The Gaslighting Trap

I often talk about gaslighting in my video conferences and teleconferences (check my upcoming conferences and register for the ones that interest you), but not enough in my blogs, so because I have a video conference series upcoming about this exact topic, I decided to write about it.

What is gaslighting? 

Gaslighting is the phenomenon where your mind is attacked by your partner. They try to convince you that you didn’t say what you said; or that your observations are way out of line; or that everyone else thinks you’re nuts; Like brainwashing, gaslighting turns the victim into a helpless dish of mush if you don’t escape.

Some of you already know the term and others will have an “AHA!” moment when recognizing the traits in your own relationship with your spouse.


Who is using gaslighting?

It’s a technique commonly used by narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths. What do all these people have in common? The lack of empathy.

Autism is defined by a lack of social reciprocity. Our “Aspies” are also lacking empathy – the complex term to describe more than just caring about something. Gaslighting is a natural byproduct of an empathy disorder unless the “Aspie” develops a strong moral code.


Who are the victims?

Unfortunately, everyone can be a victim. Your age, gender or social status are irrelevant when you are targeted by someone with no empathy skills. It’s not something you did and you are not to blame.


Why is gaslighting happening?

In romantic relationships, gaslighting is easier to notice (compared with work environments) and is more visible. The motive is also clear – often it’s about being in control.

People on the Spectrum love to control and order, but our daily lives are full of variables. Because of this, they are trying to control as much as they possibly can, including their partner, if they are left to do so. “No, you are wrong, this is the way it happened”, “you are crazy” or “are you stupid?” are common lines that victims hear.

It’s harder to take responsibility for a misunderstanding (or other interpersonal breakdowns), when you don’t have the empathy to compare yourself to another. As a result, “Aspies” can become quite manipulative, narcissistic and engage in the Blame Game.



Stages of gaslighting

Psychology Today has a very useful article, which will help you recognize the stages of gaslighting:

  1. Lie and Exaggerate – gaslighting starts with a negative narrative, something is wrong about you
  2. Repetition – the previous point is repeated, like a psychological warfare
  3. Escalate When Challenged – if you call them out, the attack will double or triple
  4. Wear Out the Victim – the victims soon start to question their own reality
  5. Form Co-dependent Relationships – the gaslighter gains control
  6. Give False Hope – using manipulation, the gaslighter will give a bit of hope to gain positive momentum in the mind of the victim
  7. Dominate and Control – the goal of controlling, dominating, and taking advantage of another individual is reached


Consequences of gaslighting

As a result of gaslighting, victims often feel ashamed and become co-dependent on their “Aspie” spouse. I’ve written about the Blame Game and how can you tell if you’re co-dependent on your “Aspie” on my blog.

I often talk about taking back your life and this is exactly what I recommend in this case too. You need to take control of your life and escape from gaslighting. Of course, it is not as easy as it might sound. That’s why I created a group of people who are ready to take action and support each other through these tough times. If you want to join us, please check “Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD.”

If you need a psychologist skilled in NT/ASD relationships, who can work with you (and won’t tell you to adapt), I offer private Video Therapy/Education Appointments (sessions of 20, 40 or 60 minutes) – please check my Appointment Page.

16 Replies to “The Gaslighting Trap”

  1. I have an aspie who has turned my world upside down. I’ve contemplated suicide for years just to escape his mind games.

    1. My husband of 20 years, destroyed my life, and very nearly obliterated the whole of “me”. My heart popped out as I read your 7 steps, because he actually did his deeds with that same modus operandi. Until the spell was broken, by serendipitous events that revealed the breath and extent of his scheming, he now has turned to other tactics such as relentless love bombing and guilt trips, threats of suicide, and creates an environment where I am to have zero mind space of my own. These new tactics he adopted as a consequence of our separation, we have been separated since Sep 2020, his obsession with me knows no bounds. He has refused to ever be diagnosed, with anything. However, the chances of ASD are very high: his brother is is severely autistic; and our two sons, are HFA (high functioning autistic, or “aspi”); and there is ASD in his extended family. There is no family history of ASD in my immediate or extended family.
      Covid has now limited many of my options, but I will find a way out. But I sometimes dream I could move countries, to be free.

  2. To be more specific, its not the lacking empathy that’s the problem. People that are Neurotypical and those with autism simply experience the world in different ways. This often means they’re both gaslighting each other. however, as the majority is Neurotypical, it is often assumed that their way is “right” and the autistic experience is thus denied and shunned. The more of society jumps on and confirms that the autistic experience is simply “wrong”, the worse the situation becomes. Lashing out to control the world is a poor choice by those desperate to make sense of things when no one will give their world view any credit.

    1. It is understandable that Autists feel misunderstood and maligned. But it is also important for Autists to recognize that they are slightly out of step with the empathic NT world. All people want to be understood, appreciated and loved. The first step toward recovery is to know that you don’t know something. Without the Ego involved it is so much easier to find common ground.

    2. It usually isn’t the NTs doing the gaslighting Jacob. Your reply saying that “it isn’t us, it’s them” proves the point perfectly……

    3. Very sensitively stated, thank you. There is no contest in differing perceptions. The challenges arise from the impulse toward a dominant/subordinate paradigm or world view. We have much to gain from moving toward an appreciation of the inherent neutrality of neurodivergence. An inclusive appreciation of differently wired brains bears no argument.

  3. Wow, I write as I watch my ASD partner provide me with a bunch of hand picked flowers, whilst I work at home. He came home last week saying he’d been to the doctor and had taken 3 months leave from work unpaid, incidentally just like he’d been to the supermarket and picked up bread. No discussion with me.
    Earlier in the week, he’d demanded yelling directly in my ear, I not take a decorated cake to a family member of his, who is young, autistic, and due to aggressive behaviour, the family struggled to handle and is now in the foster system. I indicated, I wouldn’t if he could explain how my actions were directly impacting him. His response to me was that I always criticise him. I explained, it wasn’t criticism it was a question. He further responded with he’s not family and no one in the family wants anything to do with him. Fearing this was the case, I rang his mother on the way to visit the family member and she qualified it wasn’t the case. His mother subsequently contacted him and then sent me a angry text regarding my inappropriate comments about another family members contributions towards the situation. I did not make those comments about the family member. My partner fears the wrath of his mother or father in any situation. He doesn’t like to look bad in any situation with his parents. He does tend to rely on the attack is the best form of defence approach.
    Can someone explain how to unpack this situation, is it the anxiety of not controlling the outcome – ie if his thoughts are no contact is to be made with family member then that has to be complied with? Otherwise extreme anxiety prevails? The child has behaved badly but he still deserves support from family.
    The bottom line is My partner is totally oblivious of the abusive way he spoke. He carries on like nothing has happened. I’m thinking of leaving him. As this is not the first time such controlling behaviour has occurred. It’s also not the first time I’ve attempted to discuss this behaviour with him.

    The sequence of events is a) item he wants to control has to occur his way, b) if it doesn’t occur his anxiety level is raised c) abusive language erupts, demanding the situation to be managed as he requires d) I counter balance with how does it impact him e) he doesn’t answer this question and insists my question is criticism of him e) I indicate it’s not criticism just a question f) he continues on the line of my criticising him and says he doesn’t have any fancy words like me g) I retract from situation allowing him to calm down h) at a later date I bring issue up and we enter the same process again.

    Funny thing is minus the physical aggressive element, his family member in foster care and himself, behaviours mimic each other. The lying, the need to control, dismissal of others points of view.
    I just can’t see a way to resolve this situation as any discussion on such topics, even if I broach therapy he indicates I just want to make him look bad and he shuts down. Yet he brings flowers and smiles like nothing is wrong. Oblivious to the storm approaching.

    1. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes …YES. Precisely. I’m sorry you know this familiar circus ‘up close and personal’. I know you aren’t perfect just as I’m not— and yet you’re being accused of something unjustly. That alone is so, so hard. So much more to say but I’m in the midst of one of those awful situations myself and just wiped out. Just wanted you to know for sure you’re not alone in this.

  4. Oh man! It could be helpful to distinguish between the types of empathy and how people like me on the spectrum lack “cognitive empathy“ but not “emotional empathy“. Very different beasts. I found this article to be on the level of tabloid material—very opinion based and accusatory, using a lot of generalizations rather than striking a neutral, curious tone and employing objective facts. The same points could’ve been communicated without the needless villainizing:-(

    1. It is difficult to see the other side of things. Whenever I write about the hurt and confusion of NTs, there is invariably the risk of making NeuroDiverse individuals look bad, or as you say villainized. However, it is not villainizing to to explain the pain. You are correct though, that too many interpret the suffering as being caused by ill will, when it is actually a function of transactional v. interactional styles.

  5. Wow. I am so glad to find this post. My aspie partner lies and gaslights me chronically. It’s insulting to me and shows a lack of respect, love and empathy. If I was financially better off I would leave. I’m a retired teacher over age 65 who was loved, honored and respected as a competent and intelligent teacher. Now I’m living my later years retired with a man who is lying and gaslighting me daily. He has caused me great harm and left me depressed. Why do aspies want to control everyone? He is non-compliant from birth and only his opinion matters. This is not the happy retirement I had expected.

  6. I’m in my 30s now, and I was the partner of an Aspi woman. The sad thing is, even though I left her, we still have to “talk” to each other. Why? Because she’s the mother of our wonderful daughter (2 yo). Where’s the problem? She tries to limit my custody options and the time I am “allowed” to spend with our girl to a minimum since our daughter was born, no, since pregnancy. I tried everything, but no chance. Only her opinion is right, only she should be in charge of our daughter, too much time I spend with her is too stressful etc. She gaslighted the shit out of me, everyone supports my sight, but nothing helps. She’s in charge, she knows what’s the best for our daughter. But the good thing is: I collected tons of evidence of her manipulative wrongdoing. I am going to drag her in front of court soon. I know I do sound very rude, but this is what she made me do. For everyone taking the neurodiverse/ASD-side just because, go f*** yourself! Stay in your delusional bubble and perceive any criticism from outside as an affront. Keep up telling anyone who doesn’t share your opinion, that they are just wrong. Keep up excusing everything you do wrong with your neurodiversity. But don’t wonder if you end up solitary.

  7. I too, I am a retired teacher who accepted the challenges of being an NT with a high functioning Aspi.
    As a result of my age , in general and due to the pandemic, options for connecting with a Nuro-typical partner that was a good match for me were severely limited. I have thrown everything I can into this four year relationship, while acknowledging my own mistakes, yet he continues to have meltdowns over some of the most minor events. He also reminds me repeatedly that he would be better off alone to fulfill his recent retirement dreams. I am left to wonder if my four year investment is ever going to pay off toward my goal of having security and companionship in my golden years. I don’t think he is going to change, and I am beginning to think that no matter how smart and patient this retired teacher can be, the end goal will be constant disruption or a life of turmoil if we stay together. It does seem, after reading these anecdotal experiences, as if I am in a classic Aspie/NT gaslighting relationship.
    Now, the question is, do I have the strength to get out of this and leave the door open for another, healthier relationship?

  8. Interestingly I, an autistic person, have had the same experience of gaslighting from a neurotypical person. Perhaps the issue isn’t the autism or the asperger’s, but simply being an a*sehole. Narcissistic personality disorder and the autism spectrum are two separate things that can occur in the same individual. Autism is not marked by a lack of empathy. Autistic people are fully capable of the same amount of empathy as everyone else, we just get misinterpreted a lot because we tend to be monotone and unexpressive. What you have described is not that. People with autism want things to be logically consistent and predictable. People who experienced childhood trauma and never properly healed it desire control, which in a traumatized autistic person can manifest as desiring control to make things fit their warped worldview. Please stop conflating autism and narcissism.

    1. Very astute observations. Yes, anyone can descend into narcissistic behaviors if they feel threatened. The goal is to take the high road even when you are fearful or confused. The problem is that those on the Autism Spectrum have very different ways of coping with their fears and confusion than do NTs. These methods result more often in social isolation and narcissistic behavior. It makes more sense and is more helpful to take a good look at this phenomenon. Similarly it is so much more helpful to the NeuroDiverse to explain that their alexythymia and other traits that you mention (such as the flat affect) interfere with empathic communication. It doesn’t feel like empathy to either NTs or NeuroDiverse, when the communication style blunts the connection. I describe this as a collision of worlds, or operating systems. It doesn’t work to say, “Yes I really do have empathy even if you don’t feel like I understand you.” My courses and books are designed to teach new methods for connecting than a black and white defense of one’s position.

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