Everybody lies from time to time. Sometimes it is to spare the feelings of a loved one, sometimes to protect ourselves and sometimes because it is just easier than explaining the truth. While everyone may occasionally lie, most people have remorse for it. It is the instant guilty pang we experience when we know we are not being true to ourselves.
When the sociopath or narcissist lies, they don't feel guilty. It is such a normal part of the routine that it rolls off of their tongue with ease. If you catch them with proof of their lie, they don't blink an eye. Another fabricated story is waiting in the wings- and it is usually one that makes you feel crazy. How do they do this?
The best way that I can explain it is to use an analogy. My son has a favorite book called “I Left My Sneakers in Dimension X.” It is about a young boy who is trapped in an alternate reality with monster aliens. Things in dimension x are strange and reality is subject to change at any given moment . They call this a “Reality Quake.” It is similar to an earthquake on Earth. Monsters and humans may shrink, grow, turn into plants, or other weird objects. The walls become the floor and the floor becomes the ceiling.
Once the Reality Quake is over, things go back to normal- most of the time. Occasionally, if the quake is a bad one, you can get stuck as whatever you turned into. This is the modus operandi for a sociopath. In the first stages of what psychologists call “gas lighting,” you notice that things seem a bit off. The sociopath does something weird but offers an explanation for his behavior.
If we really stretch our imagination, we can see how his explanation may be plausible. Then we write it off as being an odd quirk and we forget about it. In reality, this is a huge red flag. Whatever odd thing the sociopath did was not a normal or acceptable response. Yet we give him the benefit of the doubt.
The second phase involves self defense. We recognize that the sociopath's version of reality is not true, so we confront him about it. He once again offers an explanation, but it is usually one that makes it our fault. “I am sorry that you took what I said the wrong way. You are so sensitive and defensive. I think you may have low self esteem- you should work on that.” Of course, the conversation is circular: it never actually addresses your question and keeps going to back to how it is your own fault.
Our response is to start defending our feelings as being rational and justified. We can't stand that our partner see us in the light he has portrayed us in- and we can't convince him he is wrong- so we work even harder at fixing our perceived flaws. Over time, we lose the ability to see anything that is wrong in our relationship unless it relates to something that the sociopath says we are doing wrong.
Here are 5 signs that you have been “gas lighted”:
- You are constantly questioning reality. The sociopath offers plausible explanations that insinuate the real problem is with how you see a situation- not the situation itself.
- You question yourself- Am I too sensitive? Is he right about what he says?
- Your gut tells you something is wrong, but you can't pinpoint exactly what it is.
- You withhold details and information from your close friends and family so that you don't have to explain weird things.
- You start lying to yourself or others in order to explain the Reality Quakes in a normal way.Here is reality: You are in a relationship with an emotional abuser. Gas lighting is his way of maintaining power and control. It is a tool of manipulation designed to prevent the sociopath from being accountable for his behavior. It places all blame squarely on the shoulder of his victims.