Advice to a Friend

How do you prove a negative?  A professor once told me that you can’t… that to engage in such a debate will make you look insane. Let me ask you another question on this fine evening … how do you prove you’re not crazy? I get it.  We’re all a little weird. It’s just a matter of how high our freak flag flies. The problem is when someone describes you in a way that you can’t effectively disprove.

Usually, the purveyor of perceived personality problems is a narcissist … we’ve all encountered them, whether a colleague, boss, family member, significant other, an ex, and in this day and age, political figures.  If you think you can beat them at their own game, you’re wrong. It’s what they do, and they are really good at it. They have perfected their art. The only way to win is to not play.

You see, the worst part is, the more you try to defend yourself, the crazier you sound.

They’ll idly complain to their friends, “I was late coming home after work and she flipped out on me, started calling me all kinds of names.”  Well, that sounds like you are certifiably nuts with an out of control temper, right?  He won’t tell the rest of the story, though: he was late every day for a week, and you found his social media open with a stream of inappropriate messages to a coworker discussing their ongoing relationship and the so-called “dates” they’d been on that week.  Yet, when you try and explain this, you sound like a stalker with jealousy issues. Turning a situation like this around on the innocent party is a manipulation tactic. It’s a power play. It’s gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a favorite ploy among narcissists to control their victims.  It’s an abusive tactic that causes self-doubt, making the victim question their own memory and even reality.  Sadly, it works all too well. The term Gaslight comes from a film of the same name where a husband gradually made his wife think she was crazy.  Among the ploys he used was to constantly tell her friends and family that she was nuts, sowing the seeds of doubt and thereby giving her nowhere to turn.  Narcissists use gaslighting effectively in relationships and are usually unable to let go after the relationship ends.

Their need to control the narrative extends to their social circle, but it’s not enough to get others to believe your crazy. The successful gaslighter will make you question your own sanity.  Nothing sounds crazier than a sane person who has been driven to think he or she is insane fighting to prove they are, in fact, sane.

There isn’t really a way to argue the point without adding to it.  No matter what you say, you will sound insane. Which is kind of the point.

“I’m not crazy.”

“I never did that, I swear.”

“That’s not what (or, how) it happened.”

“He’s the crazy one.”

“I never said that.”

“Everyone wears tinfoil on their heads when using a microwave.”

Gaslighting in a relationship is very real, and make no mistake, it is a commonly used form of emotional abuse.  If your partner is making you feel that you can’t do anything, that you can’t accomplish anything, that you have no friends, that you have to walk on egg shells to keep from being criticized, or that maybe, just maybe, you really are crazy, let me be clear – get out. It won’t get better; these people are the sick ones, not you.  If you feel like you have no confidence around your partner, that you are never right, and that nothing you say will matter anyway, something is wrong. Love should build you up, not tear you down or make you feel less than.

Get Out.  Now.  If you need help, call a hotline.  Not all abuse leaves physical bruises you can see; some leaves a lingering scar on your mind and spirit.

Maybe you are a little crazy, like putting ketchup on pancakes crazy.  Our nutty quirks keep life fun.  If you are the victim of a sanity smear campaign, though, just let it go.  The only way to win this game is to not play.  Don’t drive yourself crazy proving you aren’t.

As for the tinfoil hat and the microwave?  I may or may not believe that alien technology radiates from the microwave on the “high setting.”   The voices in my head said so, and they haven’t steered me wrong yet.