Manipulation Tactics and Gaslighting

Manipulation Tactics and Gaslighting

Manipulation tactics and gaslighting go hand in hand. In fact, it’s a manipulator’s astute use of various tactics that produce the gaslighting effect. I described this “crazy-making” feeling in the first edition of In Sheep’s Clothing, over 26 years ago. But at the time, a commonly accepted term for it didn’t exist.

In recent years, gaslighting has come to be regarded as a specific tactic. It’s understood that disturbed characters try to make you doubt yourself as a way of having their way with you. But not as much attention has been given to the specific tactics they use to make you question your judgment. And that’s unfortunate because it’s precisely the relationship between the manipulation tactics that narcissists and other disturbed characters employ and the gaslighting effect they induce that you need to understand to maximally empower yourself.

From Gaslighting to Empowerment

Victims of chronic gaslighting don’t just question their perceptions and judgment. They start to question their very sanity. They become so full of doubt that they can even stop growing. Folks equally skilled in the arts of positive impression management and the tactics of manipulation can invite a person to doubt quite intensely. But that’s why I’ve written all of my books and have published so many articles. Once a one-time victim comes to realize who their manipulator really is, what they’re really up to, and why they really do the hurtful things they do, the path to renewed personal growth and greater empowerment becomes clearer.

A Noteworthy Interview and Podcast

A while ago, the kind folks at the LoveFix Podcast interviewed me on the topic of gaslighting. And we explored not only the origins of the term but also all the various tactics manipulators use to instill this effect. The interview is now available on all the major platforms. You can access it by following any of the links listed below:

YouTube (brief preview):
Overcoming the Effects of Years of Gaslighting
Suffering years of gaslighting is traumatic. And trauma always leaves its mark. It not only takes time but also specialized intervention to overcome the effects of any trauma. And that’s especially true of overcoming the effects of years of gaslighting.
As I’ve mentioned before, gaslighting victims question their very sanity. And reclaiming the healthy sense of self necessary to move on after a toxic relationship is, perhaps, one of the most challenging tasks there is. There are two fundamental keys to personal empowerment. The first is keeping the burden of someone’s dysfunctional behavior where it rightfully belongs. And the second is remaining true to your loving heart in the present moment. It’s in the moment, and in the rightness of heart, that we have true power.
Character Matters
This week’s Character Matters podcast continues a discussion on the nature and power of genuine love.

17 thoughts on “Manipulation Tactics and Gaslighting

  1. If one is in a relationship (home, work or otherwise) with a character disordered person and becomes doubtful of oneself and feels like he/she is being attacked, it’s good to take notes of those instances to study and refer back to. You’ll see a pattern of tactics used. And you’ll have reference to what the truth is.
    Educating oneself in character disorders and tactics of manipulators is key to protecting one’s own mental health.

    1. Dr Simon,
      Why does a person hide someone’s things and then “pretend “ to find them for them?
      I’m assuming it’s to gaslight but what is wrong with a person like that?

      1. If you’re sure that’s exactly what happened, the answer might involve more than one motive, e.g., possibly to gaslight, possibly as a way to play the hero role, some other manipulation, etc. In any case, best to not second guess motives, but only judge behavior.

  2. Dr Simon, I’d like to point you to an episode of MASH season 3, episode 20 called “Love & Marriage”. In it, Colonel Blake mentions gaslighting (in the sense of crazy-making) and this episode is from 1975. Interesting because you mention you described this “crazy-making” feeling in the first edition of In Sheep’s Clothing, over 26 years ago. But at the time, a commonly accepted term for it didn’t exist. I think it did…Check it out.

    1. Hi Laura, the term did indeed exist, but because it wasn’t commonly accepted in both the professional communities and the general public, I thought it best to describe the phenomenon itself. It was a few years after the book and similar publications gained some traction that the term came into vogue. Still, that matters less to me than understanding the phenomenon, its roots, and how to overcome it, no matter what name we give it. And FYI, most folks (including some authors) think the term came from the Ingrid Bergman movie. But the movie’s title came from the stage play, which wasn’t very popular, and the syndrome it portrayed didn’t seem to resonate very well at the time. Goes to show you, everything in its time!!

      1. Dr Simon,
        Why does a person hide someone’s things and then “pretend “ to find them for them?
        I’m assuming it’s to gaslight but what is wrong with a person like that?

  3. Really appreciated the podcast. The way the conversation unfolded was really helpful. In particular, the discussion about emotional dependency and the characteristics of an abusive personalities, especially the person determined to control you in a relationship.

    Being raised in a very dysfunctional environment where both my parents had empathy deficits and were both immature as well as abusive. I was both expected to be responsible for many things I wasn’t really responsible for and had not had the modeling or time to develop (unreasonable expectations forced on a young child), then punished for not meeting said expectations by various means. Basically a total mind #$&@!

    If that’s your only modeling, and you are actually dependent on them, you learn to accommodate that behavior to survive. I believe that heavily contributed to the emotional dependence. It’s a desperation of sorts. Desperate to get at least some of your needs met from someone who is supposed to love you or care for you. And not ready yet to accept that no matter what you do, they won’t or can’t. So you hang on to the fantasy that if you do this, they might, or that, they might. Accommodate their lack hoping to get them to see you’re not a threat, and that you’re deserving of their love and attention, and your needs being met. I cringe as I type this as I do ‘hear myself’ and understand it’s truly awful. They know you need them and want them and they abuse that power. They use it to abuse, control, exploit.

    Oddly enough, the recent experiences with doctors helped me to understand it further. Many doctors are abusers (Very covert mostly). They are used to being treated like Gods and many believe they are. They are also used to being in control. Many people interact passively with the health care system. Just do what they are told. That’s a lot of power. In cancer treatment me a lot of bullies in the medical system, including doctors. I review studies and make very informed decisions, including cost\benefit analysis.

    The system is very patriarchal (so was my family of origin). What I have found is when I assert myself (express an opinion, ask questions, choose to opt out of a treatment, etc..) I am treated just like you would expect from an abusive personality! The system itself is designed around that determination to be in the one up position and doesn’t respond well to someone asserting their agency in a healthy way. I haven’t been able to get the care I want and need. Been gaslit by every level in the system. They’re determined to control at every level.

    I find myself wanting to accommodate, needing to accommodate their unhealthy behavior in an attempt to get the care I need! I feel the same desperation and helplessness. I know I don’t deserve to be treated this way, but they have the power, as well as the power to lie and turn other providers against you. I’ve been trying to find a new provider for 3 years, 3 different health systems, and it’s the same.

    I’m a calm, logical, patient, respectful, person. Doesn’t matter. Had a doctor today, who did not do his job, following up on test results from months ago that were abnormal. Instead of owning it, instead blamed his staff. (I didn’t confront him about it, I let him know I was following up on them). He was really unprofessional and aggressive! He raised his voice and was very condescending, including tone. I had enough!! I raised my voice and told him He Does Not Speak To Me In That Tone. I think he was shocked. What an a$$ hole. But he apparently thought it was okay to treat me that way. My very firm response worked though. He was more respectful and he listened to me. I explained that I’ve had the issue for 3 years and no real help until I saw him initially and that I’m very concerned. He referred me to 3 specialists. But it was a real risk. It’s scary. He could have easily spun that around, wrote a note that I was abusive, or crazy and that would be documented and believed by other providers. Further isolating me and increasing the trauma! It’s awful.

    Hope this makes sense. Still working on connecting the dots. But the podcast helped me to recognize the patterns.

    Thanks again for your work and the podcast.

    1. This was articulate and TRUE. I have over 30 y in the medical arena as both provider and patient and this is unfortunately an extremely accurate picture of the medical community. But then humility is at a premium today in every field.

      1. Thank you, Ann W.

        Sorry you’ve had to deal with it too. I do not trust them at all anymore. It’s traumatizing to say the least.


  4. Dr Simon – the podcast was helpful. But for a therapist to address the problematic behavior in the here and now, it needs to be *happening* in the here and now. The gaslighting my husband did to me was only at home and not in front of the marriage counselor. Just a slight problem. *I* tried to confront him my husband on it many times, but he just wrote me off. The counselor didn’t believe me when I tried to explain what was happening at home. Sometimes I wonder if I’m ever going to heal – the counselor was a friend and someone I deeply trusted, a spiritual mentor. I haven’t been able to find a therapist or anyone at all who understands the psychological harm done to me.

    1. You are correct, Julie, in that disturbed characters don’t always overtly display all of the troubling behavior you want a therapist to witness. However, the much bigger problem in my opinion is therapist training with regard to knowing how disturbed characters operate and what to look for. They almost always give themselves away subtly with one behavior or tactic or another. Too many times counselors start listening and accepting things at face value absent the discriminating mindset necessary to read between the lines. That’s why I spent so many years doing training and still do some. Your difficulty finding a therapist who truly “gets it” is not uncommon and is a sad commentary on the state of the art when it comes to understanding and dealing with character dysfunction.

  5. I find few people understand unless they have direct experience with a narc. I’m in alanon and have a sponsor – she keeps insisting I owe my narc ex-husband an amend. I have tried to explain to her this is not a normal person I was married to – like way beyond normal. Her response is “what is normal?”. I liken this to a pedophile and the victim being asked to give an amend for being molested because they yelled in anger at the pedophile after being abused. Did I say or do wrong things in the span of 14 years of marriage – of course-I wouldn’t be human if there wasn’t. Did I get angry when he spent all our money on drugs and topless bars or lied and manipulated continually? You bet I did. The thought of owing him an amend is maddening. I realize my sponsor just doesn’t realize what a narc is but its not from my lack of explaining it. I normally don’t bring it up to anyone because they don’t understand and its just frustrating but in alanon you are sharing a lot with a sponsor. I’m sure I just need to realize she just doesn’t understand and do what I believe is best and stop letting it bother me – I’m just not there yet.

    1. kat,
      I agree, few understand. And too many “feel sorry” for the CD. It is maddening. Like you, I don’t like to explain it. They don’t get it. It takes a lot of energy to explain and stirs up emotions that just make me feel sick and distressed.

      And seems as of lately I hear so many people label a person as a narcissist, without knowing the full details of what being a narcissist entails.

      And like you, I’d never apologize to my X. Of course I wasn’t perfect and without faults, but I sure wasn’t a manipulator and liar, etc. etc.
      Apologizing to him would be like bending over and saying just kick me and keep kicking cause I’m a fool. Nope. Hold your ground. you know more than your counselor.

      1. I know you understand Lucy, I agree with everything you said. So many in alanon label the alcoholic as a narc and while they have many of the very selfish behaviors, narcissism is a separate character disorder. Thats why I keep coming on the site because people here understand when so few do. I feel understood at last.
        I do not owe the ex an amend for targeting me and manipulating and abusing me – when I realized what was going on I got out. Like you, I would never claim I don’t have my defects of character-like everyone else, but I am not an abuser and lying manipulator. I was taken advantage of and anyone who can’t understand that, I am done explaining it, I can only try to explain so many times before I just get angry and feel like I am not being taken seriously.

    2. kat
      There’s plenty of gaslighting in 12 Step programmes. I’ve been in Alanon for over 3 decades.
      -only person you “owe” amends to, is you
      -“don’t give the alcoholic (Narc/perpetrator) bullets & show them where to shoot”.
      I made this mistake with my ex, thinking I was “working my programme”, he used it to find a way to get back at me again. So plz stay safe & do what’s best for you.
      -your Sponsor is not your Higher Power
      – JADE don’t justify, argue, defend or explain, that includes a Sponsor
      – if she doesn’t work for you (sounds like control & advice to me) change Sponsors.
      Do what’s best for you

      I seriously paid for that amends step. Disturbed characters think that amends, kindness & honesty are weakness, more importantly, they see it as another way to be able to manipulate you.

      1. Yep. Had a narc in our group and she tried to get others to do the fourth srep work with her to get more ammo. Super controlling and took charge of every meeting.

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