Smoke and Mirrors: How Gaslighting Works to Erode the Victim’s Reality and Sense of Self

To summarize: why does gaslighting work? There are more than a few reasons:Gaslighting exploits any existing self-doubt about one’s capabilities as well as any past traumas that may cause the victim to feel too “damaged” to see reality clearly.Gaslighting exhausts a victim’s internal resources so they are unable to self-validate and eventually give into a sense of learned helplessness.Gaslighting depletes individuals of a stable sense of self-worth and certainty about how they interpret the world.Gaslighting manufactures insecurities and fears that never existed, causing the victim to focus on his/her perceived flaws rather than the abuser’s transgressions.Gaslighting causes the survivor to investigate whether he or she has done something wrong, instead of looking at the perpetrator’s behavior as the cause of concern.Gaslighting sets up survivors to fail no matter what they do; abusers will demonstrate disapproval regardless of how hard the survivor tries to please the abuser. Whether victims stay silent and compliant or aggressive and assertive, they will be punished. By moving the goalposts, the perpetrator is able to shift their expectations and their claims at the drop of a hat.Gaslighting diverts from, denies, rationalizes and minimizes horrific acts of psychological and physical violence.Gaslighting creates a dangerous form of retaliation for victims speaking out, because each time they do, they are met with a psychological or even physical assault that causes them to feel increasingly diminished.Survivors often take on the responsibility for reducing the cognitive dissonance that arises when what they know to be true is threatened by gaslighting of an abuser. They do so by essentially “gaslighting” themselves into believing in what their manipulators are telling them, rather than trusting their own inner voice. They may even socially withdraw and become overly defensive about protecting the gaslighter due to their need for validation from the relationship. The gaslighter “trains” and conditions them into seeking their approval, and they fear losing that approval because it symbolizes the loss of the relationship itself.Mar NewhallSmoke and Mirrors: How Gaslighting Works to Erode the Victim’s Reality and Sense of SelfWhile the definition of gaslighting may appear clear-cut, the reality of how it is used in abusive relationships is complex and multifaceted. There are many ways in which malignant narcissists gaslight their victims, and when done chronically, gaslighting becomes an effective tool to manage down the victim’s expectations for decency, honesty and transparency over time.After all, if someone cannot trust their own perceptions, it becomes that much easier to hand over the reins to the person who is shaping their reality in the first place. It becomes that much more difficult to confront the gaslighter without the fear of being shamed and silenced. Here are some ways in which gaslighting can show up in toxic relationships:1. Denial and dismissal.Perhaps the most popular form of gaslighting occurs in the art of the blatant denial. A cheating wife refuses to admit that she had an affair, even when concrete evidence (such as explicit photos) surface. A malignant parent denies ever abusing their children despite the fact that they still have the scars (whether emotional or physical) and memories to prove it.A predator with a history of committing sexual assault simply says it did not happen, despite many victims coming forward. By dismissing the evidence and holding steadfast to the “alternative facts,” the abuser is able to instill a sense of doubt – however tiny – and by planting that seed, they create a burgeoning ambivalence in their victims, law enforcement, society as a whole – that perhaps it really didn’t happen, or at least, it didn’t happen in the way the victim reported it did.Much like reasonable doubt can sway a jury, continually denying a victim’s experiences can lead the victim to search for evidence that confirms the abuser’s reality rather than their own. At most, it provides a counternarrative to the truth that enablers of the abuser can hold onto, and at worst, it creates so much distortion that the abuser is rarely held accountable for his or her actions.Unfortunately, this form of gaslighting also preys on a sense of hope just as it does uncertainty. Victims may have their own reasons for believing in the abuser, but they are also trauma bonded to their perpetrators through the intense experiences of abuse in an effort to survive. As a result, victims of a trauma bond often protect their abusers and work even harder to depict their relationship as a happy, stable one.As trauma and add

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