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Gaslighting and crazymaking are one in the same – they are both terms to describe a person that wants you to feel like you’re losing your mind. They do that by causing you to distrust your own decisions and make you think that you are wrong about almost everything.

They know how to turn you from a happy, assured individual with your own thoughts and ideas into a dependent, unsure and fragile person that can’t take any steps without checking in with them first.

Emotional abuse is insidious in nature, but crazymaking is the ultimate perception destroyer. If you can’t trust your own perceptions, you don’t even know what reality is. After some time with the crazymaker, you’ll come to trust the very person causing you to distrust yourself.

Transcript follows

Crazymaking and gaslighting can come in many forms, but they are usually found most often in romantic relationships. In the simplest form, crazymaking is when someone repeatedly twists the truth on you. It’s when they are literally trying to change your perceptions. And if they do it to you often enough, you will start to distrust yourself and start to believe that perhaps they are right about everything they claim you’re wrong about.

If you get into this space and if you start believing they’re changing your reality, you will go crazy. That’s what gaslighting is all about. Gaslighting is a term that’s from a movie from a long time ago in the 1940s in which a husband makes his wife go crazy by changing her reality.

I’ve read some interesting stories about peoples’ realities changing, like when the gaslighter / emotional abuser moves things around in the house, then say they didn’t do it. Then the spouse or the partner will come home and they’ll say, “What happened? I thought the couch was over there. I thought the silverware was in this drawer. Am I losing my mind?”

Then the gaslighter/emotional abuser will reply, “The couch was always there” or they’ll say, “The silverware was always in that drawer.”

When I read that, I thought it was humorous but scary at the same time. Humorous because why would somebody believe that? Why wouldn’t you, if you’ve been in your house for many, many years, not know where the silverware drawer is? How does the manipulator think that you’re going to believe that? That doesn’t make any sense. When they’ve gained your trust and they seem like they’re smart, then how could they be wrong?

That’s what we do: We look at the other person that’s doing this to us and we assume they have our best interest in mind… Unless they want us to go crazy. Why?

Why would somebody want you to go crazy?

In my opinion, I think there’s only one reason:

If you start distrusting yourself, you will have to trust them more.

That’s the only reason. They want to control you. They want to get away with bad behavior. And the more crazy they can make you feel, the more primed you will be for their future bad behavior.

One of my early episodes has to do with grooming. “I’m grooming you, so that you will believe me. When I get caught doing something, you will believe me when I say ‘No, that’s not true.'”

One can even say, “You know how it is; you remember that time when you thought the silverware was in one drawer and it wasn’t? You remember that time when you said the couch was moved and it wasn’t?” ‘Although, I won’t have to bring that up because you’ll already think you’re going crazy. You’ll already have a certain level of distrust built up in yourself. And that’s exactly where I want you.’

The gaslighter will think to him or herself, “Once I’ve primed you to feel that way, then I can get away with more.”

“I’m going to prime you so that I can do things that I know are against you or that you won’t like, or even just so I can be right in every argument or conversation that we have. I want to be right all the time and make you feel small; make you feel wrong, make you feel like you’re going crazy. If you feel like you’re going crazy, guess what? You’re going to look at me as the sane one,” which is scary. It’s very scary because “I’m the one making you go crazy.”

Between you and the emotional abuser, who is really not the sane one?

When you’re in a conversation with someone, and you find that they’re trying to change your perceptions and trying to change your reality and you know that’s not true, then you get convinced. Your reality starts fading away.

This may have already happened to you or it could be happening to you. Or maybe you just need to know about it so it doesn’t happen to you. This is a very transparent gray line because sometimes you are wrong. Sometimes you have a belief that something happened and it didn’t. It didn’t happen.

It might not be that you’re wrong; it could be just that you had the perception in mind of what was happening, or what was said or what was done and perception creates your reality. Even if something happened in your house or at work or somewhere else, your perception of it makes it real in your head. You go with that and it becomes your belief.

Then if somebody questions that or tells you that you’re wrong, unless you have a photographic memory and you know you’re right, even then you can be tricked. The idea that someone can actually change your perceptions, which changes your beliefs, puts you in a space of compromise, submission, control, you name it.

Suddenly, you’re questioning your own reality and you don’t know what’s true anymore and what’s not. The controller, the manipulator, the emotional abuser, will be confident and they’ll say, “I know I’m right, and you’re wrong.” And they can “prove” it because they’re the one who moved the couch or the silverware without your knowledge so you might end up believing those things were always in their new space to begin with.

It’s easy for them to feel confident in everything they’re saying! And because they feel confident, and because they can “prove that you’re wrong,” you will start believing that you are wrong. This is the point where your reality starts to fade away.

As that reality fades away, guess whose reality you have to rely on? Theirs.

You have to look at them and think that they are right and they are sure of themselves. They seem to know what’s going on. You think, they must be sane and I must not be. I’m going crazy.

If you believe that, then they are successfully crazy-making you. One of the things I want you to do if this ever happens to you, every time a question comes up about your reality and they say, “No, that’s not what happened. This is what happened, I want you to ask yourself, “Is this really true or are they just trying to be right?”

You may not want to get in a conversation like that with them because they’re crafty. If they’re really gaslighting you, they’re already too crafty. You can’t win a conversation like that.

Just ask yourself, “Is this really what happened or do they just want to be right?” If your answer is, “Well, I think they just want to be right,” then that goes one step toward supporting yourself instead of just believing what they say, or getting confused about what you believe. You might say, “Well, I don’t know if it’s true or not. I don’t know if they want to be right or not.”

Another good question is, “If they didn’t say anything, if they didn’t try to influence my mind at all, or if they didn’t make me doubt myself, what would I know to be true? If I didn’t even talk to them, what would I know to be true?”

The answer you get will usually be the truth. Even if it’s just your perception of truth, it’s usually the truth. Perception doesn’t normally change so drastically, especially if you were okay before the relationship.

Before the relationship you’re in now, before that person entered your life in any way, shape, or form, if your perceptions were mostly right but changed after the relationship formed, then it’s time to start thinking about what might be happening.

“If this person didn’t say anything to me, what would I know to be true?”

If you’re really deep in the manipulation and control, and you’ve been dealing with it for months or years, and you’ve been made to distrust yourself over and over again, it’s going to be a lot harder to know what’s true.

This is where I’ll give you a piece of unorthodox advice. It’s unorthodox because it could be illegal. It could be something that makes the other person mad; it could be a number of things. In fact, don’t even see this as advice. Let me just put it this way, my personal opinion when it comes to crazy-making and when it comes to someone that continues to force you to question your own perceptions, is to get a voice-activated recorder and put it in the room where you have conversations.

Again, I’m not telling you that you need to do this. You need to check the laws in your state or country. I’m also not saying that you’re using it to collect evidence to hold against them. I just want you to make sure you’re not going insane. A recording that you can play back for yourself can help you determine if it’s true or not.

This may not help when it comes to a couch or silverware being in a different place, but it will help with determining your sanity during conversations. If you had a conversation yesterday and then today you recall that conversation, and they say, “No, that’s not what I said.” And “No, that’s not what I meant,” you can listen to the recording and remind yourself, “Aha, that’s exactly what was said.”

This is going to start helping you rebuild trust in yourself. Again, I’m not telling you to do this; I’m just saying that’s what I would do because I would want to know if I was really getting so much wrong.

I’ve had clients that have done this and sent me these recordings. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong and I’m not saying it’s good or bad, but you’re damn right I’d do it! I think that’s a good way to start rebuilding trust in yourself and reinforcing your perceptions about the world and your belief system.

Imagine if your belief system was eroded by someone else causing you to think things that weren’t true? That happens all the time. We are influenced by many authority figures in the world today. If their goal is to make us believe things that aren’t true, and we follow that road, suddenly we have new values. Suddenly we have new personal boundaries. We have new perceptions of everything and we’re making different decisions that favor those people, so you have to be careful.

This is why it’s important to be observant and aware about crazy-making, which is a very big umbrella term. It contains so many levels of abusive language and poisonous, communication, but it really does come down to making you distrust yourself.

The more you distrust yourself, the more you’ll end up putting faith in someone toxic.

And the more you’ll end up looking for support from the very person manipulating you, wanting to get their friendship, their love, connection, their compassion, sympathy, because you really want to believe that they are good deep down inside and that they really do love you.

The more dependencies you have with the emotionally abusive person, the more they’ll be in control of you.

Share this with someone who might benefit.

Paul Colaianni

Paul Colaianni is a Behavior and Relationship Coach, and the host of The Overwhelmed Brain and Love and Abuse podcasts.

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