Gaslighters, people who try to control others through manipulation, will often accuse you of behaviors that they are engaged in themselves. This is a classic manipulation tactic. Read more to learn why this tactic works so well.
In the article Gaslighting: Know It and Identify It to Protect Yourself, I described gaslighting as a series of manipulation tactics used to discredit you, keep you off-balance, and have you question your reality. The gaslighter uses these tactics in order to get “revenge” or gain control over you. Gaslighting tactics include:
Splitting — pitting you against a friend or family member.
Working to align others against you.
Telling others that you are crazy, unstable, or manipulative.
Lying about things they said and did, even though you swear those things happened.
Telling you they don’t like your family and friends — but for vague reasons.
Cheat in relationships, yet they accuse their victims of cheating.
Accuse their victims of being addicts, when they are the true addicts.
Accuse their victims of manipulation, when they are the ones who manipulate.
Gaslighters will accuse others of actions — even when there is direct evidence that they are engaging in those same behaviors. So why do gaslighters do this? They are doing pre-emptive strikes and/or are projecting.
First, the pre-emptive strike tactic. The gaslighter is cheating — they are planning the secret meetings with their lovers, and getting a rush from it. They are invested in keeping up the charade. To keep you off-kilter, they start accusing you of cheating. The goal is to keep you so busy defending yourself and being emotionally distraught that you don’t have enough time to pay attention to the gaslighter’s own behavior. By accusing you, the gaslighter has bought themselves time.
The gaslighter can go as far as claiming they saw you out with someone — when in fact you were at home waiting for the gaslighter to show up late from work again. The gaslighter has you in a bind — you can’t prove that something never happened. But you try and try to prove to them that you did nothing wrong — but whatever evidence you produce is not good enough for the gaslighter. You become more concerned about being falsely accused than paying attention to the gaslighter’s own behavior.
The gaslighter may even present “evidence” to others of being manipulated by the victim. This evidence may be completely fabricated by the gaslighter, or the gaslighter takes facts and manipulates them, or “forgets” to share them. For example, the gaslighter tells your friends they are sure you are cheating because you “claimed” you were working late a few nights this week.
You actually were working late a few nights this week — to earn extra money in overtime. But the gaslighter conveniently leaves this fact out when badmouthing you to your friends. When you remind the gaslighter that you told them you were working late, they deny you ever told them this — and then they bring up another reason why they are “convinced” you are cheating.
Let’s say the gaslighter in your life is addicted to heroin. You suspect they have stolen money from you to feed their addicition. Before even getting a chance to confront them, the gaslighter calmly tells you that they are concerned you are an alcoholic. You immediately go into defense mode — no one has ever accused you of this before, and it is a shock. It throws you into a tailspin. The gaslighter brings up times where they knew you were drunk — but you don’t recall any of these times. The gaslighter may even accuse you of blacking out, and claims that’s why you can’t remember. You start questioning your sanity — and this is exactly the exact goal of the gaslighter. Meanwhile, the gaslighter keeps using and stealing.
Besides direct contact with the victim and their family and friends, the gaslighter also uses social media as a way to accuse and deflect from their own behavior. The gaslighter knows that once something is posted on social media, the information travels quickly. The gaslighter is also in a position of power on social media by never answering any questions about the truth of their claims, thus perpetuating the gaslighter’s lie.
The gaslighter may accuse you of being manipulative because they are projecting — one of the more commonly used defense mechanisms. I can’t own up to my behavior, so I’m going to put it on you. While a pre-emptive strike is a gaslighter’s conscious choice to manipulate you for their gain, projection can be done on a conscious or unconscious level. While some gaslighters are very aware that they are putting their behavior on someone else to get what they want, some gaslighters who are projecting are not even aware that they are doing it. In either case, projection is an unhealthy behavior and should not be tolerated.
Some gaslighters unconsciously project out of guilt or shame. In the case of narcissistic personality disorder, narcissists feel they are totally okay, and think that everyone else has a problem. This is called ego-syntonic behavior. It is very difficult to get a narcissistic gaslighter to get help through counseling — because they think you have the problem, not them. Projecting behavior can get to the point where a gaslighter delusionally believes that they are being persecuted by the victim — when in fact the opposite is true.
Whatever the origin of the gaslighter’s accusatory behavior, they are still 100 percent responsible for it. Treat all cases of accusations towards you as what they are — accusations, not fact. There is no need to spend your extra energy trying to defend yourself – because it will never be good enough. Instead, take a hard look at whether the behavior the gaslighter accuses you of is actually something they are doing. Don’t let smoke and mirrors get in the way of uncovering the gaslighter’s behavior for what it is — manipulation of you and others by way of accusation and distraction.
About the Author: Stephanie Sarkis Dr. Stephanie Sarkis is a National Certified Counselor (NCC), Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), and AMHCA Diplomate and Clinical Specialist in Child and Adolescent Counseling based in Tampa Bay, Florida, where she specializes in the treatment of ADD/ADHD. Dr. Sarkis conducts evaluations, testing, diagnosis, and counseling services. She also is a public speaker, consultant, coach, and is a facilitator in collaborative law.