Gaslighting is the systematic attempt by one person to erode another’s reality. This is done by telling them that what they are experiencing isn’t so – and, the gradual giving up on the part of the other person.
→ Robin Stern
→ Robin Stern
The abuser directs some of this fury inwards, punishing himself for his “failure”. This masochistic behavior has the added “benefit” of forcing the abuser’s closest to assume the roles of dismayed spectators or of persecutors and thus, either way, to pay him the attention that he craves.
Self-administered punishment often manifests as self-handicapping masochism – a cop-out. By undermining his work, his relationships, and his efforts, the increasingly fragile abuser avoids additional criticism and censure (negative supply). Self-inflicted failure is the abuser’s doing and thus proves that he is the master of his own fate.
Masochistic abusers keep finding themselves in self-defeating circumstances which render success impossible – and “an objective assessment of their performance improbable” (Millon, 2000). They act carelessly, withdraw in mid-effort, are constantly fatigued, bored, or disaffected and thus passive-aggressively sabotage their lives. Their suffering is defiant and by “deciding to abort” they reassert their omnipotence.
The abuser’s pronounced and public misery and self-pity are compensatory and “reinforce (his) self-esteem against overwhelming convictions of worthlessness” (Millon, 2000). His tribulations and anguish render him, in his eyes, unique, saintly, virtuous, righteous, resilient, and significant. They are, in other words, self-generated Narcissistic Supply.
Thus, paradoxically, the worst his anguish and unhappiness, the more relieved and elated such an abuser feels! He is “liberated” and “unshackled” by his own self-initiated abandonment, he insists. He never really wanted this commitment, he tells any willing (or buttonholed) listener – and anyhow, the relationship was doomed from the beginning by the egregious excesses and exploits of his wife (or partner or friend or boss).
“You’re imagining things.”
“You misunderstood the situation.”
“I’m not going to listen to you when you get like this.”
“I don’t like your tone.”
“If you feel that way, then I’m sorry, but that’s not how it is.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“There’s nothing going on.”
“You’re wrong. That’s not what we talked about.”
“Why are you acting like this? You’re being irrational.”
“I don’t understand why you’re upset. There isn’t a problem here.”