1. Reliving: (Flashbacks, intrusive imagery, nightmares, anxiety etc)
2. Avoidance: (Avoiding people, places or thoughts, emotional numbing, lack of interest, hopelessness etc).
3. Arousal: (Difficulty concentrating, irritability, outbursts of anger, insomnia, hyper-vigilance etc).
In my work with Narcissistic Victim Syndrome I have noticed that the victims were brought to the place of annihilation and death on many levels of the self while experiencing gaslighting behaviour in their narcissistic relationships. When we take on the journey of recovery together, I take care and time to educate the individual as to what was happening to them as their story unfolds. I am always meet with an array of responses, from shock, disbelief, profound sadness, guilt, shame, anger, fear, reflection, loneliness and an array of physical symptoms (panic attacks, flashbacks, anxious negative thoughts, fatigue, eating disorders, dissociation, abreaction etc.), but they also express relief at finally knowing what had been going on in the relationship, and the amount of “losses” they were dealing with. I think many of the stages are very similar to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross stages of grief, which are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. But still, I find that the individual holds the key to even more strategies for guarding the various levels of defense that I have mentioned here. I am always amazed at how surprisingly resilient these victims are. All our strategies for surviving are incredibly intelligent, and together (the client and I) welcome each and every one as a teacher for our learning and understanding. When this happens, it allows for all the fragmented parts of the soul to return home where they become like special guests at a glorious Banquet, one unifying whole sitting at the Table of Recovery. When a therapist experiences this work they will truly appreciate and understand the deep suffering these victims have gone through daily. The fact that these clients have survived the torturous effects of the disorganized narcissistic personality disorder is in itself a miracle, and a testament to the human spirit.
Robin Stern names some of the warning signs of the effects of Gaslighting, I am merely expanding on some of these below:
What are the warning signs of Gaslighting?
Because a victim has had their confidence eroded by the constant gaslighting, they live in fear of doing the wrong thing, and making their situation even more dangerous for themselves. They invariably find themselves asking “what if”, and always trying to second guess themselves. This often effects how they problem-solve, and make decisions in their life.
• Asking “Am I too sensitive?”:
Projection and blame are the hallmarks of gaslighting, and the victim become hyper-sensitive to the constant humiliation of their abuser. They hear countless times that they are “too sensitive”, that they soon begin to believe the lies. As a result they look for approval before doing anything, fearful that they will make more mistakes that will end in more humiliation. This form of gaslighting makes the victim doubt everything about themselves, so they constantly ask, “Am I being too sensitive”.
Living with the narcissistic Dr. Jekyll and Mr/s Hyde, the victim finds themselves always apologizing for “never doing things right”, they even apologize for their very existence; it is a way of avoiding more conflict with their aggressor. Apology is not just something the victim does to be polite; it is a powerful strategy for staying safe while in the war zone, and a means to disarm the anger of the gaslighter. Most importantly, the power of apology is that it can take the shame off the narcissist and redirect it towards the victim, therefore avoiding some of the narcissists rage.