Gaslighting: A Slow-Burning Emotional Abuse Tactic

two candles, one litIn my work with people who have survived narcissistic abuse, I find that many have endured a devastating form of emotional abuse called gaslighting.

The film Gaslight (1944), starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, is based on a 1938 play from which the term originates. In the movie, Bergman’s character falls head-over-heels in love with her significant other, played by Boyer, a dapper gentleman with classic signs of narcissism. Boyer’s character rushes Ingrid into marriage after a whirlwind romance, before she has any time to process the speed and savvy with which her suitor has wooed her.

Swiftly, the couple is married and moves into a London brownstone, whereby Boyer slowly inflicts an insidious form of emotional abuse that leads Bergman to question if she has lost her sanity, believing her captor as having omnipotent power.

Boyer literally dims the gaslights in their flat every evening, without Bergman knowing that her partner is playing mind games with her. Boyer slips away to the upstairs attic every night to create a climate of unease and brainwashing. When Bergman questions if Boyer has witnessed the flickering lights, he denies having any knowledge of such incidents, and gradually implies and insinuates that Bergman must be “going crazy” or “seeing things.” With time, Bergman believes she is losing her mind because she depends on Boyer as her window to reality.

The film is an excellent example of how emotional abuse can slowly creep up upon an otherwise healthy, innocent target, only to overwhelm and devour the abused person’s sense of reality, self-confidence, and personal power over time.

Gaslighting in this day and age can exist simply by an abuser denying the confirmation of reality to a target. The abused individual could be a love object, family member, or colleague. Typically, such a lack of validation or confirmation of reality is a slow or insidious process wherein the targeted person gradually comes to doubt his or her sense of what is. Initially, the abused person may question if he or she misunderstood the situation, and often believes that the abuser knows better and has superior comprehension of the circumstances. With time, self-esteem is also stripped of the abused person until he or she realizes he/she has been denied trust and honesty with a loved one.

In my practice, I see many individuals who have endured such abuse either in their families, love, or work relationships. Psychotherapy can be helpful in healing from this form of trauma. Often, healing involves allowing the abused person to narrate his or her story in as much detail as possible, such that the person can in effect master his or her trauma and become empowered to lower the cognitive dissonance that rises oppressively in such an abusive relationship. As mentioned in my prior article on cognitive dissonance, this confusing state of mind occurs when an individual holds two diametrically opposed ideas, and the result is tremendous anxiety, which can include obsessive thoughts, panic attacks, and depression.

Cognitive dissonance can be one of the results of the emotional abuse tactic of gaslighting. Bergman’s character held in her mind that her lover, Boyer, had the best of intentions for Bergman and was protecting her from her own unraveling mind. Doubts slowly crept up in her mind that her lover may have ulterior motives. The horror of fathoming that Boyer’s character could be sociopathic/narcissistic created a suspended state of denial for Bergman, who then further suppressed her own reality of the situation, sinking into utter despair and apparent anxiety and depression.

With the help of a skilled therapist who knows how to support survivors of narcissistic abuse, people can thrive and restore their confidence in themselves. Mastering the trauma by narrating a story helps to synthesize facts, even contradictory and confusing facts/emotions caused by gaslighting and cognitive dissonance. With a compassionate, nonjudging psychotherapist, the abused person then learns or relearns how to trust his or her perception of the abuse history, thereby strengthening the individual to release the trauma and any associated anxiety. Increasing coping skills in moving through anxiety and depression is also essential, in addition to mourning the loss of the abusive relationship.

© Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andrea Schneider, LCSW, Narcissism Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Michelle M

    January 21st, 2015 at 1:01 PM

    Outstanding article, Andrea! You have really hit the nail on the head for how mental health professions can begin to help survivors of this type of abuse slowly regain trust in their own perceptions. In my opinion, this is essential for healing. Thank you for continuing to writte about this utterly destructive, yet poorly understood, form of abuse!

  • peggy o

    May 1st, 2015 at 7:25 AM

    Amen !

  • Sarah

    July 15th, 2017 at 7:15 PM

    I fled my narcissistic spouse one week ago. I am currently in a domestic violence shelter to be away from him and safe. When he was arrested this last Friday for DV the sheriff gave me his money, credit cards and told me to take the truck and leave. If my doctor had not called the sheriff department to have them do a welfare check I’m not certain I would have left. I have been paralyzed by fear for so long I did not know how to function without him. My doctor sent me ate t with his booking picture and I am sure that if could get his hands on me he would kill me. He has the most empty dead eyes I have ever seen on a human being. Not only is he furious at my leaving he is also furious the sheriff gave me evertbing. I am trying to figure out my place in the world now and reclaim the remainder of my life. People see a photo of me from five years ago and can’t believe it is the same person. They are like soul vampires that drain you of everything that ever made you strong and independent. I know this healing process will take a while it took ten years to get this bad andme leave. Where do I go from here? It’s difficult to put one foot in front of the other much less my life.

  • Kn

    March 23rd, 2019 at 9:12 PM

    You can do it! I did it two years ago. He sucked me back in one last time and then I got away for good. He still constantly verbally bashed me on social media but I don’t care. I’m out. When we tried to work it out for the last time he said things to me like “if you stay here and don’t want to be married you are a prostitute but if you leave me you are a sinner and not following what God wants. Of course I didn’t say anything because there is no point in arguing. But leaving him the first time gave me something invaluable, perspective. I walked away thinking does he think I believe this crap or worse does he believe his own crap or even worse did I believe this crap before? Life is way better with out the mind tricks and the spinning of conversations. The conversations that would last for hours and only left me exhausted and confused and usually lifeless and in tears. You get your hope back. You get that little voice that guides you back. They spend all their time stripping us of hope and out inner guidance but it comes back. It came back to me with time and talking and seeing how strong I actually am.

  • Holly

    October 24th, 2018 at 2:53 PM

    I have recently realized that I was a victim of gaslighting. Its very scary. The man was a sex offender and apparently wanted me to do bad things or distort my reality so I wouldn’t believe they were bad. I am currently facing criminal charges because of an incident…and I cannot even remember enough of the last few months of my life to even try to figure this out. My anxiety is awful…I second guess everything…I feel constantly in a fog. I feel like I literally have 2 lives, one trying to heal and remember things…and the one I had with this man . It is a nightmare I’m afraid I will never wake up from. I go to therapy but have currently lost custody of my children…I feel so alone.

  • Marie

    November 13th, 2018 at 7:23 AM

    I am very sorry for this painful experience, Holly !
    I am currently experience the after-gaslight as well.
    Second-guessing my feelings, my experience, in fact my trauma-childhood, my brain is in fog, I am anxious, my body became sick….for me it has been the experience in coaching on spiritual affairs (it should help my trauma).
    It is such a painful state to be: truly like having 2 brains, 2 lives…the one painful (the one betrayed and hurt), the another one healthy, still hanging in the brain.
    It feels like becoming crazy (have two realities….but not becoming confirmed the real one, the one of our experience).
    I can truly hardly imagine now that those who had not been there (those of us gullible, kind, innocent people who just believe certain type people on their stories and interpretations) can know how this feels.

    I have been through different gaslight experience before, but honestly, I never found a help (nor therapist, nor a couch) who would be able to believe me and confirm my reality of being gaslighted.
    I guess the fog of brain means dissociation (one leaves the mind little bit).
    I have always recovered….when I had figured out what was happening and left, but it took time.
    One can wake up !
    Self-compassion helps me.
    I can spot this behavior much faster, but…the deeper parts, the reason why this is happening me, why people who practice covert mind control find me (and slowly deny to confirm my reality and try to completely erase my own experience), I had not been able to find help (as I usually find help by somebody who actually will play the same role), but even though: through information and kindness, one can heal
    and one will become super-wise and have such a strong mind, seeing the reality, feeling my own emotions and experience.
    Don´t let oneself brainwash.

  • Frannie

    January 21st, 2015 at 2:22 PM

    When you have been treated this way it is hard to trust your own feelings again. You feel like you have been betrayed and their is no trust that you can any longer feel for what you think. It does not feel good to always think that you have to second guess yourself, and yet when you have been done in by this kind of treatment it is only natural that this is what you will feel.

  • Janissa

    January 21st, 2015 at 4:10 PM

    It is hard to even see this person clearly once they have done this kind of thing to you. It is easy to imagine that you would constantly question your own actions because you are not sure if you are the one who is insane or if they are

  • Isabelle

    January 22nd, 2015 at 3:39 AM

    I hate it that there are so many of us who get involved with people who are intent on swindling us emotionally, financially, doing anything that they can to take advantage of the fact that someone has fallen in love with them. I don’t understand that kind of nature in someone, why it feels better to you to take advantage of someone rather than just to open your heart up to a meaningful kind of love. I guess that’s just the way that some people are, but man, that seems like a sad existence to me.

  • maru

    January 22nd, 2015 at 9:56 AM

    I have been a victim of gas lighting with an ex and when I went into the 2nd relationship with (what I thought my eyes open) it turns out he was exactly the same as my ex selfish manipulative and abusive (not to me) but I could see a pattern emerging before it got that far and stepped back to look at the situation. When I did that I was told I’ll find somebody else and surely enough within two weeks he had another girlfriend on the scene. It left me questioning everything why was the relationship going at 100mph, why couldn’t he wait when I wasn’t ready to move in…
    my gut told me “I will miss all this” as it knew before that it was not right.

    I trust my intution 100% and with the help of counselling will get my self esteem up there too.

  • Judith s

    May 27th, 2017 at 9:16 AM

    My horrible experience, my ex boyfriend, had bad behavior from the beginning, he was hitting on women in front of me, when I would say something, he would say that I just imagined it. He had a “group” of regular girlfriends. He introduced me to his family, he was a fake, & very emotionally abusive.

  • Harriet F

    January 22nd, 2015 at 10:08 AM

    Does EMDR help survivors of Narcissistic Abuse? I’m struggling to connect my “thinking brain” (head voice) which knows I have been emotionally abused with my “emotional brain” (heart voice) which tries to minimize & excuse the hurt: oh it wasn’t that bad / it was 25 years ago, parenting was different then, actions & words weren’t abuse, “your head has been filled with rubbish by your therapist.”

  • Ima

    January 22nd, 2015 at 10:49 AM

    I am so relieved that i have read this article . My ex involved switching off the gas , making us homeless through stripping me of my self esteem , trust and honesty . He even caused isolation . It has taken a long to get to a point where I’m not feeling like a victim but a survivor .

  • Nick

    January 22nd, 2015 at 12:39 PM

    The husband was played by Charles Boyer. Cotton played the detective on his trail.

  • Andrea Schneider

    January 22nd, 2015 at 8:37 PM

    @Michelle M — thank you for your kind words…@Harriet F — yes, EMDR can help and is recommended for survivors of the complex PTSD involved in narcissistic abuse recovery…Andrea

  • Elisa S.

    October 30th, 2018 at 6:01 PM

    The same when the victim is male? Is he often feminine?

  • Andrea Schneider

    October 31st, 2018 at 7:57 AM

    @Elisa — the survivor or abuser can be male or female…NPD does not discriminate…

  • Cordelia

    January 23rd, 2015 at 10:16 AM

    I have never really understood why someone would need to feel that they have this much emotional control over someone. I don’t excuse physical abuse because that is wrong on all levels… but you can sometimes kind of see where you get so angry with someone that there is this anger inside that could come out physically against another person. But I don’t understand how that anger is then twisted and you then feel like you have to abuse this person emotionally like this. It seems so much sicker and sadistic somehow.

  • Kathy F

    January 23rd, 2015 at 2:39 PM

    Some examples of gas lighting as it occurs in emotionally abusive relationships would be helpful. Most people are not in relationships with Charles Boyer-type individuals who are actively manipulating the physical environment, but rather, are refusing to validate emotions or acknowledge behaviors or otherwise be accountable.

  • Joanne

    March 1st, 2017 at 10:52 PM

    My estranged husband engaged in a series of gaslighting during our marriage, I’m only just realising now. Once he came back to me and said his parents wanted my twin daughters to go to private school – I had an elder daughter from a previous relationship who I was worried would be poorly educated in comparison so I approached my dad and between us we saved up (I had a lodger for 10 years) and paid for my older daughter to go to private school and then when it was time for the twins to go to senior school, I said right let’s have a look at the private schools available then and my husband said – no, we’ll apply for the state schools. When I said but you had the conversation and myself and my dad have paid for the eldest, he just said, no I didn’t, I didn’t say anything of the sort. I was devastated, he divided my family and made me question my own recollection. This is just one example.

  • Linda

    January 23rd, 2015 at 3:15 PM

    Oh ya the internet love fraud type I fell hard so sweet wanted to marry me to good to be true 2 years I was going to see him then the ha-ha moments arrived ihave been no contact for. 3 hard months ya it’s been hard but better then thinken iam crazy his mind games were tough to work around I deserve better I never thought he would do that but he had a Jeckle and Hide to him just outta the blue he’d say some strange thing to me like if your lucky that that may happen with a scary 😓 look on his face.

  • Andrea Schneider

    January 23rd, 2015 at 3:34 PM

    Exactly, Kathy… The movie definitely portrays an individual with extreme narcissistic behavior, really bordering on psychopathy…however, the article was written to explain where the emotional abuse tactic “gaslighting” came from… do you have any movie suggestions for other examples of gaslighting? I am sure many would be interested, myself included… Andrea :)

  • Andrea Schneider

    January 23rd, 2015 at 3:36 PM

    @Nick– right on, error noted…I transposed the names of the actors…correction taken care of … thanks.

  • I Get This

    January 23rd, 2015 at 10:10 PM

    My ex (Narc) used to use a lot of intermittent reinforcement to keep me hooked. That slowly evolved to the loving, intimate, funny, kind behavior taking place, followed promptly by her denials that it happened. She would tell me she was in love with me, then deny it. Initiate intimacy with me, then afterwards say she hadn’t wanted to. At one point she actually told me I dream things that she would say/do, and mistake it for reality. It was absolutely crazy-making. And, I think, gas lighting.

  • lori

    January 23rd, 2015 at 10:29 PM

    I was raised in this type of abuse, and thought I was immune to its trickery. I was wrong. I’ve realized that all my relationships have been with narcissists. Though much more subtle they’ve done much more harm to my sense of self . My BS detector is regaining strength though

  • Tika

    January 25th, 2015 at 5:50 AM

    I am definitely going to look and see if I can find this movie now!

  • Tracie

    February 12th, 2015 at 5:07 AM

    Lack of validation = PTSD? I’m steeped in it . The work place for 20 years has jerked me around, putting an additional 10- 20 hours a week work load to my salaried 40 yet attributing my successes to others, to my face at times. Speaking up labels me a non-team player. Occasionally someone new will appear and become ostracized if they notice the dissonance and verbalize it. Outside of my department, accolades all the time but from my co-managers, boss and his COO, games.
    Icing on the cake would be last year when my Significant, with her own narcissism, of 3 years left me at the wooing of my boss. When bringing it to authority, again no validation “Boss deserves a relationship too” and ” you
    should leave if you don’t like to see them together in the work place” the latter from the COO. . Found a good reference stating the left/right brain alternate engagement helps relieve PTSD was literally the only help i had the first few months, during the holidays last year. Simple as it sounds, walking with somewhat exagerated arm swings, and envisioning exercises while doing so. So few want to know how to truly help the broken hearted, busyness playing a role but THANK YOU for defining Gaslighting. It helps me realize i have more adjustments to make!

  • Anonymous

    February 16th, 2015 at 4:34 AM

    A good article thank you. My therapist explained to me what Gaslighting was after I told her what happened to me. It is the most vile form of emotional abuse I have had to experience. It is a crazy making form of abuse in which case I was called crazy – and treated as such by lots of people. Easier to blame the victim than be accountable for abusing someone and feeling it is ok to treat someone like this. Considered crazy by many the scars are long lasting but I’m working on getting better. It is about control and even after leaving they find ways to find people that can keep track of what you’re doing I’ve seen paranoia at it’s best. They are so convincing that you’re not often believed. Working on myself and finding nice people that relate and understand shows me there are still nice people in the world.

  • Jackie

    March 1st, 2015 at 6:56 PM

    After being in a relationship like this what I found was so difficult was to explain it to others. The trickery and condescension is so entwined it’s hard to put words to. It just feels like a huge, heavy weight that’s impossible to get out from under.

    The cognitive dissonance was so pronounced for me and what ultimately moved me forward. I would think, “I’m completely connected and competent in my work and other relationships so how can I be such a terrible wife”.

    It is possible to move forward however and I’m thankful to have found a partner who is the exact opposite of this. I take little credit in not following the common pattern of multiple abusers, but thank an online dating site for doing the matching for me.

  • MamaQ

    March 2nd, 2015 at 7:37 AM

    Someone asked for an example of real life gaslighting. My ex would tell me he was going to take a day off of work, but when the day came he would get up and get ready to leave for his job. When I asked him about him taking the day off (as he had told me) he would say he never said anything about it and I need to stop making things up in my head. It was a daily occurrence with just little everyday things, but it chips away at your confidence. I remember thinking I couldn’t believe how my decision making process could be so wrong ALL the time…he caused me to actually believe that. I am now away from that relationship, have a wonderful counselor, and finding out that I AM smart and fully capable of living my life. He had me convinced otherwise….

  • You, too?

    March 4th, 2015 at 11:10 AM

    So sorry to see there are so many of us.

    I have to share parenting with this man. Thank goodness we are divorced now, and I have physical and legal guardianship of the children, but he was of course granted visitation. This kind of abuse barely looks like anything from the outside, and of course I’ve been hearing about how I overreact from him for a decade …I am so afraid that the children are going to think that how he is, all that emotional manipulation and cruelty, is normal. Terrifying. And the only thing I can do about it is provide them with a solid, loving base, surround them with healthy individuals in healthy relationships, and provide them with counseling.

  • K

    March 23rd, 2019 at 9:32 PM

    I’m in the same exact boat…

  • Pam

    March 19th, 2015 at 8:19 AM

    How can you lose the abuser, when it is the pre-teen…. now teenager’s father? An ongoing situation seems impossible.

  • Stacey

    March 24th, 2015 at 11:55 PM

    Yes! I’ve had this happen to me quite a bit throughout my relationship. Whenever, I would say something to my former ex-significant other…he would reply with a question in such a way that would cause me to second guess myself or as if he didn’t understand anything that I said or simply deny what “he” might had said before NOT wanting or refusing to admit to the truth. This would frustrate me so much because it was almost impossible to hold a real conversation with him.

  • moda

    April 30th, 2015 at 2:38 PM

    Great article. Sharing on my facebook page.

  • Amanda J

    May 1st, 2015 at 7:01 AM

    I am recovering from this type of abuse from my soon to be ex husband. Things got so bad, I got an immediate protection order for 2 years.

  • Orphan Izzy

    July 6th, 2015 at 9:33 AM

    I experience something very much like this and I’ve struggled to identify what the issue was the person who is abusing me because for the first 30+ years of my life this person was amazing loving and a good person who I strive to be like and who I admired & respected. Literally overnight her personality and value system and what she seem to believe was right and wrong was so completely the opposite that I can’t believe it still eight years later and I want to say she’s a narcissist and I want to be able to understand but I don’t know how someone could become someone who seems quite like a narcissist in many ways all of sudden and abandon everything that they ever thought was true or that they believed in for a personality that they did not admire and Probably despised. Can someone become a narcissistic in their 70s after being the opposite of that at least for my first 30 years? Talk about cognitive dissidents. I’m almost willing to believe the mind can be blown literally.

  • Denise

    July 9th, 2015 at 6:21 PM

    I have experienced this also with my husband for three years. Yes, the whirlwind swept off your feet. A surprise marriage at our Church. He is a control freak and he is cheap! He know I wanted an outside wedding. I wanted to wait until next year so we could put away some money. I believe he knew if we had waited I would see the real him and not marry him.
    He thinks because we are married he owns me. He convinced my Pastors and cousin. They think he is a nice guy who loves me so much. Lies,lies,lies! Master manipulator! I am not in love with him. This is my second marriage. I now see a pattern my ex husband I believe is a narcissist also.

  • Ese W

    July 29th, 2015 at 2:20 AM

    Thank you for this article. I have watched the movie referred to and it did a good job in describing gas lighting. In my experience with gas lighting, one of the things I had to do was keep records of things going on with the abuser. After a while, I would compare notes and find that things were deliberately said to confuse my reality.
    Permission to share this link please.

  • Corinne M.

    August 19th, 2015 at 11:41 PM

    Been dating a man for 9 months who has constantly made hurtful remarks and comments, then either has told me I read too much into things or has denied ever saying them. I see that he slowly set up parameters for our “relationship” which exclude me from his life six days a week, denies me any affection, and anytime I have brought up his behavior he tries to distract me with other conversation topics or throws another issue that he must think excuses his behavior. I have brought up his behavior to him several times and he now is telling me I “blow up at him just about every month”, lol. ( which I do not looking at my own diary entries ) I’ve told him he has “memory issues”, “an evil twin”, and he’s called me “too deep and too complicated for him”. He has on two occasions told me that he didn’t realize romance was so important to me. ( I’ve mentioned it twice.)
    He has gleefully told me about his wealth in the middle of one of these “blow ups” ( no ranting, no tears, and mild anger in a discussion is a “blow up”, lol ) and then has mentioned more details about it since anytime I take him to task for his behavior towards me like it will make any difference. I usually just ignore it. It is disgustingly clear that it isn’t a fabrication, wish it were. This last time I took him to task for acting like I wasn’t with him in public leaving a restaurant, he then dropped the bomb on me by confessing he “isn’t attracted to me because he finds me unattractive and I need to loose weight. But he sees no reason to stop our relationship, lol.
    I came across this article because I had never before heard of gas lighting, although I know about the movie, but his denials were just insane and I did doubt myself in the beginning but not for long. I know I’m not crazy, or emotionally unstable, not hearing things or reading things into him that aren’t there. When confronted he has just consistently outright denied, didn’t follow through on plans HE mentioned, doled out positive reinforcement like a carrot on a stick, an manipulated things to his own advantage and benefit, took great delight in not taking me the one place I had wanted to go, I went anyway without him, lol, and NOW wants to stay together.
    I can’t say it’s been overt, it’s been confusing at certain times, but the abuse has certainly been there and this article has brought the explanation of what it’s called to my knowledge. I don’t blame myself but it HAS given me no comfort, no peace, no confidence> I am moving toward letting him go this week an may need another week to complete the process and so may not be “available” until I am ready. Thank you for writing this article an for all the comments here. It has helped me understand.

  • JoJo

    January 7th, 2016 at 3:19 PM

    Hi. I am a victim of gaslighting by family. I am adopted and also faced abuse. The family told me I was a bad person and harassed me through other people which I think was to cover up the circumstances of my birth and then the sexual abuse I faced. Admittedly, I had problems from the abuse and would get angry, but I don’t think that constituted a whole campaign to mess with my head.

  • The Team

    January 7th, 2016 at 4:27 PM

    Dear JoJo,

    Thank you for sharing. If you would like to discuss any of these topics with a qualified professional, please know you can locate one in your area by entering your ZIP code here:

    Please know you are not alone. Help is available, and we wish you the best of luck in your search.

    Kind regards,
    The Team

  • Lindy

    April 24th, 2016 at 5:10 PM

    This article as well as all others I”ve read on NPD are so perfectly discript regarding the effect on victims of a relationship with this type of abuser. Unfortunately, I spent 11 years in a marriage with a man who had every one of these attributes and I had no idea this was an actual diagnosis. The truth is that the complexity of what they put you thru, has so many dynamics on the scale of devaluing that if you’re the type of person who demonstrates all aspects of an encouraging, committed, loving, partnering and empathetic giving of yourself to them, that a mentally and spiritually stable human would consider a beautiful relation to be a part of, you’re in for the worst side effects possibly obtained as the victim of this onslaught simply due to your truth in nature to love unconditionally, often called BLIND. Of course it won’t make sense to you how they can thrash and rage in fits of temper tantrums, reducing you in the ways that you know are factual lies about you along with the disturbing ability for them to act out or speak these things to you directly ……example, the money I made was never enough for my husband, so by the end of our marriage I was working 3 jobs, conclusively…I could put $1,000 in his hand every week and with in seconds of that, he would launch into a thrashing fit of rage and scream at me how I was a disappointment in the marriage and a financial burden….how he was the one keeping all aspects of our home together and I was not pro-active in partnering with him at all. Now, this is just one of the hell’s I lived thru regarding his imposed standard of approval as on the other hand he did nothing to partner with me in any area of household maintenance, right down to me being the one who stained the deck, pressure washed the house and other outdoor issues ….without mention of all meals, laundry and regular considerations indoor domestically. The list goes on and relates to every detail concerning the reducing of me in the beginning stages when the undetected systematic tear-down started with small things like “jokingly” advertising to everyone, no matter where we were or with, about how well i liked my steak cooked. I did begin to recognize that he’d bring up this same topic every time we happened to be around others and clearly it was an overdose on the subject but he managed to mask it in order to keep him from appearing offensive or damaging toward me…….he worked this angle in keeping up an assumed opinion of himself by others in more intricate ways with a necessity to set up failures for me thru out all relationships with others, even my own children. Ultimately in the end….he found validation when I left him that he was the victim and the destruction of my life at his hand took on the appearance that I was every bit the piece of sh%t he had told everyone I was , behind my back. After all, he was known as the “GOOD” man who would change the neighbors oil in their vehicle or help anyone at any time ….then march right into the house and knock me on my as% when I didn’t put a fork on his plate when I brought his dinner to him in the recliner. I’m talking here about the true evil it calls for in a person who has the ability to conduct themselves in this way, and you’d better believe it gets worse as the adopt an unrelenting hate for you……In 2013 on Christmas day, he attempted to fake an accidental shooting of me and as I walked into the path of the bullet, the gun went off in his hand. Later that day, after he’d become withdrawn, he asked me not to tell anyone, and here I’m still not aware of his intention ………only after I had left him did I begin to process the hidden meanings of his actions and reactions and then I came upon the articles regarding NPD, and they all fit him to an exactness……..I’ve been in a complete aloneness for 2 whole years now, not one date and no friends at all since he arranged an isolation for me by method separating me from people due to working the 18 hours a day to provide for our household income….essentially earning my keep. I’ve gone thru every emotional back-lash you’ll read about in these articles and I’ve wanted to blow my brains out ….just to relieve the daily anguish I live in. I was in love with someone who hated me and the terms of that ring so true in the fact that you can’t tell in the beginning about them…….and you can’t tell anyone in the end because the dynamics of this abuse either wears out the listener and the can’t grasp how to connect with you because they can’t relate or you have no one to talk to due to an isolation. It has been the biggest sanctuary for me in reading these articles on NPD and the one resource that has opened the doors of my prision………

  • anon

    May 25th, 2016 at 9:28 PM

    My ex is the king of gaslighting. He’d make promises and when he didn’t keep them, he’d deny making them and act like I was either crazy or stupid. He’d yell at me and say VERY mean things and deny that it ever happened. He accused me of being too sensitive, blowing things out of proportion, making things up and of losing my mind. He constantly treated me like I was nothing, while elevating his own importance, and then complain that I had low self-esteem. One day I realized I just couldn’t live like that anymore. It makes me sad to go through a divorce, and I still love him, despite what he’s done. I simply can’t be with him anymore. He denies any culpability in our problems– he blames 100% of it on me. If he had been willing to take any of the responsibility for our difficulties and had been willing to at least make some changes, then we might have been able to make it work, but instead it was always my fault for not being happy in a relationship that was exclusively centered around him. He’s implied and outright said that he thinks I’m crazy. It’s taken me a while to realize that no– I’m not actually crazy. I’m not crazy to want a partnership where my needs matter too. I’m not crazy for asking to be treated with respect. I’m not crazy for wanting to address the unkindness that has been thrown my way. The saddest thing is that he’s so charming and everyone who knows him loves him, so I feel like I’ve lost everyone I’ve known for the last 24 years.

  • lalala

    November 28th, 2016 at 11:33 AM

    I totally understand this. I hope you rediscover the things that gave you joy and pursue them.

  • karen

    January 11th, 2017 at 11:09 AM

    I can relate 100%; everyone loves my ex, thinks he’s so charming. If only they had any idea how evil he is.

  • me

    July 16th, 2016 at 7:57 PM

    Hi, anyone knows any success story getting back the self-steem? It’s been 6 years, and I think I’m not going to do it ; never 😞.

  • lalala

    November 28th, 2016 at 11:35 AM

    It is so difficult. I am there. Trying to pull myself up. I believe it can be done by getting back to the “you” that is in there trying to break loose. Look for the things that gave you joy before there was anyone else in the picture.

  • lalala

    November 28th, 2016 at 11:31 AM

    I think I hold the record for most gullible, ever. I stayed 7 years in my relationship, and he’s come back into the picture. I am now disengaging from him. It took me two years the first time to ever even discover that he was married. I believed everything he said, and I continued even after I found out. Now he says he is separated and has an apartment – but we cannot go there, because “she” might come by and he doesn’t want his neighbors to know his business. Please! We are supposed to have a face to face meeting this week. I want revenge, but am also thinking I want nothing more to do with him, not even to see him. Incidentally, I had five years of NO CONTACT. So, the attraction does not seem to ever go away. I am now in battle.

  • Gettingthere

    December 8th, 2016 at 8:53 AM

    Lalala, please do ‘NO CONTACT’ don’t show up for your face to face meeting. This is classic narc behaviour to reel you back into his life and use you up, all over again! It’s not attraction to him that you feel, it’s attraction to his behaviour, his treatment of you. Look deeper into yourself and see where you can identify where this comes from in your past; where you treated like this by someone important to you e.g. your mom, dad or a major caregiver in your life? It’s very important to realise that you are mistakenly identifying his behaviour as attraction. Walk away, do NO CONTACT and get counselling… you won’t look back!

  • Lucy

    March 23rd, 2019 at 11:46 PM

    So spot on!!! I had to get a lot of therapy and EMDR. Turns out he mirrored my mom exactly. It has taken me over a year and I am not all healed yet. They are addictive!!!

  • Jenny

    December 8th, 2016 at 9:30 PM

    Is it true that the narcissist who is doing the gaslighting is doing so intentionally? I am going through a divorce, realizing that this was one terrible aspect of my marriage. I was manipulated into believing that I was in the wrong, that I was the untrustworthy one. I found myself questioning what I did wrong just yesterday when he accused me of telling people before we had a chance to tell our children. I did not do that… but my mind was spinning all day trying to remember if I had done that, who I have intimated something to… and then it hit me. This is the result of the crazy-making I have been living with for 32 years. My therapist told me to read about gaslighting and here I am. But… I don’t believe that my husband was aware of what he was doing. He would have a difficult time agreeing that he has been a narcissist. He calls other people narcissists but could never see it in himself. Much of what I have read on the topic makes it sound like the gaslighter is doing so intentionally. Even though I can see my husband’s behavior as abusive now where I could not have before… I do not think that he had a clue. He simply lives in his own reality and believes that he is absolutely right. When we would argue or when I would bring something up that I needed to confront… I would find myself somehow apologizing because his powers of argumentation and bullying were so strong. The stronger I became with him, the more unhappy he was with me. His behavior since I notified him of my desire for a divorce just last week has continued to confirm that I absolutely did the right thing. I knew that I could not live in a relationship where I did not have emotional safety. Now the blinders are coming off of my eyes and I believe that I will be understanding it more and more fully in the months and years to come. Thanks for your article and for answering my question about intention.

  • Cassman

    January 27th, 2017 at 7:53 AM

    As of November, the entire country has been “Gaslighted” and, will be continued to be so for the next 4 years. So many easy targets! Might as well get used to it!!!!

  • John

    February 14th, 2017 at 12:55 PM

    Almost two years ago I went into therapy to work through some serious childhood trauma. My first therapist used “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” and called into question my feelings, perceptions, and interpretations of almost everything. I was getting emotionally worse and worse over time. She kept telling me that, in therapy, things get worse before they get better. She was constantly invalidating my experience and then telling me she was validating me. It became an exercise in crazymaking. If I questioned her approach she made me feel crazy saying that, “this approach worked for other people so it should work for you.” I had to see another therapist to get the strength to fire her. When I did she acted completely surprised. It took me a year of therapy to figure out she was gaslighting me. I’m not sure why she chose me as a target, or if this is something she does to everyone.

  • Robyn

    May 23rd, 2017 at 11:17 AM

    Hello! I’m shaking after reading these stories, My husband of 30 years is abuseing me mentally, 14 years of this horrific abuse, he now has my 26 year old and every body he knows into thing I’m a lunatic, I’v been on antidepressants for 34 years now, and of course they aren’t working anymore, he’s taken my car now for 6 years so I haven’t been out in that long, my face has been sagging now from all the abuse, my kids come over but it’s not real it’s not really them anymore , he has brain washed them so bad, I’m lonely alone nothing to do while he’s out with his girlfriend that’s why he took the car from me!!!! I’m so lost!!!

  • The Team

    May 23rd, 2017 at 12:32 PM

    Dear Robyn,

    Thank you for your comment. We are very sorry to hear of the situation you are in. The Team is not qualified to offer professional advice, but we urge you to reach out. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (TTY: 1-800-787-3224) at any time. Advocates are also available online between the hours of 7 a.m and 2 p.m. CST at

    If at any time you feel you are in danger, please go to the nearest emergency room or contact local law enforcement immediately. Additional crisis resources are available here:

    Please know that help is available and you are not alone.

    Warm regards,
    The Team

  • MARiA P

    May 23rd, 2017 at 1:09 PM

    Your situation is making me cry. I’m so sorry. Perhaps you can create a Woman’s group on Facebook. Get out of the situation. Get into a Bible Study Group of women and foster those relationships fast. Listening to Joel Osteen has helped me tremendously. My daughter is nasty and disrespectful to me. I don’t have a job and my husband doesn’t make time for me. I feel your pain. Get out of the house and do something for yourself and know way down in your spirit that you are made in the image of Almighty God. You are worthy. If they don’t give you what you need, you must give it to yourself. That’s what I need to do daily. Be Strong!

  • Nancy B

    June 6th, 2017 at 5:23 AM

    27 years of this hell. All of it was there on a daily basis. “I don’t remember saying that, how the hell do you remember everything I ever said or did to you?, no one likes you, your not funny, I find nothing attractive about you, you are crazy, … During my pregnancy, I woke up scared that maybe I wasn’t strong enough to give birth. He yelled at me”what the hell is wrong with you?. He would suddenly ‘want to be close to me”, I in my desperation, would believe him, only to have loveless sex, and immediately back to zero affection. I once had a favorite flower just about to blossom, I showed it to him. The next day it was completely gone. His reason for destroying it? “I hate those flowers”. I painted an entire side of our home, sure he would appreciate that. He came home, went directly inside, w/o a word, came back out and said “why aren’t those god damn dishes done? Worst part? I immediately decided ‘I had failed’ and went in and did the dishes. When I would beg him to hold my hand or hug me, he would tell me I was too needy. He would do anything for anyone else, but he would stand there any watch me struggling to push a piece of furniture up the stairs or lift a boulder out of the garden. ALWAYS making sure no one heard or witnessed his abuse and neglect. There was no doubt that I deserved this treatment, and secretly feared that I was evil and crazy. I kept trying to be good enough until I reached the point that I wanted to die, had panic attacks every time I drove home and realized I would go insane if I stayed. During the divorce he threatened me and told me I’d be sorry. He violated the restraining order and served time in jail. Worst part, my daughters sided with their dad, after all he had convinced them that I had done this to him and I am crazy. They believed their kind loving hurt dad. I have not seen one daughter in 10 years. The other for three years. They are very protective of him. Gas lighting by a narcissist is often a family affair. The isolation, losing my daughters, the sense of worthlessness and always doubts about my own sanity are there day and night. When my ptsd is triggered, I usually just wish I could die because the pain of losing my daughters and grandchildren I have never met, hurts more than I can handle. I am receiving therapy and it is slowly helping me to heal.

  • Diana

    July 5th, 2017 at 12:19 AM

    I came here because I just spent over 2 hours trying to write to my recently ex narc. Now I wrote a novel here. I need closure. I need to leave the town ASAP. I am going to another state where my son lives. I wish I could leave tomorrow. almost done packing. I do better when I am away from the house. Need to leave soon for my health. anxiety and not eating. Thank fully I did not click send and send that letter to him. Now I want to leave notes all over the house when i leave. that would be opposite of my kind self. but he makes me so mad with his games.. I found my self wanting closure and the letter started as a small note. It was novel! We are just this week , hopefully , finishing the house papers , he wants to keep the house, I will leave and i will get some equity money. I asked him to move to the studio cabin on the property months ago so to avoid any more arguments and distrust and my anxiety was so bad. I will look for an on line support group because I did find my self trying to ask in the letter Why? He would never answer me if I had a question about why he would do something to hurt me, especially when he knew it would hurt me and was slowly tearing apart our love. I still want to know why? What did I do so badly that he gives me the vibe that I am the meanie. I swear, I did nothing wrong. All I wanted was trust and honesty and compromise. To be healthy and a small manageable home. To go to a movie or a picnic or fishing. We met, i was 46 and told him about previous husband when I was young, how i was lied to. How he had drank a lot, not worked a lot and did drugs and I will not be in that kind of relationship. Agreed. A few years into me moving in, we bought the house and reno started so we could sell when our kids from other marriages went college and get a different home that was smaller. Normal plans. then some red flags. I just thought he had good self worth and was smart and knew what he was talking about. But when we bought the house, he would not compromise with things. He bought paint for the bathroom not telling me or decide together on color. He bought towel racks and put them up . Wrong place behind door it bumped in to the wall. I told him this is why people talk and communicate. If he ran the idea by me, perhaps I would realize the placement was wrong and avoid removing it and the holes in the door. This is why people get together. If I have knowledge about something the other does not, we discuss and make a good decision together and vice versa. Not with him. He knew everything! He lied about work done in the basement(removal of old wet insulation..I kept wondering why the floor was damp and it was musty and moldy in the closet! He did half and said it was all gone.) This seems petty but it was the beginning of his control. Things got a lot worse. No physical abuse but the stone walling, lies about purchases when we were barely getting basic bills paid. Promises he wouldn’t and then do it again. I got sick and was out of work and mostly in bed house bound except for Dr and grocery errands, for 2 years. I wondered if i would get well. I was afraid. He would not go to the Dr.;s with me. I begged him to go and support me when i came home crying from a DR. that dismissed my symptoms..then the next day i was in the hospital. It seemed no one would take me seriously. I am smart and they want to cut me down and tell me I am not. He knew I felt this way and the following year I had a kidney biopsy and he didn’t offer to take me. I knew then if i got better it was over. He told me once, when I said he hurt my feelings, he said that I should not feel that way. I was over reacting. I was not. We had an argument about how he needed to validate my feelings, can’t tell someone how they should or should not feel. I feel. He is not me, he does not know how I am feeling emotionally , hurt, sad, disrespected afraid, lied to. I was trying to explain that the continuing of the arrogance, not compromising, not supporting me at the Dr.’s was damaging the relationship. That we can work on it and learn. He said he didn’t know what validating my feelings meant! Then he would take a few of my pain meds from the 7 day pill box or the bottle. I would put them in the box with my other meds, counted 3 a day, so I knew how many I had taken and not forget or the pain would come back bad. He tried to convince me that I mis counted, or already took one. I was sick, not dumb. I lay in bed crying in pain for months, barely cooked and ate, getting worse, before a Dr. would give any. He knew I was really sick and what I went through to get a RX for a little relief. I took as few as possible. He took some of my meds again. Promised he wouldn’t anymore. I had to hide and count them. Always changing the place I put the bottles. I could no longer put them in my pill box. He continued to hunt and find them when i was in the bath or something. I asked him. Do you have a problem? What you are doing is wrong. He said he didn’t have a drug problem. Well, during this time he was going to have shoulder surgery and he was in bad pain. I understood. Told him to ask if he was in bad pain and hoped after the surgery he would be better. Even after surgery, once a week take a few of my meds
    I said that he had to stop lying. Stop fighting me about every decision. That the trust was gone and not sure if I can get it back. He was breaking my heart, when he stonewalled and silent treatment and sabotaged things that he is being passive aggressive. He said didn’t know what that meant. He was smart. I do not believe he didn’t know that. god what an ass. Me or Him? So now I have been better for 2 years and the house did not sell. He is buying me out. I have been packing and he didn’t offer to help me lift heavy things. He is treating me like I did wrong to him. And I am crazy to keep asking, what did I do that was so wrong that you would not go to the doctors or for groceries when I was sick. Why you spent when we didn’t have cash and I had to put things on my credit card when I couldn’t work, but you had a good enough salary and you have no credit card debit. Why dod you refuser years to read a self help book, a marriage builders site or go to therapy for your depression. Why would you not want to go to the movies or a restaurant but 1 or 2 x a year? what is wrong with you? He has the money to pay my share of equity. he won’t give it to me until his bank papers are ready. He does not have to wait until that final day. The attorney can sign for me. I can’t move until i have cash. He wants control still. I said to him. the reason you want control is because you feel that things in your life are out of control ( he can’t deal with death..first 2 friends, and then his son drowned, not found, and he has not had closure. He was in denial for over 2 years ) so you are trying to control me. All this narc stuff started before his friends and son died.. we were on shaky ground, anyway as his mother’s affairs and issues were always dictating what was happening, she is mental, extreme hoarder, on countless meds and he said she is fine. so

    Why do I want to write to him? Why do I want answers? One day I want no contact. then i do well for a week , then I want to know. I know it was not me. I was not cared for. I was left in debit. Gaslighted. lies. I know not to talk to him. Yet I want closure. I want to tell him not to let some one fall in love with him unless he flat out tell her he lied about the pills, the control over the reno, the poor finances, the ignoring. the pretending. How dare he lead me to believe he was to be honest? When we met, even on his social media page he has a thing. “Drama Free Zone” and likes “People with Morals” well heck it was nothing but drama and no morals. I was so stupid! or he really wants to be a good man and just can’t keep it up. Before we bought the house, we went out some, he bought me a few small things, we laughed, went fishing. played music. then just like that. xx I was told no all the time. I mentioned I wanted to move the couch. he said it’s fine where it’s at. My car was old an left me stranded a few times. I wanted a new , used car. he said no. I said, you want be to keep having problems, stranded on the side of the road in the snow? and he would not even answer. look at me like it was a dumb question..oh what a A^S.. me or him. If i was not sick i would have left then. if his son had not disappeared i would have left then. I put my foot down. he tried to give me less than 10K for my share. i am now getting twice as much. it is fair. he tried to swindle me. i said no from the beginning of the negation.
    Funny, one time when I called him on his behavior, he said a clue. ” I thought you said you had low self esteem?”
    when I was young i did. not when i met him, I don’t any more. he confused my words. I had low self esteem..not “Have” so i think he totally knew what he was doing. I think his mom helped him suck me in to buy this house from her claiming poverty and foreclosure and now they don’t need me and she wants to move back. Fine. I saw him take her grocery shopping! He has issues. take his mon and not his sick partner?

  • Gettingthere

    July 5th, 2017 at 3:37 AM

    Dear Nancy B
    It’s great to hear that you are receiving therapy and it is helping you. These ‘Gaslighting’ individuals must be seen for the destructive people they are, it’s definitely part of their ammo to make everyone, including your nearest and dearest to turn against you.. I’ve seen it many times, although luckily for me I recognised my ex-partners behaviour and threw him out of my life very quickly so hard his head spun. Since my experience, I have read as much information on these types of people and how the problem is actually with them, NOT US, NOT YOU. They actually believe that they are unlovable and therefore hate and do not respect anyone who they believe loves them. Now, this is a very deep seated hate for anyone who loves them, lets not minimise this! It also means, that you are very right to put yourself first, thank goodness you divorced him. But, now you must understand that the problem is his and not yours. Please continue with your therapy and gather around you people who love you. Don’t in anyway think badly of your daughters cause they are duped by their dad, its part of his way of punishing you for loving him, I know that sounds ridiculous and maybe not what you want to hear. But, believe me your daughters will see what their dad is like it may take a little more time, but stick with it and grow from this experience and take strength in the fact that you have got him out of your life, cause that does take immense personal strength.

    Take care. Lorraine.

  • gben

    February 12th, 2018 at 1:08 PM

    Wow these stories here are intense

  • Mark W.

    March 24th, 2019 at 1:04 PM

    Edward Murdstone in “David Copperfield” is a classic example of a gaslighter, though the term was unknown in Dickens’ day. He wooed and married David’s weak, ineffectual mother Clara, whose first husband had died before her son’s birth. Aided and abetted by his equally odious sister, Murdstone slowly drove Clara to an early grave, inheriting her fortune, and sending David off to work in his sweatshop wine factory. David ran away from that, walking almost 75 miles to Dover and his paternal great-aunt Betsey Trotwood, who firmly rebuffed Murdstone’s attempt to regain custody of David from her.

  • Sue F

    April 17th, 2019 at 4:12 PM

    Great article. I was gaslit by my sister who for many years used this tactic to bring me down. I decided to go no contact many years ago. Although I have tried to explain the no contact to other members of my family they do not want to upset the status quo so basically I have been scapegoated by my family of origin as being the “trouble maker”. Thank goodness I’ve seen it for what it is and have got on with my life. There are a great many books and blogs out there that have helped me realise that it was never me. It has been a great challenge to leave but for my own sanity I have had to do so.

  • kris

    September 13th, 2019 at 1:02 PM

    shines a flashlight in my face yells at me and says it never happened. constantly calls the cops and says he is gonna tell them a accidentally puts tools underneath the drivers seat and they jam underneath the break and almost cause a wreck….. says it is all in my head shines lights in my face and refused to stop to help me not be so sensitive yells at me then says i am a rotten liar and I made it all up.Threatens to call the cops and say I am suicidal and I am hurting him and then says it is just a joke.

  • Rachel

    October 12th, 2021 at 8:00 PM

    It took hearing the same thing from more than one therapist before I could acknowledge that I had been a victim of emotional abuse. It can be hard to admit you let such a thing happen to you. But once I accepted that, I began to heal and trust myself again. The only thing that kept me sane during the abuse was writing down the things he said right after the fight, so when he denied ever saying them I had concrete evidence.

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