Do any of these phrases sound familiar? These are just a few of the thoughts that can plague us when we are in a relationship with a narcissist.
We experience the slow, stumbling descent into self-doubt, wondering where we went wrong, and how we can put it right. Some of us may shrink our needs into an unobtrusive corner where they will not get in anyone’s way. Others of us may alternate this with a sense of being caught in a constant power struggle, where getting our needs met is just one big fight.
Both the shrinking and the fighting leaves us exhausted, drained, desperate. Clinging to our sense of reality, what is actually going on in our relationship, becomes harder and harder. we find ourselves wondering if, after all, they are right… maybe we are the problem.
Under the relentless force of our partner’s conviction, we run the risk of turning on our own self, our own minds. We run the risk of forgetting basic truths, the facts of our own experiences.
What is Gaslighting?
“To gaslight” refers to the act of undermining another person’s reality by denying facts, the environment around them, or their feelings. Targets of gaslighting are manipulated into turning against their cognition, their emotions, and who they fundamentally are as people. Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality.
According to Robin Stern, PhD, author of the book “The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life,” signs that you are a victim of gaslighting include:
- no longer feeling like the person you used to be
- being more anxious and less confident than you used to be
- often wondering if you’re being too sensitive
- feeling like everything you do is wrong
- always thinking it’s your fault when things go wrong
- apologizing often
- having a sense that something’s wrong, but being unable to identify what it is
- often questioning whether your response to your partner is appropriate (e.g., wondering if you were too unreasonable or not loving enough)
- making excuses for your partner’s behavior
- avoiding giving information to friends or family members to avoid confrontation about your partner
- feeling isolated from friends and family
- finding it increasingly hard to make decisions
- feeling hopeless and taking little or no pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
How to Come Out Of The Fog
It is not petty to hold to boundaries, assert limits or expect our partners to fulfil responsibilities they have agreed to carry out. It is not petty to hold our line.
Did we have an “anger problem” before this relationship? Is our anger the natural culmination of days, weeks, months of systematic dismissal and denial to hear our calmer, more rational voice? Of course we need to assert our anger in safe ways that do not threaten our own safety nor another’s, but it is not a problem to be angry when there are things to be angry about.
The pain of the micro-manager accusation is acute, and carries a similar weight to being called (or dismissed as) a “nag”. What is often misunderstood as micro-managing however, may well be your behavioural attempt to grasp at some sense of predictability or stability in your relationship – having goal posts shift or being repeatedly let down can lead us to a certain amount of checking (and double-checking) arrangements. But it is not micro-managing to need reliability from our partners.
Does everyone think you are a great couple because they experience a completely different set of behaviours, or a heavily curated set of behaviours, from your partner? It’s true that we all tend to “put on a face” when out and about in public, and at home we can appear distinctly less together. In a narcissistic relationship however, the contrast in behaviour will often be so acute as to make you question both your partner’s qualities and your own. In public do you find yourself wondering why your partner can’t express these qualities at home? Or do you find yourself pressured into behaving in ways (or accepting behaviours) that are contrary to your personal values or boundaries? Performance management is part of the narcissistic arsenal and you are not in great couple, unless that is your experience of your relationship.
So in case you are wondering today if you are just being petty, angry, micro-managing or ungrateful for the “great couple” you are, here are some thoughts I would offer your exhausted mind:
You are not being petty.
You are not being unreasonably angry.
You are not micro-managing.
Your experience of happiness or unhappiness in your relationship is valid, matters and deserves attending to.
If this has resonated with you, reach out if you can, and gift yourself the support you need to hear your own experience as true. Your story matters. Because you do.