Narcissistic gaslighting definition

What is Narcissistic Gaslighting? — Talkspace

To understand what narcissistic gaslighting is, you must have a basic and clear understanding of what both narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and gaslighting are individually. Not all people with NPD gaslight, but many do.

In this article, we’ll define both NPD and gaslighting, describe what gaslighting is not, and list some signs that someone might be gaslighting you. Beyond that, we’ll also help you identify when a gaslighting situation or toxic relationship requires professional help.

It’s important to remember that not all people with narcissistic personality disorder are gaslighters, just like not everyone who gaslights has NPD. Let’s look at each concept individually for a moment. 

Narcissistic Personality Disorder Defined

Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental health condition marked by a grand level of self-importance, an intense need for excessive admiration and attention from others, and a general lack of empathy for others.

People with NPD display extreme confidence while also being unable to gracefully accept even small criticisms or complaints.

Gaslighting Defined

Gaslighting is the use of a patterned, repetitive set of manipulation tactics that makes someone question reality. It’s often used by people with narcissistic personality disorder, abusive individuals, cult leaders, criminals, and dictators.

It’s important to point out that gaslighting is a “patterned” behavior. It’s intentional and designed to make you question your memories and experiences.

Toxic people who gaslight instill confusion intended to make others rely on them. Convincing someone to question their reality gives a gaslighter a sense of power and superiority. 

Despite all this, gaslighting often isn’t so obvious. Many gaslighters may not realize they’re gaslighting, and many people who are being gaslighted also fail to recognize it at first. 

What gaslighting is


Gaslighting is not a single incident. When attempting to identify gaslighting, look for a pattern of behavior that appears to be both malicious and intentional. There are various instances when behavior may seem to be gaslighting but it’s actually not. Consider the following statements:

  • “You’re misunderstanding what I’m saying. That’s not what I meant.”
  • “That’s not the way I remember things happening that day.”
  • “Ah, c’mon. What I did wasn’t that bad.”
  • “I didn’t intend for that to happen.”

Many people will say things like this, but they’re not gaslighters in the true sense. If you want to spot gaslighting, look for a distinct, repetitive pattern of intentional malice or denial.

What gaslighting can involve, but is


Most people have experienced one or more behaviors commonly used as gaslighting tactics. Some of these forms of manipulation include:

  • Bullying
  • Shaming
  • Intimidation
  • Name-calling
  • Emotional blackmail

Signs That You’re Being Gaslighted by Someone with NPD

It’s common for people to fail to recognize manipulative tactics like narcissistic gaslighting. Someone with NPD might be gaslighting you if:

  • You’re second-guessing your decisions more and more
  • You keep wondering if you’re being overly sensitive
  • You feel unstable or like you’re losing your mind
  • You unnecessarily apologize, often
  • You find you’re increasingly unhappy  

Narcissistic gaslighting can make you feel like something is wrong, but you’re unable to put your finger on just what it is.

Common traits of gaslighters

A toxic person who gaslights might:

  • Refuse to consider your thoughts or concerns
  • Restructure past events to shift blame to you
  • Insist you did things that you know you didn’t do
  • Scoff when you share your side of the story
  • Tell others about your state of mind, behavior, or feelings

A person with narcissistic personality disorder who’s gaslighting you might say you’re crazy, insensitive, or otherwise just flat out wrong when you try to express your needs or wants.  

Examples of “Narcissistic Gaslighting”

Narcissistic gaslighting examples can be subtle and difficult to recognize. It’s not the same thing as telling one lie, having a unique opinion, or accusing someone else of being wrong about something. It’s also important to note that someone who gaslights doesn’t necessarily have to know you personally.

At work

Sometimes coworkers can try to gaslight out of jealousy or anger about their (or your) position. For example, maybe you received a promotion and a coworker or your boss is angry about it. They may try to sabotage you in your new role, not giving you important information or messages. Maybe they move files you need or take documents you’re looking for. When you confront them, they might accuse you of being too stressed to be able to handle the position, or become angry in response, asking why you’d accuse them of such things. 

Maybe at this point you start to really question your own capability in your new role. In some cases, you might even be dealing with a “narcissistic boss.”

People in positions of power

People in power, like politicians, have been known to regularly gaslight the masses when they deny obvious recorded truths, such as authentic video recordings or testimony from multiple unbiased witnesses.

Sometimes these tactics can convince people that the politician did no wrong or that their behavior wasn’t really “that bad.”

Medical care

Some unethical doctors try to gaslight their patients by suggesting that health complaints are imagined or that pain is not as bad as they claim. They might go so far as to recommend counseling instead of other forms of medical treatment.

You might start to wonder if you truly do have the symptoms you’ve been explaining to your doctor. After all, doctors are the experts, the ones who went to school for years. You may think of course they know more about it than you do. 

In a relationship

You’re convinced your abusive partner may have been unfaithful, but when you ask them about the physical or emotional cheating, they either flat out lie, tell you you’re crazy, or become enraged at the accusation.  

You have evidence and you vehemently disagree with their reaction, but you still find that you’re second guessing yourself. You question your belief that they aren’t being true and honest in the relationship. Getting out of a relationship with someone who has uses gaslighting can be challenging, but it is possible. 

Why Someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder Gaslights

People might gaslight others because of negative childhood experiences, a need to be in control, or due to a personality disorder like NPD. Regardless of the cause, all people who gaslight (not only those who show narcissistic behavior or with NPD) do so in effort to gain power. When narcissistic abusers or a gaslighter feels threatened, they feel a strong need for acceptance and support. They want others to believe their retelling of events to restore their sense of control.

Gaslighting can also be the result of someone believing that their account is more accurate than yours. By convincing you to question your memory of events, they can regain that sense of superior intellect.

“Gaslighting, historically, is used to establish dominance. This is a key feature of someone who struggles with narcissistic personality disorder because the security of their lens depends on the other party being wrong.”

Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice PsyD., LPC

Are gaslighters aware that they’re gaslighting?

Some gaslighters are aware of their behavior, and they may even work to improve their gaslighting skills. They might enjoy the sense of superiority they feel from making others doubt their sanity and correctness.

Others who gaslight might not be aware that they’re doing it. Yet, unknowingly, they may continue to gaslight because of the payoff they get: a boost to life, confidence, and superiority.

How to Deal with Gaslighting from Someone with NPD

If you believe or know you’re being gaslighted, there are steps you can take to regain emotional control. For instance, you can:

Over time and unaddressed, narcissistic gaslighting can wear you down and make you numb. It can cause you to be agitated and feel out of touch with yourself and your goals.

It’s important that you make time to take care of yourself and be intentional about reclaiming the energy that narcissistic gaslighting has depleted. Hold on to your sense of self and your belief system.

When to Seek Help

Gaslighting for extended periods can decrease your sense of self-worth, cause anxiety and depression, and leave you unsure about the decisions you make. It can also cause a lot of loneliness if the gaslighter is your spouse or friend.

“When we start to question our safety or our livelihood, that is the time to get help from a licensed professional. For example, staying isolated from friends or family, workplaces, and/or schools out of fear for how the person with narcissistic personality disorder might react – that jeopardizes our safety and is a “red flag” to look out for.”

Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice PsyD., LPC

Healing from narcissistic abuse can be challenging, but getting support from a therapist or someone else can help you recognize and effectively deal with the situation and begin taking steps to improve it. A therapist can help you address any doubts about your self-worth, deal with painful emotions, understand that you did nothing to deserve the gaslighting, and discover healthy new ways of coping with and escaping the situation.

Of course, a therapist can also work with couples who want to improve their lives together and completely eliminate any gaslighting that’s happening.

Dealing with narcissistic gaslighting can be daunting and confusing, but you can successfully survive an abusive relationship, set up boundaries, and protect yourself from the narcissistic abuse you’ve experienced. Use the narcissistic gaslighting checklist here to figure out if you’re being gaslighted by someone with NPD or show narcissistic behavior. Rely on the support you have in your life so you can get rid of the toxicity you’ve been dealing with if you’re being gaslighted by someone with NPD. 

See references

  • Narcissistic personality disorder.
  • Stinson F, Dawson D, Goldstein R et al. Prevalence, Correlates, Disability, and Comorbidity of DSM-IV Narcissistic Personality Disorder. J Clin Psychiatry. 2008;69(7):1033-1045. doi:10.4088/jcp.v69n0701.
  • Mitra P, Fluyau D. Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

6 Common Traits of Narcissists and Gaslighters

Source: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

“Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others.” —Paramahansa Yogananda

Psychologist Stephen Johnson writes that a narcissist is someone who has “buried his true self-expression in response to early injuries and replaced it with a highly developed, compensatory false self.” This alternate persona often comes across as grandiose, “above others,” self-absorbed, and highly conceited.

Gaslighting is a form of persistent manipulation and brainwashing that causes the victim to doubt her or himself, and to ultimately lose one’s own sense of perception, identity, and self-worth. A gaslighter’s statements and accusations are often based on deliberate falsehoods and calculated marginalization. The term gaslighting is derived from the 1944 film Gaslight, where a husband tries to convince his wife that she’s insane by causing her to question herself and her reality.

Multiple studies and writings have been done on the impact of narcissism and gaslighting on relationships(1)(2)(3)(4)(5)(6). While each of these often destructive pathologies is unique, there are certain behavioral overlaps. Following are six common traits, with references from my books: How to Successfully Handle Narcissists and How to Successfully Handle Gaslighters & Stop Psychological Bullying. Not all narcissists and gaslighters possess every characteristic identified below. However, chronic narcissists and gaslighters are likely to exhibit at least several of the following on a regular basis.

1. Frequent Lies and Exaggerations

Both narcissists and gaslighters are prone to frequent lies and exaggerations (about themselves and others) and have the tendency of lifting themselves up by putting others down. While narcissists often strive to make themselves seem superior and “special” by showing off, bragging, taking undeserved credit, and other forms of self-aggrandizement, gaslighters tend to concentrate on making you feel inferior through false accusations, constant criticism, and psychological intimidation. Both narcissists and gaslighters can be adept at distortion of facts, deliberate falsehoods, character assassinations, and negative coercions. One key difference is that while the narcissist lies and exaggerates to boost their fragile self-worth, the gaslighter does so to augment their domination and control.

2. Rarely Admit Flaws and Are Highly Aggressive When Criticized

Many narcissists and gaslighters have thin skin and can react poorly when called to account for their negative behavior. When challenged, the narcissist is likely to either fight (e.g., temper tantrum, excuse-making, denial, blame, hypersensitivity, etc.) or take flight (bolt out the door, avoidance, silent treatment, sulking resentment, or other forms of passive-aggression). The gaslighter nearly always resorts to escalation by doubling or tripling down on their false accusations or coercions, to intimidate or oppress their opponent. Many gaslighters view relationships as inherently competitive rather than collaborative; a zero-sum game where one is either a winner or a loser, on top or at the bottom. “Offense is the best defense” is a mantra for many gaslighters, which also represents their aggressive method of relating to people.

3. False Image Projection

“My husband always wants people to see him as successful, powerful, and envy-worthy, no matter how shaky his real life actually is.” —Anonymous partner of a narcissist

Both narcissists and gaslighters tend to project false, idealized images of themselves to the world, in order to hide their inner insecurities. Many narcissists like to impress others by making themselves look good externally. This “trophy complex" can exhibit itself physically, romantically, sexually, socially, religiously, financially, materially, professionally, academically, or culturally. The underlying message of this display is: “I’m better than you!” or “Look at how special I am — I’m worthy of everyone’s love, admiration, and acceptance!”

Gaslighters, on the other hand, often create an idealized self-image of being the dominant, suppressive alpha male or female in personal relationships, at the workplace, or in high-profile positions of society (such as politics and media). Many gaslighters like to view themselves falsely as all-powerful and strong, capable of dishing out judgments and penalties at will. Pathological gaslighters often take pride and boost themselves up by marginalizing those whom they perceive as weaker, believing that the meek deserve their downtrodden fate. They attack their victims with direct or subtle cruelty and contempt, gaining sadistic pleasure from these offenses, and betraying a lack of empathy and humanity.

In essence, narcissists want others to worship them, while gaslighters want others to submit to them. In a big way, these external facades become pivotal parts of their false identities, replacing the real and insecure self.

4. Rule-Breaking and Boundary Violation

Many narcissists and gaslighters enjoy getting away with violating rules and social norms. Examples of narcissistic trespass include cutting in line, chronic under-tipping, personal space intrusion, borrowing items without returning, using other’s properties without asking, disobeying traffic laws, breaking appointments, and negating promises. Examples of gaslighting trespass include direct or subtle marginalizing remarks, public or private shaming and humiliation, sardonic humor and sarcastic comments, internet trolling, angry and hateful speech, and virulent attacks on undesirable individuals and groups.

Both narcissist and gaslighter boundary violations presume entitlement, with a narrow, egocentric orientation that oppresses and de-humanizes their victims. In severe cases, this boundary violation pathology may result in illicit and underhanded dealings, financial abuse, sexual harassment, date rape, domestic abuse, hate crimes, human rights violations, and other forms of criminality. Many narcissists and gaslighters take pride in their destructive behaviors, as their machinations provide them with a hollow (and desperate) sense of superiority and privilege.

5. Emotional Invalidation and Coercion

Although narcissists and gaslighters can be (but are not always) physically abusive, for the majority of their victims, emotional suffering is where the damage is most painfully felt. Both narcissists and gaslighters enjoy spreading and arousing negative emotions in order to feel powerful, and keep you insecure and off-balance. They habitually invalidate others’ thoughts, feelings, and priorities, showing little remorse for causing people in their lives pain. They often blame their victims for having caused their own victimization (“You wouldn’t get yelled at if you weren’t so stupid!”).

In addition, many narcissists and gaslighters have unpredictable mood swings and are prone to emotional drama — you never know what might displease them and set them off. They become upset at any signs of independence and self-affirmation (“Who do you think you are!?”). They turn agitated if you disagree with their views or fail to meet their expectations. As mentioned earlier, they are sensitive to criticism, but quick to judge others. By keeping you down and making you feel inferior, they boost their fragile ego and feel more reassured about themselves.

6. Manipulation: The Use or Control of Others as an Extension of Oneself

Both narcissists and gaslighters have a tendency to make decisions for others to suit their own agenda. Narcissists may use their romantic partner, child, family, friend, or colleague to meet unreasonable self-serving needs, fulfill unrealized dreams, or cover up weaknesses and shortcomings. Narcissists are also fond of using guilt, blame, and victimhood as manipulative devices.

Gaslighters conduct psychological manipulation toward individuals and groups through persistent distortion of the truth, with the intention of causing their victims to question themselves and feel less confident. In personal and/or professional environments, they manipulate by micromanaging (controlling) relationships, including telling others how they should think, feel, and behave under the gaslighter’s unreasonable restrictions and scrutiny. They often become critical, angry, intimidating, and/or hostile toward those who fail to bow down to their directives. Gaslighter manipulation is often highly aggressive, with punitive measures (tangible or psychological) executed toward those who fail to recognize and obey their self-perceived authority.

Perhaps the biggest distinction between narcissists and gaslighters is that narcissists use and exploit, and gaslighters dominate and control. While the narcissist does so to compensate for a desperate sense of deficiency (of being unloved as the real self), the gaslighter does so to hide their ever-present insecurity (of being powerless and losing control). Both of these pathological types betray an inability and/or unwillingness to relate to people genuinely and equitably as human beings. They become “special” and “superior” by being less human and by de-humanizing others.

In the worst-case scenario, some individuals possess traits of both narcissism and gaslighting. This is a highly toxic and destructive combination of vanity, manipulation, bullying, and abuse — all unleashed in order to compensate for the perpetrator’s deep-seated sense of inadequacy and fear.

© 2017 by Preston C. Ni.

Disclaimer: Communication Success blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant to an individual's specific circumstances.

Toxics, narcissists and gaslighters: simple tricks to counter them


Shahida Arabi has been studying behavior strategies for victims of bullying and abusive behavior for several years. She is the author of several bestselling books on how to stop manipulators, gaslighters, and narcissists from doing what they are so good at. Summer at the publishing house "Mann, Ivanov and Ferber" her book Toxic People is out. Inc. publishes an excerpt.

Pointless arguments and distractions in conversation

Malignant narcissists use many distractions in conversation to unsettle you and drag you into their chaos. These may include the following tactics:

Passing on personalities and undermining reputation. When narcissists cannot logically refute your argument or point of view, they resort to personal attacks: use illogical reasoning, insults, projection, and gaslighting to confuse and confuse you if you just disagree or challenge them. This is done in order to discredit and confuse you, divert you from the main problem and make you feel guilty about the fact that you are a living person with thoughts and feelings that are different from their own. Ten minutes of arguing with a narcissist is enough, and you are already wondering how you even got involved in this. You just expressed disagreement with his ridiculous statement that the sky is red, and now your entire childhood, family, friends, morality, career and lifestyle are mixed with dirt. This is because your disagreement conflicts with his false belief that he is all-powerful and all-knowing, threatening his inflated ego and sense of his own superiority. Instead of responding to your arguments, he attacks your personality.

How to resist becoming personal. By far the best reaction is none, but if for some reason you are forced to respond to the narcissist's attacks, don't fall for his red herrings. Repeat the facts and let him know that personal attacks are not relevant. Stop this conversation if possible. You do not have to explain to an adult how to be a worthy person. Remember: toxic people are not arguing with you, they are, in fact, arguing with themselves, and you are just an accomplice in their long, exhausting monologue. They love drama and live to create chaos. By trying to find an argument to refute their ridiculous claims, you are providing narcissistic reinforcement. Don't feed the narcissists - better realize that the problem is not with you, but with their abusive behavior. Stop communicating as soon as you feel the first signs of an escalation of the situation, and spend your energy on self-care and self-defense.

Labeling. As you know, daffodils make an elephant out of a fly in case of any threat to their superiority. In their reality, only they can be right, and anyone who dares to disagree will become the cause of narcissistic rage. According to psychiatrist Mark Goulston, this is not a result of low self-esteem, but a sense of permissiveness and a false sense of superiority. He writes: “In the eyes of the narcissist, the whole world must approve, adore, obey and agree with him. Anything less is perceived as an attack, which, in the opinion of the narcissist, he is entitled to respond with anger. For the most base representatives of this type, rage takes the form of labeling when they fail to influence your opinion or emotions in any other way. They feel entitled to humiliate and call you names. Name-calling is a quick and easy way to humiliate your intelligence, appearance or behavior, while depriving you of the right to be a person with your own opinion. This tactic can also be used to criticize your beliefs, opinions, and ideas. Your personal life experience, reasoned point of view, or reasoned opinion suddenly becomes "stupid" or "idiot" in the hands of an aggressive narcissist who feels threatened but can't really object. Narcissists insult your intelligence to cover up their incompetence. Instead of attacking your arguments, the narcissist attacks you in every possible way to undermine your authority and question your intelligence.

How to resist labeling. It is important to stop any offensive interaction and convey to the opponent that you do not intend to tolerate this. The situation will only get worse. Do not take it personally: understand that a person resorts to insults only because he does not know other, more worthy ways of communication. You can do the following:

- If labeling is frustrating for you, use mindful breathing techniques to calm yourself and focus on the best ways to protect yourself in your circumstances.

- If a family member or partner uses this tactic against you during a discussion, say firmly that you are not going to tolerate such disrespect and end the conversation safely.

- If this is happening in the context of harassment or harassment by a former partner, save the evidence in case it is needed to file a criminal case.

- If you are labeled in a professional environment, consider whether you can bring this to the attention of your superiors.

- If you encounter an incident on the Internet, report it to the relevant social network service and block the aggressor. Save screenshots if the person continues the cyberstalking.

Large-scale generalizations. Instead of dealing with real problems, narcissists prefer to make sweeping generalizations if we dare to claim mistreatment. These generalizations include exaggerating your hypersensitivity or sweeping statements like "You're never satisfied" or "You're always overreacting." This tactic can be especially powerful with empathic people, as it uses gaslighting to instill the idea that our hypersensitivity is the problem, not their violence. And while you can be overly sensitive at times, it's much more likely that a destructive person is insensitive and cruel most of the time.

How to deal with big generalizations. Toxic people who wield superficial statements do not represent the fullness and all the nuances of reality. They express a distorted point of view based on their own self-centered intentions. Stick to the truth and try to resist generalizations, because this is just a form of completely illogical black and white thinking. Depending on how receptive you think the person is to feedback, you might say, "You're generalizing. There were many examples of the opposite." However, the more toxic the person, the more likely you are to get bogged down in pointless arguments designed to throw you off balance. Try not to fall into this trap, but stick to the primary statement you are trying to convey and end the conversation if the person stoops to personal attacks.

Deliberately distorting your point of view to the point of absurdity. If you dare to disagree with a narcissist, your differences of opinion, emotions, and real experiences turn into character flaws and "evidence" of your irrationality and inability to think critically. This common cognitive bias is called "mind reading." Toxic people claim to know your thoughts and feelings. They regularly jump to conclusions based on their own reactions instead of rationally assessing the situation. These discrepancies may be based on their own illusions and delusions, as well as the need to purposefully unsettle you and divert attention from the problem. Narcissists make up all sorts of tall tales that distort your real words, and as a result, your thoughts look absurd or just monstrous. Instead of acknowledging your emotions, the narcissist distracts you with unimaginable accusations. For example, you point out to a toxic partner that you don't like their way of communicating. In response, he distorts your words: “And you, then, are perfection itself?” or “So you think I’m bad?” - although you just expressed your feelings. Or he may begin to criticize your character, saying: “So you mean to say that I should not have an opinion. You love to be in control too much!” This gives them the opportunity to revoke your right to think and feel about their inappropriate behavior and instills guilt in you when you try to set boundaries.

How to respond to such distortions. The best way to draw a clear line is to repeat, if necessary, “I didn’t say that. Don't speak for me." If the person continues to accuse you of things you didn't do or say, end the conversation. Don't let the toxic person shift the blame and divert the conversation away from their own destructive behavior or make you feel ashamed for daring to speak the truth.

If you cannot avoid interacting with someone (for example, at work), briefly and to the point describe what you did or said and end the conversation.

Change of subject to escape responsibility. I call this maneuver the “And you?” syndrome. It implies a digression from the topic under discussion in order to direct attention to a completely different one. Narcissists don't feel like discussing their personal responsibility, so they divert the conversation to avoid the consequences. Do you complain that he does not devote time to children? He will remind you of the mistake in their upbringing that you made ten years ago. Are you making it clear that his lies are unacceptable? He will mark the moment when you resorted to innocent deception in order not to attend a family event. This maneuver has no temporal or thematic limits and often begins with the words: “What about the time you did it?”

How to avoid this maneuver. Don't get distracted. If the toxic person tries to switch things up, use the broken record method described above: keep repeating the facts without going off topic. Move the arrows back, say: “I'm not talking about that now. Let's concentrate on the problem that is relevant at the moment."

Lure and feigned innocence. Toxic people create a false sense of security in order to be even more destructive in their cruelty. Common tactics include provocative remarks, hurtful jokes, labeling, offensive accusations, and unfounded generalizations. A toxic partner may make a casual comment about a co-worker's good looks or make an inappropriate joke about wanting to have an affair. This is a ploy to test your reaction. Once such a person drags you into a senseless, random quarrel, and it will grow like a snowball, because he does not know sympathy and remorse for tactless behavior. Ordinary disagreement can be a bait, and even if you initially hold back as politeness, you will quickly realize that it is driven by a malicious desire to humiliate you. Hidden humiliation disguised as a joke is a way to get deep into your soul, while avoiding responsibility. Such aggressive injections under the guise of a joke skirmish allow the manipulator to say the most terrible things, while maintaining outward innocence and equanimity. However, every time you are outraged by an insensitive, blunt comment, you are accused of having no sense of humor. After all, it's just a joke! Not at all. This is a way to use gaslighting to make you think that such verbal abuse is just a joke: a way to distract you from your opponent's brutality at the expense of your receptivity. Having lured you with a seemingly innocent comment, they begin to play with your emotions. Remember: narcissists know your vulnerabilities, weaknesses, they know what unpleasant phrases will undermine your self-confidence and what topics will open old wounds. They use this knowledge to provoke you. After you swallow the bait whole, the narcissist will calm down and innocently ask if you're okay, assuring that he "didn't mean" to disturb you. This feigned innocence takes you by surprise and makes you believe he didn't really mean to hurt you, until it starts to happen so often that you can no longer deny his obvious intentional cruelty.

How not to fall for the bait. Watch out if you are bothered by some rude comment, if someone is playing devil's advocate or inappropriately joking. There is usually a reason for this. This will help to understand at what point they are trying to catch you, and will allow you to stop communication as soon as possible. Trust your intuition: if even after the interlocutor has explained what was said, you feel that you have been humiliated, this is a signal to slowly comprehend the situation before reacting. Not everyone is able to express their disagreement respectfully. Remain vigilant and beware of a possible escalation of the conflict.

Instead of responding directly to the bait, say something like "That's interesting" and end the conversation.

This leaves almost no chance to continue the conversation and does not give the manipulator the emotional response he expects. Certainly, such situations will be repeated. Some toxic people will continue their provocation without even getting any emotional response. In this case, it is important to be able to stand up for yourself and make it clear that you will not tolerate such behavior and immediately end the conversation, finally breaking off the relationship.

Trying to answer manipulative people to their hidden provocations can lead to further gaslighting, but stick with your opinion that their behavior is not normal. Be firm by breaking contact with the person who provokes you and encourages you to an emotional reaction. Given your hypersensitivity, it cannot be said that you are "too" sensitive to the provocations of an insensitive person. Your reactions are justified. Trust yourself.

How to use the cleaning method when interacting with a narcissist

Description. If you need to describe the situation to the narcissist, refrain from overly emotional statements and deal with facts, this will help avoid direct confrontation. If possible, use email or text messages to be able to save correspondence. Narcissists feed on your emotional reactions and love to provoke hypersensitive people. Less emotional receptivity is part of a larger technique known as the "grey stone method." It was invented by the victim of a psychopath - a blogger named Skylar. The essence of this technique is that you begin to play the role of an "inconspicuous gray stone" so that the narcissist stops noticing you and does not seek to actively manipulate you, similar to how a hunted animal pretends to be dead to avoid being pursued by a predator. Using less emotional language can help you a lot, because in this case, the narcissist will not get much return from you and will switch to a more accessible victim of provocation and manipulation. In this case, it is effective to use a calm, reserved, or even unemotional tone of voice when presenting facts, or to give short and dry answers when exchanging text or email messages.

Clear wording. When you explain what the narcissist's behavior problem is, it's important to turn the attention away from yourself and onto the possible consequences. Example: "If you do not stop looking for contact with me, I will have to involve law enforcement." Or you can say directly: "Stop following me." You should do this by email or text message in order to be able to save the correspondence.

Use of boundaries. Express your wish directly, but only once via electronic communication channels. For example, if a married man is looking for communication with you, you can write to him: “I do not start relationships with married people. Please don't mess with me again." If he continues to disturb you, you can block his number and social media accounts. If he uses anonymous accounts or multiple phone numbers, save all information: it may be required for legal purposes.

Thank you. In most cases, when interacting with a narcissist, you should not say words of gratitude: do not put your finger in his mouth - he will bite off his whole hand. However, you can pay attention to your needs. If you need to negotiate in a situation where you cannot permanently end the relationship (for example, at work), find a way to meet your needs in one way or another. For example, if a colleague asks you to do most of the work on a project, tell him that you will do your half after he finishes his. Make sure that there is a factor of responsibility or reciprocity so that the person understands that his needs will be met only after yours.

Hardness. Stick to the facts and your goals, regardless of all the manoeuvres, by which the narcissist tries to manipulate you. For example, if you are gaslighted, you can use the broken record method and repeat the same thing. Another option is not to say anything at all, cut off communication with this person and just remind yourself of the real state of things. Bringing yourself back to reality is just as important, if not more so. You don't need the narcissist's permission to end this interaction and take care of yourself.

Compromise. As a general rule, narcissists are incapable of expressing disagreement peacefully, so don't count on honest negotiations with them. They will be furious if you threaten their sense of permissiveness. However, it is important to find unity with your goals, establish contacts with supportive people, connect external resources and expand your capabilities. No matter how vehemently they push your boundaries, keep doing what you do that is good for you and don't let them get away with it. As you observe and gather information about what is happening, keep all the evidence and remember that the narcissist rarely keeps his word. Strive to achieve wholeness within yourself and steadfastly resist the emotional manipulation that the narcissist is sure to use to get his way.

Active show of force. Faking confidence even when you don't feel it is even more important when interacting with a narcissist who is constantly looking for any vulnerabilities. Avoid direct confrontation whenever possible. If that's not possible, use this interaction to boost your confidence. Get a third party to mediate, witness, or give you courage. If you are usually a quiet and gentle conversationalist, in this case, speak in a firm, dry and unshakable tone. If it helps you, take a "strong posture". Maintain eye contact.

Exit strategy

If you suspect you are dealing with a narcissist, implement the steps below. You can use the acronym SUPPORT to remind yourself of your options for getting out of a situation:

About review instead of blame.

P gradual disappearance.

About tvorka.

P relationship breakup and safe departure plan.

A careful observation instead of reaction.

Review instead of blame. Narcissists show their true nature more quickly if they think you have no idea who they really are. A direct confrontation with the narcissist will lead to further manipulation and narcissistic rage, which will get you even more stuck in the cycle of violence. If you suspect that a narcissist is around you, the best option is to mentally prepare for the end of the relationship, while collecting as much information as possible about his character. For example, if you are planning a divorce with a narcissist, do not tell him about it until you have completed all the necessary things: consulting with a divorce lawyer who specializes in working with conflict personalities, contacting a financial adviser who will help you deal with debts and a budget, studying guardianship legislation, opening a separate bank account and finding a place to live. Watch for red flags, and when you notice them, build self-worth by not relying on the narcissist's claims (which will most likely consist of pathological lies, gaslighting, projections, and understatements). His actions and patterns of behavior will tell you much more than any words.

Fading out. Narcissists go berserk when they are ignored and rejected. But instead of directly rejecting them, you can gradually disappear from their lives. Pretend that everything is as usual, but gradually spend less and less of your energy and time on them. Stick to monosyllabic and dry answers in conversations. Step by step, reduce your contribution to the person so that he gets used to the fact that you are not always around. Narcissists cannot stand the lack of attention, so they will try to get narcissistic reinforcement elsewhere.

Excuse. As you gradually disappear from the narcissist's life, it is important to have a convenient excuse—something he finds plausible enough to explain your withdrawal without realizing that you are actually pushing him out of your life. Pretend to be very busy with a work project, emphasize how hard you are working on a term paper, talk about a new task that takes up your time. If this causes more rage, move on to the next step.

Relationship breakdown and safe exit plan. Ultimately, you will need a safe escape plan. Speak with a counseling psychologist, your company's human resources officer, or a domestic violence lawyer to develop an escape plan. Depending on the nature of your relationship with the narcissist and whether or not you live together, you may not have to organize as many activities as it seems.

Careful observation instead of reaction. If you are forced to interact with the narcissist even after the breakup (for example, in the case of co-parenting or at family events), you need to keep your emotions under control. As you already know, narcissists love to provoke you. Notice manipulation tactics, give them names, but do not show the expected reactions. Take a conscious breath and switch to taking care of yourself. Understand exactly what they expect from you, and you will find emotional freedom from their maneuvers.

What is gaslighting

Irina Postnikova

trusts herself

Author profile

There are people whose communication leaves an unpleasant aftertaste.

Somehow they make others feel stupid and worthless, doubt themselves, their adequacy and feelings. This is the result of gaslighting. We talk about what it is in the new issue of the guide to the psyche.

In the previous issue: What is Stockholm Syndrome.

What it is

Gaslighting is manipulative behavior designed to make a person question their perception of reality. Some experts consider it a form of emotional abuse.

Gaslighting can manifest itself in:

  1. Devaluation of feelings. For example, if you are upset by your partner’s behavior, and he tells you in response: “Yes, there’s nothing to worry about” or “I was just joking. ” In any conflict, the gaslighter blames his victim for being overly sensitive and emotionally unstable.
  2. In the distortion of facts in their favor. The person may deny that he told you or promised you something. If you remember it for sure - to claim that you didn’t remember everything that way, misunderstood it, or even made it up.
  3. Blaming others for your mistakes. The gaslighter can convince the victim that it is because of her that he behaves incorrectly. For example, she upsets him or makes him angry.
  4. Inventing fictitious shortcomings for another person and regularly reminding them of them. For example, a gaslighter may constantly talk about how you absolutely do not know how to make money and therefore you should not participate in the adoption of financial matters. Moreover, you earn more than he does.
  5. In spreading rumors and undermining relationships with other people. For example, talking behind your back to others that you are on the verge of a nervous breakdown. And you - that the people around you allegedly treat you badly. Although in reality both are the gaslighter's own inventions.


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Psychologists note that in some cases this behavior may be unconscious. Despite this, it causes tangible harm to the victims.

By instilling false attitudes and beliefs in them, the gaslighter makes them doubt their memories, feelings, thoughts, judgments, their ability to adequately perceive reality, make decisions.

The name of the term - from English "gaslighting" is translated as "gas light" - was given in honor of the 1938 play of the same name. It realistically described this type of psychological abuse. According to the plot, a married couple moves to the house of a deceased aunt. One day, the husband accidentally finds out that priceless jewelry is hidden somewhere in this house, and starts looking for them. And so that his unloved wife does not interfere with him, he begins to convince her that she is insane. For example, when a wife notices that the gas lamps in the house begin to flicker in the evenings, the husband convinces her that it is only her imagination. As a result, the woman really begins to doubt her mental health.

But until the early 2000s, the term "gaslighting" was rarely used. It was popularized by psychoanalyst and director of the Yale Center for the Study of Emotional Intelligence Robin Stern. In 2007, she published the book Hidden Manipulations, in which she analyzed in detail the mechanism of gaslighting and how it affects people who have undergone it.

Stern states that almost everyone has experienced some form of gaslighting at some point in their lives. Most often in romantic relationships. But colleagues, close relatives, friends, parents can also resort to this type of violence. And even, as it is believed, medical workers. For example, if a doctor openly downplays the significance of a patient's symptoms, writes them off as excessive suspiciousness or emotional instability.


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Gaslighting victims often have thoughts and phrases like this:

  • "I'm acting crazy";
  • "I'm just overreacting to everything";
  • "Something bad seems to be happening to me, but I don't understand what it is";
  • "I completely stopped understanding what I feel";
  • "It's my fault that everything goes wrong with us";
  • "I always take everything wrong";
  • "I disappoint everyone around me because I'm too stupid and insecure."

Why do people gaslight

Because of their lack of confidence in themselves and their opinions. Robin Stern says this is the main reason. People who are insecure are often desperate for external confirmation that they are right. This allows them to strengthen their sense of self-importance, reduce the level of internal anxiety. To do this, they use all the methods available to them to force others to accept their point of view, agree with their version of events and subordinate them to themselves.

Because of the desire for power and control. Gaslighters seek to bind their victim to themselves and force them to behave in a way that suits them. Ignore their gaslighting miscalculations, hide their mistakes from others, take on more responsibilities at home or at work. And at the same time, do not complain to anyone.

Due to mental disorders. Some experts believe that gaslighting and manipulation tendencies can be a symptom of personality disorder, narcissistic disorder, and psychopathy. In this case, gaslighters often behave differently with their victim and with those around them. Because of this, the victim often hesitates to ask for help: she thinks that other people simply will not believe her.

Due to relationship difficulties. If one partner is cheating physically or financially—for example, spending large sums on himself and trying to hide it—they may resort to gaslighting to ward off the suspicions of the other partner. And so protect yourself from an unpleasant showdown and try to somehow save them.


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Because of the peculiarities of human psychology. It is psychologically important for people to trust others, to feel their approval. Especially if they are our parents, loved ones or very close friends. With them, we usually feel safe, and then we become less critical of what they say. What gaslighters often use.

What is dangerous

Gaslighting has a negative effect on emotional well-being. Victims often feel frustration, self-doubt, dissatisfaction with themselves, irritation and resentment. But often the reason for these feelings is not fully understood. And therefore they cannot express them and protect themselves.

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Psychologists note that self-esteem can drop catastrophically in people who are systematically and for a long time subjected to gaslighting. They begin to feel powerless and unable to succeed. It becomes difficult for them to make decisions. The risks of developing anxiety and depressive disorders are on the rise.

Even if an abusive relationship can be broken off, gaslighted victims often continue to experience difficulties: it is difficult for them to trust other people, to establish connections with them, to start new relationships. They continue to doubt their adequacy and do not feel fully in touch with reality, notes psychologist Naomi Torres-McKee, who studies the phenomenon of gaslighting. Some experts consider this a manifestation of post-traumatic stress disorder.

What to do

The main difficulty is that victims of gaslighting often do not understand what is happening to them. And that's why you can't defend yourself.

To understand the situation, psychologists suggest the following sequence of actions.

Step 1. After talking to the person you suspect of gaslighting, record your conversation in detail. Then, in a calm atmosphere, carefully read and analyze it, trying to find out if the interlocutor tried to impose his point of view, if it disagrees with what you think you know or feel, if in the process you have doubts about yourself. If so, this could be a sign of gaslighting.

Step 2: Conduct an external audit. Tell a trusted person that you suspect someone of gaslighting by being as specific as possible about your relationship with them. And ask for an honest assessment of the situation: are your suspicions groundless, are your assessments and conclusions adequate. This will help you look at the situation more objectively and remove some of your doubts.

Step 3. Validate your feelings - admit that they are normal, you have a right to them. So you will begin to regain confidence that your reactions are adequate, and the perception of the world corresponds to reality. You can start this work by monitoring your emotions and the patterns of behavior tied to them. Robin Stern recommends using the Mood Meter app for this.


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Step 3: Save your conversations with the gaslighter. If he again tries to twist the facts in his favor or begins to deny that he promised you something in the past, you will have evidence that he is wrong.

If you have been gaslighted by a colleague and boss, this method can also be helpful. After collecting enough evidence, you can contact the HR department and ask them for help.

Step 4. Learn to set boundaries. If you feel that the gaslighter is trying to manipulate you, try not to get into an argument with him. It will still lead nowhere: the purpose of the gaslighter is not to get to the bottom of the truth, but to convince you of his point of view. Better just tell your interlocutor that your opinions do not coincide with him, and offer to end the conversation.

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