Gaslighting by Proxy Comes in Many Forms

Gaslighting by Proxy

Gaslighting by proxy can take many forms. So many forms, in fact, that it’s often hard to recognize. What exactly is it? Well, it’s gaslighting, to be sure. That’s the making you feel crazy set of tactics manipulators use and that I first brought to wide attention in In Sheep’s Clothing. We didn’t have a commonly accepted label for the phenomenon then. But we do these days. And gaslighting by proxy is essentially someone else doing a manipulator’s dirty work for them.

Gaslighting by proxy can go something like this:

You’re pretty sure you’ve caught the disturbed character doing one of their shady or nefarious things.

They act all innocent, like they have no idea what you’re talking about. Or with intensity and conviction, they insist you’re reading things all wrong.

Then, their proxy backs them up. Sometimes, subtly. They say something like “I’ve never known (him or her) to do anything like that.” And they might add that other friends feel the same way, too.

Now you feel completely unsupported. Worse, you begin to doubt your perceptions. You’re all alone, with no one else seeing things like you do. Then, you feel even more crazy than usual.

The Different Ways It Happens

Skilled manipulators can recruit a proxy deliberately. They often enjoy the game of staying one-up on you so much that they cultivate allies. That way, whenever you step out of line, they call in the militia to intimidate you back into place.

More often, however, gaslighting by proxy occurs more subtly. Many manipulators are excellent impression managers. They use charm, seduction, and their various amiable characteristics to cultivate allies and allegiances. That way, whenever they face being exposed, their unwitting allies come to the rescue without even having to be told to do so. These folks have already bought into the manipulator’s story and image. So, they’re ready to defend, without half realizing what they’re doing.

Gaslighting by proxy is most effective when multiple proxies are available. Gaslighting victims feel so much more alone and self-doubting when they find themselves among a sea of folks who view the disturbed character differently.

It’s More Common than People Think

Gaslighting by proxy is more common than many realize. That’s because so many manipulators are capable of considerable charm.  And while in our times charm should routinely sound an alarm, most folks realize a manipulator’s nature after it’s too late.


Follow this link to the latest edition of the “new” Character Matters podcast.


17 thoughts on “Gaslighting by Proxy Comes in Many Forms

  1. LOL!!! I know soooo many gas lighters by proxy it’s disgusting! Fortunately, for years now I’ve been searching for help on why people are the way they are. I have to say without a doubt Dr. Simon has got to be the most informative, direct and honest help I have found to date!!!!
    Some gaslighting I’ve been “subjected” to has been utterly absurd/ridiculous that it actually makes me laugh for years now. It truly is sad how “sin makes one stupid”, a phrase someone in my past preached about!
    If you all heard some of my stories of those trying to gas light me in the past we’d all be sitting around the campfire reminiscing!
    One of the main tricks I use when someone tries to gaslight me is to listen with no expression what so ever, never react, never respond! If I do choose to respond, I’ll say something like “Ahhhh you are a very wise person”.
    Of course this throws them off completely.

  2. One of the ways I experienced gaslighting by proxy (I really like the phrasing!) is having many people brag to me about my ex-husband. I don’t understand how he managed it, but I had a barrage of different people approach me fairly regularly to tell me how awesome my husband was, how I’m so lucky to have him, how they wish they had a spouse like him. When I first experienced this I was a bit amused, it was so strange. I’ve never heard people brag about the spouse to the spouse. Maybe a general little comment, a little social flattery like ‘you’ve got a good one there’ but not outright bragging. But after years and years of this, it got into my head.

    It made me feel absolutely crazy. I would think if everyone thinks he’s so wonderful what’s wrong with me that I’m so unhappy with him? Am I failing to appreciate who I have, somehow thinking the grass is greener elsewhere? Then as time passed, I would hear myself saying in a robotic voice, “Oh, yes, I’m so lucky, I’m so happy.” In the back of my mind, I’d be screaming , “What are you doing, why are you saying that, you sound like a Stepford wife! You are not happy and he is a very difficult, demanding and often unpleasant man!” And the people would nod and seem pleased I recognized how good I had things with a guy like my ex husband.

    It is such a confusing, distorting, mind bending thing to have to deal with, to make sense of, I still struggle with it. This loyalty he seems to inspire with normal, reasonable people who wouldn’t normally act this way. From what I’ve observed, I think my ex husband is the person most people aspire to or would like to be. I think our society admires psycopathic traits and behaviors and often mimics them. They’re somehow seen as strength, confidence. I will say this, if I’m right, we are really messed up as society.

  3. I think gas lighting is one of the most damaging tactics to the person its being done to. With my ex, I was to the point I didn’t believe my own eyes, my own feelings, my own thoughts. I was clueless at the time to what was happening. Many years later I am still so doubtful of my own decisions and judgements. I try to go by my gut in circumstances but find I am still doubting myself too much of the time. Its a hard thing to overcome, but I look to God for my healing and with God’s guidance I know I am on the right path.
    And yes, his deceived militia was a big part of making me feel all alone and doubtful of myself.

  4. Think this is more and more common. Especially with these folks using social media to cultivate their image and to get allies. Many people get taken in and have no idea what the person is really like.

    In my experience, many of them use religion as a cover. Some of the most cruel people I’ve experienced, claimed to be Christians and they used going to church/and or iconography around their home for impression management. They are not true Christians in my opinion, it’s a ruse.

    My neighbor has a Madonna out front of her house and a crucifix in her window. Yet she delights in tormenting me because I told her no when she wanted to use my property as her own. It backfired on her recently when she called the police on me for accidentally placing a foot on her driveway (she installed a camera for that purpose!) The police officer was very kind and explained that it’s not something she can pursue, I didn’t do anything wrong as well as my rights and options if she continues to harass me (document and if she keeps it up, get a restraining order). And pointed out her Madonna and shook his head and said she’s not very Christian.

    She likes to provoke. Trying to get a reaction out of me. Today I blew the leaves into the street for street sweeping (that’s how they clean them up in my area). When I finished and was putting away my blower, she came out with a rake. As soon as I saw her, I went in the house to unplug the blower and not giver her any air time. She said I missed some and started raking all the leaves in her driveway (she doesn’t rake her leaves, so her yard was full of leaves) onto my grass. I just left them there. Not worth the energy or giving her the satisfaction of seeing me out there blowing them again.

    Many of the neighbors have bought into her Christian bit and have given her the benefit of the doubt, but I wonder if they keep witnessing this irrational, unChristian behavior if they’ll still buy in. This is not the first time she’s done something like this. She’s clearly not embarrassed about it and seems to enjoy it and feel justified.

    The other neighbor, a flaming rageaholic narc, discovered she had connections with the city, so he joined forces with her to use her connections. They are both hateful and vindictive. He came out just as she got her rake and went right back in after she finished, so I think they were communicating. I wouldn’t be surprised if he called her to tell her I was blowing the leaves (she came home just before I finished). He totally gets off on rage, getting people upset and pitting them against one another.

    I think many folks just don’t want to get involved and/or don’t want to become a target themselves. They also don’t want to lose the benefits they might get from the person. While understandable in many ways, it makes it challenging for the target.

    It’s awful to have neighbors like that. I do my best not to give them any attention and do not allow them to provoke me. Unfortunately, that seems to really piss them off.

    Was gaslit in my early years and my ex was a master at it. For most of my life I thought it was me. I actually asked a therapist one time if I was crazy – because the gaslighters in my life worked hard to make me believe I was. Once I learned about gaslighting it all made sense. They are charming to others and save the abuse for some and usually hide it, so you look like there’s something wrong with you. If you say something to others, they aren’t treated that way by them, so they may or may not believe you and it feels very isolating. Especially when it’s in a group or your “family”.

  5. I try to stay away from manipulative people as much as possible. But sometimes its hard to assess about narcissism. This individual subtly infers she is above me and I am below her. She takes control of every event doing a lot of the work, but then I get the feeling its because she wants control and to “own” the event, even when its just a family get-together. She will be friendly to me at times, and then act very aloof. With various family members she spreads gossip to those I think she disapproves of, but to others who have more power in the family dynamics she is very gracious and charming. I mentioned this to another family member and she doesn’t agree with me, but then she is one that this lady treats well. Unfortunately I am thinking it is best for me to bow out of family events because her husband is one of those in my family that hold a lot of influence in the family. I end up feeling like I am less than when I leave these events. This is where it gets confusing, nobody else in my family sees this and thinks she is great. I feel alone and left out and I know I should not let anyone make me feel like that but maybe I’m just not strong enough to handle this at this time in my life, I have to do what is best for me even though I will not be attending any holiday get togethers. Does anyone else live alone and how do you deal with this situation? I really have nobody else to get together with.

    1. Kat,

      I’m sorry you are dealing with this. They can be very sneaky and careful in their tactics. They know well how to play the game of impression management. Good for you for trusting your gut and taking care of yourself.

      I’ve been doing holidays solo for about 5 years now. At first I struggled with the idea of it. I grieved the losses involved in it.

      I volunteered at Thanksgiving serving people who didn’t have a place to go for Thanksgiving and really enjoyed it (every year until the pandemic). This year I brought dinner to an elderly neighbor who doesn’t have a family. He was thrilled. We celebrated together and it was very nice.

      I celebrate Christmas, so I make it festive and prepare my favorite dishes and put on carols and do whatever I darn please! At night I go for a drive and look at the lights. Now I enjoy it. Would prefer to have kind people to share it with, but would rather be alone than with people who do not treat me well.

      It’s nice opportunity to find out what pleases you and to practice doing it. It’s an adjustment, so be kind and patient with yourself. Feel what you feel and keep moving through it.

      Hope that helps.

      1. Thanks Mindful, thats very encouraging. You are so kind to respond. That sounds like a nice way to spend the day actually. I am so unsure of myself that it takes a lot for me to make a decision like this, but every time I go I end up feeling rejected all over again and beating myself up and it takes me a while to get over it. There have been many underhanded dealings with this individual but it has profited those in my family who brought it about, so they continue to get what they want. I would not say they are bad people, but just manipulative and selfish. Best to stay away for me. I’m not perfect but I don’t want to be around it because of the effect on me, I can’t seem to just blow it off and not let it affect me. That may be something I need to work on but I’m not there yet . Anyways, I really appreciate the ideas, I like all of them. Thank you.

        1. I deeply understand that feeling of uncertainty in yourself. I believe that’s in large part because of the gaslighting effect. The others do not get the same treatment and/or are benefiting from their “relationship” with the individual, so it’s very isolating and easy for the one being mistreated to give the other person the benefit of the doubt and discount your experience/feelings.

          I hope that your tapping into your feelings and listening to what they are trying to tell you and acting on it gets stronger and stronger! Being around folks like that it very damaging to us on every level, and as someone on here pointed out to me, it’s cumulative. I don’t think we’re meant to blow it off and not let it affect us. Pretty sure that’s why your instincts wouldn’t let you.

          So glad the ideas were helpful. You’re so welcome.
          Wishing you a peaceful Christmas filled with all the things you enjoy and make you happy, you deserve it.

          1. Thanks Mindful, that means a lot. When I talk to my one sibling about it she basically blames me and tells me that they don’t think I like them, which is just crazy making because she basically denies they have any part in it. When certain family members say intentionally hurtful things to me and about me and take hurtful actions, how am I supposed to feel? I have tried many times to establish a relationship because of what my sibling says but it ends up being the same so I am just going to accept thats the way things are and protect myself from this crazy making stuff.

      2. I have spent many holidays by myself out of choice. Also, at church there are many who come from homes with few or no family and I have invited them to my home for a quiet evening of Christmas music and fun foods.

        The Christmas prior to Covid I took my friend that suffered a stroke and was wheel bound to Christmas evening service. The men in the church carried my friend Alex up the stairs in his wheelchair. When I took him back to the nursing home we had snacks and played a board game which several residents joined in. What a beautiful evening to remember.

        I have a neighbor who divorced and has both his boys, I asked if he had anything planned for New Years Eve and I offered to make a Ham and Pies as my Christmas gift to his family. I then kept enough of the dinner to bring my friend Alex in the nursing home. It turned out to be a win win for all.

        My friend Alex died last year and I am forever grateful that God gave me the wherewithal to spend the holidays with my friend. Otherwise, we all would had been sitting home alone.

        There are so many people who have no one and are grateful for an ounce of someone sharing their time with them especially on a holiday.

        This week a group I know collects cookies for our Troops. Last year our group collected 1000 dozen cookies to be distributed. Because of Covid they have to be store bought. The camaraderie and good cheer at this event to give to others makes up for all the dysfunctional family gatherings which I forgo for the same reasons many of you speak of.

        There are so many good people, lost people and lonely people just waiting for another to share even 5 minutes of conversation. We can do so much good in this world, reaching out to another even if its just one with a kind hello and smile.

        I know these few things have been the best Christmas gift I could receive and when I sit alone I think of all the people who have come and gone in my life and left me with precious memories that preserve me in times I spend alone.

  6. Kat and Mindful,
    I have, um I mean I had a sister-in-law who runs hot and cold. We never knew which one we were going to meet. I dreaded seeing her. There are people in her life, mainly family, such as my brother and her children who enable her but I’m sure they’ve witnessed the ugliness too.
    My husband and I decided to leave that part of the family to themselves. I have not spoken to my brother or nieces in over 12 years and there hasn’t been one moment of regret. The ex SIL will have painted us as the bad ones, and that’s fine with us as long as we never have to see her again.
    Holidays are very quiet in our home as well but we have peace and I’ll take that over being disregarded any day.

  7. Hi, Kat,

    Like Mindful it took me awhile to feel comfortable going through the holidays solo.

    I’ve pared down the Christmas holiday to just what is necessary for gifts, mail them out (as I live in a different state than my family) and have a holiday for just for me and my dog. And with the money I save on all the extratraneous gift giving and travel, I give to a good cause. Toys for Tots is my focus this year.

    My new Christmas tradition is to get a bunch of Chinese food on Christmas Eve (PF Changs usually) turn on ‘A Christmas Story’ on TV, let my dog open her presents (she loves ripping up the paper so it’s super fun!). I stay in my P.J.’s all day, eat Chinese, nap, watch T.V. And I love it! I had gotten to the point I dreaded Christmas and actually started to feel resentful and hateful of it. Christmas carols would immediately put me in a bad mood. Now? I love Christmas! I can finally feel that holiday spirit, feel Christmas in the air.

    I feel like what I’m doing is what the holiday should be. I, too, think spending it with kind people would be fun as well but I’ve embraced my solo holiday happily. I’ve shed all the negative things of the holidays and embraced the joy of it again.

    1. Hi Charlie,
      You took something you thought of as a negative and made a positive out of it, that’s what I want to do, instead of feeling sorry for myself and getting on my pity pot. Thank you for sharing your new traditions, and what is meaningful for you. Gotta laugh at your dog opening her presents! Thanks, thats great to hear!

  8. HI, Kat,

    You mentioned I took something negative and turned it into a positive. That surprised me as I hadn’t thought of it that way. So while, yes, I guess I did turn a negative into a positive what I really did was broke free of the rigid traditional holiday that was making me miserable. In my family, Christmas had to be ‘perfect.’ It had to be exactly the same every year or the person who broke tradition ruined Christmas. Not wanting to remain married broke tradition thereby ruining Christmas. It was the first thing said to me when I told my mother and her sisters about wanting a divorce….’But what about Christmas!?!’ Seriously

    Now I’m not knocking traditional Christmas but when the tradition makes you feel lonely, ostracized and depressed it’s time to break free. It seems to me that when traditions are no longer connective and positive, then they’re just habits and quickly become bad habits.

    What I’ve realized is that our society has deemed what the holidays should be. You see it on commercials, movies, T.V (Hallmark comes to mind, although I love those stupid movies), even the news with their holiday depression and suicide statistics. (Sometimes I now wonder how many of those depression/suicide statistics are about solo lonely people or lonely traditional group people.) My family and so many others pity and, quite frankly, look down on those lonely solo people. It seems society thinks there is nothing worse than being alone for the holidays. I may be solo for the holidays but I’m not definitely not lonely and I’m smirking thinking of those people who pity me because I’m alone. (Ha,! If they only knew of my stress free holiday. In truth, I feel kinda sorry for them now.)

    What I’ve realized is there is a whole world out there of non traditional Christmas people. They may go out to eat, volunteer, go to the movies, stay in and watch movies on t.v or on disc. It’s surprised me how many good movies are on T.V. Christmas Day. They may not do the same thing each year. I actually realized how isolating my families Christmas tradition are.

    One of the reasons I love ‘A Christmas Story’ is that their traditional Christmas gets messed up (by the Bupkiss hounds, ha!) and they go to a Chinese restaurant for Christmas dinner. The mess up became their favorite and most memorable Christmas. I’ve realized that same holiday tradition becomes like ground hog day and they all tend to blend together because there is nothing really distinctive about them. The upside and the downside of traditional Christmas.

    From my experience, I will tell you the way to get ‘off the pity pot’ is to take control of YOUR Christmas. I would caution you against the all or nothing approach as its a rough road I’ve found. If you don’t go to your family’s traditional Christmas because they’re mean to you and you feel bad about it, I can promise you that your self imposed exile will feel really bad too unfortunately. (Been there, done that, have the tee shirt stuffed in the back of a drawer.)

    So instead I’d recommend making a plan. Maybe there is a time at the family Christmas you like? Go for that limited amount of time. Have plans made for after. Visit a friend, volunteer somewhere, go see a movie. Get a part of the family without feeling obligated to stay the entire time getting beat down between their behavior and your lack of choices/options. If you’re in the states, the movie Sing is out Christmas Day.

    Maybe get on a neighborhood ap and see if you could pull a group of people together to meet at the theater or for dinner or both. Other people are struggling with the holidays as well, or maybe looking for something fun and different.

    Maybe change it all up and have a Christmas travel vacation. Depending on your finances Germany with their Kingle markets apparently live, breath, and bleed Christmas. Or a beach Christmas in country or out. Mountain cabin with snow. Lakeside with ice. Ski trip. Possibilities there are limitless. Then after the break in the family holiday stress you can figure out what you really want for next year.

    One other thing (and sorry for the book):

    if you decide to do something with your family. I use the Three Strikes, I’m Out guideline. Snarky comment, Strike 1. Snide jab, Strike 2. Put down, Strike 3, I’m Out. If you’re not afraid of a little confrontation, you can say it out loud or pre-inform the family. If that thought makes your skin crawl, just say to yourself or under your breath. At 3 strikes, get your coat, say Merry Christmas Gotta Go and be free! If you’re in the right mind set you’ll feel relieved. Interestingly and somewhat disheartening, I’ve noticed those peculiar personalities seem to know when you’re vulnerable and when you’re strong. Going in with the 3 Strikes will change your behavior and quite possibly their behavior as well. And doesn’t that say it all when you have to walk into a family Christmas gathering with an offensive strategy to be treated decently.

    Good luck to you and I wish you the happiest of holidays! If I can be of any help, please let me know. There is no reason all of us have to reinvent the wheel. Lol

    1. Getting away from the “hallmark” Christmas is my goal as well. My mom loved the traditions too, and I do as well, but I am all for making my own traditions that make it special each year. When I was a kid I used to read the same book I liked every Christmas season laying under the Christmas tree lights. I loved doing that. I have lost touch with my own identity over the years so I still need to discover what I like now.
      Thank you for so many ideas to ponder. One thing I do want to do is read the Christmas story in the Bible each year and really meditate on it and give thanks to God. And of course food, a good meal is something I always look forward to! It will probably take me a while to find my Christmas traditions that are meaningful to me but its a way to get to actually know myself better. Thank you for your thoughts, I really appreciate it that you took the time to write that. I wish you a happy holiday too! We all have a common understanding in dealing with the narcissist and its good to be able to be understood by those who know from experience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *