The Crazy Making Behaviors of Disturbed Characters

Crazy Making Behaviors

Many folks are familiar with the crazy making behaviors of disturbed characters. And these days we even have a commonly accepted name for them: gaslighting. Still, misunderstandings abound about this phenomenon. That’s because so many erroneous notions about it are promoted in popular books and articles.

Many writers see gaslighting as a specific tactic. And it indeed can be. That is, someone can deliberately try to make you feel crazy, as a tactic to abuse or exploit you. But more often, gaslighting is the crazy-making effect of any number of tactics a manipulator might employ. Moreover, there are various things a skilled manipulator can do to enhance the effect.

Enhancing the “Gaslighting” Effect

Engaging in manipulation tactics with apparent conviction, righteous indignation, intensity, etc. are all ways to enhance the gaslighting effect. Allow me to illustrate with a typical example (all potentially identifying information deliberately distorted):

“Jan” accidently sees a suspicious text appear on “Ted’s” cell phone screen. He has already admitted having an inappropriate relationship. But he has long insisted the affair is “over.” And he’s expressed regret and asserted he wants to patch things up. So, she’s given him the benefit of the doubt. But the message on his phone appears to suggest he is still lying, so she decides to confront him.

The intensity of his response more than sets her back a bit. “Why should he be the angry one, anyway?,” she wonders. After all, he’s the one who did wrong. But he is the one expressing outrage. Worse, what he says makes her feel like the victimizer instead of the victim. “Am I always going to be under the microscope?,” he asks.” “Are you going to assume the worst anytime something you think is suspicious happens?,” he challenges. And he says these things with such seemingly righteous indignation that she feels like the bad guy for even suspecting.

Jan feels crazy, even though she shouldn’t. She has every right to be suspicious. After all, Ted is the one who broke the trust. And it’s his job to repair it. But the intensity and seeming righteous indignation he displays makes him appear the victim. That’s why such behaviors are in themselves manipulation tactics. And such tactics are particlulary crazy-making in character. They’re meant to be!

Overcoming the Gaslighting Effect

Recognizing manipulation tactics when you encounter them, and responding appropriately is key to both sanity and personal empowerment. And that’s why I wrote In Sheep’s Clothing. Still, overcoming the crazy-making gaslighting effect takes time. Manipulation victims lose their sense of trust – not only in others but also in themselves. Full of self doubt, it can take years to regain a sense of self-validation. (See also: Toxic Relationship Aftermath: Doubt, Mistrust, and Paranoia?.)

In the example above, only one person is entitle to outrage: Jan. And her outrage ought rightfully be greater because of Ted’s continued tactics. There’s no true remorse here.

I discuss the topic of crazy making behaviors a little more on the latest edition of Character Matters.


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29 thoughts on “The Crazy Making Behaviors of Disturbed Characters

  1. I learned about gaslighting about 10 years ago. Today as I read this article I realized I have unknowingly allowed people to gaslight me.

    Your comment “ Recognizing manipulation tactics when you encounter them, and responding appropriately is key to both sanity and personal empowerment” is so wise. It makes so much sense to me now. Thank you for your blog.

  2. I’ve dealt with so much gaslighting from my former spouse.
    But recently I’ve noticed that the medical community uses gaslighting.

    1. Rose Mead,

      I’ve found that it is one of the main tactics the medical community uses. I’m a former cancer patient and now I’m terrified of them and their tactics. They put their ego over the life of the patient.

    2. I went to the dr for severe headaches back in Jan. she was a new dr to me so I was really taken aback when instead of trying to get to the root of the problem she started running down the list of vaccines she wanted to give me.
      Hep C, Tetanus, HPV, Covid and one other that escapes me right now.
      Can you imagine??? After running through them and I answer no to all 5, she says real snarky “what are you like anti vaccine?”
      I almost said to her, what are you trying to get rich off my insurance?
      She ordered all these tests for me as well.
      Turned out my neck was really stiff again and it was causing the headaches!
      My husband was with me as I couldn’t drive, he said WOW I’m really proud of you being able to stand your ground with her!
      I told him by the time a woman reaches menopause she can deal with just about anything!! LOL!

  3. Dr. Simon,

    Recognizing manipulation tactics when you encounter them, and responding appropriately is key to both sanity and personal empowerment.

    Would you please provide some examples of appropriate responses. I’m still fuzzy on that. Do you call them out? Even one for the story provided above would be helpful.

    1. Grace, in all the time I’ve followed this blog I’ve yet to uncover the answer as to how we can react verbally to people who are gaslighting.
      The gaslighter is proficient at deflecting and denying and instilling self doubt. How does one effectively respond to that? The gaslighter does not accept defeat so if it’s possible avoid them, walk away and if you can, go no contact, otherwise you will find yourself constantly on the defensive.

      1. Thanks, D.

        My way has been not buying in, recognizing internally what they’re doing, validating myself, and then depending on what it is disagree outright or just saying I see, and let it go. Good advice! It’s getting easier to recognize it and to recognize there’s no “winning” with them (getting them to treat me with honesty/decency).

        I don’t know about you, but I find it discouraging/frustrating that it’s ambiguous in the articles.

        1. I read here, I think, that if you feel you may be victim of a gaslighter, to start journaling what you suspect may be a lie, then when the topic is again brought up, you’ll have notes on what really happened. You can use this to confront, but what’s the point really. If someone disrespects you enough to manipulate in this way, they aren’t worthy of your time and attention. Be done with them.

          1. Have used that technique. May have even been one of the people posting it on here. I have used it when in a new relationship and suspect something’s up, to document for my sanity. Now, I don’t really need it, I just eject. Like you say, be done with them! It is a great technique though when you’re leaning to trust yourself/your gut. It helps build back you trust in yourself after being gaslit for so long.

            There are some situations – business/legal/health – where you unfortunately have to deal with them at some level.

    2. I’m no expert, but here are some responses and conversation starters I’ve used with the gaslighting trouble makers in my life.
      What do you mean by that?
      I’m not interested in debating this with you.
      That’s not gonna work with me.
      Here’s how it made me feel when you did or said this.
      I didn’t ASK you if you did this, I said when you did this.
      It’s ok if you don’t value our relationship, but I won’t be able to remain in it.

      You can use your own statements or questions to fit the narrative.
      I expect some of the garbage to be hurled my way as one is family. So I always go with this in mind. I’m going to have a good time. When you don’t respond with hurt feelings/expressions they become confused, angry and more intense.
      When you stop engaging them they actually do lose interest.
      Always always always refrain from arguing or retaliating!
      Hope it helps, it helped me.
      Like Dr. Simon has stated, it takes time to develop your boundaries with these gaslighters that you can’t or choose not to go no contact.

      1. By the way, I just attended a “party” there. He tried numerous tactics. I didn’t respond once.
        Some of what he does is extremely rude, outright offensive and disrespectful.
        I tend to think of the bad behavior this way. Unless I’m actually physically harmed I don’t have to respond.
        By the way it’s been more than a month and I still haven’t responded to his phony calls of “hey it’d be really nice to hang out with you guys”.

        I’m not retaliating, he knows this will be the result of his bad behavior.

  4. After reading “In Sheep’s Clothing” at least 20 times, I started to not only notice manipulation techniques, but also to respond to them more often, mainly by focusing only on the main point of contention even when the manipulator tried to deflect and play the victim, etc., and not respond at all to any of the other diversionary tactics they used. I was formerly easily “gaslit” because I quickly felt guilty and immediately wondered if I were doing wrong if someone used righteous indignation or played the victim. Manipulation techniques are very effective because they use our good will and conscience against us. It has taken a lot of knowledge, practice and courage to consistently stand against these techniques in real life.

    1. Grace,

      Excellent points.

      “I started to not only notice manipulation techniques, but also to respond to them more often, mainly by focusing only on the main point of contention even when the manipulator tried to deflect and play the victim, etc., and not respond at all to any of the other diversionary tactics they used.?”

      If you can keep your psychological balance and not be thrown off (destabilized) – what their tactics are designed to do – and doggedly focus on the main issue, with some, you can make some headway. They get thrown off, their not used to someone doing that.

      “I was formerly easily “gaslit” because I quickly felt guilty and immediately wondered if I were doing wrong if someone used righteous indignation or played the victim. Manipulation techniques are very effective because they use our good will and conscience against us.”

      Oh my goodness! Me too. I still have to catch myself. I’m too quick to assume it’s me. To look at my behavior. And it gets me into their perspective. The problem is, with them, it’s ALWAYS all about their perspective. You don’t matter.

      “It has taken a lot of knowledge, practice and courage to consistently stand against these techniques in real life.”

      So true. It’s rewarding and exhausting.

      1. Thank you for your kind words. You are so right, manipulators are used to their tactics working. When they don’t, it sometimes forces them into revealing too much about themselves. That validates our evaluation of them, and we can take action steps in accord with the situation.

        When we blame ourselves for something that isn’t our fault, they see the opening and run with it. Their perspective will not change unless they start to suffer for it. And they rarely do.

        It’s very challenging to discern when something is truly my fault vs. false blame and guilt laid on me by another. Time and practice and awareness have helped. Also, standing back and reflecting on the situation from an emotional distance is helpful. It’s so nice to have a discussion with someone who understands this! Thank you.

        1. Grace,

          You’re welcome. I enjoy reading your perspective and the conversation! It is nice to have a discussion with someone who understands this.

          It does force them to reveal more than they want to! Their mask slips even more and they either try to snap it back on tight, or, sometimes they just rip it right off! The ones that rip it off and double down are the ones to get away from as fast as you can!

          Agreed, they rarely do because their so good at vilifying the victim and recruiting enablers and abusers by proxy. They often get off scot-free. Meanwhile, the victim is left reeling from the abuse and the wreckage.

          So glad it’s getting better for you. Had to spend lots of time alone and in meditation to get my nervous system calmed down enough to be able to effectively emotionally detach. Their SO good at finding emotional vulnerabilities!

          1. Healing,
            I’ve experienced several occasions where they ripped the mask right off and you’re right, it’s time to run, even if it’s a family member. It’s quite a frightening experience to see what’s really inside them.

            The actions of the recruited enablers and abusers by proxy is almost more hurtful than the original abuse. People you thought would stand by you deserting you to support someone who is clearly an abuser is shocking and heartbreaking.

            Sometimes they run out of victims or the victims start to talk to each other and find out the truth. That happened to me in a workplace, and finally made it bearable, when enough people saw the abuser for who she really was.

            I can imagine that it takes a very strong and decent character to stand up to the recruitment tactics of the character disturbed person, so I have some small sympathy for them, but it’s still hurtful. It made me aware of the times I fell for these schemes and hurt others and now I have better awareness of this and try to avoid it.

            I think detaching is rather like peeling off layers of an onion. New insights help peel away more layers, but the onion sure makes you cry. They are skilled at psychological warfare and well-meaning people with good consciences are generally easy prey for them, until they finally learn the truth of what’s really going on. Sometimes the only thing you can do is get away from them to save yourself.

  5. Healing,

    I used journaling on my last relationship and it really made the situation crystal clear to me.

    1. Lucy,

      I’s amazing how clear it can be isn’t it? It’s a great tool.

      As an aside, it’s wonderful to read your growth and progress. Hope you can appreciate how far you’ve come. I think we often can’t see it or can’t fully appreciate it.

  6. Healing,

    Thank you! I have learned a lot. I spent a lot of time on this site reading and posting. I am thankful for all who gave advice and recounted their experiences.
    What I’ve learned from this site will carry me through my lifetime, because, as you well know, we keep encountering people with disturbed character and are now better equipped to deal with them. It still takes me longer than I’d like to figure out, but I do get there.

  7. Lucy,

    My last relationship involved lying that I caught red-handed. Who knows how many lies I didn’t catch.
    When I caught him lying in one instance I immediately called him out on it, whereupon he changed his answer five times in succession.
    I said “You’ve changed your story five times now.” He says, “Well, you’re making me nervous.”
    Really – back at my fault?
    He showed himself that day.
    By the way, this relationship did not last long. I could sense what his end goal was, which was to use me as sugar momma. I could see the steps he was taking, the attempts to make me feel less. It was little things. But I was on alert.
    One example: I cleaned the frig. Anyone can clean a frig, right? I have a career, keep a nice home, am independent and have much self esteem and respect for my self.
    You know what he says when he sees the clean frig? “I’m proud of you!”
    are you kidding me. Proud of me for cleaning a frig. Isn’t that what you’d tell a person struggling with daily life? He said this in an attempt to make me feel less and that I’d done this great thing. Things like that kept happening. It was very strange. But he was trying to dumb me down so that I’d feel like I needed him. I figured him out pretty quickly. It was creepy. I’m glad that’s behind me.

    1. Lucy,

      Good on you not just catching the lies, but calling him on it in real time!

      So that’s what that is all about!! I’ve had people say that to me and I’m really confused as to why their saying that. It strikes me as strange. I can see it when someone is really challenged by something and screws up the courage to face it/do it, but everyday stuff, it’s just bizarre.

      1. Healing,
        If something strikes you as strange, then it is strange! Put the puzzle pieces together and you can figure out what a person’s intentions are. It takes a little time, but once you’ve dealt with disturbed persons and realize the extent they can go to fulfill their agenda, you realize your ideas about them are not crazy, and that yes some people will use you to get what they want. It’s sick and disheartening, but it’s real life. The more aware we become the less time and effort and $$ we will waste on bad relationships.

    2. Wow!!! I had the exact same situation with someone in my life…caught him lying and he said you’re making me nervous!!!
      I said to him what are you like 5????
      That’s hilarious about the fridge!!!
      I had a jerk of a neighbor walk past my house when I was cleaning leaves in my yard. He says to me wow you do a really good job of that, you’re almost as good as a man!
      I answered him back saying OHHH wow that’s very gracious of you!!
      He was walking to the bar to get his usual beers, and I swear he had a little misstep and looked back at me to see if I was being snarky!!!
      You’ll love this one. I used to work at a Nursery /Garden center. Our boss would go to lunch or the bank and the other guys would be out on deliveries or plantings.
      An older male customer would come in, say he has a problem and needs some help. I’d ask what can I help you with?
      His answer: well can I get someone here who’s more knowledgeable like a man????
      I wouldn’t miss a beat and call on the PA in the store and ask Jim to come to the garden center there’s a man here who needs someone who’s knowledgeable about a problem!
      EVERYONE in the store knew what that meant!!!
      Of course the customer would get irritated waiting so again I’d gently ask him if it was something I could help with.
      It’s not easy to deal with the slow of heart, mind and will.

      1. Priscilla,
        You’re hilarious. You’ve got some good comebacks. These people are not used to being called out on. I’m typically not quick at comebacks. I think about it for a while and get irritated I didn’t speak up. Sometimes I’m just speechless.
        Too bad women are still looked down upon as less than a man. Ridiculous. Can’t imagine what their wives and daughters put up with.

  8. I’m curious if anyone else has noticed or suspected that women resort to/use gaslighting in general, more than men. Clearly both sexes use it. I’m NOT picking on women.

    The reason I wonder is because I’ve always been way more comfortable with men. I wasn’t sure why. I suspected it was because my dad and I were “close”. As close as you can be with a man who has been abused and in return, lashes out and abuses. I guess I learned how to relate to them.

    Men have also been socialized to be more comfortable with conflict, so they seem to be more up front or open with their opinions/aggression.

    I’ve noticed the male physicians I’ve encountered were more straightforward with me. Maybe more inclined is some respects to expect me to follow their directive, but less likely to, initially at least, use gaslighting. (I believe the medical profession relies on a ton of coercion and gaslighting).

    I’m curious what others think and if that has been their experience too.

    I had started to avoid male doctors because of their style, more open conflict, but now I’ve come to appreciate it. I much prefer we “fight” more openly, honestly. With the women, I didn’t realize they were fighting!

  9. Healing

    I have not been gaslighted by another woman, as far as I know. Maybe because they haven’t had an agenda to fulfill with me.
    I think with spouses and/or significant others there may be more gaslighting because of the relationship of being and wanting to stay a couple that if they want to keep status quo they may need to gaslight in order to get what they want and stay a couple. I was gaslighted by my X-husband because he wanted to remain married but knew I wouldn’t stay had I known what he was up to. The same with the X boyfriend. The closer I looked I could see the stage he was setting up and trying to fool me.
    I’ve been lied to by other women plenty, but not to the extent of gaslighting.
    If someone gaslights you, you’ve got something they want, whether it be your attention or time or money. Once you realize what they’re doing, they are not worthy of wasting precious time.

    1. It’s hard to let go of a long term relationship. I had a very long-time friend. When I realized she was gaslighting me, it was over. Once I saw it, I realized it had happened many other times. I was taken in by the self-doubt for a long time, but suddenly my eyes were opened. There’s an element of deception to gaslighting that goes beyond lying. It’s cruel and evil to make someone else doubt what their senses tell them is true.

  10. Grace
    I love your analogy of the onion, and peeling layers. Yes, there is still that damage and hurt. But good thing we’ve learned what happened to us because of our dealings with the narc.

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