Have you ever said these words to your spouse or partner? "You're driving me crazy!" Or have you ever thought to yourself in a relationship, "Am I going crazy?" Do you spend time second-guessing yourself or thinking, "How did we get here?" or "Why does this keep happening?" Well, there may be an explanation for that. When I talk to my clients about these thoughts and feelings, I notice a common pattern:
1) You question the quality of the relationship (i.e. Is this the relationship I really want to be in?).
2) You have attempted to end this relationship in the past.
3) You take personal responsibility for the recurring issues in the relationship.
If these three aspects resonate with you, then it is likely that you might be in an unhealthy relationship, but how do you spot if you are in a relationship with a narcissist? A narcissist is someone who views and portrays themselves so highly that they are inhibited from taking responsibility for the consequences of their own actions. These individuals will do and say what they must to obtain the things they want in life. For them to acknowledge how their actions might have affected you, or for them to sincerely acknowledge any wrongdoing at all, it is nearly an impossible struggle.
Essentially, you become the one to blame, the inconsiderate one, doesn't listen, and the reason for all the problems in the relationship. You may think to yourself, "There is no way one person is responsible for all the problems in the relationship." And still, you doubt yourself and wonder whether you are the problem.
How is it possible that you could be so conflicted? Well, many narcissists like to use a special technique called gaslighting. Gaslighting is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as: "To manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity."
What Does This Look Like?
In its simplest form, gaslighting can look like this: You ask, "How was your day?" Your partner intentionally ignores you; you become upset and respond, "Why are you ignoring me?" Your partner becomes defensive and says, "I am not ignoring you, stop accusing me." Before you know it, you are in an all-out brawl over something that happened 3 months ago. One moment, you are trying to connect with your partner about their day. Then, BOOM! You are questioning if you are the one who overreacted and caused the fight.
This leaves you feeling powerless and disconnected. The moment your partner refused to take responsibility for their actions (i.e. intentionally ignoring you) was the moment the argument took a turn, and you are left unsure if they truly didn't hear you or if they purposely tried to push your buttons.
Gaslighting is hard to see when it is happening to you and many times, this can happen without either party realizing it's happening. However, if you are noticing that there is a pattern of gaslighting and your partner is refusing to take responsibility for their actions, you might question whether they are intentionally trying to "drive you crazy."
What Should You Do?
What should you do if you believe someone might be gaslighting you? Well, the first step is to express your feelings. Let your partner know how what they did made you feel. You might say something like this, "When you didn't respond, it made me feel very upset." Expressing your feelings is the most effective way to assess the other person's capacity for empathy.
When you express how you feel, you give the other person the opportunity to show empathy toward you. If your partner seems to struggle with this, bring it to their attention. If they are reluctant to acknowledge how you felt or make you feel bad for becoming upset, you will need to move to step 2.
Step 2 is to ask questions. Explore your partner's reasoning for why they responded to your emotions the way they did, and be clear about what you want. You might say, "Help me understand why you didn't respond to me. Would you be upset if you felt ignored by someone? Does it upset you when I feel ignored?"
If in asking these questions, it always seems to come back to how you messed up, you may consider whether you are a victim of gaslighting. If you discover that someone is gaslighting you, this is a huge red flag and can be classified as psychological abuse. Again, to reiterate, gaslighting can happen unexpectedly too. Just because you have been gaslit does not mean your partner is narcissistic. However, if you discover a pattern of this in your relationship, it may be time to seek professional help for your partner and for the relationship.