NPD and Gaslighting- My Mother and Some World Leaders have a lot in Common
One of those contemporary relationship issues that will never go away until it is dealt with and recognised fully, personal and international stages included.
NPD, narcissism is self love gone very wrong. It is a complex condition based on the experience of early abuse to themselves more often than not. They are also abusive and toxic to all who come into their range. If you are the child of an NPD parent it is particularly difficult since this is your whole world and your physical survival depends on it. But your emotional development will pay the costs.
Psychology Today magazine defines gaslighting as
‘A tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality.’
They do this in a number of ways and it’s uncannily effective until you can see through it.
It is a ‘power/ dominance grabbing’ based tactic, commonly used by abusers, and others who want positions of dominant power and control to bolster up their own fragile and damaged ego’s i.e. world leaders, esp. dictators, and cult leaders. They are all narcissists. Parents are in positions of enormous power too, when they abuse it.
NPD/gas-lighting behaviours usually start after a stage of being the most wonderful person in the world to their target audience, called the love bombing stage, where you are the ‘only one for them’, ‘you are the most amazing person’, ‘only you can make them happy’, ‘they will do anything and everything for you’ etc. This is very slowly taken away though, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed. They are made to think that they deserve it or it is for their own good, after all you did tell them how amazing they are and how you would make them happy. I was born as the child that would make mother feel happy and loved, so to begin with I was also loved, until that changed when I was three.
The term gaslighting comes from the film Gaslight (1944), where a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind. In politics many leaders are also gaslighters — all dictators who promise the world and fail to deliver but instead gradually take away all individual freedoms so they control their world instead. This is exactly what happened with Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, and all other despotic world leaders in history and it is happening in current world politics all over the planet. We have that exact potential looming at us in Britain in the elections of a new leader of the conservative party, and thus prime minister.
Gas-lighters do the following
- They tell blatant lies. My mother was superb at telling lies about anything that suited her agenda, utterly convincing to those who did not know her or the full details.
Lies are part of their power games. Look at both Trump and Johnson. They are both outright liars. We all know this and now we cannot tell the difference between a truth and a lie from them, but they are in positions of power and those around them will point out the truths to divert your attention away from the lies — to dismiss them as ‘not important’ and ‘little errors of judgment’.
ACTUALLY THEY ARE HUGE WARNING SIGNS WHICH WE IGNORE AT OUR OWN PERIL.
That the individual shows no remorse for their lies and allows others to cover them up is the crucial clue.
THEY CANNOT BE TRUSTED OVER ANYTHING
This is the case in smaller relationships too — the parent or partner is setting up a precedent. Once they tell you a huge lie, you’re never going to be confident that anything they say is true. This keeps you unbalanced and tentative, especially about challenging them. They may not be lying this time after all, then you really are in the wrong. Keeping you uncertain and on the back foot is their sole aim, while they plough on with their dominance plans
2. They deny they ever said/ did something, even though you have proof.
My mother was a genius at this, and she had a particular voice for it too, a sort of shocked soft voice. ‘ I would never do a thing like that.’ Mortified. We all knew she did it and we all knew it was a lie but you just couldn’t get past it. The trouble is as a child you are powerless to do anything — not even walk away. It makes you feel insane too that everyone else seems to accept her words as true. The more they do this, the more you really start to feel confused and question your own reality. In politics they do this with a bluff or a denial which is then dropped. The trouble is, there is sometimes almost a rationale behind their words but it is still wrong, still a lie, and you know it but you can’t pin it down
3. They target their ammunition against you more accurately than you ever expect.
They seem to have supernatural powers of detection and insight as they uncover your vulnerabilities, and then utterly and ruthlessly use them against you. My mother did this with my appearance to me, taking my body apart feature by feature, but also my love of books, gardening, tree climbing and making jokes. All gifts were made to feel like burdens or responsibilities so I could never enjoy them. All relationships I had were par for the course, including my own sons, though they saw through her totally too. She disliked my beloved second husband because he spoke up for me and challenged her. So those may be one of the first things they attack. She told me I was not a fit mother and should not have had those children. A gas-lighter will tell you’d be a worthy person if only you didn’t have a long list of negative traits.
Mother attacked the foundation of my being daily. Politicians will do this too, politically ignoring you as if you are worthless, just dirt, if you do not meet their criteria of supporters and acolytes.
4. They exhaust you repeatedly over time.
Gas-lighting is a progressive tactic and it builds over time to make you feel that either you or those people over there are responsible for all the problems in the set up — relationship or country. It is always you — or them over there politically. There is always someone else to blame, plus the constant shocks of how they treat you and the swings from being wonderful to horrendous. This is one of the insidious things about gas-lighting — it is done gradually, over time. Each time it seems as if you might be mistaken — so you stop noticing and then it just gets worse. My mothers onslaughts sucked me dry and left me utterly confused from about 3 yrs old onwards, living in a constant nightmare of uncertainty and untruths, with her explosions every so often and never about anything consistent so we could monitor our own behaviour as children. Politicians do this by hitting us with so many outrageous things we just turn our back to them and let them get on with it while we get on with our own lives. Trouble is they have power over our lives and can make a lot of people very miserable, or even dead. They never have any remorse for what they do to others though. Others are just ‘feed for their fragile ego’.
5. What they say is never what they do.
This is another form of lying of course but what they say they will or will not do is just not reliable. Politicians are most obvious with this one too. When dealing with a person or political body that gaslights, look at what they are doing rather than what they are saying. What they are saying means nothing; it is just talk. What they are doing is the issue.
6. Every so often they throw in some compliments or praise to confuse you, or appear to do something very benevolent.
They will give praise but it is always back handed. For instance Mother used to praise me over something and then claim it was her influence or her genes and never Dad’s- his were all my bad genes. She could never give me credit for anything just for myself though. And then I was ungrateful for not acknowledging her praise or her valiant contribution to my life. But when this person is cutting you down, telling you that you don’t have value, is now praising you for something you did, it creates a sense of distrust, rightly so. Do not trust the narcissist. You may be tempted to be compassionate and think, “Well maybe they aren’t so bad.” Yes, they are. This is a calculated attempt to keep you off-kilter — and again, to question your reality. Also look at what you were praised for; it is probably something that served the gas-lighter, as in my mother’s case when she would use it to ‘big herself’ up. However this is also a sign of their vulnerability and immensely low self esteem, when it appears the other way around. If we want to, we can at this point feel some compassion for them but not allow them any leeway into our lives and certainly not any leeway into positions of power where they can inflict hurt onto vast numbers of people while seeking praise for it. Think of Hitler, and now Trump. He receives praise from the fossil fuel lobby but inflicts untold suffering on millions of others without a thought to their needs or the future. It is all about feeding that craving for praise in the immediate. And Boris Johnson who looks today as if he will be the next prime minister of the UK. Slightly unkempt, lovable, supposedly extremely bright Boris who is really only a shrewd narcissist whose intelligence is all aimed at getting one over and not caring who he insults along the way with his complete ignorance, but hey he is a lovable buffoon! No he really is not. That is his camouflage, his modus operandi. Don’t fall for it!
7. Creating endless confusion and doubt.
Creating confusion and doubt in people’s mind’s playing smoke and mirrors with the truth, undermines our sense of stability. Gas-lighters know that people, especially children, need to have a sense of stability and normalcy upon which to base their own functional behaviour. My mother seemed hellbent on disrupting our family constantly and make us / me constantly question everything. And then she complained that I asked too many questions and wanted clarification on everything. Our natural human tendency is to look to the person in charge for evidence that will help you feel more stable — and if that happens to be the gas-lighter, you do not stand a chance.
8. It is always you, never them.
It was an amazing thing when I suddenly realised that everything my mother had told me about myself was actually true of her and she knew it but couldn’t bear it, so blamed it all on me. Her words ‘ if it wasn’t for you the family would be happy’ was actually about her. When she had an affair it was my dad’s fault. When she became a raging monster who terrified her own children it was our fault because we did not love her enough. It was never her fault!
When have you heard these narcissistic leaders of ours actually genuinely apologise. They don’t, even if they use the words ‘sorry’ you can see they are defensively joking and laughing about it, brushing it off as nothing to do with them really, just a ritual they must do for public demand.
When it is always ‘not their fault’, when this is done so often, you start trying to defend yourself, and are distracted from the gas-lighter’s own behavior. I spent years trying to show my mother she might be wrong about me but when I realised that it was all about her I stopped and just felt deep compassion for her instead. She had given me all her darkness and terror to live with to alleviate her own suffering, without any remorse, but I had been able to escape it and she never did. I feel such sadness for her trapped condition of NPD with psychopathic tendencies, BUT this does not make anything she did or anything these NPD leaders do in any way acceptable or justifiable. I fell for NPD and so many people across these countries are being similarly fooled, and it is a very dangerous thing indeed. We must collectively understand the power of NS and the influences of gas-lighting. Then we can end its reign.
9. They build up other people against you.
My mother managed to play the ‘hard done by mother with this thankless child’ so well that most of the family also saw me in that light. Thus I am estranged from them all. Gas-lighters are masters of manipulation. They will play the victim card, victim of other peoples unreasonable expectations or behaviour, but never take responsibility, and they will find people who will buy into that, people who like to see themselves as rescuers, and convince them you are no good. My mother took my adored father, my much loved aunts and grandmother and then my siblings from me in this way. My struggles with mental illness as a result of her cruelty just gave evidence to her position. Thus my childhood despair and depression was actually my sullenness and moodiness and lack of appreciation of anything I had in life etc. When I made choices in my life that deviated away from her own needs and expectations, she would verbally line up all the family members, who all supposedly said these unkind things about me to her, and use them all to further debase me.
She, and every other gas-lighter is constantly lying. When the gas-lighter uses this tactic it makes you feel isolated and desolate. I was lucky, I had some force impelling me on in my life to take the path I chose which eventually led to my freedom from her and the family paradigm of me, but if it is a national leader there is little chance of escape. When you don’t know who to trust or turn to, that leads you right back to them to solve the problem they have created. But they wont, they just want to isolate you and have more power over you. It might not be you they are attacking right now but it will be when they run out of ‘others’.
10. A gas-lighter will use your uncertainty as evidence of your own mental instability.
Dismissing your doubts about someone, about them, and insisting that you don’t know what you are talking about, is an effective game for undermining you. By challenging your own sanity, they divert attention away from their own insanity and inherent instability, so that when you blow the whistle on them they will use that to point out it is all your imagination, nothing to see here folks.
11. They tell you everyone else is a liar.
By telling you that everyone else is a liar, it again makes you question your reality. Think of the ‘fake news’ issues. We don’t know who to believe — except we do, but many are left confused by this. Trump creates more ‘fake news’ than anyone but claims it is all fake if it against him. He truly believes this because in his deranged NPD mind he is the most intelligent man on the planet. It takes huge audacity to do this but they have it in bucket loads, because they know it is so incredible that it is almost credible. And that is their game, their manipulation technique. Just possibly it is true! But we are being fooled by the emporer’s new clothes, we really are!
The more we are all aware of these techniques, the faster you can identify them and avoid falling into the NPD gas-lighter’s traps. People with NPD cannot take responsibility. Common ones include — ‘why can’t you forget the past’ or ‘that was yesterday, this is a new day’ Sometimes they say ‘ it is all in your imagination that’s not how I remember it’. My own mother’s favourite was ‘I wouldn’t do / say something like that’.
They use whatever set of words suit them at any point so that they are never in the wrong.
My mother used this ‘letting the past go’ on me too sometimes, in fact the whole family did. It is a collective way of avoiding responsibility for everyone when one person in a family is the designated problem.
I did and do let the past go and then it got repeated, over and over again, so with her I learned not to trust her ever. For me the past is over almost immediately unless it needs to be resolved and healed. That was the part they did not want to deal with, and thus it is for anyone with NPD. This is why they use gas-lighting, to avoid real healing and resolution.
Once when she was hurling abuse at me about my appearance — one of her favourite diatribes — I stood there and waited until she’d run out of unkind things to say about my physical fixtures i.e. things I cannot change and thus remain objects for insult. When she had finished I simply said that it was a good thing her opinion about my appearance no longer mattered- she was entitled to it of course but that was more about her than me. Her realisation of loss of power showed in her face as horror. I did walk away in the end completely, though it never left me, that deep desire to connect with my own mother. I think at one time when I was very small she was as good to me as someone with NPD can be to anyone.
So find a similar set of words and work on not taking anything your gas-lighter says to be for real. Educate yourself about NPD and gas-lighting and learn to armour through education what to take seriously or not — recognise they are damaged and self-harming as much as harming you. The bad acts don’t disappear of course — not for them either. Near her end my mother went quiet once and said she was afraid of dying because she had done so many terrible things in her life, but when I tried to draw her out on it she immediately closed it down again. But she knew and it haunted her until her last breath. I have great compassion for my mother - for her losses in life, for her suffering — but once I learned how to not take her stuff on board it was a revelation how powerless she actually was. If this person dismisses the past it is because they cannot bear to remember it themselves. They do know how awful they are — BUT you cannot rescue them from it — only they can and they won’t — they will just gaslight themselves, rewrite their own history, their own experiences, to conceal their own truths, and then pass it onto you.
The past only stops mattering when it is over. Someone with NPD will only keep repeating it, so it is never over for you or for them until you detach from them completely. Until then you cannot and should not drop this past because it is your evidence and the source of your wisdom and insight to escape from or dis-empower the narcissist in your own life.
With these world leaders who demonstrate pure NPD tendencies and gas-lighting techniques, we need to see them for what they are. We need to educate each other in their tactics if we are to be free of them as leaders, in positions of power to destroy us, as they will, without any conscience, and possibly the planet too. This is a dangerous time and the media need to get this understanding out to as many people as are able to listen and spread it far and wide. We all need to watch for all signs of gas-lighting and dis-empower it, call it out for what it is. We cannot ignore it any longer, it does too much harm to far too many people. It has taken a lifetime for me to heal my wounds from my mother’s gas-lighting tendencies and there are many generations who will be damaged by this group of NPD leaders, but we cannot afford to stand back and hope it works out. Education on this matter is the only way forward.
Parts of this piece come from my forthcoming memoir No Visible Scars. Find me on www.sylviaclare.co.uk