Narcissism And Gas Lighting: Learning Small Lessons

I took the day off of work a week from last Friday and wrote this before my day off was even half over.

I had to deal with people today, you guys. People. Ugh. They’re the worst.

Randy wanted a chocolate cheese square from Dunkin Donuts. I had a doctor appointment and had to stop by the pharmacy, so I volunteered to pick one up for him.

I got to the drive thru at Dunkin Donuts and placed my order.

Dunkin Donuts Lady: We don’t have chocolate cheese squares. Only caramel.

Me: Oh, you don’t have those any more.

Dunkin Donuts Lady: We never had them. We had pumpkin ones.

Me: You had them, we got them here more than once. Maybe, it’s called something else. Oreo cheese square?narcissism-and-gas-lighting

Dunkin Donuts Lady: Nope. Never had anything like it.

Goddammit so much. Yes they did have them. I know they had them. I fucking bought them. I watched Randy order one at least two different times. 

I drove around to the window. I knew I should let it go. I mean, no matter what, they didn’t have any chocolate cheese squares, so what made the difference?

Me: Okay, so those chocolate cheese squares.

Dunkin Donuts Lady: We’ve only ever had caramel or pumpkin.

Then some dude behind her pipes up and says “Yeah, we had chocolate ones. Up until a few weeks ago.”

Dunkin Donuts Lady: Whatever.

I drove away so frustrated.

Whatever? Are you fucking kidding me, Dunkin Donuts lady? Not “whatever”. I told you that you had them. Goddammit so much. 

I started to berate myself. Why? Why would I choose to get all worked up over something so trivial?

No. No, we’re not going to be mean to us. Let’s just think about this for a minute. There is a reason that made you feel so angry. 

Then it dawned on me. Gas lighting.

A common tactic for a person with narcissistic personality disorder is to gas light their victims. They convince them that things that happened, never happened, or vice versa.

I have a pretty strong memory for conversations and events. I learned to do this many years ago as a defense mechanism. I can accept a lot of things, but I cannot handle it when someone insists something isn’t true when I know, 100% for sure, it is true. I feel angry, frustrated, and I want to throttle the person who is trying to fuck with my knowledge of my own truth. Even if they are messing with something all the way down at the donut level.

Children raised by narcissists don’t get to have much of a sense of security from external forces, so they create their own. My security blanket was woven through carefully memorizing conversations, paying close attention to events, and their sequence. Then, I could know what was true and real and what wasn’t.

This gas lighting revelation made my frustration melt away. I don’t have to feel my whole sense of security shake when someone insists that something is true when I know it isn’t. I mean, I don’t think I’m cured or anything but, maybe, I can let go of frustration over things at the donut level.

Lesson learned: Dunkin Donuts lady was frustrating, but ultimately gave me a gift. I hope she has a wonderful holiday.

After the donut lady,  I had to go to the phone store. I hate the phone store. I hate the phone company the way I hate cleaning toilets and insomnia.

When we switched our internet provider, we got a year long fiber optics TV package for 5.00 a month. We looked at it once. In a year.

I remembered that we were going to start getting charged full price for that service, so I packed up the equipment to return it and cancel the service.

Me: I want to cancel the television service.

Phone Company guy: Were you not happy with the service?

Me: We just didn’t use it.

Phone Company guy: Well, we can offer extra channels for…

Me: Hold up. We already don’t use it. Extra channels would just mean we were extra not using the service.

Phone Company guy: Can I ask what service you use?

Me: Netflix.

Phone Company Guy: Well, the sports package includes (something, I don’t know. I don’t care about sports so I didn’t listen). And Netflix doesn’t offer anything like that.

Me: We don’t watch sports at all.

Phone Company guy: What price are you willing to pay and maybe we can come up with a package that suits you.

Me: Look, we just don’t watch that much television. I want to cancel. I am cancelling and that isn’t going to change, so let’s just cancel this and we can both go about our business.

Translation: I actually DO watch a lot of television, but the box with all the stations is downstairs and I’m upstairs in my bedroom. I would rather watch the same Netflix series three consecutive times rather than expend the energy it would take to go downstairs and flip through the available channels on the fiber optics thingy. 

Lesson learned: Phone company guys are douche bags and I’m kind of lazy. So, thanks? I guess?

If you’re going to take a day off work, you might as well learn something new. Or not. Maybe staying in bed and watching Netflix is a better choice.



Add your comments below. Profanity is encouraged, but not required. ;)
  1. Troll says:

    What I hate about people is when I say something stupid, it happens, and they won’t call me on it then seemingly rather to shed their ideas of me. Fuck ’em. I’m thinking about extended family.

    Happened on Christmas day. I’m not going to repeat my stupidity here. It was only stupid to them in their ignorance. What they think of me is none of my business.

    Getting on getting on without them. I have my small family group. Wish I had a small dog. Tiny, actually. Then I think that it may not be fair to the dog. They may outlive me. Getting up there and I have health issues.

    I get the prejudice folks have towards me when I wear my black leather jacket out because of the weather. One manager at CVS was getting all exercised at the register. She was sweating like to beat the band. I’m not planning to go there again. I was going to write a letter to their headquarters but then I thought it’ her job, part of who she is. Me, I don’t give a fuck about CVS. I can get their crap everywhere. She is locked into thinking that she has an important job. So sorry. I’m free.

  2. Kathleen says:

    Oh my god the donut lady thing!!!! thank you for sharing that, it really resonated. Also, the whole reason tv packages exist is to subsidize sports viewing, so everyone gets baffled when you don’t want the sports. It’s kind of hilarious.

  3. Megan says:

    OMG – what a fucking whore! That interaction would have triggered me, too. You handled it WAY better than I would have. I would be in jail on assault charges…. 😉

    I think it upsets me so much, because it is so irrational? My N father touts his intelligence – being smart is the only important thing; being kind is proof of stupidity, etc. But trying to change reality and history doesn’t seem intelligent to me!

  4. Lisa K says:

    Ahhh, the lengths we go to protect our sanity…our sense of , “Unh huh, Bitch…I do too!” (or, “NO, No nooooo.”)

    When I find myself in a futile argument with someone who DOESN’T MATTER, I simply say, “OK, You be right.”

    And I walk/run/skip/do cartwheels away. Out of their toxic space.

    Except, if my wonderful, sweet ‘go to the ends of the Earth for me’ Hubby wants a chocolate something from a specific place and just one hateful dum dum stands in my way, then look the fuck out.

    However vindicating the ‘boy’ employee was with his revelation of, “Yes, we have no chocolate ones…” the reply of the ‘whatever’ and not, “Really? I’m so sorry Ma’am, I had rectal reconstruction surgery two weeks ago and I still can’t get my shitty attitude straightened out, so I might have missed the chocolate ones. Do you think you could take some caramel ones and drip some of our chocolate swizzle sauce on it? It might be good, too. I’m sorry I don’t know everything. I’m so glad Tommy was here to help me be a nice and accommodating human being, today, for you, right after Christmas.” *Big, star-employee smile*

    Whoa…parallel Universe going on there, huh?

    I don’t think we ever get to shed our hard-earned, defensive, soul saving, survival tactics. Just one hour of comfort zone seems to cost one day of brazen beat downs by those WHO DO NOT MATTER.

    Except when they make the voices start new arguments that I have to role play out before they will quiet down.

    Then, it seems, THEY MATTER!!!!

    I’ll take the know nothing Donut Dunking idiot over the pushy TV package sales guy, anyday, tho. Please, remind me again, Dude, that I don’t deserve to be content in my comfy little sports-less world. Please. Push me to be even less productive than I already am. And by ALL MEANS, remind me that NETFLIX has no commercials so I won’t have any idea that Dunkin Donuts only has the chocolate ones for so long and that my headaches could be caused by my vaginal mesh and I just need to call that lawyer.

    Oh, Michelle….the TV guy just used the wrong sales pitch. If only you were willing to go downstairs and use the TV with commercials, you would have known all about the Dunkin Donut bait and switch.

    I guess he gets to be right.


  5. Over the years I’ve learned that it’s important to admit what you don’t know, but even more important to own what you do know. Knowledge is power, and there are too many manipulative assholes out there who will try to take it away from you. When I was young I put a lot of energy into pretending I wasn’t as smart as I actually was because I thought people would like me more. Eventually it dawned on me that I was suppressing a fundamental part of me to be friends with people who didn’t appreciate me for who I was. Screw that. Don’t ever give in to the chocolate cheese square deniers, girl.

  6. Terri Lee says:

    OMG, I have this issue any time I have to deal with Comcast and their damned “tech support”. They make you go through the entire bullshit routine where you have to ditz around wth your converter box or whatever the hell, give them the serial numbers, etc. when you KNOW damned WELL the problem lies with THEM and their “state of the art” equipment outside that hasn’t been updated since Jimmy Carter was President! Everything works fine until THEY decide they’re going to fuck around with the service. They always make sure to say that since we have three SMALL converter boxes, and not the huge dinosaur box they want to place in the living room, we aren’t getting to enjoy ALL the channels the way we should for the money. I have no clue what they’re talking about, since we get every channel on our plan (according to their own channel guide) and the Premium channels like all the movie channels (especially HBO and Starz, so I can watch my Girls and Outlander!) we get through our satellite provider. And yes, we have Netflix, too, so I can watch Longmire! I can’t count how many times over the years, we had this same exact conversation with them. It’s UNREAL! And we have always been RIGHT. About a year or so ago, when I explained to one Comcast support person (a female) that the problem was not OUR equipment, it was THEM, she actually said to me, “Then what are you calling US for?” I stood there, phone to my ear, mouth hanging open. “Um, because I’m reporting an outage of YOUR service??” She said you don’t have to call for that, we just KNOW automatically. HAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!! I’m going NUTS!!!!! (Using index finger to play with bottom lip NUTS!!!) She had just spent ten minutes trying to convince me to go do this to my converter box or do that to my converter box, so obviously, they DON’T know! Shoot….me….NOW. I’m going to see if I can scrounge up the money to buy an island for all of us “misfit toys” to live on where we will never have to deal with idiots AGAIN! Amen. 😀

  7. Karen says:

    You’ve progressed more than me. I don’t know if I would have been able to drop it with donut lady, especially since “whatever” is the one word that can immediately launch me into the rage stratosphere. We had that happen in Walmart where we bought a gift card for a godson that didn’t work/ wasn’t activated. The “customer service” person insisted that they did not sell those cards there. Grrrrr……. You learned that day, and I’ve learned from this post to spend my days off on the couch. 😉

  8. Mary-Anne says:

    Oh my, I had such a similar experience with Parks Canada last summer.
    The woman at the desk said the campgrounds didn’t take reservations in September. I phoned and made a reservation so to be helpful I went back to the desk to let them know they were still taking reservations. The man at the desk didn’t believe me that I had been told that. He made quite a scene and finally the woman I had spoken to came back from coffee break and owned up. He didn’t apologize or anything, just walked away disgusted.
    Sorry Randy didn’t get his donut. 🙁

  9. Haralee says:

    The DD woman is infuriating. I think you handled it well. I would have asked her if she thought I was a liar and it would have deteriorated from there. There is huge power in not moving on, staying in line, sooner or later someone has to deal with you.

  10. Sue says:

    It’s awesome that you discovered one of your triggers. Hopefully it helps. I realized a few years ago that being accused of something I didn’t do (also a childhood gift) made me irrationally angry. Knowing that helps me to control my reaction, but it still pisses me off.
    I had a surprisingly easy time cancelling Dish. I was prepared for a fight, but they only made a couple of attempts to keep me.

    • Michelle says:

      Ohhh…I could see how that would be a trigger. I don’t think that was an issue for me. I don’t recall being accused of doing things I didn’t do, but I can totally understand how that would be a big trigger.

  11. Randy says:

    I have learned a new trick when dealing with my narcissistic mother. Every time she says “No I didn’t!”, I respond with – “Of course you didn’t”. My favorite is when she says “I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about!”, my response is “Of course you don’t”.

    It helps me deal with her and there is some satisfaction in hearing her getting more and more frustrated with me not caving in to her shit.

    Thanks for the post – Love it as always!

  12. Kara says:

    My mother is a narcissist as was my ex. I spent half my life in a suspended, distorted reality. This post really hit home for me. Gaslighting is so subtle at times!

    • Michelle says:

      It’s really horrible and it does make you feel like you’re losing your mind. That’s probably why I pay so close attention to what is being said and done around me.

  13. Oh yeah. The constant lies of narcissists can surely make one crazy…

  14. Dani says:

    It’s true about narcissism and gas-lighting. The donut lady would have frustrated me too. What I found most annoying was that she was like whatever even when she was made aware that she was wrong. I mean seriously you shouldn’t argue with a customer when you don’t know what the F…. you’re talking about.

  15. I feel the insanity too, Michlle. No one can tell me the sky is purple when I know damn well it was blue yesterday….ya know? Nothing makes me crazier than a gas lighting donut lady. It’s petty stuff but it seems to be about something more such as REALITY. Great post!

  16. Margot says:

    Ha ha ha ha! I love the expression “Goddammit so much!” and you can bet I’ll be using it next time I’m frustrated. Thank you for that. I’m sorry you had shitty things happen to you on your day off, but also glad that you were able to peel off another layer of the crappy debris leftover from growing up with a narcissist. I’m very familiar with that gas lighting feeling and sometimes lash out at my husband when he’s being lovely and has done nothing wrong except for not remembering something properly. The poor man has no idea that I think he’s invalidating my entire reality—he just sees me lose my shit for no apparent reason. Good thing he’s so patient with me.

    I feel really sorry for people who work for phone company services. It’s their job to try to wear you down and make you feel like you’re stupid for not wanting a particular package and I imagine they get in trouble when they “lose” accounts. I’d like to say that my sympathy allows me to stay calm when having to respond to something like “So, you’re saying that you understand that this is an incredible once in a lifetime deal with all kinds of awesome extras that you can’t get anywhere else, and you want to cancel it, even though it’s basically free?” Sympathy or not, it’s still hard to simply say “Yup” to that without feeling annoyed.

    • Michelle says:

      Yeah, they have a job to do. I just HATE the hard sell. I really really hate it. Hmmmm…probably another trigger. I’ll have to think about that.

      • Margot says:

        I despise it, too. I think the trigger is that the sales person is aggressively invalidating you. They are either trying to get you to buy something that you know you don’t want or need and possibly can’t even afford, or they are outright trying to make you feel ashamed of your own feelings and decisions. It’s another fucked up way of getting you to doubt yourself—some of them are like professional narcissists.

  17. Jenn A. says:

    Oh. My. God. Reading this made me realize where and why I developed my freakish ability to remember details. My whole life, during an argument, if someone says they never said something, I will go into full detail (i.e., “Yes. Yes you DID say that. It was October 21, 1994 and we were in Aisle 4 of Safeway at 2:21pm and Endless Love came on overhead as we passed the Triscuits, and you specifically said ‘I do not like John Travolta’s character in Pulp Fiction.” Lightning bolt. I’m taking THAT one to therapy. Thanks!

  18. I didn’t grow up with a narcissist as much as an outright liar, and I have the same I’m-seeing-red reaction when someone isn’t honest–whether it’s about the existence of a type of donut or who my birth father was. What’s so friggin’ hard about just telling the truth? I applaud your hard-won sense of self-awareness/knowledge.

    • Michelle says:

      Yeah, he was a liar. That is another thing I’m good the liar. Mostly, I don’t get angry over lies because everyone lies sometimes..I do get confused as to WHY people are lying, though. It’s not until they start insisting that something is true (or false) when I KNOW the opposite is true and it fucks with my reality…then I get angry.

  19. Yes, yes, and yes. Did I mention YES???!!! While I CERTAINLY “get” that you may be unhappy in your job as the Dunkin Donuts window person, still ……. serving customers starts with respect. That includes the minor detective work of figuring out what your customer is trying to get at when it is clear they know what they are talking about.

    Loved your post & your sense of humor! 🙂

  20. Most people are pretty focused on themselves and their little world. It’s a miracle if people actually break out of their “bubble” and have a true connection with others. It happens sometimes though! And then I do the happy dance. (And I try to break out of my bubble at times, but I built a safe little world, and I like it in here!) Sorry about the donut, and the cable, and all the narcissists you’ve had to deal with over the years.

  21. Marcia says:

    Maybe the girl was new; there’s quite a turnover in those jobs. As for remembering, so many times I wish I had a tape recorder in my pocket when hubby tells me something and later says he didn’t. Grrrr!! Good thing I have a thick skin…

    • Michelle says:

      Yeah, that makes me crazy..when someone says something and swears they didn’t..and honestly, they probably just don’t remember, but it still makes me crazy.

  22. I have been here. Too many times. I always wonder why I let little thing and little people get to me. And worse, I’m finding it is happening more frequently as I get older, rather than less. I so appreciate your insight and ability to walk away. xo

    • Michelle says:

      It’s not easy to walk away..but I am more and more finding that I want to do all I can to lessen the hold anxiety has on me..worrying about stuff at the donut level has got to go.

  23. ManicMom says:

    Arrgh, so frustrating! I did not grow up with a narcissist, but my grandmother lived with us in the early stages of her dementia. I don’t know why I felt the need to tell her the story she was telling was one we’d heard from her 1,000 times. What point was I trying to make? I’m sure she wasn’t trying to pull anything, it was just aggravating as hell to have the same conversation over and over. As a result, I seem to have developed a very specific memory for who said what, and when and where.

    • Michelle says:

      my dad is brain damaged from a heart episode and has been repeating himself for 20 years now. I only see him in short little bursts..but even then, it’s annoying. Plus we have a horrible history, so there is that.

  24. Heather C says:

    “…extra not using it.” <— this wins!

    Donut lady would have irritated me enough that by the time I got to phone store man, who clearly had a listening disorder, I would have used his ridicularity as permission to unleash my bad day upon him. He was clearly asking for it with his "Well how much are willing to pay to NOT use these channels? We can work something out" shenanigans.

    And I realize, hmmm… guess that's not really normal or particularly nice on my part… gaslighting really was a thing we had to defend against… WHY is this shit not clearly marked for our psychological benefit? Why do we have to wade through our adult lives hoping things click for us so we can untangle the shitstorm of overthunk emotional stuntedness that is in our brains (at least in mine)? Goddamn narco parents.

    Bravo for your ability to step back and look at it all so clearly. Yay adulting.

    • Michelle says:

      And I am usually so bad at adulting!!

      Yeah, I wasn’t too annoyed with the phone guy, I knew the hard sell was coming. And yes, I wish there was a clear cut way to wade through all this shit we learned..but there doesn’t seem to be, does there?

  25. Doug in Oakland says:

    I’ve had it up to here with the lies. I usually say “with the lies and insanity” but sometimes insanity isn’t their fault, and I have to take them just as they are. Which sucks, but really probably more for them than me.
    Also, I have two words for useless, condescending businesses that I wold not cry a single tear upon finding them burned to the ground: Apple Store.

    • Michelle says: feel strongly about that.

      I had someone take me to task on twitter about my phone guy. She said he was just doing his job and I shouldn’t be a baby about and deal with it. She also felt very strongly about it.

  26. Katherine says:

    This is what gets me about doughnut lady (and all other gaslighters) — ALL she had to do was say, “I’m sorry, we don’t have any in chocolate today. Would you like to try the caramel flavour?”

    I mean, let’s say you had got mixed up about the existence of the chocolate version. What the hell is it to her? How does that change her job as a customer service person? Not at all. But no. She has to pull crazy-making on a customer.

    My ex did gaslighting A LOT, and seriously, looking back, it just seems lazy on top if being an asshole move. Especially since he was so proud of his intellect and logic. Denying reality until the other person caves is neither smart nor logical — it’s just cruel and wishful.

    • Michelle says:

      and SOOOO damaging. I have zero tolerance for it…I actually have to be careful and keep myself in check, because sometimes people really do just forget what they said or did and they aren’t fucking with me. It’s hard to make that determination for me, sometimes.

  27. Jenny J. says:

    It never in a million years occurred to me that I remember even minute details as a defensive mechanism for dealing with narco parents. NEVER. IN. A. MILLION. *mind blown* Truth be told, I’ve struggled with feeling like I have to prove my reality over and over, even as an adult. It’s most certainly a reoccurring theme for me.

    A couple of years ago, a salesman at a fancy-ish shoe store mansplained to me how a pair of Birkenstock sandals should fit for a solid five minutes. No exaggeration. I told him my size, and he went to the back. He came back with 3 pairs of sandals, all too big, as they didn’t have my size in stock. He insisted that I try on all three pairs anyway. They are very obviously too big, clearly going against everything he lectured me about only moments before. But he maintained that they were perfect. I lost my shit. I was angry and shaking and verbally bit his head off. It was not my finest moment. But damnit, don’t play games with my sanity, SIR. I’m not stupid. Don’t fuck with me and my ability to remember what happened just moments before.

    • Michelle says:

      THANK YOU! Yes…you understand exactly what I am saying. So frustrating. I know they are just trying to earn a living, but damn.

      Yes..proving my reality over and over. I love that. (and I hate it). I know what you mean, though. My reality is always a little wispy..not quite real.

  28. Don says:

    Your rage is delightful! Or frustration? Whatever it is. I was in a Wendy’s drive thru recently and asked for some Sweet n Low for my tea. The lady was all, ” we don’t have sweet n low.” I was saddened and about to drive away but my wife says, “you have sweet n low. I’ve had it here before. ” the drive thru Nazi was then all “WE DON’T HAVE SWEET N LOW!” So ima drive off, right? But before I leave the lot my wife made me stop the van. “I’m going in this mother fucker,” said my lovely bride. She came back with a fist full of pink stuff, but it wasn’t technically the Sweet n Low brand. Who doesn’t know I just meant pink stuff? Whatever, we were all sort of right or wrong, whatever is better.

  29. OMG the donut lady thing. It’s like you were inside my head. Only funnier and more eloquent.

  30. Lori says:

    I think we all have delt with that customer service a-hole that he/she thinks that they are never wrong. Unfortunately, I work with a few of them. I spend way to much time of my work day fixing the mistakes of my coworkers because they wouldn’t spend a couple of minutes just asking our boss a question. Thankfully I don’t spend a lot of time with my coworkers, or I would spend more of my workday yelling at them. Sometimes it is like working with a bunch of people like my narsisstic mom.

  31. I’ve learned something about myself reading this today.

    I’m not as assertive as I thought I was.

    I would’ve told donut lady, “Well, I must have been mistaken.” And said “fuck you” inside my head.

    And with the other rude dude, I would’ve just hung up! And uttered afterwards, “Take that asshole!”

  32. I worked retail too long to put up with donut lady’s attitude. There are simple thing to say and do to keep customers happy when you don’t have what they want. She needs training or a different job.

  33. SuperAnonymous says:

    Three things: (1) I knew I found the right blog when I saw Sticking Fingers in my Ears and saying LaLaLaLa. I literally just did this on Christmas day for the first time in decades when (2) I was venting about how TWC always sends me crap in Spanish and how it really irritates me but my rant was abruptly halted my Nsis who decided to lecture me on how to complain properly. I guess I just couldn’t get that right either and (3) I already forgot #3. But thanks, your blog made day. I’ll be back for sure.

  34. OMG this is hysterical – you made my morning!

  35. Jana says:

    Now I really want a chocolate cheese square. I’ve never seen the things or even heard about them until just now – but I just want one – immediately!