Gaslighting And Projection In Narcissistic Families: The Most Toxic Abuse For The Self

(SNN) Gaslighting is a term coined from the 1938 stage play “Gaslight” where a husband attempts to convince his wife that she is crazy when she notices the dimming of the lights in the house whenever he uses the gas lights in the attic. He attempts to convince her that it is her memory that is at fault and she is simply imagining the dimming of the lights.

Now the term is used to describe a very destructive and poisonous form of psychological abuse. This kind of abuse often goes unawares from the victim’s point of view, and why? Because this type of abuse distorts the victim’s point of view.

When children are gaslighted it is extremely destructive to their development and their ways of thinking. By being tricked into believing what your instincts are screaming at you is right, and being manipulated into believing it is actually wrong and false, you learn not to trust yourself. You are taught to believe your sense of reality, and your perception of the world is wrong. You don’t trust your instincts. Imagine a child that relies on a Narcissist parent as a source of support and teachings, but instead, the teachings come poisoned, and they deny and hinder the child’s natural development of their self and their reality.

This child becomes an adolescent, and in turn becomes an adult, who would always second guess themselves, not trust themselves, have great difficulties in making decisions, and never be able to rely on themselves for reassurance. They probably look for validation and instruction outside of themselves because their individual voice and their own instinctual reactions were muted a long time ago. Instead of being guided by a strong sense of self, and a healthy conscience there is a heavily critical and belittling tone to the way they think about themselves. Most often that critical conscience is an echo of a narcissistic parent. Even in thinking a casual thought, they might perceive themselves as thinking it “because they are stupid”, or in regards to feeling sad, angry or upset, they might believe they are “overreacting” and maybe they even feel undeserving of these emotions. They doubt their own perceptions of their world because they have been convinced it is incorrect. Of course, a child who grew up in this mindset will find it very difficult to realize it isn’t a normal mindset to have. I mean, they can hardly distinguish their genuine thoughts from their morphed and projected ways of thinking to begin to realize the ways in which they have been abused.

Some examples of narcissistic gas lighting might be:

-If your mother never showed you any support during a difficult time of your life, and you drew attention to this fact, then she swore to everyone and everything that she did, and then made you feel guilty for even questioning the idea that she wouldn’t have.

-If you were physically abused and confronted your abuser about it only to have them deny it ever happened, maybe saying something like you have an “overactive imagination”

-Having real events of things your narcissist has done completely denied even though it literally happened. Straight out being told “that never happened, stop lying” When it clearly did. This usually happens when you point out the gravity of their own actions. As this threatens their ego with shame and guilt (the emotions reserved for you) they will work to change any of the minor or major details in order to appear nonaccountable. Of course, having real events denied, makes you doubt your own memory.

-Being convinced that your emotions and reactions are unnecessary. Maybe you questioned the abuse, or the dynamics of the family and presented questions about the ways of the family those uncomfortable details. You were then shamed for being too sensitive, and again probably just imagining things, and also called a liar.)

I thought this artwork was symbolic of a narcissistic family. With the narcissist at the top, the golden children and enablers in between, and you at the bottom. Only, you’ve made the choice to start cutting your strings.

Imagine if you threw a child into a cage with a lion and you belittled them for feeling afraid. Imagine you taught them that to be scared of the lion was wrong, and it just the child’s own weakness that brought about the fear. What happens? Haywire. The child is frightened, but trying to fight off his fear, and confused as to why what he sees clearly in his own eyes, is apparently wrong. It’s like crossing over all the wires in your brain and having them all run into each other. You’re short-circuiting. You don’t understand. But who is giving you something to understand? Your narcissist. She/he is projecting onto you, and relaying to you your own emotions, and your false convictions. You can have the blame, and the shame, and the lies because your short-circuiting self can no longer figure out they aren’t yours to have, or even which way is up. Which thoughts used to belong to you? Which emotions are yours? And which are just being projected onto you, and fed to you like the lines in a play?

And slowly you just become this great enigmatic something. Your self is morphed and backward, and I would even argue that at some points it’s hardly there at all. Other times you’re in so much pain because nothing feels right. Who is the person in the mirror? Why do you feel so empty? Why does what you believe or think not sitting with you as truth at your core? Because somewhere beneath the false teachings and that poor development: your true sense of self-fights to be set free from the suffocation.

Unfortunately, during this inner struggle, it is easy to act out, and believe that you are the crazy one, and then you’re off to therapy to try to figure out what exactly is wrong with you. Maybe your mother or father sat next to you concerned, and the therapist agreed that she just couldn’t see what could be wrong with you when your parents showed so much Empathy. And then you feel guilty and ungrateful for seeking out help for feeling crazy. Then you feel stupid for feeling like you were worthy of support. You feel like you’re just overreacting.

But you weren’t.

Recommended Books:

The Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment

Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life

Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents

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