As you (as therapist) continue to work, another symptom you may become aware of is how the client seems to be feeling uncertain of themselves, constantly second guessing themselves, even in the smallest matters. For example, as you open the door to your client, you might find that they always check “is this the right time for our appointment?” Another thing you may pick up on is, even after discussing something with them in detail, they want further clarification that they are hearing you right. There confidence is so low that they have trouble making simple decisions. You need to be aware if this is happening, because you may be getting a glimpse of another severe symptom of narcissistic abuse called gaslighting.
Gaslighting is a technique of psychological abuse uses by narcissists in order to instill in their victim’s an extreme sense of anxiety and confusion to the point where they no longer trust their own memory, perception or judgment. Gaslighting can happen in any relationship between any gender. It merely requires two people, the gaslighter (the narcissist) and the gaslightee (the victim). The gaslighter needs to be right all the time, that is how they keep their power and sense of self in tact; while the gaslightee gives away their power to the gaslighter because they seek their approval in order to stay safe. That exchange allows the gaslighter to define the gaslightee’s sense of reality.
“The Gaslighting Tango” is one of the narcissist’s games that happen gradually over time, it is a game (or dance) that allows them to define and shape their victim’s reality by eroding them mentally. To the victim, the gaslighting starts with the stage of disbelief, i.e. something happens in the gaslighting exchange that seems odd to them, and they can’t believe that it has happened. In the next state it moves to defense, at this point the victim still has enough of their self to fight and defend themselves against the gaslighting manipulation, however they are told things each time that end up confussing them, (i.e. “You’re too sensitive”, “are you mad”, or “I never said that, you’re imagining things?”). Or the narcissist may play tricks on them, moving or hiding things, and when the victim asks them if they have moved the object, they deny it, saying they never saw it. Gradually the victim, unable to work out the game, finally begins to doubt themselves. The final stage is depression, and by now they don’t even recognize who they have become, and they feel broken and isolated. They begin to feel that they can’t do anything right any more, they don’t feel that they can trust their own mind, and they withdraw with a skewed reality of what is really taking place.