The Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

The origin of the word ‘addiction’ is from the Latin for ‘bound to’. Think about that. Being addicted to alcohol means you are bound to it, one in the same. Alcohol has become part of you. Making matters worse, heavy and/or persistent drinking also makes alcohol a part of your brain, and it’s not good. This is especially true when considering how prevalent alcohol use, and abuse, is in America.

Alcohol addiction changes your brain mainly in three ways: it makes the brain crave alcohol, it makes you continue to drink despite any negative effects, and it makes you lose control of your drinking. Essentially, alcohol makes the brain make you drink. Of all Americans with substance addictions of any kind, alcohol is included in nearly 70% of them.

That’s over 17.5 million brains addicted to alcohol, and the effects of alcohol on the brain are numerous.

Addiction is not a choice. It is a disease. However, it’s a disease that is curable with the help of professional treatment services and a good support group. It also takes a lot of personal strength and willpower. That being said, let’s discuss the effects of alcohol on the brain and add some incentive to achieving sobriety from alcohol.

Short Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

The majority of us have been drunk. All of us know what it’s like when a person is drunk, even if it wasn’t you yourself. Since the brain is the control room of the body, the effects of alcohol, even the familiar ones, are actually effects on the brain. Short-term effects on the brain can be broken into intoxication effects and memory impairment.

Intoxication Effects

These are the obvious ones. Step into your local bar any time after dinner and you’ll see the effects of intoxicated brains: difficulty walking, slurred speech, slower reaction time, trouble with overall balance, poor judgment, and unpredictable behavior. Because these effects wear off over time, they are considered short-term. However, repeated intoxication will damage your brain in the long-term, as we will see.

Memory Impairment

There are three forms of memory. We have the sensory memory, which lasts a few seconds, the short-term memory, which lasts a handful of minutes, and the long-term memory, also known as storage, which can last forever. Alcohol deteriorates each form of memory differently.

The sensory memory is affected strictly in the short-term. An example would be the pain-reducing effects of alcohol. This is why when drunk you can injure yourself but not quite feel the pain (until later). When it comes to short-term and long-term memory, it’s a different story.

A blackout is when short-term memory is impaired by alcohol. Blackouts occur in two forms: fragmentary & en bloc. Fragmentary blackouts cause the loss of a short amount of time, where en bloc blackouts cause the loss of much time, perhaps even an entire night. Both narrow down to the same damage.

Your hippocampus, (the part of the brain responsible for memory), is being altered greatly enough to stop the formation of memories, and you are actually experiencing transient amnesia. While not a lasting form of amnesia, severe alcohol abuse can indeed lead to full-blown amnesia.

Yes, the blackout can be permanent. Among various other horrible long term effects of alcohol on the brain, there is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS), a memory-impairing, vision-affecting, seizure-causing disorder.

Long Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

WKS is one of the worst known effects of alcohol on the brain. Two of the many symptoms are both forms of amnesia: anterograde amnesia, which causes loss of the ability to create memories, and retrograde amnesia, which causes loss of previously-formed memories.

Other symptoms include visual disturbances, confusion, spinal misalignment, inability to concentrate, situational unawareness, and seizures throughout the body. In short, severe alcohol abuse can cause you to lose memories and to stop making them. That would surely be a burdened life.

However, as mentioned, there are numerous other long-term effects of alcohol on the brain other than those related to memory. These effects can be divided into two groups that seem rather different from one another: neurotransmitter effects and social effects.

Neurotransmitter Effects

Now, sorry for all the breakdowns, but when it comes to effects of alcohol on neurotransmitters, (chemicals that carry messages to/from the brain), there are three categories: GABA, dopamine, and endorphins.

1 GABA

Alcohol affects brain chemistry by changing the levels of neurotransmitters. One of the affected neurotransmitters is GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid. It is responsible for reducing excitability in the brain. Alcohol increases the amount of GABA transmitted, which inhibits the brain to abnormal degrees, essentially sedating the drinker. This is why drunken people have trouble walking, talking, and remembering things later on.

Over time, high GABA levels can cause shortness of breath, high blood pressure, increased heartrate, and night terrors, among other disorders. GABA is also responsible for creating tolerance to alcohol, forcing alcoholics to consume more and more.

2 Dopamine

Another neurotransmitter alcohol affects is dopamine. The brain’s reward system consists of dopamine, which is released when we feel pleasure. Dopamine is released in excess by the consumption of alcohol. The pleasurable effects of alcohol are to be blamed on dopamine. However, because of dopamine, the brain considers alcohol use to be rewarding, and contributes to forming addiction.

Over time, high dopamine levels from alcohol can cause an inability to feel pleasure without alcohol. Other effects from high dopamine levels include aggression, depression, delusions, hallucinations, and muscle spasms.

3 Endorphins

Endorphins are morphine-like molecules produced by the central nervous system, released by the body to counteract physical pain. Endorphin release can also create a feeling of euphoria. Produced naturally in response to pain, endorphins are also produced by human activities such as working out, laughing, and abusing alcohol.

Different parts of the brain release endorphins according to different responses, and alcohol releases endorphins in two different parts: the nucleus accumbens and the orbitofrontal cortex, which control addictive behavior and decision-making. Over time, high endorphin levels can cause depression, lower sex drive, low testosterone, infertility, and extreme fatigue, among other complications.

Social Effects

Long-term alcohol abuse will lead to an array of social issues, including high stress, depression, anxiety, loneliness, disinterest, and overall withdrawal from society. However, regarding the social effects of alcohol on the brain, these are all two-way streets. Some symptoms of alcohol abuse, when experienced as a non-drinker, can cause someone to turn to alcohol as a cure.

Stress is the number one reason cited for why people drink. Alcohol is perceived to be a stress-reliever, but in reality can cause its own stress. Also, mental health issues can contribute to alcohol addiction. In fact, 20% of those with clinical mental health issues are alcoholics.

Other social reasons people may become addicted to alcohol revolve around confidence: craving attention, trying to blend in or look cool, gaining acceptance, or as a coping method for issues in the person’s life. However, as someone with low confidence drinks more and more, a sense of strong confidence can begin to rise. Sometimes, this leads to bad decisions, such as driving, being violent, or engaging in risky behavior.

In Conclusion

Alcohol affects the brain in so many different ways, none of them positive. Being buzzed is absolutely not worth the risk it places you in. Alcohol is the most abused substance on the planet, and is extremely addictive, yet not as a substance itself…

Alcohol is addictive because it becomes required in order for the brain to function properly. The neurotransmitters and endorphins released act as a reward system for the brain, causing addiction once the drinker becomes dependent. The brain changes that occur from here are life-altering, damaging, and downright horrible.

Excerpts taken from: http://www.quitalcohol.com

Understanding Narcissistic Behavior

The following insights are useful for beginning to understand narcissistic behaviour:-

1. Rejection: Because the narcissist is suffering from the core wounds of abandonment, he fears rejection more than anything else in the world. Because of his deep wounds, his antenna is alerted to the slightest hint of any impending danger of rejection (real or imagined), and he will do anything he has to in order to avoid the overriding feeling of shame that it brings. As a result he builds elaborate defence mechanisms all around him, and he will lie, cheat, abuse and manipulate in any conceivable way in order to protect his fragile false-self.

2. False-self: The Narcissist desperately craves love, but at the same time, because of his inordinate fear of abandonment, betrayal, and rejection, he is terrified of intimacy, therefore leaving him deeply lonely within himself. Never having learnt the art of honest communication, he lacks the skills of forming healthy relationships. His first loving and completely controllable object he attaches to is “himself”. Just like the mythical character Narcissus, he has become the object of his own desire, and he projects that idealized image onto the world through a persona that is a False Self, a false self that he sees as being omnipotent (all-powerful) and omniscient (allknowing).  Unfortunately, these images are confabulations, merely elaborate works of fiction which have little or nothing to do with reality. From there he turns others into objects so that they pose no emotional risk. These mental representations of meaningful or significant others become the “Sources of Narcissistic Supply”.

3. Narcissistic Supply: Narcissistic Supply really refers to those people who provide a constant source of attention, approval, adoration, admiration etc, for the narcissist.  The attention they receive from the “Supply Source” is vital for the survival of the narcissist, without it they would die (either physically or metaphorically), because their weak ego depends on it in order to regulate their unstable self-worth and self-esteem.  The narcissist perceives themselves as being very independent. They could not deal with the fact that they need anybody, because needing someone brings with it the threat of being rejected. This would imply some boundary to their power or imply that they are incomplete. Furthermore, they can not tolerate any sign of independence and autonomy from their “supply”, this only serves to enrage them. The narcissistic supply is there to serve them, so they try to cement their source of supply into the role they have made for them, and there they remain under the narcissist’s control. Any attempt by the supply person to not comply sends him into a rage.

4. Rage: His narcissistic behaviour is full of rage. The raging is the narcissist’s way of screaming for attention because it is all about them, their wants, needs and desires.  Narcissistic rage is the uncontrollable and unexpected anger that occurs due to a narcissistic injury. Narcissistic injury is a threat to a narcissist’s self-esteem or worth.  Rage comes in many forms, but all pertain to the same important thing, “revenge”. It is important to point out here that narcissistic rage should not be confused with anger, (although the two are similar), the narcissist’s rage is not necessarily caused by a situation that would typically provoke anger in an individual. Their rage frightens people, seeing the fear on others face makes the narcissist feel that they have won, so they feel even more powerful and in control of the situation, and this also satisfies their sadistic nature. The rage supports and covers up their cognitive distortions, fragmentation, dissociation, arrested emotional development, their black and white thinking, their false self, their grandiosity, their need for attention (even if negative), their need to be right, and their lack of empathy. In short, the narcissists “rage” houses the actions necessary for the narcissist to defend himself against his hostile world (i.e. splitting, devaluation, projection, projective identification etc), however, these defences, like a double-edged sword, render any closeness or intimacy impossible, whether intentionally or unintentionally. However, the rage makes him feel that he is taking back control whenever in fear of losing it.

5. Power and Control: In his everyday existence he seeks to dominate each individual and group he interacts with, whether that is in the home, the workplace or social events. His power is not “power with”, but rather “power over” all that he surveys. His power and control is his springboard to verbal and emotional abuse. For example, while he enforces financial restrictions over his family, he is free to make decisions regarding expenditure for himself. When it comes to the everyday caretaking of the household he does not partake of the menial tasks, however he undermines and condemns those doing the tasks. His energy is spent on “ideas” as to how things get done, but the doing is left to the “plebs” to carry out the work and ideas for him. As the job gets done, the narcissist criticizes and complains, and he fails to give credit where credit is due. He convinces himself that it is his brains that direct the work, without him nothing would be achieved, and he totally fails to appreciate the work done by others. He is lost in his own grandiosity.

6. Grandiosity: Grandiosity is usually the most outstanding and discriminating feature of individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Grandiosity can be expressed in an unrealistic overvaluation of talents and abilities; preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited beauty, power, wealth or success; and a belief in unrealistic superiority and uniqueness. This is usually accompanied by boastful, pretentious, self-centred and self-referential narcissistic behaviour. According to Gunderson and Ronningstam, from “The Diagnostic Interview for Narcissistic Patients” (Archives of General Psychiatry,1990), that the research shows that the grandiose narcissist exaggerates his talents, capacity, and achievements in an unrealistic way. He believes in his invulnerability, or does not recognize his limitations. His grandiose fantasies lead him to believe that he does not need other people. To need others would fill him with immeasurable shame.

7. Shame: Shame would appear to be the ongoing tension between the narcissist’s grandiosity and his desire for perfection. When shame is experienced by the narcissist he feels inadequate, flawed, and inferior. Narcissistically injured himself, he is now likely to fly into a sudden resurgence of rage as he feels conspicuous, exposed, and vulnerable to humiliation. He is overwhelmed by anxiety because he believes that he will lose the imagined love and admiration from other people if he isn’t perfect. So we can say that consciously the narcissist is being driven to do better and better within the rigid frameworks they have created for themselves; however, unconsciously they cannot control their behaviour, so they and anybody who surrounds them have to suffer.

8. Perfectionism: Governed by a False Self, the narcissist’s obsessional behaviour sets unrealistic goals. He then struggles to maintain those goals within the realities of what he perceives as an imperfect world. This pressure that the narcissist puts on himself comes from his unrelenting demand for perfection, which of course is necessary if his grandiosity and illusion of omnipotence is to be maintained.  Furthermore, since the narcissist is ruled by his “black and white” or “all right or all wrong” thinking, he can only views his achievements in one of two ways, either they are viewed: as being the greatest accomplishments, or they are viewed as the greatest failures. There is no middle space; therefore there is no room for the emergence of a process for further learning. So he either reaches his positive ego ideal (his Eureka moment), where he experiences an elated self-esteem to his liking, where he can feel a great sense of achievement, and flaunt it to the world with pride. Or he experiences a negative ego ideal, where his omnipotence is threatened; throwing his sense of perfection and uniqueness into question. When the latter is experienced, it leads to feelings of shame, vulnerability and failure for the narcissist; his pride of accomplishment is likely to be devalued, and his commitment and capacity to follow through on this achievement is most likely to be scrapped, because it is too painful not being able to live up to his positive ego ideal. Of course this is going to enrage him, and he is likely to be engulfed by feelings of self doubt, self-loathing, and self-reprimanding behaviour. Shame would appear to be the ongoing tension-generating dialectic between the narcissist’s grandiosity and his desire for perfection. When shame is experienced by the narcissist he feels inadequate, flawed, and inferior.  Narcissistically injured himself, he is now likely to fly into a sudden resurgence of rage as he feels conspicuous, exposed, and vulnerable to humiliation.

9. Boredom: Narcissists have an insatiable need for excitement in order to feel good about themselves, and they are forever chasing thrills. Because they are so full of aggression, any excitement helps them to burn off their furious anger that is always bottled inside of them. Of course, their aggression comes in many guises, and one of their favourite disguises is boredom. Faced with boredom, the narcissist plummets into the abyss of despair where he touches old feelings of helplessness, and inadequacy born out of earlier experiences (for example, it may be feelings of inferiority that came from an inability to understanding lessons in school, or as a result of being bullied etc). Boredom creates anxiety for them; it simply devastates their morale, so they won’t tolerate it for very long. It is precisely these feelings of anxiety that lead the individual to search for “narcissistic supply” in the first place.  In order to assist him in his never ending quest, he looks for fame.

10. Fame: One of the reasons that the narcissist has an insatiable need for fame is because it leads him to the inexhaustible repository of praise and admiration which he craves in order to fill the “Gap” of his shameful childhood. The intolerable shame experienced as a child leaves the narcissist to experience pervasive feelings of self-contempt and worthlessness. Since the painful effects of shame cannot be regulated, the narcissist develops an effective way not to experience it. He routinely “splits off” from that part of himself that feels the shame, thus allowing him to “bypass” his shameful feelings. To the onlooker, by-passed shame looks like shamelessness, or an absence of conscience. The “shamelessness” works in such a way that it directs the shame outward, away from the Self, where nothing is ever his fault, thus defending the narcissist against the feelings of self-contempt and unworthiness that he feels.  His tried and tested way of alleviating the effects of such feelings is by having admiration from his endless menu of narcissistic supply, and this he manages to maintain by assuming an attitude of grandiosity and entitlement, which in turn makes him feel famous and special. The feelings of fame make him feel alive, and the more alive he feels, the more he plays to his audience. His audience reflects his celebrity image and status back to him, and his very existence is affirmed. This affirmation of himself is expressed outwardly in his narcissist hubris and over-confidence. Hubris refers to the exaggerated self confidence or pride displayed by the narcissist, and it often operates within the connotation that retribution will follow if you should dare to cross him.

To conclude: Narcissism is a pathological condition where the individual experiences great difficulties within his relationships as a direct result of deprivation suffered as a child. The narcissistic behaviours are the narcissist’s self-preservative attempts to protect himself from any further painful narcissistic insult as experienced as a child, through his hostile world and dysfunctional school and family system, his internal regulating system so to speak. Because the narcissist does not possess the internal structures necessary to combat their terrifying sense of fragmentation, anxiety and declining self-esteem, they turn to these external behaviours in their attempt to self-soothe.  And as you can see, the narcissistic behaviour becomes an endless spiral that keeps looping back on itself in every situation, causing an endless stream of narcissistic victim abuse in its wake.

Excerpts taken from: http://www.narcissistic behavior.net

Freedom from Emotional Abuse

Wear Updos, Ponytails & Hair buns again (and not just for the gym). Wear your hair as you please.

Take long soaking baths without pressure again.

Have early nights, early evenings whenever.

Read again.

Spend and save your money as you please without pressure.

Be joyful without the pressure of resentment and envy of your joy.

Be able to see and talk again with family and the previously unapproved of friends who were perceived as serving no advancing purpose because of their lack of status or unapproved of appearance–now without issue or criticism.

Keep and save nice bottles of wine for special occasions without them being consumed late at night.

Make the plans and the schedules.

Wear high heels once again without issues or criticism.

Watch TV in bed again without issues.

Learn to take naps again without pressure or criticism.

Grocery shop, cook, keep, eat, store, freeze and enjoy leftovers without hassle, criticism, insult, or issue.

Be free of all criticisms for things that aren’t real or true.

Go to the gym, or not.

Go for a run, or not.

Not have pressure to throw away a pair of existing shoes or clothes for each new piece.

Not witness frivolous waste and disposal of new material items so many others are in desperate need of.

Experience a new chronic stress-cough free existence.

Try fun adventurous, fun, nail polish colors without issue or judgment.

Take your time. Take it for anything without constant pressure to hurry up.

Be able to be in the moment again without pressure.

Be able to stop, slow down and soak it all in without pressure.

Take time. To breathe, be grateful, feel joy without pressure or jealousy.

See someone for their true, honest self, not who they wanted you to believe they were.

Spend time. Enjoying those who really matter most without pressure. The ones with integrity, honor. The good, the tried, the loyal, the honest, and the true. The courageous who will speak up. The ones with real character. The salt of the earth.

Cut some people completely from your life for your own peace, without feeling any guilt and without the hope for an apology for their behavior.

Finally see your wishes, your hard work, your dreams come true, AND having all those long awaited prayers get answered.

Most importantly, be safe and totally free from all confusing covert emotional abuse.

Alcoholism: How it Impacts Long-Term Abusers

SHORT-TERM EFFECTS OF ALCOHOL ABUSE

• Slurring of speech.

• Drowsiness.

• Emotional changes.

• Sleep disruption.

• Lowering of body temperature.

SYMPTOMS OF EXCESS ALCOHOL INTAKE

• Nausea and vomiting.

• Loss of bladder and bowel control.

• Blackouts, in which a drinker does not remember what happened while he or she was drinking.

• Temporary loss of consciousness.

• Coma and death.

SIDE EFFECTS

Depression.

Liver damage.

Cancer.

Depression of the immune system.

Reduced sexual performance.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol

Long-term overconsumption of alcohol causes death of brain cells, which can lead to brain disorders as well as a lowered level of mental or physical function.

Liver damage from alcohol can result in cirrhosis, a severe medical condition that can require a liver transplant to treat.

Long-term overconsumption of alcohol can cause pancreatitis, a very dangerous inflammation of the pancreas, and it can also cause nerve damage.

Tolerance, a long-term effect of alcohol in which the body becomes accustomed to higher and higher doses of alcohol after a long period of overconsumption. This makes it possible for long-term drinkers to consume amounts of alcohol that are dangerous without experiencing short-term effects that might otherwise convince them to stop. Tolerance can lead to dependence and then to addiction or alcoholism in some individuals.

Alcohol Dependence

Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism, occurs when the body cannot function without alcohol. Alcohol affects certain neurotransmitters in the brain. When the brain becomes accustomed to the way that alcohol affects these brain chemicals, it can no longer send proper signals to the rest of the body without the presence of alcohol.

Once someone has developed a dependence on alcohol, he or she will continue to drink regardless of any serious physical symptoms caused by alcohol. In addition, a person who has developed alcohol dependence will continue to drink even if he or she suffers social or personal circumstances such as the loss of a job or career, breakup of personal relationships, or arrests for behavior related to alcohol consumption.

Excerpts taken from http://www.drugabuse.com

Mirroring and Projection in the Cycle of Narcissistic Abuse

Excerpts taken from: https://narcissistfamilyfiles.com/2017/10/03/narcissistics-fun-house-mirrors-projection/

Life with a narcissist is a lot like living in a house of mirrors. Unreal reflections and projections meet you at every turn. At first you may feel dazzled, seduced by what the narcissist is showing you about yourself and him/her. But before long you feel trapped in a maze of grotesque distortions, with no apparent exit.

Narcissistic Mirroring

Mirroring, or reflecting back what others say and do, is a common behavior that many of us engage in, often unconsciously, to create rapport and show feelings of connectedness with others. We may, for example, adopt another person’s (or animal’s) energy level, facial expressions, body language, and tone to show understanding and empathy.

People with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), on the other hand, take mirroring to extremes. Because early childhood circumstances prevent them from establishing a core sense of identity and self-worth, narcissists forever look to external sources for definition and esteem. When they find a prospective or new partner, they study that person and attempt to reflect back their personality, style, interests, and values. If you like going to the gym, gardening, chocolatey desserts, and helping at the local animal shelter, so do they! If you have tattoos, suddenly they show up with one too.

Narcissists mirror for three primary reasons:

1 They lack a stable identity and are trying on yours.

2 They are working to win you over, reflecting back what they think you want to see.

3 They are faking intimacy, because they lack the skills and desire for genuine connection.

For those on the receiving end of this kind of attention, it can feel like you’ve met your soul mate—someone who has the same likes and dislikes, the same take on life. Narcissists’ mirroring ends when they realize you are imperfect, as we all are. Because they have a primitive child’s perspective, lacking empathy or the ability to see others on a complex nuanced level, narcissists assign people to either perfect or worthless categories. Their initial idealization of you will inevitably shift to harsh assessment, criticism, and devaluation, which are often followed by outright rejection and discard.

Narcissistic Projecting

Projection is easily confused with mirroring. But the two things are distinctly different. Mirroring is reflecting an image back. Projecting is casting an image as if onto a blank screen. In psychological terms, projections can be positive or negative, but they are always external representations that may bear little to no relationship with the person they are ascribed to.

Lacking emotional intelligence, avoiding self-awareness, and sidestepping accountability at all costs, narcissists project their own traits, actions, values, fears, fantasies, hates, motives, and distorted self-beliefs onto others. People with NPD habitually idealize and scapegoat, assigning either positive or negative traits to those around them.

Narcissists project “positively” to

1 boost their self-esteem,

2 support their grandiose assertions,

3 control others through favoritism,

4 take credit for others’ strengths and accomplishments, and

5 show an idealized face to the world.

Narcissists project “negatively” to

1 escape accountability,

2 expel self-doubt and self-hatred,

3 justify their manipulation and exploitation,

4 blame others for their own disappointments and failings, and

5 hold others responsible for their own abusive behavior.

The Effects of Gaslighting

Sharing another informative article that can be found on narcissisticbehavior.net. It is long, but well worth the read. The original article and more can also be found at the link below.

https://narcissisticbehavior.net/the-effects-of-gaslighting-in-narcissistic-victim-syndrome/

by Christine

The Effects of Gaslighting in Narcissistic Victim Syndrome

What is “Gaslighting”?

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse used by narcissists in order to instill in their victim’s an extreme sense of anxiety and confusion to the point where they no longer trust their own memory, perception or judgment. The techniques used in “Gaslighting” by the narcissist are similar to those used in brainwashing, interrogation, and torture that have been used in psychological warfare by intelligence operative, law enforcement and other forces for decades.

“What Is Gaslighting?”

(RECOGNISE THE NARCISSIST’S COVERT   METHODS OF CONTROL)

The intention is to, in a systematic way, target the victim’s mental equilibrium, self confidence, and self esteem so that they are no longer able to function in an independent way. Gaslighting involves the abuser to frequently and systematically withhold factual information from the victim, and replacing it with false information. Because of it’s subtly, this cunning Machiavellian behaviour is a deeply insidious set of manipulations that is difficult for anybody to work out, and with time it finally undermines the mental stability of the victim. That is why it is such a dangerous form of abuse. The emotional damage of Gaslighting is huge on the narcissistic victim. When they are exposed to it for long enough, they begin to lose their sense of their own self. Unable to trust their own judgments, they start to question the reality of everything in their life. They begin to find themselves second-guessing themselves, and this makes them become very insecure around their decision making, even around the smallest of choices. The victim becomes depressed and withdrawn, they become totally dependent on the abuser for their sense of reality. In effect the gaslighting turns the victim’s reality on its head.

Where does the term “Gaslighting” come from?

The term “Gaslighting” comes from the 1944 Hollywood classic movie called Gaslight.  The film starts with the murder of the famous opera singer Alice Alquist in London. The perpetrator was after the stars jewels, but before he could get them, he was interrupted by her young niece Paula (played by Ingrid Bergman); a child that Alice had reared after the death of her own mother. To help her get over the trauma of Alice’s death, Paula is sent to live in Italy, where she studies opera with her aunty Alice’s old teacher for several years. While in Italy, she meets a charismatic older man named Gregory Anton (played by Charles Boyer), they have a whirl-wind romance and very soon she marries him. He persuades her that they should return to London to live in the house bequeathed to her by her aunt. When they arrive, hidden in a book, Paula finds a letter addressed to her aunt Alice, it was from a man called Sergius Bauer. The letter was dated two days before the murder. Gregory reacts violently to the letter, but recovers his composure quickly, and justifies his outburst as vexation at seeing his lovely bride relive bad memories. Once Alice’s things are removed into the attic, Gregory’s diabolical psychopathic behaviour becomes very bizarre indeed. Almost immediately he sets out, systematically and methodically, to deliberately drive Paula insane by psychologically manipulating their environment covertly; for example, when a picture is missing from the wall, Gregory tells her that she took it, but Paula cannot recall having done so.

Secretly, Gregory gains entry into the attic and begins to tamper with the gas-light there, causing the rest of the lamps in the house to become dim. When Paula mentions hearing footsteps coming from the attic, and seeing the lights dimming for no apparent reason, he tells her it’s all in her imagination, and that he does not see any change in the brightness of the lights. He does not stop there; he resorts to other means of deception to further confuse his wife. For example, he fires his wife’s trusted elderly maid, replacing her with a younger one (Nancy) that he can seductively control. When Paula complains of feeling hurt and humiliated by his behaviour with Nancy, he tell her he is only being friendly. He states that in Europe no woman would feel humilliated for such a trivial act. Convinced that the wife is insane, Nancy begins to treat her with contempt, and Paula can feel her loathing, which further distresses her. He then takes command of all outside influences so that he has complete control over Paula, making it easier to manipulate her sense of reality. Of course, he pretends to have genuine concern for Paula, but the bottom-line is that he is only concerned about isolating her. Having isolated her from those within the house, he then precedes to take command of all outside influences so that he has complete control over her. He stops all visitors, and he does not allow her to leave the house. He implies that he is doing this for her own good, because her “kleptomania and imaginings” are due to her nervous disposition. On the rare occasion when they do go to a gathering at a friend’s house, he shows her his watch chain, from which his watch was missing. When he searches her handbag he mysteriously finds it there. Horrified, she becomes so hysterical that Gregory has to take her home immediately. She is convinced that there is something very wrong with her, and that it is best that she no longer goes out in public. Gregory’s overall goal is to drive Paula out of her mind so that he can have her certified insane and institutionalized. He continually tells her that she is ill and fragile, until confused and scared, Paula begins to act more erratically, and she starts to internalize that she is becoming the fragile person that he says she is.  He even begins to rearrange items in the house, and then he accuses her of “always losing things”. Cruelly, he tells her that she is losing her memory. Knowing that her mother had died insane, to demoralize her further by viciously convincing her that she has inherited her mother’s bad genes. The more she doubts herself, the more desperate she is for her husband’s approval and love, but he rejects her, insisting that she is insane. With a combination of seduction, deception, isolation, bullying and rejection, reluctantly Paula starts to accept that she is losing her mind, and she becomes totally dependent on him for her sense of reality.

Unbeknown to Paula, Gregory is not who she thinks he is, little does she know that in fact he is her aunt’s murderer, Sergius Bauer. It was no coincidence that he happened upon her in Italy. He had deliberately gone to search her out with the intention of seducing her into marrying him. His main objective was to gain entry into the house in London where he could continue his search for Alice’s jewels. It was his rummaging in the attic for the jewels that Paula had heard, and it was he that had caused the flickering of the lights (from the attic) when he reduced the flow of gas to the downstairs lights. She had become an impediment to his search, so he needed her certified insane and institutionalized so that he could be free to find his treasure. He came very near to realizing his goal, but by some chance encounter Paula meets Inspector Brian Cameron of Scotland Yard (acted by Joseph Cotten), who was an avid admirer of her Aunt Alice. He tells her that she is not going out of her mind, but that she is beings slowly and systematically been driven out of your mind by her husband. Together with Paula, and with the support of the old housekeeper (who had suspected the master of causing these events), he opens the “cold case”. The drama reaches its final conclusion when he arrests Gregory just as he has found his treasure of the long lost jewels.

What is the purpose of “gaslightings”?

As you can see, this “Gaslighting Tango” is a form of psychological warfare that is both deliberate and progressive in nature between one individual (the gaslighter) and another (the gaslightee). The Gaslighting Effect involves an insidious set of psychological manipulations that are carried out gradually in stages, and repeated time after time, in order to undermine the mental stability of its victim. It is truly a convoluted dance, where finally the unsuspecting gaslightee believes that they are going crazy. Anyone can become the victim of these gaslighting maneuvers; age, intelligence, gender, creed is no barrier against narcissistic abuse of this kind. It does not only happen in romantic relationships (such as Paula & Gregory above), it can occur in all different types of relationships: between parent and child, siblings, friends, and work colleague. Actually, it can happen between any two people in any walk of life if the intention is there. The gaslighting, as a harassment technique, starts with a series of subtle mind games that intentionally prays on the gaslightee’s limited ability to tolerate ambiguity or uncertainty. This is done in order to undercut the victim’s trust in their own sense of reality and sense of self, thus resulting in confusion and perplexity for the victim. Even when the victim is bewildered and left wondering, “What just happened there?”, there is a reluctance to see the gaslighter for what they are, actually it is this denial that is the cornerstone of the gaslighting relationship.

The “Puppet Master’s” Web of Deceit:

Narcissists are puppet masters who manipulate their victims for personal gain. With precision they are able to “pull the strings” of their victims without detection, and render them helpless. In order to understand how a person can become a victim of a narcissist in the first place, it is important to know that the narcissist has many faces (the proverbial man or woman for all seasons). Different faces are required by the abuser as they lead the relationship through different phases; The Idealization Stage, Devaluation Stage, and the Discard Stage. The good news is that the gaslighting does not happen all at once, it happens in stages, which means that if one suspects (in the early stages) that they are being gaslighted, they can protect themselves by walking away (physically or metaphorically). However, one needs to be informed as to what those stages look like, in that way, the individual will be able to understand and identify what is happening at these different stages. With this information, one will be able to spot if they are being gaslighted in any interpersonal-relationship (whether it is at home, work or socially), and guard themselves by keeping the narcissist out of their energy field.

Gaslighing techniques (3 Stages):

The Idealization Stage:

During the initial “idealization stage”, the narcissist puts on their “best face” in order to mould their victim into a symbiotic relationship with them as their narcissistic supply. In the beginning of the relationship the narcissist showers the victim with attention, they are loving, charming, flirtatious, energetic, exciting, and great fun to be with. They appear to be so happy and interested in the relationship, and the unsuspecting victim enjoys every moment with their new charismatic partner. They love how the narcissist is so beautifully intense and how they get drunk on life, and they too want to drink this elixir with them. Intense bonding begins for the victim, and innocently, they also believe that the partner feels the same way about them, that the relationship is reciprocal, but this is the narcissist’s biggest deception. Caught up in this alluring state of euphoria, the victim becomes “hooked” by the gaslighter’s exuberance and grandiose exaggerations. In this kind of relationship, victims are known to experience biochemical changes in the body and structural changes in the brain. These exciting hooks create a release of chemicals (endorphins) in the brain, and it is these endorphins (or pleasure substances) that make the victim feel the euphoria in the first phase of the relationship. Like any addict, they become addicted to that high, and very soon they find themselves hooked emotionally to their narcissistic suitor too. However, this honeymoon phase is only an illusion, all smoke and mirrors. Having expertly determined the victim’s strengths and weaknesses, the “Idealization Phase” is over, and it is time for the devaluation stage of the gaslighting to begin. From here on in, the narcissist seems to turn cold, unfeeling, and even bitingly cruel.

The Devaluation Stage:

The relationship has now shifted into the “devaluation phase”, and it is as if a lethal freak fog has descended over the relationship. Almost overnight the narcissist becomes decisively cold and uncaring. The victim’s falls from grace is a hard one, they cannot seem to do anything right anymore; the narcissists loving words turn to criticism, everything the victim tries ends in a negative effect, and they find themselves devalued at every turn. Totally confused, the victim has no idea what is happening, and they become increasingly stressed, unhappy and depressed with the situation. The roller-coaster relationship leaves the victim in a state of constant chaos, as if always “walking on eggshells”. All their energy is directed at defending themselves, so the narcissist is not getting the positive attention that they crave; this is likely to be the time when the narcissist starts to look for a fresh provider of narcissistic supply.

The narcissist gaslighting is now at its peak, and there is no reasoning with them. Confused by the narcissist’s bizarre behaviour, the victim works harder and harder to please their abuser in the hopes of getting the relationship back to where it was in the start, when it felt safe. Deprived of their “narcissistic drug”, the victim is suddenly thrown into strong withdrawal symptoms. They are distraught with anxiety, turned inside out with confusion, and bereft of what they though they had, a soul-mate. In order to cope with the pain of this deep wound of abandonment and rejection, they escape into a range of unconscious defense mechanisms (a mix of denial, rationalization, infantile regressive patterns, cognative dissonance, trauma bonding etc.). Alone and isolated from the real world, these behaviours becomes their only way of surviving the narcissistic abuse, and the gaslighting they are now experiencing. No matter what they do, they only seem to create narcissistic injury to this stranger, and each time they do that, they inadvertently release an almighty rage down upon themselves (without even knowing how they are doing it). By merely engaging in these survival tactics, the victim becomes the hostage that is overly dependent on their captive (Stockholm Syndrome), where unpredictability and uncertainty is the order of their day. As a result, they are now caught in the macabre dance with the narcissist’s pathological grandiose self, where hell reigns supreme, and they regress into infantile regressive patterns of behaviour (Regressed Infantilism). At this stage they are most likely suffering the effects of Narcissistic Victim Syndrome (NVS), where they are reduced to a shadow of their former self. Finally they are at the mercy of the whims and pleasures of their “puppet master”.

The narcissist despises who their supply person has become; they view them as powerless, inferior and worthless victims, but at the same time, their worthless prey is providing them with a bountiful amount of narcissistic supply. Therein lays the paradox; the more the victim shows their distress, the more they become narcissistic supply for the abuser, and the more important and powerful the abuser gets to feel. The more important and powerful the abuser feels, the more blatant their verbal and physical violent becomes. This “pull-push” scenario leaves the narcissist acting in a way that says, “I hate you, but don’t you dare leave me or I will kill you”. They will react to any perceived movement away from them as a threat to their narcissistic supply, therefore any show of self-determination by the victim will surly be devalued. The narcissist is merciless in the way they devalue the victim. Devaluation of the victim can be delivered through many different forms and levels of attack; through victims own attachment needs, their intellectual capabilities, physical body, sexuality, creativity etc. By this time, like Pavlov’s dogs, the victim has been conditioned, and appears to the outside world that they are willing partners in the narcissists “convoluted dance”. Even if they do manage to escape from that narcissistic individual, they are at high risk of future re-victimization and entrapment with other narcissists, because they are primed in a way that other narcissists can spot.

The Discarding Phase:

In this phase, the game comes to its final conclusion. What started out as the idealization of a victim by the narcissist, is doomed to end with the idealization of the narcissist by the victim’s over dependence. Once this happens, the narcissist ardor for the game has dampened, in their eyes they have already won the contest, and the fun is over. By this time, the narcissist is totally indifferent to any needs or wishes that the victim may have, in effect they no longer exist in their mind. Not so for the victim, they are left confused and raw with emotion, and are eager to find solutions in order to “fix” the dying relationship. However, the narcissist resists all attempts to rescue the relationship, they will bully with silence, or if there is any kind of response, it will be brutally cold. In effect, the victim has become “worthlessly inferior” to them; they know they have drained the victim dry, that they have now outlived their usefulness, and now it is time for the narcissist to move on to the next source of supply. Any undertaking to win them back by the victim will only feed the narcissists ego, and further provide them with a transient source of narcissistic supply.

The plight of the victims of the Gaslighting Effect:

During the process of gaslighting, the victim will find themselves going through emotional and psychological states of mind.    In her wonderful book, The Gaslighting Effect, Robin Stern, Ph.D. speaks of three stages the victim will go through: Disbelief, Defense, and Depression, she also goes on to flags down warning signs for recognizing when one is being gaslighted. I would like to expand a little on her analysis.

Disbelief:

Gaslighting is an extreme form of emotional abuse used by the narcissistic gaslighter to manipulate the innocent victim (gaslightee). The effects of gaslighting are so insidious, that they can lead to the victim losing all trust in their own judgment and reality. The victim’s initial reaction to the gaslighting behaviour is one of utter disbelief; they cannot believe the sudden change towards them, or indeed the fact that they are being gaslighted in the first place. All they know is that something terribly odd seems to be happening in the relationship, but they cannot figure out what it is that is happening. Of course, this is precisely what the abuser wants, after all, it would not work if the victim knew what was happening. The methods used by the narcissist in the initial idealization stage of the relationship progresses in such a way that it virtually guarantees that the victim will become hooked utterly and completely to their narcissistic abuser. Blinded by their love after been totally seduced, the victim naturally, trusts genuinely that their love is reciprocated, but of course, this is untrue, a total fabrication. Where once the abuser’s communication with the victim had been accessible and stayed within the relationship, it has now become blocking and diverting. All they know is that where the narcissist had once held them in “good heart”, they have now become highly critical of them. The sympathy and support that had been available has now turned to distain and antagonism. Whenever the victim (gaslightee) wants to reasonably discuss what is happening in the relationship, they are meet with silence, or worse, they find that everything that is being said is twisted or trivialized.

It is important to realize that the gaslighting does not need to be severe in order to have severe consequences on the victim; it can be as subtle as being told that “you are so sensitive”, or that they should not do something because “you are not able to do it, leave it to me”. Even though the victim can rationalize that these statements are untrue, gradually their confidence is being eroded away to such an extent that they cannot trust themselves. Gaslighting strokes, such as moving items from place to place, and then the abuser denying that they had moved the item really creates huge confussion to the victim. Or saying something, then later denying that they had said such a thing. All of this psychological warfare has the effect of making the victim doubt their own memory or perception of events. Desperate for the gaslighter’s approval and reassurance that they are not going mad, the victim becomes very dependent on their narcissistic abuser for a sense of reality.

Defense:

At this stage the victim still has enough of their self to fight and defend themselves against the gaslighting manipulation. However, the narcissist’s “gaslighting” is beginning to do what it is intended to do, that is, to throw the victim off balance by creating self-doubt, angst, turmoil, and guilt. This emotional damage causes the victim, over time, to lose their sense of reality, and sense of self. Becoming lost, confused, and unable to trust their own instincts and memory, they tend to isolate themselves somewhat because of the shame they feel. Before long their psychic energy becomes depleted, and they are left unable to defend themselves from the horrendous gaslighting effect. At this stage the person’s whole system may feel that it is in danger of annihilation.

From birth, nature builds in unconscious defense mechanisms and adaptive behaviours in order to protect the child from annihilation from early trauma, and these same defenses remain throughout life when ever we are vulnerable to highly stressful experiences that threaten us with annihilation. When the child starts life, they experience the world as a frightening place, so in order to reduce their fear they need to form an emotional bond with somebody in order to reduce their stress and anxiety. They identify and bond with their main caregiver (usually the Mother), and of course, they are very likely, at some time in the future, to experience her as their first aggressor. Mother can be experienced by the child as being both “threatening and kind”, and this seems to lead to the child turning to emotional bonding for survival. This psychological condition is known to-day as “Stockholm Syndrome”. It is found to happen universally in situations where people find themselves to be held captive and in fear of their lives; as in kidnapping, hostage situations, and narcissistic abuse. This phenomenon of trauma bonding with the narcissist aggressor can be found in Narcissistic Victim Syndrome. In Stockholm Syndrome, the victim adapts to the traumatic situation by unconsciously going into an regressive mode, where they return to childish infantile patterns of behaviour (Regressed Infantilism), and bond with their captor as they did with their mother earlier in life as a defense against annihilation. In order to cope with the discomfort of living within such madness, the victims motivational drive provides a way that they can rationalize to reduce the dissonance they are experiencing (Cognitive Dissonance). For the therapist to understand the dynamics of all these defense mechanisms, they will then be able to appreciate why victims stay in these narcissistic abusive relationships, as it is a clever, but complicated unconscious self survival strategy.

Depression:

By this stage the victim can hardly recognize themselves, they are quickly becoming a shadow of their former self. Living under tyranny within a war zone where they are controlled, physically and emotionally battered, unable to make decisions, subjected to constant rages, sucked dry, stripped of dignity and safety, they exist in a joyless life. They begin to feel that they can’t do anything right any more, they don’t feel that they can trust their own mind, and they withdraw with a skewed reality of what is really taking place. They escape into depression. Many victims will also go on to experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The diagnosis of PDSD can be made based on certain symptoms being present, and these symptoms fall into three categories:

1. Reliving: (Flashbacks, intrusive imagery, nightmares, anxiety etc)

2. Avoidance: (Avoiding people, places or thoughts, emotional numbing, lack of interest, hopelessness etc).

3. Arousal: (Difficulty concentrating, irritability, outbursts of anger, insomnia, hyper-vigilance etc).

In my work with Narcissistic Victim Syndrome I have noticed that the victims were brought to the place of annihilation and death on many levels of the self while experiencing gaslighting behaviour in their narcissistic relationships. When we take on the journey of recovery together, I take care and time to educate the individual as to what was happening to them as their story unfolds. I am always meet with an array of responses, from shock, disbelief, profound sadness, guilt, shame, anger, fear, reflection, loneliness and an array of physical symptoms (panic attacks, flashbacks, anxious negative thoughts, fatigue, eating disorders, dissociation, abreaction etc.), but they also express relief at finally knowing what had been going on in the relationship, and the amount of “losses” they were dealing with. I think many of the stages are very similar to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross stages of grief, which are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. But still, I find that the individual holds the key to even more strategies for guarding the various levels of defense that I have mentioned here. I am always amazed at how surprisingly resilient these victims are. All our strategies for surviving are incredibly intelligent, and together (the client and I) welcome each and every one as a teacher for our learning and understanding. When this happens, it allows for all the fragmented parts of the soul to return home where they become like special guests at a glorious Banquet, one unifying whole sitting at the Table of Recovery. When a therapist experiences this work they will truly appreciate and understand the deep suffering these victims have gone through daily. The fact that these clients have survived the torturous effects of the disorganized narcissistic personality disorder is in itself a miracle, and a testament to the human spirit.

Robin Stern names some of the warning signs of the effects of Gaslighting, I am merely expanding on some of these below:

What are the warning signs of Gaslighting?

• Second-guessing: Because a victim has had their confidence eroded by the constant gaslighting, they live in fear of doing the wrong thing, and making their situation even more dangerous for themselves. They invariably find themselves asking “what if”, and always trying to second guess themselves. This often effects how they problem-solve, and make decisions in their life.

• Asking “Am I too sensitive?”: Projection and blame are the hallmarks of gaslighting, and the victim become hyper-sensitive to the constant humiliation of their abuser. They hear countless times that they are “too sensitive”, that they soon begin to believe the lies. As a result they look for approval before doing anything, fearful that they will make more mistakes that will end in more humiliation. This form of gaslighting makes the victim doubt everything about themselves, so they constantly ask, “Am I being too sensitive”.

• Apologizing: Living with the narcissistic Dr. Jekyll and Mr/s Hyde, the victim finds themselves always apologizing for “never doing things right”, they even apologize for their very existence; it is a way of avoiding more conflict with their aggressor. Apology is not just something the victim does to be polite; it is a powerful strategy for staying safe while in the war zone, and a means to disarm the anger of the gaslighter. Most importantly, the power of apology is that it can take the shame off the narcissist and redirect it towards the victim, therefore avoiding some of the narcissists rage.

• Lack joy and happiness in life (melancholy): If one lives under the constant tyranny of the gaslighting narcissist, they can expect extremes of lethal hostility. Many victims go through physical and mental torture that can cause them to suffer a personality change, leaving them feeling confused, lonely, frightened and unhappy. Often they continue to carry this melancholy even after they escape from the abuser.

• Withholding information from others: Victims experience great shame about their situation; they get tired of trying to cover up their abuse as they go along. When well meaning friends and family members tell them they are being abused, they avoid the subject, and soon they learn to withhold giving more information in order to avoid further conflict. The importance of shame in narcissistic abuse is a difficult issue, but I don’t think it is too difficult to accept that the crimes of the gaslighting narcissist stigmatize the victim to their very core. Their shame is a normal response to the social failure they so often feel as a result of their abuse (i.e. the shame of being unable to protect themselves from their abuse). This shame can be seen as defensiveness and withdrawal by others. The relationship between shame and social supports is too complex to deal with here.

• Knowing something is terribly wrong, but can’t figure out what: The goal of gaslighting is to control and influence the reality of the gaslightee. It only works when the victim is unaware of what is really happening. The more the victim doubts their own reality or competence, the more dependent they become of the abuser. It is a vicious circle of events that is totally confusing to the victim, and that is exactly what the gaslighter wants.

• Trouble making simple decisions: To be caught in the narcissistic web of deception and illusion is the equivalent to being a fly trapped in the spider’s web. When entering the web, does the victim know that it is about to be bound up and eaten alive any more than the fly? The answer is “no”. However, the narcissistic web is akin to the disintegration of the self; the victim, under the threat of continual danger, forms a psychic bond with the abuser in order to avoid fragmentation of the self. In forming that bond they are compelled to organize themselves around their idealized abuser’s desires, and surrender their authentic potential: Having to ask permission to do anything, not being aloud to have their own opinion, never allowed to win the argument, constantly being chastised and humiliated, compromising their own thoughts, values, needs, and belief. Understandably, caught in this web they lose all autonomy, even their ability to make decisions for their own self.

• You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, and more relaxed: In order to survive, the victim enters into what is termed the “the narcissists dance”. This is an unconscious defense mechanism which helps to keep the victim safe, but in so doing they almost lose themselves by placating, complying, and appeasing. This becomes part of their way of being, a great “pleaser” with everybody. Unless this unconscious dance is exposed in therapy, and the victim educated about narcissistic behavior, they are actually left vulnerable to becoming Narcissistic Supply yet again. The reason is that they are conditioned (like Pavlov’s dogs) in a way that makes them a target for other hungry narcissists, who are always on the hunt for new supply, and are quick to spot those primed already.

• You feel hopeless and joyless: What had once seemed like heaven has now turned into a hell. There is no peace or joy in this place, just fear and suppression. Life loses all hope, as if the light has been turned off. All that remains is the deep black cloud of depression. And the victim is forced to live in a state of acquiescence in order to survive. Their perceptions of reality are continually undermined by the gaslighting sham, so they end up losing confidence in their intuition, memory, or reasoning powers. They are spun lies, lies that tell them that they are over-sensitive, imagining, unreasonable, irrational, over-reacting, and that they have no right to be upset. Hearing this time and time again, their reality is turned inside out, and they begin to believe that this may all be true.

The narcissist’s form of psychological abuse has managed to instill in their victim an extreme sense of anxiety and confusion to the point where they no longer trust their own memory, perception or judgment. In this state they are truly a hostage. However, many manage to get the courage to break free, but this is usually after several painful attempts. But when they do finally escape, in time they may find their way to your therapy room. Your job is to not just do the recovery work with them, but also to educate them about the traits and effects of narcissistic abuse. That way you give them back their reality and power, and they will be in a position to be able to recognize the narcissist at work, and be equipt to guard themselves against further re-victimization. Don’t underestimate the power of recovery of these people; the fact that they have survived such extreme abuse is testament to their strength and determination. I never fail to be amazed at the resilience of the human spirit.

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