In recent years, the terms “narcissistic” and “gaslighting” have become increasingly prevalent in conversations surrounding relationships and mental health. But what exactly is narcissistic gaslighting, and how does it manifest in our everyday lives?
To begin with, a gaslighting narcissist is an individual with narcissistic personality traits who uses manipulation tactics to sow doubt in the minds of others, ultimately causing them to question their sanity and reality. This form of psychological manipulation is called narcissistic gaslighting.
According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, the prevalence of lifetime narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) was around 6.2%, and it is believed that a significant proportion of these individuals engage in gaslighting behaviour. Moreover, with the rise of social media and the spread of misinformation, there is a growing concern that narcissistic and gaslighting behaviours may be on the rise.
In this article, we will explore the 7 most common signs of narcissistic gaslighting, which include, but are not limited to, the denial of reality, shifting blame, and the use of confusion to maintain control.
Additionally, we will address some frequently asked questions about narcissistic gaslighting, such as how to cope with the emotional turmoil it causes and seek help if you find yourself trapped in this insidious web.
This Article Contains:
7 Signs of Narcissistic Gaslighting
1. Lies and Exaggerations
One key sign of narcissistic gaslighting is when a person tells blatant lies or exaggerates their achievements, often to make themselves look better or manipulate others.
For instance, they may claim to have received a prestigious award they never won or boast about an expensive car they do not own. Another example is when they downplay the achievements of others to shine the spotlight on themselves.
People can be narcissists, gaslighters, or both. Narcissistic people aim to become superior and “special.” Whereas gaslighters use psychological intimidation (which may manifest as a threat) to make others feel inferior.
A narcissistic gaslighter, then, is someone who constantly augments their domination over other people. It may be emotionally exhausting to face these situations, and oftentimes, we may not know how to handle them.
What to do?
You can best handle this type of behaviour if you can remain calm and collected. When you recognise narcissistic patterns in another individual, you may want to maintain a level of detachment. However, detaching from a loved one may prove to be highly complicated and painful.
If you are unsure about the veracity of their claims, try to do your research to verify the facts first-hand. If you collect evidence that contradicts their lies or exaggerations, a narcissist may react with anger or defensiveness.
For example, they may become aggressive and lash out at you or completely shut down. In situations like this, you may want to set strict boundaries to protect yourself from their attempts to control you.
Knowing how to respond to a narcissist gaslighting might be helpful in the face of exaggerations. Psycho-education, learning about the signs of narcissistic gaslighting, and asserting your boundaries are some ways to regain control of the situation.
2. Aggressive to Criticism
Displaying aggressive behaviours towards criticism is one of the major signs of narcissistic gaslighting. This means that when a person receives a comment about their action, either in the form of feedback or constructive criticism, they often react very poorly.
No matter how helpful or valid the statement may be, narcissistic gaslighters cannot handle it, nor can they grasp the commenter’s intention due to their ego.
Aggressive behaviours may manifest in the form of temper tantrums, excuses, denial, blame, hypersensitivity, verbal abuse, avoidance, passive-aggression, or even physical abuse. For example, if you point out a mistake they made, they may become angry and lash out at you. They may blame you for being too critical and try to make you feel guilty for pointing out their mistake.
Gaslighters almost always resort to extremes by magnifying the situation’s impact as a means to intimidate or oppress the other person. In addition, they often view relationships (of any form) as inherently competitive rather than collaborative. As a result, their perception relies on the idea that a relationship is a zero-sum game. To them, this means that they can either “win” or “lose.”
What to do?
If you are dealing with someone who exhibits aggressive behaviour towards criticism, remember to be careful before taking any action. The best approach to confronting a narcissistic person is to remain calm and collected.
Try to keep your communication factual and non-emotional. One method is to stick to facts and avoid getting drawn into any emotional argument.
To do this, you can look out for any emotional words from either yourself or the person you are confronting. For example, evidence often supports a factual discussion – “You sent me a very hurtful text. I have it right here,” and the emotional discussion involves your feelings – “Why did you say that? I feel really upset with you.”
3. Projecting a Fabricated Persona
Have you ever encountered someone who seems too good to be true? They may be projecting a fabricated persona as a part of narcissistic gaslighting. In simpler terms, a fabricated persona refers to an exaggerated or entirely false self-image created to manipulate others.
For example, a person might claim they are an expert in a particular field when they have little to no experience. They do this to garner admiration and control over their victims. But unfortunately, these people are skilled at hiding their true intentions, making it challenging to recognise the warning signs.
Their “hero complex” (wanting to be in the spotlight constantly) can manifest in a number of ways. This includes physically, romantically, sexually, socially, spiritually, financially, academically, professionally, or culturally. The hidden messages behind this attitude are: “I am the best”, “I am better than you”, “I know everything”, “I will always have the final say because I am always right”, and so on.
Pathological narcissists and gaslighters take pride in marginalising people or communities whom they view as weak, inferior, or insignificant. As a result, they often attack their victims passively or actively. They do this by being cruel to them, gaining pleasure from their offences, and repeatedly displaying a lack of humanity.
What to do?
If you suspect someone is projecting a fabricated persona, it might help to trust your instincts and be aware of the red flags. These can include factors such as inconsistencies in their stories or an excessive need for attention.
Another key point is to remember that a narcissistic person wants you to worship them, whereas a gaslighter wants you to submit to them. A person with both traits can display either or both intentions. Being aware of their behaviour patterns can give you space and time to figure out how to handle the situation better.
When dealing with someone who may be using narcissistic gaslighting, try to set boundaries and maintain your emotional distance. For example, this could be listening to what they say and refraining from engaging further. This will help protect your mental wellbeing while preventing the narcissist from gaining further control over you.
You might also benefit greatly from support from trusted friends, family, or a professional therapist who can help you navigate this challenging situation.
4. Violating Boundaries
Narcissistic gaslighting is a subtle manipulative tactic that people use to get away with violating rules, boundaries, and social norms. They achieve this through a series of behaviours that can often be difficult to pinpoint. For example, narcissists may consistently dismiss or trivialise their partner’s concerns, making them question their thoughts and feelings.
Narcissistic gaslighting examples relating to the violation of rules include:
Intruding personal space.
Borrowing items without returning them.
Using others’ belongings without permission.
- Breaking traffic rules.
- Missing appointments.
Additionally, they tend to twist the narrative in their favour, blaming the victim for any issues that arise. This can leave the person on the receiving end feeling confused, invalidated, and unsure of their own actions.
People who fall back on narcissism and gaslighting to defend themselves often presume entitlement with an egocentric orientation that dehumanises their victim. In some cases, this reaction may be extreme. Examples include financial abuse, sexual harassment, date rape, domestic abuse, human rights violation, and other hate crimes.
Note: Not everyone who engages in narcissistic or gaslighting behaviour patterns engages in disruptive behaviours. If you think you or someone close to you might be in danger, please seek professional help immediately or call the national police hotline.
What to do?
When faced with narcissistic gaslighting, it might help to remain vigilant and grounded in one’s own reality. Try to start by acknowledging and validating your personal experiences, feelings, and concerns, regardless of the narcissist’s attempts to dismiss them.
Establishing a support network made up of friends and family can be incredibly helpful in maintaining a sense of self and combating the effects of gaslighting. In addition, it is also essential to establish boundaries and enforce them consistently.
For instance, you could attempt to communicate with the narcissist calmly and assertively as you express your personal needs and desires. Sometimes, it may be necessary to distance yourself from the individual, either temporarily or permanently, to protect your wellbeing.
5. Emotional Invalidation and Coercion
Another key sign of narcissistic gaslighting is emotional invalidation. This occurs when a narcissist dismisses, minimises, or rejects another person’s feelings.
For example, imagine you are upset about something your partner has done, and you express your feelings. The narcissist might say, “You are too sensitive” or “You are overreacting.” In essence, they are telling you that your emotions are not valid, even if they very much are.
Coercion is another aspect of narcissistic gaslighting that accompanies emotional invalidation. For example, a narcissist may use pressure, threats, or manipulation to force someone to do something they do not want.
They might threaten to end the relationship if you do not comply with their demands or insist that you change your appearance, interests, or behaviour to suit their preferences.
To add on, people with narcissist gaslighting patterns have unpredictable mood swings and may intentionally or unintentionally create an emotional drama. For example, they become upset if you show any indication of independence or self-confidence. As such, it might be difficult for you to identify what displeases or sets them off.
What to do?
Now that we know more about this particular sign of narcissistic gaslighting, how should you approach the situation or the person? Firstly, try to trust your instincts and emotions. Next, remind yourself that your feelings are valid and you have the right to express them. Finally, maintain a sense of self-worth and self-confidence, despite the narcissist’s attempts to tear you down.
Secondly, it might help to be clear about your limits and what behaviours you will not tolerate. Then, try to communicate these boundaries assertively and stand firm when they are tested.
Finally, consider seeking professional help if you struggle to cope with the effects of narcissistic gaslighting. A mental health professional can provide guidance, support, and coping strategies tailored to your situation.
6. Isolating You From Others
One common tactic in narcissistic gaslighting is isolating the victim from their friends and family. This is achieved by the narcissist manipulating their target to make the latter feel as if their loved ones are against them or do not understand them.
A relatable example might be when a narcissist convinces their partner that their friends are envious of their relationship, causing the partner to distance themselves from their support network. Another example could involve the narcissist dismissing their partner’s family as controlling or overbearing, leading to a rift between the partner and their relatives.
In a complicated relationship, it is common for narcissistic people to make you dependent on them as a primary support system. Most times, they may use emotional abuse or domestic violence to make this happen. Dr Stanford, who specialises in attachment/relationship issues, comments, “The narcissistic gaslighter vilifies people around you that you are close to and trust.”
What to do?
To address the issue of being isolated by a narcissist, maintain open communication with your friends and family. Share your experiences and seek their advice, as they may provide valuable insights into the situation.
If you suspect that a narcissist is gaslighting you, consider seeking professional help from a psychologist or counsellor experienced in dealing with narcissistic abuse. They can offer guidance on how to respond to a narcissist gaslighting and support you in rebuilding your relationships.
Additionally, establishing healthy boundaries with the narcissistic person and asserting your right to maintain relationships with your loved ones can help you regain control over your life. Remember, your support network is essential for your wellbeing, and it is crucial to surround yourself with people who genuinely care about you.
In essence, blame-shifting involves the narcissist transferring the responsibility for their own actions or behaviour onto someone else, frequently their victim.
To illustrate this concept, consider a simple example: a narcissist breaks a vase but accuses their partner of being careless and causing the accident. In this scenario, the narcissist refuses to accept any responsibility for the incident and instead attempts to make their partner feel guilty.
This behaviour is common in narcissistic gaslighting, as it allows the narcissist to maintain a sense of superiority and control over their victim.
Every person has probably shifted blame onto other people at some point in their lives. However, if this continuously recurs in the relationship, it can become increasingly difficult to cope.
What to do?
When dealing with blame-shifting, it is crucial to understand how to approach the situation and respond appropriately.
Firstly, as we saw in the previous points, try to establish healthy boundaries to counteract the negative effects of blame-shifting. This might involve calmly stating the facts and resisting the urge to defend oneself against baseless accusations.
Ultimately, the goal is to develop the tools and resilience needed to maintain a sense of self-worth and emotional wellbeing, even when faced with narcissistic gaslighting. When a person uses gaslighting as a method to put you down, here is what you can do:
Try to distance yourself from the situation, both physically and emotionally, whenever possible.
Sit with your emotions and write down what went wrong or anything else that you can think of.
If you find any evidence or facts from your journal, try to use them to dispute any false accusations or claims made against you.
However, if you notice you have made a mistake, try to acknowledge them. At the same time, avoid taking responsibility for things that are not your fault;
Finally, try not to engage in arguments or debates. Instead, you might want to take this to a professional therapist if you notice consistent patterns.
Eventually, you can try to approach the narcissistic person and propose the idea of family or couples therapy based on what relationship you share with them.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the treatment for narcissism and gaslighting?
The treatment for narcissistic gaslighting can be a complex process, requiring a multi-faceted approach. It is essential to understand that addressing narcissism and gaslighting involves recognising the impact on the perpetrator and the victim.
One effective treatment for a person exhibiting narcissistic behaviour is psychotherapy. A professional therapist can help narcissists develop self-awareness and empathy, essential skills in overcoming their manipulative tendencies.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) are two approaches that have shown promising results in treating narcissistic personality disorder.
In the case of gaslighting, it is crucial for the victim to seek support from a therapist or support group. This can help them process the emotional turmoil they have experienced and learn to rebuild their self-esteem. Additionally, education about narcissistic gaslighting and its effects can empower the victim to recognise and resist such manipulation in the future.
Understanding narcissist gaslighting examples helps with identifying this form of manipulation. Some common examples include the perpetrator denying past actions, trivialising the victim’s feelings, and shifting blame onto the victim.
What phrases do narcissists use?
Narcissistic phrases often involve twisting or distorting the truth to create doubt and confusion in the target. These are a few narcissist gaslighting examples:
"You are too sensitive."
One of the most common narcissist gaslighting examples is accusing the target of being overly sensitive. This phrase is meant to dismiss any legitimate concerns or emotions the target may be experiencing, making them question their perception and reactions.
"You always misunderstand me."
Narcissists often use this phrase to shift the blame from themselves to the target. The narcissist can avoid taking accountability for their behaviour and maintain control over the situation by insisting that the target is always misinterpreting their words or actions.
"You are overreacting."
Similar to accusing the target of being too sensitive, narcissists use this phrase to discredit the target’s reaction to a situation. This tactic can cause the target to doubt their own emotions and reactions.
"I never said that."
By claiming that they never said something, the narcissist can create confusion and doubt in the victim’s memory, making them question their own recollection of events.
"Nobody else thinks that."
Narcissists often use this phrase to isolate the target and make them feel their concerns or opinions are invalid. The narcissist can maintain control and manipulate their sense of reality by suggesting that no one else shares the person’s perspective.
"You are just jealous."
When a narcissist accuses the target of being jealous, it attempts to discredit any concerns or criticisms the target may have. This tactic can effectively deflect attention from the narcissist’s behaviour and refocus it on the victim’s supposed jealousy.
"You must be crazy."
Discrediting the victim’s mental state is another way narcissists engage in gaslighting. For example, the narcissist can undermine the person’s credibility by suggesting that the victim is irrational or mentally unstable.
"It was just a joke."
Narcissists may use this phrase to excuse hurtful or inappropriate behaviour. By insisting that their actions were meant as a joke, the narcissist can make the victim feel overly sensitive and dismiss any concerns or objections they may have.
When to seek professional help?
It is essential to seek professional help when the following situations arise:
Emotional distress becomes overwhelming.
If the emotional distress caused by narcissistic gaslighting has reached a point where it affects your daily life and mental health, it is time to consult a mental health professional. This distress might manifest as anxiety, depression, or a constant state of confusion.
Self-doubt becomes a constant companion.
Narcissistic gaslighting often leads to self-doubt and a decrease in self-esteem. If you start doubting your memory, judgement, or perception of reality, it may be wise to seek professional help.
Relationships with friends and family are affected.
When narcissistic gaslighting starts impacting relationships with friends, family, or colleagues, it is crucial to seek help. A mental health professional can provide support and advice on how to approach conversations with loved ones about the situation.
Feeling isolated and unable to share your experience.
Narcissistic gaslighting can lead to feelings of isolation as the person being gaslighted may be unable to discuss their experiences with others. If this sense of isolation becomes overwhelming, try to seek help from a mental health practitioner. They can help validate your experiences and provide strategies for coping.
The thought of leaving the relationship becomes daunting.
If the thought of leaving the relationship with the narcissistic gaslighter feels impossible or brings up intense fear, then you might want to seek help.
In conclusion, although all the above points are important, remember that there are no rules about asking for help. If you relate to these examples, then that is a strong indicator that these experiences are taxing you. Hence, it is okay to seek help whenever you feel like it.