Sunday, August 21, 2011

Gaslighting, Campaigns of Denigration, and the Borderline Mother

Gaslighting is the denial that certain events occurred or that certain things were said when you know differently and the denial of your perceptions, memory and very sanity. Gaslighting is one of the most sinister, sadistic, horrible, and effective forms of emotional and psychological abuse. Gaslighting can make the victim feel as if she's going crazy. If perceptions of reality are constantly denied, and above all denied by your mother (the person you admire the most and think is omniscient), the result is very confusing and destructive. 

So how did the term gaslighting come to fruition? The phrase comes from the 1940's film "Gaslight", in which an abusive husband dims the gaslights in the house. Then, when his wife questions if the lights have been dimmed, he responds that she's imagining the dimming. The husband is driving the wife crazy, literally, by not validating the wife's reality. 

The dimming gaslight is the perfect metaphor for the experience of living with someone with BPD. They may appear completely 'normal' and may often have the ability to act “as if” he or she has no problems. In fact, many people with BPD become professional actors. The “as if” ability of people with BPD can be particularly devastating to those who love them.(from Grief to Advocacy: A Mother’s Odyssey)

The gaslighting mother will construct fantasies of your emotional pathologies:
  1. Making you look crazy: She makes you look crazy. If you try to confront her about something she’s done, she’ll tell you that you don’t know what you’re talking about or that she has no idea what you’re talking about. She doesn't remember significant events, flatly denies happenings, and won't admit perhaps she may have forgotten. Your perceptions of reality are continually undermined so that you end up losing confidence in your intuition, memory, or reasoning powers.
  2. Preserving Perception of Self: Gaslighting can be inflicted to preserve the BPD mother's narcissistic view of herself as 'perfect'. BPD's gaslight routinely by insinuating or directly stating that you are unstable (or else you wouldn't think so preposterously). You may be told you are over-sensitive, imagining, unreasonable, irrational, and over-reacting.
  3. Denying Your Right to Be Upset: Another form of gaslighting is the denial of your right to be upset. In this case the BPD might accept that the situation happened but invalidates you by fervently denying that there was anything problematic about it or any valid reason to get upset. 
Ultimately, she’ll present her smears as expressions of concern and declaring her own helpless victimhood.  She protests that she didn't do anything and has no idea why you’re so irrationally angry with her. She protests that you’ve hurt her terribly but loves you very much. She claims she would do anything to make you happy, but she just doesn’t know what to do. She'll tell others that you keep pushing her away when all she wants to do is help you.

What's the result? She has simultaneously absolved herself of any responsibility for your obvious hostility towards her, implied that it’s something fundamentally wrong with you that makes you angry with her, and undermined your credibility with her listeners.
She plays the role of the doting mother so perfectly that no one will believe you.  

The following are 15 common symptoms of gaslighting abuse and manipulation:
  1. Constantly second-guessing yourself.
  2. Wondering, “Am I being too sensitive?” more than ten times a day
  3. Frequently wondering if you are a “good enough” girlfriend / wife / employee / friend / daughter.
  4. Having trouble making simple decisions.
  5. Thinking twice before bringing up innocent topics of conversation.
  6. Frequently making excuses for the BPD's behavior to friends and family.
  7. Before the BPD comes home, you run through a checklist in your head to anticipate anything you might have done wrong.
  8. Thinking about what the BPD would like instead of what would make you feel great.
  9. Actually starting to enjoy the constant criticism, because you think, “What doesn’t kill me will make me stronger.”
  10. Starting to speak to the BPD through someone else so you don’t have to tell him / her things you’re afraid might upset  him / her.
  11. Starting to lie to avoid the put-downs and reality twists.
  12. Feeling as though you can’t do anything right.
  13. Frequently wondering if you’re good enough for the BPD.
  14. Your kids start trying to protect you from being humiliated by your BPD partner.
  15. You feel hopeless and joyless.
The outcome from this blog and researching 'gaslighting' presented a very interesting result. My Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) Dad adeptly used gaslighting through my childhood and into my adulthood. When I went through the 15 point checklist above, I could really see the damage that he was inflicting. We are now estranged as I couldn't handle the way that he was treating my child, my husband, and me. However, this exercise made his emotional abuse even more clear to me. 

I second-guessed myself constantly, analyzing interactions with my Dad to the tiniest details. I also always felt as if I was too sensitive to our interactions... as I always left feeling rejected, dejected, and ignored. Because I was always pushed aside by him for my step-sister, I wondered what draws him to her (or away from me). I know that his wife (my step-mother) has incredible power over him that he intentionally ignores me and pays more attention to my step-sister BUT the reality still stings. I have been careful of bringing up simple conversations-- and even if I carefully asked him about the past or incidents from childhood, he would respond curtly, "I don't remember because I CHOSE not to remember." I never got to the the point that the 15 point checklist illustrates (feeling hopeless, joyless, etc) as I removed myself from the situation.... but I can certainly see the damage that my Dad could cause (and has caused with my brother). 

If you realize that the BPD in your life is engaging in gaslighting against you, this is often a good clue that she is running a distortion campaign of denigration against you (another form of covert abuse). In regard to my BPD mother, this is the case. After all, if they have you confused about your own experiences, they will likely have a much easier time misleading others to believe inaccurate negative misinformation about you.

The BPD's intent is to destroy the target’s reputation and thereby destroy the target’s relationships with family and friends, employers, co-workers, and others. As with so many things involving BPD's and their typical inability to understand or respect boundaries (so descriptive of my mother!), no limits exist. The BPD uses any method to cause damage to their target: denigration, endless disparaging remarks, fabrication, false accusations, and even teaching others to lie on their behalf as part of their vilification campaign:
  1. For instance, when I was a teenager going off to college, she got upset at me for coming into town and not contacting her. Her response was to tell me to not come home the following weekend. Shortly thereafter, she told me not to come home for Thanksgiving... and then not to come home for Christmas. Shortly after these statements, she put all of my belongings on the street. From there she started to spread rumors and blow the entire event out of proportion-- none of which had anything to do with the initial disagreement (that she was hurt when I came into town and didn't contact her). We remained estranged for almost 5 years.  
  2. Another instance was when I received a box of dishes from my Dad which my mother perceived as a betrayal to her (I had no idea I was getting these dishes from my Dad who I wasn't in contact with at the time). She went from being upset saying that she can't believe I would accept the dishes after all that my Dad put her through with the divorce (17 years earlier) to the next day she told me I was a bitch and hung up the phone on me. From there the increasingly hurtful and untrue rumors started again which had nothing to do with my Dad sending me dishes. We remained estranged for almost 5 years.
  3. Another incident, which led to the last estrangement was my engagement to my fiance. She pressed me for information regarding my wedding, which I had no plans. Ultimately, I told her we would have two ceremonies with which she didn't approve and declared she was out of the wedding. She proceeded with a campaign of denigration against me, saying increasingly horrible things to my friends, colleagues, and future in-laws which had nothing to do with the initial conflict between my mother and me (that she didn't agree with the consideration of having 2 ceremonies). We remain estranged.
With my mother, to preserve her view as a 'perfect mother' she would push me away-- in estrangement-- then make up narratives about me to support how she is the perfect mother, the loving & concerned mother, and how I ripped her heart out.

In summary, gaslighting and campaigns of denigration are covert forms of emotional abuse. One results in the victims doubting their perceptions of reality, and the other turns people against the victim. When perceptions of reality are doubted, the gaslighter is able to control the victim as the victim becomes completely dependent on the gaslighter 'for the "truth'.  And campaigns of denigration can destroy the victim's life and damage people around the BPD. If you think you are the victim of gaslighting or campaigns of denigration, please seek professional assistance.

    17 comments:

    1. I can relate. Especially when it comes to checking everything I did or didn't before my parents come home. Yes, they're a king and queen as well, sadly!

      Hoda :)

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    2. Thanks for the post Hoda <3 Much love to you! xo

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    3. Ok. This is the 3rd post I've read now. I am going to start from the beginning. I feel like I found someone who has/is lived a parallel life with mine.
      My estrangement from my mother, sister and faTHER began September 2009.
      It's been a painful but necessary path.

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    4. I understand the path is painful-- very difficult road to travel. I wish I had a **normal** family so that the unconditional love and support would be there-- but I have been blessed with a loving and supportive husband, a child who is a pure blessing, and remarkable friends. Have you read this post yet? http://thequeenandking.blogspot.com/search/label/divorcing%20parent What are some of the positive effects from the estrangements that you've experienced? All my best to you Christa.

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    5. I was adopted by my grandmother (my mother, oy another story all together) and when she died, I inherited as though I were a natural born child, as is common. One of my aunts, who is diagnosed with BPD, was so enraged that she set out on what I can only describe as a total and complete assault on everything that I held dear. She actually found the will a month before my grandmother died. My grandmother was staying at her home and she held her hostage for two weeks, until adult services came and took her to hospice. During that time she claimed my grandmother changed her will (she had brain cancer and was on morphine), wrote a letter to me that was supposedly from my grandmother that had vile hateful things in it, claimed I threaten to kill her and tried to have me arrested and a restraining order against me, claimed I threatened to kill my grandmother to have me arrested and tried to (and succeeded) keep me from her as she died. My poor grandmother would call me and cry "your aunt says you hate me and won't visit what have I done?" It was brutal. When the new will was thrown out of court, and I inherited just the same, she sued me and then claimed to family and friends I WAS SUING HER! She has turned everyone in my family against me. EVERYONE. The lies this woman has told are unbelievable. She can make up entire histories and realities and impose them on people in such a way as they believe her??? How? I don't know how anyone falls into this trap. Her best manipulation tactic is to make up something out of the blue (for example: I drove over to her house, asked her for forgiveness, she offered me tea because she's a forgiving person and then I stole her wedding ring) with no basis in reality and then say "how could I make this all up?"

      She's trying to destroy my life. And I don't think she'll stop until she's succeeded. I haven't had any contact with her in a year.

      I'm now in therapy to deal with it all. My biggest problem is the guilt I feel from the harsh things I think of her. I don't engage with her and I've never ever responded to any of her attacks and for a year have only responded through my attorney. This, I believe, makes her angrier and causes more of her crazy directed at me...but I can't very well speak to this woman or respond. There's no winning.

      Thank you for this blog.

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    6. You have been through the ringer-- I am so sorry. I congratulate you on the therapy and pray you can shake the guilt soon. You WILL be able to, I know first hand. Keep on being strong and reaching for happiness in your life. You deserve it. Believe in yourself. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story. Hugs!

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    7. Oh my God! This sounds like my mother. Whenever I bring up something from the past, something she did that really hurt me, she denies any wrongdoing. It's emotionally draining. I do second-guess myself, but I know in my heart that my memories are correct. Why is she doing this? Does she not remember...for real or is she lying to my face? Nice to know I'm not alone. :)

      -Sunnye from Seattle

      BTW, you wrote this blog on my birthday(August 21st) --makes me one year older...ha, ha!

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    8. I think that they 'deep six' their memories about how they've behaved or treated others. They may remember at times but they keep telling themselves that they are the victim, attempt to get others to believe them (that support further makes them feel better and further solidifies what they are trying to convince themselves-- that they are the victim). During cycles of 'Dr Jekyll', they may reflect about how they've hurt, rejected, or otherwise... however, during their 'Dr. Hyde', they most certainly continue with their dysfunctional and toxic thinking and behavior. Over time, their memories and perceptions are so distorted that they have to rely on the lies, manipulations, and distortions they've repeated to themselves and others-- thus, actually believing they are the victim. Basically, they spiral deeper and deeper into making conflict and challenges a continuing reality.

      Hope you had a happy birthday back in August-- and that your year ahead is a happy happy one :)

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    9. For years I have been trying, sometimes in vain, to describe my mother and the specific form of emotional abuse she uses on me. I now have a name! Gaslighting has been my BPD mothers MO since I was a child and has effected my life in ways that most people can't understand. Silent and hidden, it is cruel as a slap. It's effects longer and deeper.
      I am so glad to hear these voices of damaged children like me needing to be heard and struggling to heal. Thank you.

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    10. You are so welcome! Happy New Year!

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    11. WOW! I've been thinking that my mother was like an extended and weirder version of that film "Gaslight"!

      When I was 3 years old, I caught my mom in bed with my stepdads best friend. My brother and I were locked out of the house, but I snuck back in to get food and caught them. I didn't really know what they were doing, but figured out it was a big deal and I was the one in trouble. I told my stepdad when he got home that my brother and I were locked out (a regular occurrence)and that mom was in bed with "Uncle Danny". Somehow she managed to convince EVERYONE else that I was being a manipulative brat trying to sabotage her marriage. Can you imagine??? And they believed it for years!!! A 3 year old, capable of understanding the sexual rules of marriage and twisting them to fit her own diabolical agenda! The family actually believed it! And for years afterward, she would occasionally bring it up out of the blue, maybe at dinner or something "remember when [my name] lied about me and uncle Danny and tried to get me in trouble for no reason?" And I would sit there frustrated and shamed, doubting myself while KNOWING the truth!

      This is only 1 of MANY examples. The usual pattern was she would do or say something horrible, then somehow contort herself into the victim, at my or my brothers expense. I now don't believe she was out to do something mean to us so much as she had a great need to be a victim and just did whatever it took to make it happen.

      And as to "do they believe their lies?", do some research on "projection". It explains a lot...

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    12. "The gaslighting mother will construct fantasies of your emotional pathologies:
      Making you look crazy: She makes you look crazy. If you try to confront her about something she’s done, she’ll tell you that you don’t know what you’re talking about or that she has no idea what you’re talking about. She doesn't remember significant events, flatly denies happenings, and won't admit perhaps she may have forgotten. Your perceptions of reality are continually undermined so that you end up losing confidence in your intuition, memory, or reasoning powers.
      Preserving Perception of Self: Gaslighting can be inflicted to preserve the BPD mother's narcissistic view of herself as 'perfect'. BPD's gaslight routinely by insinuating or directly stating that you are unstable (or else you wouldn't think so preposterously). You may be told you are over-sensitive, imagining, unreasonable, irrational, and over-reacting.
      Denying Your Right to Be Upset: Another form of gaslighting is the denial of your right to be upset. In this case the BPD might accept that the situation happened but invalidates you by fervently denying that there was anything problematic about it or any valid reason to get upset.
      Ultimately, she’ll present her smears as expressions of concern and declaring her own helpless victimhood. She protests that she didn't do anything and has no idea why you’re so irrationally angry with her. She protests that you’ve hurt her terribly but loves you very much. She claims she would do anything to make you happy, but she just doesn’t know what to do. She'll tell others that you keep pushing her away when all she wants to do is help you."


      YES YES YES MY MOTHER DID ALMOST ALL THESE THINGS.

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    13. *Potentially triggering*

      I have BPD myself, I'm in recovery, and I am appalled by the way BPDs treat their kids.

      I attend a BPD therapy group, and have witnessed the abuse BPD mothers inflict on their kids. It is brutal. Overcontrolling, manipulation, gaslighting, using them as surrogate husbands-emotional incest, love/ hate devaluation, projection, verbal abuse, rage, subjecting them to self-harm, alcohol abuse, suicidal behaviour. And invalidating the child when they bring up the hospital visits they had to witness. They bully them, and treat them like extentions of themselves, and offload all their 'badness' onto them, and then make out the kids are hard work or just 'bad kids'.

      And what makes me sick, is that the doctors don't bring this up. I'm convinced the psychologists/ psychiatrists are either abusers themselves, or have unresolved abuse issues, or in denial.

      When I bought up how triggering and upsetting it is to hear how the women treat their kids (due to working through my own abuse issues), I was gaslighted by the doctors with 'nobody is a perfect parent' and 'well, walk a mile in their shoes'. I was bullied and shamed into feeling like I was too judgmental. I HAVE walked a mile in their shoes, I have BPD. And I choose not to have kids because I know the potential to be abusive and subject them to my instability. It would be unfair. I bought up with the doctor, the accounts of children raised by pwBPD, and how horrenouds it is, and she still continued to deny.

      I had narcissitic parents, and the abuse is so similar. But BPD is particularly hard to deal with for the child, because it is also a 'trauma disorder' and mental illness, so how do the kids of BPDs get closure? If the psychiatric system hide and enables it and doesn't hold these parents accountable?

      These parents are absolutely accountable for their child abuse. Beucause they chose to have children. I would tell anyone who's been through this, to get as far away as you can, build a new life and discover who you really are.

      I'm sorry if this post is triggering for BPD child abuse survivors. I wish you all luck in your recovery.

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      Replies
      1. thank you so much for stopping by and sharing. all the best to you and yours.

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    14. So liberating to find an article like this one. The part where it says you go thru a mental "checklist" before the BP gets home actually made me cry. That is so very true. My whole life revolves around list because I fear not being perfect in case I get in trouble. I am now 40 and have being dealing with OCPD as a result of having a BP mother. I have given myself the gift of therapy to help myself, husband and kids towards a healthier future. I am full of hope. Thank you Gretel.

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    15. I can relate to everything in this article. Its so frustrating when my entire family isnt aware how mentally ill my mother is. She has convinced all of them into hating me by spreading lies they believe! I finally got past my mother ignoring and abusing me now that she isnt getting attention she has to make the whole family against me. I have grown so tired trying to explain myself and get the truth out that im going to give up. Growing up my mother always said she was the only person who really cared about me and friends would stab me in the back. Now I will rebuild my family out of supportive friends who treat me right!

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      Replies
      1. "Now I will rebuild my family out of supportive friends who treat me right!"... good for you! I had to do the same thing. You will certainly find unconditional love and peace this way. My best to you.

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