• Knowing something is terribly wrong, but can’t figure out what:
The goal of gaslighting is to control and influence the reality of the gaslighter. It only works when the victim is unaware of what is really happening. The more the victim doubts their own reality or competence, the more dependent they become of the abuser. It is a vicious circle of events that is totally confusing to the victim, and that is exactly what the gaslighter wants.
• Trouble making simple decisions:
To be caught in the narcissistic web of deception and illusion is the equivalent to being a fly trapped in the spider’s web. When entering the web, does the victim know that it is about to be bound up and eaten alive any more than the fly? The answer is “no”. However, the narcissistic web is akin to the disintegration of the self; the victim, under the threat of continual danger, forms a psychic bond with the abuser in order to avoid fragmentation of the self. In forming that bond they are compelled to organize themselves around their idealized abuser’s desires, and surrender their authentic potential: Having to ask permission to do anything, not being aloud to have their own opinion, never allowed to win the argument, constantly being chastised and humiliated, compromising their own thoughts, values, needs, and belief. Understandably, caught in this web they lose all autonomy, even their ability to make decisions for their own self.
• You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, and more relaxed:
In order to survive, the victim enters into what is termed the “the narcissists dance”. This is an unconscious defense mechanism which helps to keep the victim safe, but in so doing they almost lose themselves by placating, complying, and appeasing. This becomes part of their way of being, a great “pleaser” with everybody. Unless this unconscious dance is exposed in therapy, and the victim educated about narcissistic behavior, they are actually left vulnerable to becoming Narcissistic Supply yet again. The reason is that they are conditioned (like Pavlov’s dogs) in a way that makes them a target for other hungry narcissists, who are always on the hunt for new supply, and are quick to spot those primed already.
• You feel hopeless and joyless:
What had once seemed like heaven has now turned into a hell. There is no peace or joy in this place, just fear and suppression. Life loses all hope, as if the light has been turned off. All that remains is the deep black cloud of depression. And the victim is forced to live in a state of acquiescence in order to survive. Their perceptions of reality are continually undermined by the gaslighting sham, so they end up losing confidence in their intuition, memory, or reasoning powers. They are spun lies, lies that tell them that they are over-sensitive, imagining, unreasonable, irrational, over-reacting, and that they have no right to be upset. Hearing this time and time again, their reality is turned inside out, and they begin to believe that this may all be true.
The narcissist’s form of psychological abuse has managed to instill in their victim an extreme sense of anxiety and confusion to the point where they no longer trust their own memory, perception or judgment. In this state they are truly a hostage. However, many manage to get the courage to break free, but this is usually after several painful attempts. But when they do finally escape, in time they may find their way to your therapy room. Your job is to not just do the recovery work with them, but also to educate them about the traits and effects of narcissistic abuse. That way you give them back their reality and power, and they will be in a position to be able to recognize the narcissist at work, and be equip to guard themselves against further re-victimization. Don’t underestimate the power of recovery of these people; the fact that they have survived such extreme abuse is testament to their strength and determination. I never fail to be amazed at the resilience of the human spirit.