By: Gina Valencia
This is the fourth post in a series on narcissism, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), and narcissistic abuse and recovery. Each month we take a deep dive look at these topics, and attempt to decipher the actions and impact of narcissistic abuse.
As implied, devaluation in a narcissistic relationship is when the narcissistic partner no longer sees value in their victim. To the narcissist, the victim is insignificant, worthless, meaningless, as he has detracted whatever he needed from the victim and no longer has use for them. The purpose of the devaluation phase, as described in part 1, is for the narcissist to 'remedy’ the way he was devalued as a child by doing the same to the victim, to feel in control of the situation now, since he couldn’t be as a child.
The narcissist uses several tactics during the devaluation phase including gaslighting, triangulation, and smear campaigns. In this post we will focus on gaslighting.
The term is taken from a 1930’s psychological thriller play titled Angel Street, which ‘is a dark tale of a marriage based on deceit and trickery, and a husband committed to driving his wife insane in order to steal from her.’ The word gaslighting has become synonymous with a form of mental and emotional manipulation and abuse. It's effects leads a victim questioning their own sanity.
While the term has been tossed around in reference to narcissistic abuse, intentional gaslighting is usually associated with a psychopathic individual; someone who knows they are intentionally misleading a person, knows the difference between what is real and what is fantasy, and is ‘premeditated and aware of their actions in order to manipulate a victim’s behavior to obtain the outcome they seek,’ per Narcissistic Personality Disorder expert Professor Sam Vaknin.
This is exactly the type of gas lighting in which the character in the play engages.
Vaknin, however, has a different name for a narcissist who gaslights a victim: Narcissistic Confabulation, which in psychology ‘is a type of memory error in which gaps in a person’s memory are unconsciously filled with fabricated, misinterpreted, or distorted information,’ according to verywellmind.com. In other words, the narcissist that gaslights his victim sincerely believes his own fantasy and uses the victim as a form of ‘reality-testing.’ He is convinced of his own delusion; isn’t intentionally trying to lie but is so assured of what he has made-up in his mind, that he is simply trying to convert his victim to believe it too. His gaslighting is done ‘reflexively, automatically, instinctively.’ A narcissist who is 100% convinced of his own fantasy will become ‘vehement and defensive when challenged.’ This, according to Vaknin, is due to the narcissist’s disassociation with self. Remember, he is not an autonomous adult with firm beliefs and self-awareness, hence his quick attachment with his victim. He ‘invents narratives to make sense of his disjointed broken existence,’ as Vaknin explains. And in his desperate attempt to make his victim believe these stories, the narcissist ramps up the gaslighting by denying or doubting the victim’s feelings and thoughts, beginning to cause the victim to question themself, slowly eroding their belief in reality.
2 Types of Gaslighting
Vaknin further explains the two types of Gaslighting: verbal and behavioral/signaling.
Verbal gaslighting is when the narcissist uses words to make their victim feel wrong, unintelligent, inadequate, or insane, leading the victim to experience anxiety, depression, isolation, even suicidal thoughts, per the site verywellmind.com.
Yet if confronted, a narcissist will deny (“I never said that.”), misdirect the conversation (“You’re probably thinking about a different conversation you had with so-and-so. Why would you trust them anyway?”) or minimize the victim’s feelings (“You’re not really feeling that. You’re just tired and need rest.”), --- anything to undermine a victim and confuse them further. This makes the victim feel crazy—a tactic known as ‘crazy-making conversation.’
Behavioral/signaling gaslighting is when the narcissist behaves in a way that confuses the victim. To the victim, it seems as if her prince charming went from “true love forever” to “you are not worth my time” without understanding how that occurred.
The narcissist had always been the latter; the mask has just been removed. A narcissist will ‘love’ the victim if they are getting what they want from them. The relationship is transactional; the victim is ‘supplying’ the narcissist with what they want and need (narcissistic supply) until: ‘Oh! You did what?? Well, then I don’t care about you anymore.’
There is little chance of ‘winning’ an argument with a narcissist. He will always deny or misdirect a victim’s apprehensions, including belittling and flippantly dismissing their concerns. The only thing a victim can do when they recognize they are being gaslit is to disengage, leave the relationship, and seek advice from a professional. But before a victim can summon the courage to leave, she will be further entangled in the narcissist’s web and experience triangulation and smear campaigns, which will be discussed in the next post.