Many of us have succumbed to irrational behaviour because of someone else’s irrational behaviour. Irrationality is contagious. But we can prevent it from spreading to us.
Think Of The Brain As Having 3 Parts.
Part 1 - Called the Reptilian brain, focuses on pure survival. Food, sex, escape, and attack.
Part 2 - Called the Paleo-mammalian (or middle brain), is where emotions such as joy, hate, protectiveness, sadness, and pleasure live. This is also the part of the brain that makes us able to form intimate bonds with our partner and our children.
Part 3 - Called the Neo-mammalian brain, allows us to make smart decisions, plan ahead, and control our impulses. This is where the logical & rational aspect of our personality resides.
Each part of the brain houses different aspects of the Self. That’s why we can act so differently depending on the situation we are in. The type of situation we’re in will depend on which part of the brain is in the driver’s seat. For example, if I’m being chased by a bear, I want Part 1 of my brain to be in the driver’s seat, because that’s when my reflexes are at their quickest and my body is at its strongest. Part 1 of my brain is best able to get me through this particular situation.
However if I’m interacting with a person who is trying to get me wrapped up into an argument with them, I want Part 3 of my brain to be in the driver’s seat. I want to have full access to my language centre so that I can express myself effectively. I also want full control of my body language and my voice fluctuations. I want to be able to think critically and clearly. Basically, I need maximum mental agility in this particular situation.
The more vulnerable we feel, the more likely it is that Part 3 of our brain will go off-line. If we get triggered, Part 3 is likely to go off-line, so let’s talk about what a trigger is.
Are You Triggered? Is The Person Acting Irrationally Triggered?
A trigger can be defined in many ways. For this discussion I’m going to define ‘trigger’ as a life experience that we perceive to be having, but we aren’t actually having. We’re subconsciously remembering a life experience from our past that caused us pain, and it’s affecting how we view our present moment. We’re all traumatised by something. This can change our personality and how we handle situations. Being triggered can cause us to exhibit destructive behaviour, either self-destructive, or destructiveness toward others, or both. As we all know, there are various ways that this can play out through a person’s behaviour patterns.
This may or may not be why someone’s acting irrationally toward us. Part 3 of their brain might be offline.......or it might not be. It’s possible that they’re messing with us because they benefit, in some way, from us getting upset. Or, they may be acting irrationally because they’ve been triggered and they genuinely feel victimised by you. It’s often hard to tell.
Behaviour Pattern Category: Manipulation. Sub-Category: Reactive Abuse (Gas lighting, sometimes labelled Narcissism)
There are some behaviour patterns that are a skilled sequence of behaviours that allows a person to feed off somebody else’s energy, their life force. In this discussion we’re talking about a very well-honed behaviour pattern that allows a person to feed off someone else’s upset. This behaviour pattern has many names, in layman‘s terms it’s most commonly called gas lighting, reactive abuse, and narcissism. Technically it’s under the “manipulation” category of irrational behaviour patterns. Someone who’s mental health is regularly affected by this behaviour pattern has what’s called Narcissistic Victim Syndrome.
As we tackle this topic, it’s important to remember that everyone has their reasons for acting irrationally, and though there is definitely a conscious choice being made on some level, there’s also quite a bit of unconscious choice involved. Often times, the person behaving in ways that make us feel like a victim also genuinely feels like a victim. This however does not give a person permission to behave in destructive ways.
For Self-Protection And To Avoid Doing Harm To Another
There are ways to help our friends, co-workers, and loved ones overcome destructive and irrational behaviour patterns, but this isn’t what we’re tackling in today’s discussion. Today we’re tackling how to handle gas-lighting behaviour when it arises. There are two purposes for this: self protection, and to preventing ourselves from accidentally causing harm to the other person. Let’s face it, these people can make us wildly upset if we’re not careful......in fact that’s the goal of the behaviour.
Things can get confusing when the person doing the gas-lighting behaviour starts stating “you’re gas-lighting” or uses the word “abusive” in some way to describe us. It’s like in the movies when someone is disguised as another, and there’s an argument between who’s the real one. (“This man is an impostor, get him out of here” ........“it’s me you idiots, get your hands off me, seize him!”.)
Phase 1, 2, and 3: From Passive-Aggression, To Aggression, To Dangerous Threats...... All The While Playing The Victim
Does this sound at all familiar to you? I bet this has happened at least once in your life. It starts with small comments that make you wonder what the person really means, just enough to get your attention....(or maybe you didn’t notice these subtle signs and you wound up feeling blindsided). Then suddenly, passive aggression turns into aggression. Finally you take their bait, meaning that you respond to them. As soon as you’ve responded to them, they know they’ve got you, and that’s when the chaos ensues. Both men and women exhibit this behaviour pattern. I want to make it perfectly clear that this is not a gender-specific behaviour pattern. That said, you may hear the word ‘she’ sneak out of my mouth in discussion on this topic. That’s because in my experience I’ve seen this behaviour pattern exhibited far more often in females.
My Personal Experience
This is an excellent time to share with you a bit of my personal experience with this particular behaviour pattern. I was raised in a household with 3 individuals who regularly exhibited gas-lighting behaviour. Each exhibited the behaviour in their own unique way. Two of the individuals were female and one was male.
This was before terms like “gaslighting”, and “reactive abuse” were known, so I described how I was feeling as having deer flies buzzing around my head. The more I’d swat at them, the worse they’d get. But the more I remained still, the worse they’d get. I used to have recurring dreams of me having a rage tantrum in the middle of some field, while someone I went to for help in overcoming the reasons for my rage watched from a distance, refusing to help me.
This set me up to be a defensive young lady within my community, always seeing myself or others as a victim of this type of behaviour. I saw it happening everywhere. Was it because it was always happening? Or was I always seeing it happening because of my state of mind? .....Was I gaslighting in my community by treating people as if they were gaslighting others? I don’t know, but it makes you think, doesn’t it?
Later in life I found myself in a decade-long relationship with a man who was an expert at exhibiting gaslighting behaviour. I became so confused, I was consumed by shame for things I never in my right mind would have felt shame over. Underneath it all my anger grew. This person wore me out to the point where I couldn’t feel emotion anymore due to mental exhaustion.
I see it this way: I got my ‘undergraduate degree’ in Gaslighting in my youth, and received my ‘post-graduate degree’ in that past relationship. Thanks to them, I now have what I call a “Doctorate” in “Being a Recipient of Gaslighting-Type Manipulative Behaviour”. I also know what it is to truly forgive, and what it actually means when they say forgiveness isn’t about freeing other people. It’s about freeing ourselves.
We Must Respect The Person, Though Not The Behaviour Pattern, If We Are To Succeed
If I had to write a thesis on this topic, the final line of my thesis would say, “This behaviour pattern is not about the person. We must separate the person and the behaviour. To masterfully handle people exhibiting this behaviour pattern, doing so is essential. We must have utmost respect for the person, while not showing respect for the behaviour pattern”.
Text & Social Media Confrontations
These days we deal with gaslighting behaviour more often in written correspondences then we do face-to-face. I’m noticing that people who exhibit this behaviour pattern are more often choosing to launch their Phase 3 through text or social media posts instead of face-to-face.
In person, I’m able to use a combination of voice and body language to halt a person’s attempt to use gaslighting behaviour on me. In texts and social media posts, using body language and voice tones isn’t an option. Perhaps this is why more gaslighting behaviour happens in writing these days. Not only are people sitting safely behind a screen, but it’s probably easier to get people upset when there’s multiple texts dinging at us from our phones.
So let’s talk about how to handle texts and social media posts that come through. There are two viable options, and I’ll talk about the consequences and the benefits of both.
Text Confrontations Option 1: Don’t Reply
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It’s not. This is a tricky one, because it requires us to recognize the gaslighting behaviour pattern before we hit reply. It also goes against what we instinctively (Part 1 & 2 of the brain) think we should do. Obviously we should explain ourselves, right? Unfortunately I’ve “explained myself” into a lot of gaslighting situations, and in an attempt to defuse the situation, I wound up inflaming things instead.
Not acknowledging confrontational texts or social media posts is an ideal option, if it’s possible....which it may not be if you live with this person or if you see them every weekend. Then again, this approach still may be possible, depending on the circumstance and how you handle your next conversation with this person.
The thing is, a person exhibiting gaslighting style manipulation is looking for a response, they want your attention so they can feed off of your upset like it’s a sandwich.
Let me just take a moment here to clarify that this person is also probably feeling some sort of vulnerability. You may be thinking, “how could this person be a good person and still act like this”? Look into your past. How have you behaved when you were feeling vulnerable? Especially if you felt fear? Not at your best, I’m guessing. Bear in mind that fear often shows up as anger. With that said, I’ll continue.
So they’re looking for your attention, particularly in the form of upset. What if you didn’t give them what they wanted? Eventually, they’d stop texting/posting, they’d get tired of trying to get you upset, and they’d go find somebody else to try to upset. They’d probably also think twice about trying to pull you into another one of their narratives in the future.
This sounds pretty easy, right? It’s not. It requires that Parts 1, 2, and 3 of your brain to stay fully online during this harrowing experience, and it is a harrowing experience. This behaviour pattern is dangerous to us, and we know it. Keeping all 3 Parts of our brain balanced during times of stress is a skill that requires practice, just like learning to play a musical instrument. With repetition it becomes easier.
Words, The Modern Day Swords
I did most of my practicing while I was taking long walks and jogs. I’ve done most of my “training” (mental preparation) by playing different scenarios over in my mind. Think of it as modern day swordplay. In fact, I consider words to be the modern-day swords. To practice the art of Wordsmith is to master Swordplay. However, like swordplay, mental preparation only helps us so much. We must learn in real time how to handle this behaviour pattern.
Don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first time, or even the 10th time. Don’t give up, especially if your job requires you to be in the spotlight somehow. Success within a profession that puts us in the public eye requires us to endure criticism, and it exposes us to gaslighting type behaviour. People throw rocks at things that shine. As we get better at taking it all in stride, we can calmly sit back with a hot cup of Landback-Bold coffee, and be a spectator to all of this. Being a spectator sure beats being a victim. After all, it’s all a matter of perspective.
What I mean is that you’ll eventually learn to be un-attached to this behaviour pattern, no matter who’s exhibiting it. Then you’ll get to sit back and enjoy a sense of success and freedom.....and that’s going to be one good cup of coffee!
Text Confrontations Option 2: Reply
Chances are, Part 3 of your brain went offline at some point in the confrontation, and you replied without thinking it through. Or, you’re going to be sitting at a dinner table with this person next weekend, so you don’t feel that you have the option to not reply to them. Now you’re in the middle of a confusing confrontation, thinking, “what just happened??” You’re fully distracted, you can’t think of anything else, you burn dinner, and you forget to feed the dog. This distracted stressed state can last for hours, so be careful. Make sure the tasks that need doing get done, otherwise this person will have caused even more destruction.
Now, to get yourself out of this situation. Depending on how far this has gone, you may need some help. If you’re able to have someone else step in on your behalf, that’s helpful (and not a sign of failure. It’s a smart move). This person‘s job is not to defend you, remember, defending ourselves just flares up the situation even more. This person is there to speak in support of you, to let the other person know you’re not alone.
Option 2-A: “You Seem Upset”
Let’s use an example that a psychiatrist gave. Dr. Mark Goulston is a former UCLA professor of psychiatry and an FBI hostage negotiation trainer. He now works in the professional field as a coach and advisor to employers and CEOs of companies. Here’s an excerpt from a blog:
You (not taking the bait): You seem frustrated and I’m guessing you’re also feeling upset and disappointed. I hope that gets better for you soon. (Notice that you aren’t responding to anything specific that the person said. That’s key. Don’t respond to something specific they said. Bad idea.)
Them (surprised because their tactic didn’t work): What? or Huh?
You: Yeah, you seem frustrated and I’m guessing you’re also feeling upset and disappointed. I hope that gets better for you soon, because that’s a lousy way to feel.
Them: Getting angry (because their tactics are still not working)
You: And now you seem even more frustrated and angry and I hope that gets better for you too.
Them: Ranting further or even threatening some self- or other-destructive behaviour.
You: Well I hope you won’t do that and if it looks like you’re going to I’m going to call in someone to intervene because I wouldn’t want to second guess you.
Them: Continuing to rant, but not an apparent immediate threat.
You: You know I don’t know what else to say and it seems that I’m not making this any better and I’m only making it worse, so I’ll just say goodbye for now. But please feel free to reach out to me when you’re feeling better.
(then end the conversation and allow them to have the last parting remark and don’t get too perturbed about it)”
What just happened?
Well for one, you didn’t stop them in their tracks, which is what you were REALLY hoping would happen. You just want the madness to stop. But let’s stay realistic, because this type of response is probably the most efficient way to diffuse the situation. Unfortunately, you’re still going to have to calmly sit through multiple attempts to get you upset. You’re going to have to stay cool. They’re going to up the ante every time they don’t get the reaction they’re looking for. They’re going to try everything they can think of to get you to argue back.....including explaining yourself in a calm voice. For them, that counts. They get a sip of our energy when we get caught up in explaining or defending ourselves, and it encourages the irrational behaviour. The goal is to prevent ourselves from getting outwardly upset.
“Manipulative people previously got the better of you by frustrating, upsetting and then outraging you, but you previously caved in or appeased them before they enraged you because that level of anger in you was too uncomfortable .....for you. Furthermore, you may have a fear that if you pushed back and let a little of your anger out and it provoked them further, that might push you even further into your rage and more out of control than you can handle feeling.
If you look at the suggested responses from you above, none of the comments are inflammatory, incendiary or even unreasonable. You are simply stating the facts of the situation in that the other person is upset, that is not a way that people like to feel, you hope they feel better soon, and implied that their problem is their responsibility to fix (unless you are truly at fault, which you might need to clarify in your own mind).
By the way, the more angry they become when you don’t play into their game, the more manipulative a person that you are dealing with.”
Option 2-B: Shed Light On The Truth Of Things
This option is my personal choice, above 2-A, not because it’s necessarily more effective but because it suits my personality better. The various forms of darkness that reside within us are afraid of the light. Bear in mind (this is important), you’re not naming the person, you’re naming the behaviour. Don’t ever say “you are”. Normally I say something like “I recognize your behaviour as...... And while I have respect for you as a person, I won’t tolerate this behaviour”. Or, if I’m helping someone who’s in the middle of a confrontation, I might say, “I advise you to stop this behaviour immediately”.
This approach will not stop the behaviour pattern completely. It will stop the conversation most of the time. The person is still free to tell terrible lies about us....sometimes forcing us to defend ourselves in front of authorities. Unfortunately, I’ve not discovered a way to prevent this. Over the years I’ve trained myself to have faith that my own integrity will shine brighter than someone else’s harsh words against me.
I advise people to keep screenshots of written conversations. If words were exchanged, write down in detail the conversation. Don’t delay, get it on paper before short term memory fades. It’s very important to keep good records of interactions that could get you into trouble down the road. If you can accurately recall, with as much proof as possible of what happened, then “trouble” is likely to be minimal. This goes double for anyone who has a volatile or troubled past.
Good record-keeping is especially important if you’re a male. The law and the advocacy groups in today’s society will most often take the side of the female. Depending on the accusation, this could cost a man his job, his home, and potentially his kids if he’s going through a divorce. It’s scary, and I hate that this sometimes happens to innocent people.
Putting A Stop To Gaslighting Behaviour May Cost You The Relationship
Sometimes we have to make tough choices. People who exhibit gaslighting behaviour are really attached to their behaviour pattern. When we decide to no longer put up with their behaviour pattern, they may feel totally abandoned, or at least betrayed. Remember that you’re dealing with a deeply subconscious state of mind. This person needs this behaviour patterns so badly that they can’t see that you actually want them in your life, it’s just that you can’t deal with the behaviour pattern anymore. They may perceive this as you ending your relationship with them. Practice compassion and stick to your truth.
So, be aware of the potential consequences of your decisions, along with the many benefits. I set firm boundaries with my family members, and I’m heartbroken. Then again, I was heartbroken before too. Now, I’m less confused and I’m more at peace. Also, my self love and self confidence have improved immensely. I’m far more successful in my professional life and I’m able to have a functional loving relationship with my husband. I wouldn’t have been capable of these things before I overcame Narcissistic Victim Syndrome.
I wish you courage, I wish you peace, and I wish you insight.
To learn more, I’d suggest looking into the work of Dr. Paul McLean (The Triune Brain in Evolution) and those who have expanded upon his work. I’d also suggest, as mentioned above, the work of Dr. Mark Goulston.