Gaslighting, or “crazymaking” is one of the more insidious forms of emotional abuse. Those that do and say things to make you feel crazy want you to be stuck in an eternal state of confusion. If you’re stuck there, they have power over you.
A confused state leaves you open to toxic injections of control and manipulation. You need to get out of confusion as soon as possible so that you can take control of your life again.
(The following podcast transcript has been modified for easier readability and to benefit the Deaf and hard of hearing)
I had someone reach out to me asking the question, “What kind of responses can I give to someone who is trying to make me feel crazy?” Today, I’ll be talking about the different ways to communicate with a gaslighter or crazymaker.
Gaslighting, “crazymaking”, and “crazy-making” are all interchangeable words that mean the same thing. If you’re not familiar with those terms, let me give you an example.
I chuckle about this a little bit because it’s such a ridiculous example, but I read it in an article and it’s apparently true. It’s hard to believe people do this! So I want to share it with you. The story is this woman’s husband was causing her to feel confused and crazy. One of the many things that he did was moved the silverware drawer to another location.
He might have swapped it with the junk drawer or something. So she came home one day and she was going to make something to eat. But when she reached for the silverware and wasn’t there, she got confused. She asked her husband, “Where is the silverware?”
He replied, “What do you mean?”
She said, “What do you mean ‘What do you mean?’ The silverware was always here.”
He said, “No, it wasn’t. It’s always been there.” Pointing to the new location.
I’m sure the conversation ensued from there, making her feel completely confused. But that is crazymaking. That is one of the more major examples but there are worse cases than that, unfortunately. But it’s sad to think that someone would intentionally put another person into what I might consider a disempowered state, making them doubt themselves and feel insecure, unable to trust their own decision making and perceptions, feeling confused and unsure of what truth is.
This is what can happen in a crazy-making situation. If there’s someone in a relationship that is causing this confusion, this crazy-making, what do you do? Stuff like that may be hard to respond to. It is possible to get confused, like, “Well, maybe I’m wrong.”
That’s what happens is that the victim of the crazy-making asks themselves, the question, “What if I’m wrong? What if he or she is right and it has always been there? I’ve made mistakes before so perhaps it has always been there.”
The victim starts to find little justifications for what they’re telling themselves. i.e. “I guess I would have probably reached for the fork or knife in this drawer because this is where I prepare the food. So maybe the drawer was here this whole time and I just forgot. What was I thinking?”
This is where the self-doubt continues to creep in and continues to be reinforced, giving the crazymaker what they want, which is you in that disempowered state. As long as you’re there, you will feel a little bit more dependent on the manipulative person. You’ll feel like you have to rely on them more because maybe your brain isn’t something you can rely on as much anymore. So you might start to appreciate that you have another person in your life to help you sort the confusion out, become more organized.
That’s just one of the many things that can happen with crazy-making – one of the many behaviors that you’ll see. Unfortunately, people do this. There’s just no way around it. Some people want to have some sort of control over you and they know (the crazymakers, the gaslighters) that confusing you is a way to do that.
In a nutshell, that is crazy-making. It’s making you feel crazy, little by little. Unfortunately, it is the compound effect of these little behaviors that someone else can do that will cause you to slowly feel disempowerment and this craziness. As long as you’re continuing to move in that disempowering direction, they will keep their control and keep their dominance over you. This dynamic is also known as a “power-over” model where they stay in control of you. As long as they keep their power over you, they keep their control and get what they want.
Getting what they want isn’t always pleasant for you. We don’t want that to happen. Or if it’s already happening, I want to give you some tools to help you avoid the crazymaking
Before I give you any of these tools, however, realize that some people might get angry. If you’re with someone that is possibly aggressive or even physically harmful, you may not want to do these things. This is something, you have to realize that when the controller loses control, or they think they’re losing control, they’re going to reach even deeper to gain control. They’re going to look inside their tool bag and find something else that gets that control back because them being in control of you is a way they feel control in their life.
So imagine if you take their control away, they feel like they’re no longer in control and, some of these people (we’ll just call them control freaks), they don’t want to feel that way and would rather have it the same way it’s always been: With you under their control, and you being submissive or dependent. That way when they feel the threat of a loss of control, they can become more aggressive.
Only take the suggestions I’m going to make today as informational and educational and talk to a professional if you plan on using these things, because I don’t know what can happen when you start standing up for yourself.
Hopefully, you know the person well enough where you can stand up for yourself and they are okay with it. Typically, people that listen to this show have people in their life that when they stand up to them, they’re not okay with it. I just want to throw out that little disclaimer. You’re going to know your situation best, you’re going to know the person that I’m talking about in your life best. So just take that information for how I intended to keep you safe, to keep you okay, so that you don’t get into any harm.
Let me start by saying the first thing that you need to recognize when crazy-making is starting is that you’re going to feel some sort of emotional drain. This is typically at the beginning of a conversation, or the beginning of the manipulative person’s process or pattern to make you feel crazy or confused.
I want you to start recognizing exactly when the emotional drain starts. It will be something you’ll notice (and if you are not noticing it, I want you to start noticing). I want you to notice at what point it happens. Is it a look at the person gives you? Is it something they say? Is it the inflection in their voice? Is it the way they’re standing? Is it the way they have their hands? Or to a lesser extent, their legs or their feet?
Are they sitting? Are they talking on the phone? These are all minor, probably benign things but it can be helpful to you to recognize exactly when the drain starts by being very aware of their body language and their verbal and nonverbal cues because once you’re aware, then you can start to notice the pattern, and when it starts. You’ll also start to notice what comes next.
So if they give you “that look”, and you feel that drain, that’s when you note it to yourself: “Oh, he or she just gave me that look. I’m having that emotional drain right now. So this is the beginning of it.”
I want you to catch the beginning of it. It may take some effort. It may take a lot of repeat observations until you catch it. But I want you to catch it because this pattern leads to the crazy-making, or making you feel less empowered and less secure inside yourself and less confident in your abilities and less decisive.
What you’re doing is you’re catching the pattern before it puts you into that downward spiral so that you don’t get stuck in those patterns. It may still happen, you may still get stuck, but being aware of when it starts gives you a lot more information than you had and gives you a good start. Plus, when you feel the drain, it’s nice to step outside that drain and be the observer.
So when you’re starting to feel this drain, you tell yourself, “Wait, wait, I’m feeling this drain. Okay, Paul said this helps you step outside your emotional space and get into that logical, analytical space” It can be very helpful being a logical, analytical space because you can become the observer who can ask themselves, “Okay, what exactly happened to get me here?”
Just start with that. Recognize that you’re falling into a different state of mind. That state of mind is confusion. So even if you don’t feel the emotional drain, I want you to look for the confusion. I want you to be aware of when it starts because the confusion is often the start of something I’m going to call a state of suggestibility.
When you start to get confused you become more suggestible. Thankfully, I have a hypnosis background so I’ve learned how to be a hypnotist and I was a hypnotist for several years, and that taught me a lot about the subconscious mind.
The subconscious mind becomes more suggestible (which means it’s open to suggestion) when it’s in a confused state. A good example of that is the stage hypnotist. They are a different breed. They do it for fun, and they do it for laughs and they’re on stage, but you’ll notice some of the things they do if you really pay attention are meant to confuse the person up there. The person will be like, “What did you just do?” or “What did you just say?” And in that moment of confusion is a trance-like state.
When you’re in that trance-like state, you are open to suggestion. What suggestions come into your mind at that point is what defines what happens next. People that get on stage with a hypnotist knows that they’re going to have some laughs and it’s all in good fun. The suggestion they are given may be that they’re going to sing like Madonna. Then they start singing and they don’t actually sing like Madonna and it’s funny or whatever.
In a therapeutic hypnosis session, a confusion state is helpful to suggest things that might be positive to your life. But in an emotionally abusive relationship, that suggestible state, you know what I’m going to say…
When you’re in that in trance state of mind that state of confusion, disempowering statements can be made. Toxic statements can be made. And because you’re more suggestible when you’re confused, those toxic statements can land inside you at a deep level. So if somebody says something like, “You’re not a good mother” or “You’re not a good father” or “You’re a terrible person” If they say anything that makes you feel bad about yourself while you’re in that confused state, it might land because you are more suggestible in that moment.
When you’re open to suggestion, you might take false comments about who you are at your core as truth. I want you to be aware of that too. Just because you’re in a confused state doesn’t mean you can’t negate toxic suggestions when they happen. I want you to practice telling yourself, “He or she just said something they want me to take as truth. But since I’m in this confused state right now, I have to be careful not to accept it as truth.”
That’s hard to do because the confused state is often accompanied by overwhelm. When you’re in confusion and overwhelm, what is the one thing that you want? The one thing you want is clarity. You want to get out of the confusion. You want organization. You want someone or something to pull you back to safety. You just want to get back to a state of mind that is free of the confusion.
The problem that happens in the emotionally abusive relationship is that that state of confusion is not only planted by a manipulative person, but they also do you the favor of pulling you out of it too by suggesting things to you and feeding things to you and helping you get to a clear space, by their design and in their construct. Meaning, they will structure a clear place for you that is a level of their control so that you stay in control, but it seems like clarity to you.
What does that mean? When I say it, it sounds confusing but what’s happening is the person that puts you in the confused state, and then takes you out of that confused state becomes not only the abuser but also the supporter.
This is trauma bonding. If you’ve not heard me talk about trauma bonding, it is the reason I named the show Love and Abuse. It is when you equate abuse and love as the same thing because the person abusing you is also appearing to love you as well. And now you feel this attachment to them, but it’s got a toxic element to it so every time you love them, you think abuse as part of loving them and you feel this draw toward them. And you want to show them more love and attention because you think you’re not showing them enough because you must be doing something wrong.
You believe all these false things about yourself so you try to show up in a better way. And they eat it up. They know that you’re in this back and forth state of feeling hurt, then feeling loved, then feeling hurt, then feeling loved again… They are putting you in and taking you out of those places purposefully.
Trauma bonding is really a powerful way to keep you in a space of confusion. At the same time, it keeps you in a space of feeling very connected to the person who was also confusing you. And they’re also controlling you and they also are causing you to feel bad about yourself. it’s a terrible space to be in.
If you’re not aware of it when it’s happening and how it happens, you get sucked into it easily because once you fall in love, if it’s a romantic relationship, it’s hard to break that love when they show it, when they’re a good person. And when they’re not a good person, they’re doing bad behavior, you’re looking for justification for that bad behavior, and you take some of the blame. You start to believe that you’re doing something wrong so you try even harder.
Trauma bonding is something that if you’re not aware of it, look it up and make sure that you are aware of it because people that get stuck in these relationships, they feel like they’re not going to get the amount of love and support from anyone else because they’re so convinced that the love and support they’re getting now is like the best ever, when it’s really not.
Be aware of that term and the cycle of support and love and control and abuse that can happen. That mixed up and down of the relationship is almost always emotional abuse. If you’re not in a romantic relationship, this can also happen in family and friends and things like that when somebody has control over you, using the same process.
There are many ways to be emotionally abusive. And if you’ve not heard this show before, my definition of emotional abuse is when somebody makes you feel bad, or especially, when somebody makes you feel bad about yourself.
So it’s like an intentional thing and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes emotional abuse is not intentional. There are many emotional abusers that listen to this show. They want to learn how to stop being emotionally abusive. I think it’s good to know that sometimes emotional abuse is not intentional. And as long as the emotional abuser has empathy, and they’re able to access that empathy, and they’re able to say, “Gee, you know, when I do that behavior, I hurt that person. So, if I was that person that I’m hurting, how does that feel to me?” That’s when their empathy is kicking in. And because of that, hopefully, they’ll stop doing that behavior.
It’s sometimes not that easy, but that (accessing empathy) is the very first big step that needs to be taken. Getting to that step might be hard for some people. There are the intentional conscious abusers, and then what I call the unconscious abusers, which are the ones that don’t know they’re doing it, aren’t looking to change, and maybe don’t even care that they’re doing it.
Those are the unconscious unempathetic abusers. There’s not much you can do for those people. If they don’t have empathy, they don’t care. We have to be really careful about those people as well.
Let me get back to what I was talking about, which are the responses you can give to the crazymaker. The very first thing when you feel that drain and that confusion. If it’s starting, then you want to make a note, “Oh, it’s happening. This is it.” This is your state of suggestibility.
The second thing is to remember that your compassion will often be a part of what gets you into that confused state. As you’re getting into this confused state, if you have compassion for the person you’re talking to because you feel they are a victim of some sort, you’re going to get sucked in. As the drain and confusion starts and your compassion activates, you will get sucked in. You’re going to fall into that continuous state of suggestibility. It will affect you more, the more compassion you feel for the person that’s confusing you.
I want you to be aware that your compassion can often assist you in getting even more confused because what happens is you start to doubt that you’re actually compassionate! You may start to doubt that you’re being a compassionate person even though you’re compassionate almost every other moment of your life. But if you start to doubt that compassion, that’s when the confusion can take place. And the manipulator is very good at convincing you that you’re not compassionate or you’re not being compassionate, and maybe they’re even playing the victim which activates your compassion. So be careful about that.
And also take the following to heart: You are either a compassionate person or not.
You’re either a compassionate person or not. What that means is that if you doubt your compassion in a moment of time, then that is something that you are being convinced to doubt. You either have it in you or you don’t. You don’t have to think your entire identity is suddenly crumbling in that moment. You just have to believe that you are a compassionate person. If you’re already a compassionate person, it’s already in you! It’s already innate. Because of that, you don’t suddenly become not compassionate.
I want that to sink in. If you’re ever convinced that you’re not being compassionate, remind yourself, “No, wait, I am compassionate. I’m a compassionate person. So, my compassion is not the problem.”
Just be aware of that because if you start to become compassionate toward an abusive person that is playing the victim, then what happens is that you get sucked into that state of suggestibility because your emotions take over, and you feel bad for the person, or you feel bad that you think you’re doing something wrong…
No, your compassion is either innate, or it’s not. If it’s not, let’s just say that you don’t feel like you have compassion. Well, you might have to work on that. You might have to work on feeling compassion but not for the abusive person. Not yet, because you have to test it in other places. You have to test it with other people and maybe animals and, who knows, the earth, whatever. Whatever your values are, you follow those. Do you find that you’re a compassionate person in general? If you are, then you are in this relationship as well with the other person. Don’t bring your competitors into question, just know it.
The next thing that happens after the confusion and you’re aware of your compassion is that your insecurity will kick in. I’ve already covered this a little bit. It’s that you start to believe that they may be right. When you start to believe that they may be right about what they’re saying about you, those false comments that they’re saying about you, and you start feeling insecure, I want you to tell yourself, “I can be insecure later. This is not the time.”
I need you to stop the pattern. This is all about stopping the pattern. You recognize the drain, you recognize the confusion starting, you recognize maybe your compassion is kicking in which activates your emotions, which sucks you into this more suggestible state (if it hasn’t already started), and now you have insecurity, “Well, maybe I’m doing something wrong. Maybe he or she is right about me.” It doesn’t matter, be insecure later.
I know, it’s easy to say, I get it. But I just want to plant these seeds to blossom when you need them because you need to stop the pattern before it spirals out of control and makes you believe that you’re broken or doing something wrong. You need to understand that when you start to go into these states of mind, that you become more suggestible and you become more submissive, and you become more controlled. We don’t want that. We want to make sure that they can’t necessarily get under our skin. We want to make sure that we stay empowered. This is all about keeping your power.
So remember that part: When you start to feel insecure, just say “Stop! I can feel insecure later” (you say this in your mind), “I’ll feel insecure later. I’ll deal with this later. But right now, I need to be secure in myself.” \
That can be hard to do. If you’re already a little insecure or a lot insecure, and you’re already in a relationship that has really worn you out, then it’s hard to access that so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t access that. These are a bunch of tools, and maybe you can only access one of them but this is all a work in progress so give yourself credit.
The next thing is fear. A fear may kick in. Insecurity is probably based on a fear so what is the fear about? What are you afraid of?
That’s a great question to ask yourself is, “What exactly am I afraid of?” Maybe they’re starting to talk to you and you feel the drain and you know that you’re starting to get into that confused state or a manipulated state or controlled state. Ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?”
You might have some real fears, but I want you to be aware of what they are because some of us walk around with fears that we haven’t defined. Like, “He might yell at me” or “She might fire me.” Okay. You can define that fear but why are you afraid of that? Why are you afraid of being yelled at? Why are you afraid of being fired? Why are you afraid that they might think you’re stupid? Why are you afraid that you might be unlovable?
These might sound like dumb questions, but I want you to be really clear about why you’re afraid of them.
I’ve told this story before (I don’t know if it was on this show or my other show The Overwhelmed Brain, but in my 20s, I would lose arguments with my girlfriend all the time (not the girl I’m with now). She was just really smart. She knew how to win an argument. And her memory was impeccable. Every time we would start to talk about something, I would feel confident in what I knew, and I could pretty much speak my mind, but she would always say things that put me in my place. And I never knew how to get out of it. She would always say things like “You forgot!” (She wasn’t a crazy maker, she was actually a very decent person. It’s just that I didn’t have very many tools back then. We weren’t communicating well.)
We would get into these arguments. I would always feel defeated. I would always feel like she “won”. I would just stand there and be in this befuddled state, and not know what to say or do next, but I just knew that I lost.
I started to think that maybe – and this is going to sound a little weird – maybe I was mentally challenged. I literally thought I was mentally handicapped in some way. And that maybe I did have a bad memory and maybe I couldn’t really recite the truth accurately. I don’t know. I just started to believe that I had a mental challenge of some sort. I was so afraid of that being true. I resisted it for months.
Then one day I thought about it again because I was always thinking about it. I asked myself, “Why am I so afraid of being mentally challenged?” And I came up with some answers. Like maybe I’ll be put in a class of people that aren’t as smart as other people, and why is that a problem? Because if I’m not that smart people will look down on me.
I started exploring it, I started diving into my fear. I think that’s important. I think you need to dive into these fears to figure out why exactly they are your fears. So I dove into it: Why do I feel so we’re afraid of being mentally challenged or handicap?
“Why am I so afraid of that?” I would ask myself. And I finally came to the conclusion that I really didn’t have an answer. Yeah, sure, there could be that feeling that people might look down on me, but I even asked myself “Why is that a problem? What if people look down on me? Who cares? How is that a big deal?”
This is the drill-down technique I use that I talk about my other show. If you drill into your fears, and you break them apart, you’ll start to figure out that maybe you really don’t have them defined at all. It’s like asking yourself “Why am I afraid if somebody yells at me?” Your first answer might be, “Well, I don’t want to be yelled at.”
“Yeah, but why are you afraid of it?”
“Well, because if they yell at me, they might hurt me.” Then you might have to drill into that a little bit: “Well, does yelling hurt?”
“Well no, yelling itself doesn’t hurt. I guess I’d be okay. But if they yell, then they might push me around.” Okay, so now we’re diving into something even deeper: “So you feel physically scared of this person?”
Your answer might be yes. Might be no. “Well, maybe not. Not this person. But when I was yelled at in the past, I was physically scared.” Okay, now we’re starting to find the origin of the fear, that can be helpful.
Again, I talk about drilling down into the emotions, the fears in my other show, but I wanted to mention it here because sometimes we don’t define our fear. Sometimes we don’t drill in enough and we just walk around with a fear of something that really has no definition, no structure. The origin of our fear might be so subconscious that we just think we should be afraid.
Remember that when the fear kicks in to ask yourself, “What am I really afraid of? What exactly am I afraid of?” And you can even go further and ask yourself, “What are they holding against me?”
For example, if somebody were to say threatening things to you, you can ask yourself, “What do they have on me? What are they holding against me?” Let’s just say that you have kids and they say, “If you do this, you’re going to lose the kids forever!” Or, “If you break up with me, you’re not going to find anyone that will love you as much as I do!”
That’s classic emotional abuse, unfortunately. I don’t want you to believe that at all, but that’s what emotionally abusive say. When you hear that, it can be frightening. You’ll think, “Oh my god, can they really do that? They have something against me so I can’t do anything. I’m stuck.”
When you feel that way, when that fear kicks in, ask yourself if you have all the facts about what they’re holding against you, or what they have on you. Make sure that you have the facts because if you don’t, you should do your research. Don’t listen to the person that’s abusing you. Do your own research, find out if it’s true. Can they really do that?
And when you find out the truth, you’ll have more information. Then maybe the fear will go away. Or maybe the truth is real, maybe they’re saying something real, but now you have tools to work with that truth, instead of what you think is truth.
Some people think that “Oh, this is true. So there’s nothing I can do about it” but sometimes there is. Often there is. Often you can do things about it. It’s just that we think that we can’t because maybe there are circumstances that we believe are beyond our control or we believe we don’t have any options. When that happens, then yeah, it’s going to feel like there’s nothing we can do and we’re stuck.
Don’t let yourself feel stuck. Do your research. Find out the real facts. If they say, “You’re going to be broke and homeless if you do that, and you’re going to be single for the rest of your life.” Ask yourself, “Is that really true?”
If they’re saying something stupid like that, or you’re just accepting it as truth because they seem to know a lot and they seem pretty smart, just do your research. 99 times out of 100 if you’re responding from a place of fear, you’ll give in to that emotionally abusive behavior. When it comes to fear, remember:
Fear controls the insecure. Don’t let that be you.
If they can make you insecure and you think, “I’m not going to have a home. I’m not going to have any money. I’m not going to have a relationship…” Then you’re easily controlled. We can’t just be in the state of, “I have a lot to lose.” Instead, we have to be in a state of, “I’ve done my research and I know the facts.”
Now let’s talk about the responses you can have toward the crazymaker. I just talked about what happens inside of you, and what you need to look for inside of you, and how you need to respond inside of yourself so that you can understand the pattern that begins. Knowing the pattern helps you slow down what happens because as soon as you know step one, step two, you break that apart in your mind by stepping out of your own emotions and seeing what’s happening – being the observer – which really helps you start to reconnect with yourself as well.
Like, “Hmm, I can see this is happening.” You’re watching from a distance or dissociated perspective. Seeing this unfold, and realizing, “Oh, this is the pattern.” What’s really cool about that (I mean, it’s not fun at all) is that you’ll find often that the pattern that begins is repeated. It might start with that look, or it might start with that inflection in their voice. Once you find the pattern that gets repeated, then you’ll be able to catch it in sooner.
What happens when you catch it? What do you do when you do feel that drain and you’re being the observer and you’re going through all these steps? Here are a few things that you can do to respond to the crazy-making or gaslighting behavior.
One of the things that you can say is, “I know what you’re doing. So stop it.” That’s it. This is going to confuse the unconscious manipulator. And this is going to worry the conscience manipulator.
The person who’s consciously manipulating you is going to think, “Oh oh, what do they know? I’m worried. I don’t want them to know what I’m doing. What does that even mean?”
“I know what you’re doing. So stop.” Practice that!
Of course, they’re going to answer “What am I doing?” Or “You don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not doing anything.” They’re going to say something like that but you can respond by saying something along the lines of “You’re trying to confuse me,” or “You’re trying to make me doubt myself so stop that right now.
These are just suggestions. I’m not saying that they’ll work and I’m not saying that it won’t make it worse. I’m just saying that this is a way to keep your power. These things may or may not work, but these are ways to keep your power with some people. Some people aren’t going to let you. Some people want to keep their power no matter what. But doing these things is a way to keep your power if you’re able to follow through with them.
Pick your battles wisely but this is one way to do it. The reason I say “I know what you’re doing, so stop,” is because I don’t want you to get into too many details. Like you can say “You’re trying to confuse me” or “You’re trying to make me doubt myself,” but don’t call it crazy-making. Don’t call it gaslighting.
I think one of the mistakes that some victims of emotional abuse make is they will define and label what the other person is doing to them. The only problem with that, and the reason I call it a mistake, is because sometimes the abusive person will turn it around and say “No, you’re doing that to me. You’re gaslighting me. You’re the narcissist.”
That is the turnaround game. They will put you on the defense so that you have to explain yourself. It can still happen with this, the things I’m telling you today, it can absolutely happen the same way. They can say, “No, you’re trying to confuse me, ” or “You’re trying to make me doubt myself. So you stop. ” They can absolutely do that. This is why it’s tricky, but you may want to try these things.
If they don’t stop, you can say something like, “I see very clearly what you’re doing. I can see right through it now.” This may cause them again to feel a little self-conscious because they don’t want to be caught. They want you to feel inferior and dependent on them. maybe. They need you to stay confused, and they need you to stay hurt so that you’ll seek clarity and love from them – the very person abusing you. In other words, that’s that trauma bonding. If you’re confused and hurt, you’re going to see clarity and love from them and they want you to stay in that cycle.
But if you start becoming very confident in what you’re witnessing (this is because you’re now more aware), you can say things like, “I now see right through your behavior. It’s very clear to me now what’s happening here.” They may ask you to explain. I still say try to avoid terms like gaslighting and crazy-making so that they don’t just start defining you.
I like to look at actual behaviors. For example, when you say “You’re confusing me.” They might say, “Well, how am I confusing you?” And you respond by saying, “Look, you said this (whatever they said), and then you turned around and said this. Then you said this and this.”
It might be hard to recall your conversation because there’s often a lot of wordplay that goes on with people like this. In other words, they can throw a lot of words at you, which will put you into that confused state.
This brings us to another point that I want to make, which is to address every detail of what they’re saying so that they can’t continue talking and entrancing you.
If they’re going on and on, which some manipulators will do, they’ll just keep talking at you and talking at you. A lot of victims of that will stay silent and wait for them to stop talking, but the whole time the victim is often processing what they’re saying, either to build a defense or explain themselves or tell them they’re wrong.
The victim is hearing all of this, just waiting for them to stop talking, but the problem with that is because you’re not stopping them, they continue to dominate the conversation. So it’s important for you to stop them and get clarity on what they’re saying to make sure that they explain to you what they mean.
That might not go over well, either. Manipulators talk and talk to dominate the conversation. They don’t want somebody else dominating the conversation. They want to keep you submissive. So if you stop them, it’s going to interrupt their pattern.
But I recommend you do that. That pattern is what is keeping the cycle of emotional abuse going. To address everything they say, you could say something like, “Okay, so what you’re saying is…” and then you repeat back to them what you believe they said.
That may lead them to say it again, but again, you repeat what they said. Then you ask them about what they said. Let me just give you an example. If they’re saying something like, “When you took the car, I told you that I need it whenever I needed it to run out and get food. But the car wasn’t there when I needed it. I thought we had an understanding that when I was home, and it was the third Sunday of the month, and the moon was waning, that we had an agreement that the car would be there, and you just wouldn’t take off…” and again, they keep talking at you and talking at you.
You need to interrupt their monologue before it even gets that far. You need to say something like “Wait, stop. So you’re saying that on the third Sunday when the moon is waning, you need the car? Okay, let me write that down.”
That’s another part of this: “Let me write that down: You need the car when the moon is waning… I don’t want to get this wrong. I want to make sure I get this right because obviously this is what happens. We get into this argument, so I don’t want to argue anymore so just let me just write this down: You need the car third Sunday the moon is waning… Now I have an understanding. Does this make sense?” As you read it back to them.
This is going to be minutia to them. It’s going to be little trivial details, and they’re not going to like it probably because now you’re stopping their pattern when their goal with their monologue was to keep you in a submissive, suggestible, confused space so they can continue their control and their dominance over you.
But if you interrupt, this is something that can happen is it stops them and causes them to have to explain what they’re saying and if they have to explain what they’re saying, they have to face themselves.
They have to stop as you ask them a question, “So what you’re saying is that on the third Sunday… and only the third Sunday?” Now you’re asking detailed questions that might tick them off. I know you’re probably thinking that. It might get them angry. But if you don’t want to be in conversations like this, you want to have accuracy and clarity. They will often not give you enough clarity or any clarity, so that you can actually follow, “their rules”.
They’ll not give you enough clarity, they’ll just give you a bunch of words, and then you’re supposed to make something out of it but they’re setting you up to fail. They’re giving you a bunch of words, setting you up to fail so that they can say “I never said that,” or “I didn’t mean that.” If you fail, then what are you going to do? You’re going to try to tell them “I’m sorry, I thought you said that.” Or you’re going to be in the space of “Well, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they’re right. I thought I was doing the right thing.”
Then you’re in that lower, disempowered state, which you don’t want to be in. So stopping the conversation, stopping them from talking to you or talking at you, and then asking for clarity on each point they make, will start to cause them to realize you’re actually listening and you’re actually taking notes.
I like the idea of taking notes. It may not work for your situation, but you take notes and then you get clarity on those notes because you want to be super clear. Not because I want you to become a rule follower. It’s not about that at all. It’s about making them face themselves. It’s about making them actually take responsibility for what they’re saying because they often don’t do that. This is one way to cause them to do that.
Try to remember that the person who dominates a conversation is almost always only ever thwarted by another dominator. What that means is if you have somebody in your life that just continues to talk at you and talk at you, that they are very hard to get through to unless you become the dominator.
This is often why emotional abuse victims need to become the person they’re trying to communicate with in order to get their message across.
The one who controls needs to be controlled.
The one who dominates needs to be dominated in order for the scales to tip and balance.
I had people write to me and tell me they feel like they’re the abusive ones. But remember, you might have to change how you communicate with them because there’s no other way to communicate with them and make yourself heard and get your needs met. If you’re with someone who dominates the conversation, you might have to be the dominator because that might be the only way to communicate with them.
They may reach in their toolbox and find another tool to keep you under control but this is often how you can communicate with somebody who’s in that state, is that they feel like they need to dominate so how are you going to communicate with them? You might have to stop them, ask for clarity and control the conversation.
They may or may not like that but it can be very helpful. If you’re always in that submissive state of their dominance, then you might have to turn the tables there. It doesn’t mean it’s permanent, it just means it breaks the pattern. Once the pattern’s broken, you may be able to communicate at a different level. And that may not happen too. But the idea is to start seeing these patterns, start understanding them and start doing your best to break them to find out if the relationship with this other person can be salvaged or improve in some way. Because sometimes the unconscious manipulator becomes conscious. And sometimes the conscious manipulator becomes empathetic. And sometimes the empathetic manipulator stops being toxic, and they become more compassionate and they get in touch with their empathy and now you can communicate in a better way.
Or at least that’s the ultimate goal for a lot of relationships is to be able to get along, understand each other, have compassion, have empathy, and be careful about not hurting the other person, or at least be caring so that you’re not intentionally or unintentionally hurting the other person.
Let me just give you one more piece of information when it comes to writing stuff down. You want to stop them and say, “Okay, hold on, let me understand what you’re saying.” And you repeat what you wrote down back to them (if you’re going to do this), and then they might get upset and that’s okay because what you’re going to say at that point can be something like “You say I often misunderstand or mishear you and I don’t want that to happen again. That’s why I’m writing it down. So give me a moment because I want to make sure that we’re on the same page.” That might be a way to go as well.
This will slow things down, because it’ll give you time to write things down. So if they’re one of those talkers, you can say “No, give me a second, I want to write this down.” But don’t do it sarcastically. Don’t do it like you’re being a jerk. You don’t want to do that (Well, you probably do want to do that, but just do it in a way like, “No, no, no, I really want to understand because I know I get things wrong.”
You might have to play dumb for a little bit: “I know I get things wrong so let me write this down so I definitely get it right next time.”
What’s good about that is it does slow down the conversation, it doesn’t become a dominant over a submissive. So that’s helpful too, is that you get to slow down the conversation, they get to take responsibility for what they’re saying, it can’t just all come out in one barrage of words, it actually is reflected on as they speak, so that can be helpful.
Here’s the last one. This is something I’ve said in many other episodes, and it’s always my fallback, it’s saying something like “Do you realize that when you do or say that, it hurts me? Do you realize that when you say those words, it hurts me? Do you know you’re hurting me?”
They could answer, “You’re hurting me too.” In which case you can respond, “Okay, you might be right. I want to talk about that too, but I just want to make sure that you know what you’re saying is also hurting me.”
You want to hear them say yes or no. You don’t want them to be vague about this. You actually want to be very clear that you feel hurt by what they’re doing or saying because if you are hurt and you make it very clear to them that their behavior is hurtful, and they give you a clear yes or no, then you have a lot of information to work with.
If they say yes, then where do you stand in their life? If they say “Yes, I know I’m hurting you.” Or whatever they say that has a yes in it like that, like a “Yes, but…” then where do you stand with them?
Someone who knows they’re hurting you tells you where you stand in their life. That’s important for you to know because that’s not going to change. You just have to accept that that will never change. If they know they’re hurting you, then they’ve already accepted that that’s who they are. They already accepted that you’re suffering is okay with them.
It may not be pleasant to hear, but it’s really good to know because it helps you make decisions. But what if they say, No? “No, I didn’t know I was hurting you.” Then the follow up is, “Now that you know, will you please stop doing it?”
The crazy-maker or the gaslighter is going to turn that around and say something else, but you want to know if they’ll stop doing that. They may say something like, “Well, you’re hurting me and this is how you do it.”
Again, you follow it up with, “Okay, you might be right. Let’s talk about that too. But I want to make sure that now that you know that that particular comment hurts me that you’ll stop doing it.”
They may say something like, “I’ll only stop if you stop.” At that point, you might have to ask “Okay, so you will stop doing it then?”
Their reply may not be friendly. They may say what they said before, “Only if you stop.”
Now you’re still not getting a yes or no. They are setting themselves up to get away with their bad behavior. They’re setting themselves up so they don’t have to follow that rule. You might have to say “If you can’t say you’ll stop hurting me, then I don’t know if I can be with someone who knows they’re hurting me. That doesn’t sound like a very nice way to live.” Or something like that.
I’m just giving you suggestions. How you say it, what you say, is going to be up to you. It’s also going to be context-dependent. But once you’re in that position where you tell them they’re hurting you and they know they’re hurting you, then their next steps will tell you a lot.
“Yes, I know I’m hurting you.” I’ve heard that before. Somebody said, “I asked my boyfriend and he said Yes, I do know I’m hurting you.” And she asked him, “Why? Why are you hurting me?” He said, “Well, it’s fun.”
What? That’s ridiculous. She did the right thing. She said “I don’t want to be with somebody that hurts me?” I don’t know if she said those exact words to him, but I don’t think she stayed with him. She left because she knew where she stood. She said, “That’s it. Obviously there’s nothing I can do about that.” She probably said that in her mind. “So I don’t want to be with somebody who hurts me.”
She took a stand. She took her power back. She heard the answer to the hard question that she hoped would be answered differently. And that’s all she needed. Sometimes that’s all you need.
Sometimes you just need to know a truth that hurts.
That truth that hurts can empower you. It may suck, sorry to say. It may be awful to hear but it’s better than denial. It’s better than living on the hope that someone will change. And it’s better than just hoping that they’ll see that they’re hurting you and stop. After all, if they say they know they’re hurting you, then what are we doing here? What’s the point of being in a relationship like that? We don’t want to deal with that. That information is good to know
So with the question, “Do you realize when you say or do that, it hurts me? And now that you know it hurts me, will you please stop doing it?”… If they say No, now you know where they stand. However, if they say Yes, then you should ask them, “So you’ll stop saying X?” (whatever X is). And ask them to agree.
This really makes them responsible for their own behavior. Hopefully, they’ll say, “Okay, yes. Now I know I’m hurting you. I didn’t know that before. I’m sorry.” Hopefully, they apologize. You still want an answer to the question though: “So you’ll stop doing that then?”
Ask them point-blank to answer that question. If they say, “Well, it depends on this and this, or if you aren’t doing that…”
You respond, “No, that’s not what I’m asking. I’m just asking if you’ll stop that particular behavior because if you have a problem with my behavior, then we need to talk about that too. But that’s a separate issue. My issue with your behavior is this (X), it hurts me. I just want to know that you’re going to stop doing that particular thing.”
They’re not going to want to agree typically, because they may not want to change. They may know it’s their control mechanism, and it works. But we want them to take responsibility for saying yes or no here. So make sure they agree. If they don’t give you a congruent answer, then it’s not an agreement.
A congruent answer is like an absolute: “Absolutely. I will not do that.” Or “Absolutely, I will stop doing it.” Those are congruent answers.
I don’t know if they’ll do what they say they’re going to do. They may not. They may just be lying. But you’re looking for that congruent answer. An incongruent answer is, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll stop. You know what though, it depends. I might be tired one day…”
You don’t want that answer! You shouldn’t settle for that answer.
“I might be tired one day so I can’t really say yes or no.”
That’s incongruent! That is not an answer that you can take home with you. That is something that you hear and you don’t even know what to think about that. It gives them an out. We don’t want to give them an out. We want to make sure that we get a congruent, solid answer.
These suggestions aren’t necessarily solutions. They are just steps in a direction that help you unpack what’s going on and break it apart a little bit, shake the foundation so that you can understand where you stand with all these things. Because if you’re doing all of these little techniques and processes, and the communication is still toxic or poisonous, and no matter what you do it all fails, then there may be no hope.
I don’t want to say that to you but there may be no hope if you’re trying because these are all things that should empower both of you. They really should. Because if you’re saying things like, “Do you know that when you say that it hurts me?”, it empowers them! It’s an empowering thing for them to think about that and take responsibility and say something like, “I don’t want to hurt you. That’s terrible. I don’t want to do that anymore.”
That’s a very empowering place to be. This isn’t just about arming the victim and putting the abuser out of their misery. It’s not about that at all. It’s about giving both of you the power to be able to communicate in a better way so that you get along. I think it’s a lot easier to get along than to go through all this crazy stuff that I’m talking about. But there are crazy-makers and gaslighters out there that really don’t want to just get along. They just want to control. They just want to keep you confused. They just want to keep you guessing at what truth is. And they want you to depend on them to get them into a place of clarity after they’ve gotten you into a place of confusion.
If you stay in a relationship like that, even when they know that you know they’re doing it, it doesn’t end. It never ends. If everything I just said doesn’t work, and they know that you know what they’re doing, and they know what they’re doing, it won’t end.
I’m being straight up with you just telling you like it is. It won’t end. So if you needed something definitive to help you make a decision in your life, or take a bigger stand in your life, honor your boundaries, take care of yourself in a way that you’ve never done before, maybe you need to hear that. Maybe that will be helpful.
I do have one more piece of advice and this is pretty important. I almost skipped it but I realized how important this is. It’s that the crazy-maker will want you to feel crazy (of course). They want you to have a highly emotional response as well. They want you to be dramatic. They want you to be the opposite of calm, cool and collected.
This is one of the bigger yet covert signs of emotional abuse that many people don’t catch. It’s that when you have a calm person saying that their partner or whoever the victim of emotional abuse is, is over-reactive and highly dramatic and emotional all the time. They’ll say things like, “You see what I have to put up with? How am I supposed to talk to them? They’re completely irrational.”
They’ll say things like this. The calm abuser, or manipulator, or controller, whatever you want to call them, is hoping to get a highly charged emotional response from their victim. When their victim is having an emotional reaction, they can point out to other people, “This is what I have to deal with.”
They’ll purposefully make you crazy and make you look crazy while they stay calm. Then people look at the calm one and they think “He or she is the rational one. He or she is the patient one. And this other person? Wow! They are very difficult to live with or deal with. No wonder this person is so unhappy. They have to deal with this crazy person!”
The crazy-maker makes you crazy and points out to other people that you’re crazy, and then makes themselves look like a shining star. Guess who those people they feel sorry for? Not you. They feel sorry for the person who’s causing you to respond from a highly emotionally charged state.
Because this happens, because you will be labeled as crazy, it is imperative to understand that:
Crazymakers feed off of your emotional response. They feed Your emotional drain.
The abuser shows up as calm and seemingly reasonable, fooling everyone into thinking that you’re the crazy one. The abuser feeds off your emotional energy which is why they often go after emotionally connected and empathetic people. If you’re emotional, they prey on that. They need your emotion to feed. They crave it.
But if you stop the pattern, when you feel yourself starting to get confused, starting to get drained, remind yourself in that moment that they are seeking to be fed by your emotional energy. If you feel this energetic charge building up in you and it’s about to come out in either tears or screaming or upset, however, it’s going to be expressed, this will be their fuel.
But if you stop the pattern, when you feel yourself getting confused, when you feel the drain starting, and you remind yourself in that moment that they are seeking to be fed your emotional energy, you might be able to stop the cycle altogether.
Remember, the confusion and the drain are the start. And you need to stop it before it starts to take you into that abuse cycle. This might mean that you have to put the inner child away. That playful, loving, caring, generous, inner child that is always with you so that you can access the protective adult inside of you. The inner adult, I guess you could call it.
You need this stoic protector to step in and have the conversations for you. What does this mean? That means if you’re a highly emotional person or a highly sensitive person, it’s going to be a challenge, but you need to show up in a way that is not feeding your emotional energy to them because once it gets fed to them, they have control.
They know how to use your compassion against you. They know how to use your caring, your generosity, your wants your needs, everything against you, because they feed off your emotional energy.
It’s sort of like, I hate to equate it with this, dog training. When you train a dog, as they get more and more disciplined, they look at you and they stare at you and they wait for any little tiny cue of what to do next. I did this once with a dog that my wife and I had when I was married, all I would have to do is put my hand out and then put my index finger down, and he would sit down.
He was that observant, that he was watching for any little signal and all I had to do is move my finger. He would watch for it like a hawk. He would just stare at my entire body, just anything that I would do (because I had different signals for different parts of my body) and he would sit down right away.
Of course, he got a snack and he was happy, but this is what the abuser will do too. Abusers are so acutely aware of your behaviors, of the inflection in your voice, your verbal and nonverbal cues, and your body language.
This is the same stuff I told you the see in them, they are constantly doing it with you, a lot of them are, they’re constantly aware of what you’re doing because what they do is as you fall into any sort of emotional drain, or confusion, or submissive state, as they’re making you feel bad about yourself, they’re watching your body language, and they’re seeing how things play out.
They feed off of that. And then they feed you more information to make you feel even more drained. Pretty soon you’re just Jello and you don’t really know what to do next, and you get into a kind of stuck state. This is why the gray rock technique is so important, which I’ve talked about before. It’s a term in narcissistic abuse. It’s where the abuser is trying to get an emotional response from you but if you act like a dull, gray rock, and they can’t get that emotional response, then all those cues they’re looking for aren’t there. It confuses them because they have nothing to feed off of.
I’m not saying that you necessarily have to do gray rock in a relationship, it’s usually when the relationships over and you don’t want to be emotionally activated by them after that. But you can get very stoic and not show the typical signs. If you start crying every time, they’re going to look for that. And they’re going to feed off of that.
That inner child might have to go away for a little bit in a safe place. The inner adult can step in and says, “No, I got this, I’ll take care of this. I’m not going to cry this time, because I’m observant, and I’m watching what’s happening here. I’m not going to allow this to happen anymore. So I’m going to take over I’m going to make sure that I’m doing what I need to do to protect this person that I am.” By doing that, not showing this emotional response that you normally have, you then become the calm, rational, reasonable one and they might get a little frustrated by that.
They might get frustrated with anything I’m talking about today. They might get angry, they might get upset and make your life miserable, I know. But if you don’t try these things, then you’ll never know where you stand. It’s very important to know where you stand so that you can make the right decisions and the next best decision for all of you – for anyone involved.
I do like the idea of becoming more stoic in your responses. And I’m only asking you to do these things when you feel the drain. If you start to feel the drain coming, don’t give them any cues about what’s going to happen next. If you normally start to cry, if you normally start to yell back, if you normally start to sink inward and they can see your body language shift and your shoulders go down and your head goes down, then they’re going to feed off of that.
We don’t want to feed them our old behavior. We might have to come up with something different that confuses them. Your stoic response might confuse them. Take anything I’ve said today and use it in your life or not. I just wanted to give you something to think about, and perhaps some responses that you can use that might be helpful so that you can understand things better and get out of the emotional abuse cycle.