I have a question and I need for everyone interested in answering it to assume that I am asking in good faith, not trolling.
Are there any articles that directly compare and contrast the difference between being gaslighted and someone who is *actually
* the horrible things that a gaslighter accuses the victim to be?
Let me expand a bit. OK, a lot.
I've had the misfortune to see a gaslighter work his black magic now in person, right in front of my eyes but on someone other than me, and I've seen the devastation it caused. I've seen it in a poly context, which, for some reason, actually made it harder for me to see at first - easier for the gaslighter to hide. I've been an outspoken critic of what I have eventually come to see as real abuse in the poly community and how our own community standards protect and privilege abusive relationship structures and behaviours. So, in no way do I want to counteract any of the work done to bring awareness and solutions to gaslighting.
But I'm reading a lot of articles on gaslighting lately, and it struck me that, if I switched perspectives in my head and read the article *as if I were
* the gaslighter himself (choosing a gendered pronoun because I am most familiar with male abusers and female victims, and I feel the need to use different pronouns to help keep the illustrations understandable), using the excuses and justifications he gave to make it look like he was the victim, if I took on that mindset for a moment, I couldn't tell from many of these articles who was whom. And a gaslighter or narcissist can find ammunition in these articles to continue their subjugation, and validation in these words.
So, for example, this one article lists several "tell-tale signs":1. Something is “off” about your friend, partner, … but you can’t quite explain or pinpoint what.
So, this gaslighting observation that I mentioned above, in the beginning, he had me (a close but outside observer) convinced at first that he was the real victim. He confided in me his perspective. I do believe that he really did believe the stories he was spinning to me. It wasn't until I talked to the victim alone and then confronted him about the victim's side, and then HEARD him say "no, they don't feel that way, here [victim], tell Joreth that you don't feel that way" and then the victim proceeded to confirm the gaslighter *even though
* I had just had an hour long conversation with them in tears about exactly how they felt. The victim told me that *I
* must have misunderstood or misheard their anguished cries, that it wasn't a big deal, that everything was worked out.
I KNOW WHAT I HEARD. The victim felt a particular way, the gaslighter insisted that they didn't, and then the victim's story changed to match the gaslighter's version.
My point is that I believe the gaslighter is that fucked in the head that he (and most of them) really does believe his (their) version of events. I don't believe that most gaslighters are deliberately plotting to undermine people like in the movie, but I know for a fact that undermining people is the effect that's happening. I was one of his confidants, so I heard what I really believe to be his honest and true view of himself and his motivations. I believe that I understand the view of himself that he holds, at least well enough to read an article from a gaslighter's perspective who doesn't think he is doing anything wrong.
So, when I read articles like this and I put myself in the mindset of that confidante for whom I was on his side before I knew better, I have a hard time telling from these articles that *he
* was the one who was doing the gaslighting. That's how he had me fooled for as long as I was.
He believed that something was "off" about his victim. They kept "changing their story". They weren't consistent. They saw things in strange, corner-turning ways that he didn't understand. I was constantly playing "interpreter" for them because he just didn't understand the victim.4. You feel threatened and on-edge, but you don’t know why.
As the blogger Shea Emma Fett
alluded to, abusers really do feel victimized, but they feel victimized by their victims' resistance to the abuser's control. When this gaslighter attempted to control his victim, and they resisted, the abuser felt personally threatened. I went out on a date once with a guy who I had a history with and I was interested in a future with, and my then-bf, when I told him all about it, accused me "HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?!" Listen here, asshole, I did *nothing
* "to" you. This thing *happened
* to me. It may have affected you, but it wasn't done *to
* you and certainly not with malice. Nevertheless, he, and the abuser I'm talking about, felt threatened. This abuser was *constantly
* fighting with his victim, to the point that he started working as late as possible to avoid being at home where another fight might break out. He was on edge all the time. He didn't understand why this was happening or how to avoid it (because he didn't understand that it was his own doing and he didn't understand the victim's wants - namely the desire to not be abused). He would check off "yes" to this one too.6. You never quite feel “good enough” and try to live up to the expectations and demands of others, even if they are unreasonable or harm you in some way.
The motivation for this gaslighter's behaviour was a massive amount of fear and insecurity. Every time he felt his insecurity crop up and it prompted him to try to control other people to manage his fear, I stuck my nose in to tell him that he should do better. His victim also ineffectually tried to tell him that his attempts to control them was hurting them and he needed to do better. In my own arguments with him, he accused me of being unreasonable for insisting that his attempts to control his partners were harmful. He insisted that *my
* suggestions for not controlling people were actually harmful *to him
* somehow. We argued in circles and I never got a clear explanation for how other men (even men that he didn't like) seeing naked pictures of his wife harmed *him
* (for example), but he clearly believed that it did.
Remember that ex above? He honestly believed that my date, and what we did on our date, with my new prospective partner was something done *to
* him, and that it harmed him in some way, even though he wasn't on that date and he was told about the date both before and afterwards, prior to my seeing that ex in person again so that he could make informed decisions about how to relate to me in the future (and no, I didn't have wild, unprotected, fluid-exchanged sex with some random stranger and come home with an STD or something, which is usually what people point to when they want to defend the position that it's reasonable to be upset about what one partner does outside of a given relationship or to control, or even request, a specific set of behaviour for outside a given relationship).
I insist that a no-rules, boundaries-based relationship is the better relationship standard, and the gaslighter believed that my standards are too high, are unreasonable, and harm him in some way. He's not the only one who thinks that either. I have been told, verbatim, that not everyone is as "evolved" as I am when it comes to relationship and emotional maturity. I call bullshit on the "evolved" part. As far as I'm concerned, respect for agency is the bare minimum. I get that it's not always *easy
*, but it's also not some advanced, high level concept set aside for, I dunno, monks who have reached enlightenment or Clears who have spent millions of dollars to the Church or whatever. Learning to respect other people's agency is something that children are capable of learning, and it's a lifetime of societal reinforcement that causes us to unlearn it (if we learned it in the first place) by instilling a sense of entitlement to other people's bodies, emotions, and minds. When fear has a hold of you, respecting other people's agency may be challenging, but challenging is not the same as "harmful". But because it can be challenging, someone who is an abuser or who is gaslighting someone can indeed believe that the standards their victim might suggest are "too high" and are "harming him". Personal growth is uncomfortable, especially when you resist it. That doesn't make it, necessarily, "harmful", but it can feel that way, so a gaslighter could see this "tell-tale sign" as evidence for his narrative too.7. You feel like there’s something fundamentally wrong with you, e.g. you’re neurotic or are “losing it.”
The gaslighter excused his efforts to control people away by claiming he had PTSD. I do not believe that self-diagnosis, I believe another one made by an actual diagnostician but that's not actually relevant right now. What is relevant is that the gaslighter *does
* believe that he suffers from PTSD and he does, indeed, exhibit several symptoms, including "checking out" (which, I'm told by reliable clinicians, are also symptoms of a handful of other mental illnesses including the diagnosis I believe is more likely to be the correct one). Every time he tried to control his victim and they pushed back, here's what would happen. The victim would insist on their reality, and the gaslighter would go glassy-eyed and catatonic, unable to interact with the world around him. *Until
*, that is, the victim recanted and accepted the gaslighter's reality. Then, suddenly, he would "wake up" and start interacting again. Later, though, he would use that as "evidence" that the victim was "inconsistent" and kept "changing their story" and therefore shouldn't be trusted to know what reality was.
But because he would get "triggered" by his victim's resistance, he would often come to me in distress over how he was "losing it" or that there was something wrong with him. PTSD and other mental illnesses are viewed as "something fundamentally wrong with you" or "neurotic" by society in general, so regardless of which mental illness he might have, he could legitimately think that "something is fundamentally wrong" and he would be "correct" about that. He felt that he was being hollowed out, that he couldn't function in daily life anymore as their arguments increased in frequency. He had trouble concentrating at work because he was always upset about their latest argument. He was stressed and frightened by obsessive thoughts of losing his victim. When I saw only his catatonia and the aftermath of their arguments, it was completely believable that he was the "victim". But that required keeping the victim feeling isolated in an "us against them" tribalism within the group, because as soon as I started talking to the victim themself, and seeing the arguments from the beginning, not just the effect of the argument on him, things looked very different.
My second fiance was a gaslighter. He was very young, though, and clumsy about it, and I'm way too self-confident for those kinds of tactics to work for very long on me. He did things like this too, only he wasn't nearly as believable about it. Whenever we got into an argument, if it looked like I was going to win (or that he was going to lose, since the argument was usually about whether or not he could have sex with me or I could go out in public without him), he would get "sick" somehow. He got "the flu" twice a week on the nights of my ballroom dance class. He got an upset stomach on laundry night if I wanted to do it at my parents' house instead of his parents' house. He got another one of his upset stomachs on the night of a friend's bachelorette party when I told him it was "no guys allowed".
One time, he even "knocked himself unconscious" on a low-hanging pipe in the carport when we walked from the car to the house during an argument. He managed to somehow hit himself in the head hard enough to lose consciousness completely without actually making any sound of impact and while moving at the rate of a slow lumber. I've had someone swing a metal pipe at me with the intention of hurting me and hit me on the head and I didn't go fully passed out. Head injuries don't work like they do in the movies. And when I left his ass lying on the concrete, he also somehow managed to get "robbed" in broad daylight while lying unconscious (that one was the last straw and I called his bluff hard enough that he admitted his lie). His various maladies and misfortunes were intended to distract me from the argument and trigger my compassion so that I would forget why I was mad at him and run to him to take care of him. Fortunately for me, I'm not the "maternal" type and my reaction was to give the benefit of the doubt the first time or two, but then to become contemptuous of an adult who couldn't care for himself. Contempt is the number one relationship killer, and unconsciously developing that emotion as a response to abusive tactics has probably saved my life on multiple occasions.
So, once I saw this gaslighter's tactic from the other side, I recognized it from my own abusive ex-fiance. He would get "sick" and I would have to stop arguing to care for him, because if I kept being mad at him while he was sick, then *I
* was the monster with no compassion. Fortunately for me, I'm not terribly bothered by people I'm mad at thinking that I'm not compassionate because *I
* know better, and that's what matters to me. But this gaslighter was taking legitimate mental health issues and preying on his victim's concern over harming others and their fear of being seen as not compassionate. Again, I believe that he really believes his side of things. I don't think he actually deliberately calculated how to fake PTSD in order to win an argument (whereas I do believe my ex-fiance faked his unconsciousness - which happened more than once - although his upset stomachs were probably a real reaction to anxiety). I believe that he really was "checking out" because I believe there is really something very wrong with him. But it was always just so *convenient
* that it ended as soon as the victim recanted, and then that recanting was used later to further undermine the victim's position and even their standing in the community. If the victim stood their ground, they were "driving" the gaslighter to a mental breakdown, but if the victim backed down, they were unreliable and couldn't be trusted. Either way, the victim was the "monster" who kept "harming" their abuser.
But from the gaslighter's perspective, since these episodes came more and more frequently as the relationship spiraled faster and faster towards its demise, he felt that he was "losing it" and becoming more and more unhinged. And he was becoming unhinged. He was a total wreck of a person by the end. But he was still a gaslighter, and I do not believe the victim was doing it *to
* the gaslighter. I believe it is a consequence of the sort of person the gaslighter is who had to face the sort of person that the victim was.8. You feel like you’re constantly overreacting or are too sensitive.9. You feel isolated, hopeless, misunderstood and depressed.
This is really just more of an extension of the last one. The relationship was spiraling out of control because the victim was doing more and more resisting of the gaslighter's attempts to control them and their own breakdown as a result of the gaslighting working, and that led to daily fights that consumed their every waking moment and also took over the atmosphere of the rest of the immediate community whenever either of them was present. When you feel like your life is going out of control, regardless of why or how, it's not unexpected to feel isolated, hopeless, misunderstood, or depressed, especially if someone is trying to tell you that your behaviour is out of line. When he wanted to control his victim, I told him that he was essentially overreacting. I told him that he needed to dial it back and let his victim (who I had not yet begun to think of as "the victim") have their agency and do their thing. I told him, more or less, that his feelings of fear and the need to control them were too much, out of sync with the reality of the situation, and that the solution was for him to get over his issues, not control the victim's behaviour. In essence, it could be argued that he saw my words as telling him that he was "overreacting or are too sensitive". So, from his perspective, these are a big "yes" also.11. You feel scared and as though “something is terribly wrong,” but you don’t know what or why.
Again, I believe that he believes his own narrative. This gaslighter felt that his life was spinning out of control and he didn't know how to wrestle control back. Every day was fraught with arguments and intense fear. More and more people were becoming unhappy by the splash zone of this one relationship. Life began to look chaotic and turbulent. Not only was this relationship a source of pain and fear, but because the two of them were constantly fighting, all his other relationships started to suffer and he started to fear that he was about to lose his other relationships as well. Then, not a month after he told me that I was the one stable thing in his life, we had our own blow-out that he apparently couldn't anticipate. Everything was "terribly wrong", but because the truth was his gaslighting and he didn't recognize it, he didn't know why everything was "terribly wrong" or how to fix it.12. You find it hard to make decisions.
With his catatonic episodes happening more and more frequently, and the arguments happening constantly, he started to revert to a more child-like mental state. He had trouble making decisions because his brain was just freezing up from all the chaos. He was never good at making decisions anyway, preferring others to take the lead on things, which is actually one of the reasons why it took me so long to figure out that he was controlling the people around him to manage his insecurities. It's hard to believe someone is a manipulator when they appear to be such a follower. But because he felt that his life was out of control and that he was losing his own grip on reality, making decisions became more difficult than usual.13. You feel as though you’re a much weaker version of yourself, and you were much more strong and confident in the past.
This was something he actually told me, more or less. He was so distraught by everything that was happening, that he felt like he was becoming "hollow", which is sort of like saying he is a "weaker version of [himself]". I have absolutely no doubt that he felt like he was losing his mind. His life wasn't looking the way he wanted it to look and the way he had always controlled his life in the past wasn't working with this partner. This partner was resisting his control, and he felt so entitled to controlling them to keep his own mental issues manageable that their resistance to his control was threatening and made him feel harmed. Having those feelings, and the extent to which this whole relationship was disrupting everyone's life, it doesn't matter that he was the one abusing the victim, those feelings still feel real and still affect how one sees oneself and their place in the world.14. You feel guilty for not feeling happy like you used to.
This gaslighter was *known
* for his exuberance for life. In the dictionary, next to the word "happy", you'd see his picture. I've known a bunch of people like that - in fact, it seems to be one of the elements of "my type". tacit
is one of those people for whom "happy" is an integral characteristic too. But, obviously, this gaslighter was not happy all the time during this period. He was stressed and anxious and depressed and angry and sad all the time. For someone whose very *identity
* includes "happy", not being happy can make one feel like one is not oneself anymore. And for some of those people, if part of their identity rests on their ability to be happy and for others to see them as happy, particularly if their happiness makes other people happy and their sadness makes other people sad for them, no longer feeling happy can feel like a personal failure.
So, this gaslighter failing to control his victim, causing them to be miserable, which causes them to challenge the relationship and the attempts to control, which makes the *gaslighter
* unhappy, this can lead to a sense of guilt for not maintaining this happiness in the face of all this loss and misery even though the gaslighter is the one causing the chain reaction in the first place. Since this sort of gaslighter doesn't realize that he's the one setting the spark, he has a difficult time recognizing that his unhappiness is something he can fix because it's something he caused. Or, he might suspect or know (possibly subconsciously) that it's something he caused (even if he believes he caused it but have the wrong ideas on *how
* he caused it), and so feel guilt for knowing that he did it all to himself.
So, this whole long exposition is to explain that I am looking for sources to help explain why, when a gaslighter feels these things, it's *not
* a sign that they are a victim or being gaslighted by their actual victims. When a person is gaslighted, they start to believe that they are an abusive monster who is doing terrible things to their abuser, but an abuser actually *is
* doing all those things. I could write a similar checklist of "how to know you're being abusive" and read it through the perspective of a gaslight victim and that victim could conceivably reach the conclusion that they are, indeed, an abusive monster because of the lens that each is viewing the world through. I know there's a difference, I just don't know how to explain or illustrate that and I'm looking for sources to cite and other people's words to use as analogy or illustration or explanation.