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4 Levels of Gaslighting: From Unconscious to Malicious

levels of gaslighting

When someone says they are confused and makes no effort to dive into why they’re confused, they continually put the onus on you to explain. It not only becomes tedious, but it also has you question what you’re saying. I began to wonder, Why am I not getting through? How is it he’s not understanding these the ideas I’m explaining?

Then, it hit me: he actually didn’t want to understand but likely didn’t know that. Someone who truly wants to understand makes efforts in that direction.

Co-existing in Parallel Universes

Along with ignoring my words, my colleague addressed issues he claimed I had raised. It’s as though I had mentioned ice cream, and his response was, Well, when you talked about cheesecake . . . As you can imagine, this was incredibly baffling.

What was he addressing? Who was he addressing? Was he addressing me? If he had added in words like, “This raised a different issue for me, X,” then I would have understood. Instead, he would say things like, “Your point about X . . . “ But when I referred back to my messages to see if I had discussed X, it hadn’t been raised.

I began to wonder if we were existing in strange and parallel universes with alternate forms of ourselves. I truly believe, however, that he thought I had raised those points, which was all the more baffling.

“The most potent form of Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome entrapment comes from a sustained brainwashing and/or gaslighting campaign perpetrated by the pathological narcissist against the fragile and vulnerable codependent victim.” – Ross Rosenberg

Read: The Effects of Gaslighting in Narcissistic Victim Syndrome

Level 2. An Awareness That Something Is Off

In this case, I believe the gaslighter senses something isn’t working but still isn’t aware of the impact on the gaslightee. Likely, the gaslighter has had previous experiences similar to this one, has come to feel an uneasiness around the interaction but still firmly trudges on ahead. Why would you change an approach if you think you’re right to engage as you have been doing and still don’t fully understand why people aren’t interested in engaging?

Here is what it can look like:

The Flood of Words

I would send a short message to my colleague only to receive a deluge in response. One sentence would receive a multi-paragraph response. It was overwhelming and had the effect of totally wiping out anything I had said. I understand some people are verbose while others are more succinct. I’m married to a man who is verbose, so I’m well-versed in such a flood of words.

At the same time, I would continually wonder, Where did this come from? What was I asking? I wasn’t asking that, and so on. I felt my reality quivering. How did what I wrote necessitate a response that not only didn’t acknowledge my words but also included a conversation I had never started AND was massively overwhelming in quantity?

Furthermore, the flood of words did not seem to be my colleague’s attempt to understand me or have an interchange. Instead, he created a wall of explanation from his own point of view, an endless tide of justification to push back and obliterate what he likely perceived as a challenge.

Level 3. Intentional —More Aware Of An Impact—But No Intent To Seriously Harm

This is a person who has more awareness than gaslighters #1 and #2. They know what they are doing is harmful, but they would never describe themselves as gaslighting. That’s for truly malevolent individuals. They’re not trying to hurt someone or drive them crazy, but they are into power struggles and “winning.”

Here’s what it looks like:


Refusing to answer what’s been said. In fact, my colleague not only did that, he simply acted as though what I had said never existed. Messages would be exchanged, and I was left wondering if he had actually read my words. Had my message gone through? I was certain it had. Why was he so oblivious to what I had said? How come every word made little to no impact? My words disappeared into the ether, never to be acknowledged again.

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