well have been caught in the Gaslighter’s net.
3)Deliberately making your lameness worse. This, to me, is the nastiest part of the whole sick charade. The competitiveness you could put down to insecurity – and many people respond awkwardly to others’ significant life events because they are socially clumsy or shy or find it difficult to say the right thing. But feeding another’s weak and vulnerable points is, to my eyes, borderline evil. It is all about control – of you. It is all about their need to suck your energy, to make you into the dark side of themselves they do not wish to face. It is all about keeping you in their thrall. If you have health-related anxiety, for example, you will find, gradually, that it gets worse and that little, apparently caring, suggestions and hints are a major contributor. It might be something as simple as, ‘Don’t lock the bathroom door: What if you have a stroke or a heart attack in there?’ But the clue often lies in the fact that the fear is not one YOU ever felt before this apparently chance comment. In other words, the Gaslighter is passing his/her own terrors on to you.
4)Grudge-bearing and punitive behaviour. Most Gaslighters I have come across have an almost unlimited ability to hold a grudge – and one pointer towards them is to listen to any conversation in which they discuss wrongs done to them, often years, if not decades, ago. You are likely to hear such things as, ‘I’ll never forgive him…’ or, ‘I don’t intend to speak to her again – ever!’ or, with ghastly pride, ‘I haven’t talked to them since 2004…’ They often punish with silence, and actively enjoy holding anything they have learned – and you don’t, as yet, know – close to their chests as a lovely little secret which gives them power over you. Often, they will only start talking to you again if they think you deserve it, have atoned sufficiently – and such statements as, ‘Oh, yes, I knew that all along – just didn’t think it my place to tell you!’ are common, and cruel.
These people have no genuine capacity for pleasure when it comes to your happiness or empathy when you are going through life’s vicissitudes. Their sympathy tends to be over-blown, gushing, somewhat sickly – almost as if it is more important for them to be seen as loving, amazing friends than that they actually engage with your vulnerability. And any praise inevitably comes back to them very speedily. Thus, if you pass an exam with an A, after a token congratulation they will tell you, at great length, about their slew of A*s and A’levels taken two years early!
They will always have done it before, better. They will always have signed up to the only religion/spiritual movement which actually works. They will always claim that they used to be like you, but, thanks to their incredible Guru/hard work/capacity for instant enlightenment, they are now well on the path to Nirvana – whereas you, poor sap, remain as lame and unable to take flight as ever!
And they will ALWAYS, with their slighting comments and deliberate fear tactics, ensure that your foot/wing remains nailed to the floor of fear.
Whether they be your partner, a parent, a sibling, a friend or a co-worker/boss, these people are psychic drains and thoroughly bad news!