a toxic relationsip: The Sopranos' Livia and her son

A toxic relationship has many warning signs and it’s easy to turn a blind eye to them. The worst things you can allow yourself to happen is to be gaslighted.

I consider the experience of being gaslighted as the most difficult in life. Being physically attacked, verbally criticized, fired from your job or rejected are not as damaging as mental manipulation. To be gaslighted is unhealthy because it destroys your perception of what a ‘normal reality’ is. The person manipulating you will twist your idea of what your world and your values are. He/she can even go as far as to agree with physical, emotional or sexual abuse done to you or to others.

The worst part of the problem is that the toxic person will gaslight you fully knowing that you’re going to get hurt.

Let’s give a simple example.

You can’t find your white, velvet gloves in the house and when you ask your boyfriend, he says that you probably lost them. Now, this boyfriend mixed your white gloves with his red underwear and destroyed their color. So he threw them away. But he is so ashamed of what he did and, instead of coming clean to you, he will make you believe you have actually lost them maybe at work or while you were out with friends.

He is not capable of accepting that he did a mistake and blamed you for it. You then try to think every night where have you last time saw the gloves and blame yourself for being so irresponsible. They were a gift from a good friend and you feel so embarrassed for not taking care of them.

You just have been gaslighted.

And, what it’s worse is that, you probably have no idea that you’re living with a toxic person or a narcissist. You will continue to blame yourself and slowly lose confidence in your ability to keep important things in your possession. This can lead to a very low self-esteem and even suicide thoughts.

Imagine that, slowly, during a long period of time, you’re being made to believe you’re the one to blame for everything that’s happening in a relationship. Wouldn’t you be depressed about it?

In the famous TV series, ‘The Sopranos’, there are few examples of gaslighting behavior. Actually, while re-watching the show, I realized the many times Tony Soprano was being gaslighted by his own mother. (a textbook narcissist)

You don’t have to watch the show to understand. I can give an example from it.

Toward the end of the first season of the series, the mobster’s mother grew to dislike her son so much that she wanted him dead. See, she couldn’t make peace with the idea that Tony was let loose, to walk around doing damage to her own image.

A hurtful truth is that narcissistic parents do not love their children. The main concern of a narcissistic parent is to protect his (false) image of a caring and nice person (or of a person with a certain status in the society). Other things like giving attention to the child, offering care and nurture, guidance, advice or life lessons are irrelevant to them.

In this part of the show, Tony Soprano managed to smudge the Soprano family’s reputation by going to psychotherapy to heal his panic attacks. Now, going to therapy is good for you and anybody would actually support this decision (because they’d know it makes the person feel better in the long run).

However, narcissistic parents don’t have the same opinion. They believe that when their children go to therapy, it reflects badly on them. They assume that, if their adult child is getting help, it might be because they didn’t raise them well. So, they become deeply hurt, ashamed and rejected as people.

My mother (who’s a narcissist) has tried to convince me few times to quit therapy because, in her opinion, you don’t learn anything there and, on top of it, it’s expensive. She believed that I was smart enough to heal my own problems because I studied psychology for over 10 years.

She thought that, her daughter must be so intelligent that she can even do therapy on herself. This means that, she, as a mother was perfect, intelligent and skillful enough, not me. She projected upon me, her own false image.

A narcissistic parent does not know or understand their child’s existence, thus, they assume their life is a reflection of the parent’s life. So, when the adult child shows signs of being flawed, (with depression or anxiety) and announces that he needs therapy to cope, the narcissist understands that, he/she is flawed. That the parent has issues that need to be solved.

And this is unacceptable for a narcissistic parent. They need to believe they are perfect to shield themselves from their past traumas.

Now back to ‘The Sopranos’. Tony, the Jersey mobster, was punished by his mother for going to therapy by hiring trained professionals to get rid of him. This way, she could preserve the image of a mother who raised a perfect son.

How did she gaslighted her son and the family into believing she was innocent (and not a cold-blooded killer)?

By pretending that she was forgetting her grandchildren’s names or other important details in her family’s life. By hinting she had Alzheimer’s. That way, she played the role of a weak, frail woman.

Apparently, she started to ‘lose’ her memory right before she hired the killers to take out Tony. She knew people would pity her. Anyone in their right mind will have pity for this ‘poor’ mother. They’d believe she is actually sick. And that, one cannot commit murder in a poor, mental state, right? See how narcissists work?

However, you need to realize that this ability to twist reality in such a way that one can convince others of anything they want is not rare. Many who are in a relationship with narcissists report that they were gaslighted.

Gaslighting is a clever method of turning someone into a victim and use them to your own purpose and needs. If you have ever been gaslighted and would like to prevent getting yourself in a toxic relationship, watch out for the following signs:

1. You start doubting yourself

One of the most obvious signs of gaslighting is self-doubt. Do you start doubting what you think or believe it is true? Do you find yourself asking others about what happened to you, almost begging for them to confirm your doubts? If you answer yes, it might mean you were gaslighted by narcissists.

2. You can’t find proof that what you did was wrong

If you lost your keys and your partner made you believe you left them at a coffee shop when you were out, but the truth is he lost them, stop. Don’t jump into agreeing with him. Ask him for proof that it was you who misplaced the keys. Ask for examples of what you were both doing during that time. If he pauses or has to think of something to say, he might be lying.

(By the way, if you’re dating a narcissist, it’s good to inform yourself about the dangers of this type of toxic relationship. One good website to read is www.thriveafterabuse.com)

3. You start to believe you might be too sensitive or just exaggerate situations

The person you’re in a toxic relationship with might make you believe you’re too sensitive or dramatic. If he/she says you exaggerate situations or you’re making too much noise about it, it’s a sign you’re being manipulated.

4. You apologize a lot when you don’t even know it’s your fault

When you’re told you’re wrong or you’re to blame for what the toxic person did (ex. destroying your gloves) you might even start apologizing to them. You say sorry but you can’t even understand what you’re sorry for. You just feel the need to take the blame for what happened otherwise the toxic partner (or parent) will get angry with you. This is a very destructive thing to do.

Please, try to analyze the situation in detail and find proof that you were not at fault for what happened. Don’t let yourself be drawn into their toxic mind game.

5. You are confused and depressed for long periods of time

Truth is, after a long time of being manipulated, you start losing faith in yourself. You end up believing you’re not worthy of anything good in life. You feel so bad for being ‘mean’, ‘wrong’, at fault or ‘selfish’ (or whatever the toxic person calls you), that you can’t seem to find a way out of this. Therefore, your future looks bleak, hopeless.

After being gaslighted at work for years in a row, I too felt hopeless. I felt like there was no point in trying to enjoy life anymore as I had to endure gaslighting in my normal work life. Every day, I woke up with a feeling of dread and impending doom. And it wasn’t nice at all.

What helped me was a nice therapist who pointed out exactly the narcissists who were wrecking havoc in my life. And, due to her awesome guidance, I grew confident enough to get rid of them.

Can you recover from mental abuse?

Sure you can. However, to get better, you need to remove yourself from the toxic relationship you’re in. That’s the only way to thrive.

If you can’t do that easily, find a therapist to help you let go of such manipulative people. And, make sure that the therapist has knowledge and experience with narcissistic abuse survivors. Narcissistic abuse is very specific and one needs to have knowledge to help others recover.

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Written by Marlena Bontas
I'm a writer of fiction and non-fiction with an MA in Social Psychology. My favorite subjects to write about are mental health, wellness, society, culture and art. I relax with a cup of coffee or while listening to music.