What is gaslighting, and why do narcissists use it? 

Have you heard the term ‘gaslighting’? Or are you worried someone may be gaslighting you? Find out what it is and why narcissists use it. 

The term ‘narcissism’ has been gaining more and more attention in the past few years, as people become more aware of the damaging effects it can have on people and relationships. 

And one of the most powerful and damaging tactics used by narcissists is something called ‘gaslighting’, a form of psychological manipulation that can leave people feeling confused, doubting their own reality, and questioning their sanity. 

In this article, we’ll explore what gaslighting is, how it relates to narcissism, and what you can do if you or someone you know is being gaslit by a narcissist.

What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse used by narcissist to cause people to doubt their own feelings, instincts, and even their sanity. 

The term originates from a 1938 stage play called Gas Light. In the play, a husband tries to drive his wife crazy by dimming the (gas-powered, hence the name) lights in their home. When his wife mentions the lights, he denies they have changed.

Narcissists use gaslighting in the same way. This can include denying something happened, insisting on a different version of events, or even making someone believe they are crazy or irrational. 

Gaslighting is usually done in a gradual, subtle way over time, making it hard for you to notice until it becomes a pattern of behaviour. 

Why do narcissist use gaslighting?

Narcissists often use gaslighting as a form of manipulation to gain and maintain control over someone. They can also use it to deflect blame or criticism, or to make themselves feel superior. 

Narcissists often have a grandiose sense of self-importance and entitlement, which makes them feel like they can do no wrong. Gaslighting is a way for them to reinforce this belief and keep their victims under their control.

Eight signs of gaslighting by a narcissist

So how can you tell if a narcissist is using gaslighting on you? If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, or even related to, friends with or are working with one, it is important to be aware of the signs of gaslighting. 

Some of the eight most common signs of gaslighting include:

  1. The narcissist denies saying or doing something that you clearly remember.
  2. They tell you that your perception of reality is wrong or that you are imagining things.
  3. They twist your words or make you doubt what you said.
  4. They diminish your feelings or experiences by saying things like, “You’re just being paranoid”, or, “You are imagining things.”
  5. They try to convince you that other people are better than you, or that you are not good enough.
  6. They tell you that they are the only people who understand you, and that others are pretending to like or respect you. 
  7. They isolate you from friends and family, so eventually you rely solely on them for validation and support.
  8. They use your vulnerabilities or insecurities against you, making you doubt your own worth and abilities.

What are common signs of a narcissist to look out for?

Narcissists who use gaslighting often share many common traits. For example, they can appear to be very charming and charismatic, but behind this friendly facade they are manipulative and controlling. 

Narcissists often use charm to hook you in (this is known as ‘love bombing’), but once they feel secure that they have you within their power, they drop the facade and the real them emerges. This is when they will become critical and judgemental. 

Narcissists are also usually excellent at playing the victim or martyr. And if you try to confront them about their behaviour, they will probably attempt to make you feel guilty, or gaslight you into believing that you are making a fuss over nothing, or that you are the one who is in the wrong. You may end up finding yourself apologising for something they have done!

Gaslighting narcissists often have a history of lying and deception, too. They find it difficult to take responsibility for their own actions, and will usually try to find a way to blame somebody else. Professionally, they are fond of using a strategy called virtuous victim signalling to move focus and blame away from themselves.

How can you deal with gaslighting?

If you’re experiencing gaslighting from a narcissist, it is important to seek out support and guidance. Here are some things you can do if you are in relationship with someone using gaslighting:

  • Trust your instincts and perceptions. Don’t allow the narcissist to make you doubt yourself.
  • Keep a journal or record of events, so you have your own, concrete reminder of what happened.
  • Get support from friends, family, or a therapist who can help you process your experiences and give you validation.
  • Set boundaries with the narcissist and stick to them. Don’t allow them to manipulate you or make you doubt your worth.
  • Consider leaving the relationship if the gaslighting and narcissistic behaviour continues and impacts your mental health and wellbeing.

If the gaslighter is a member of your family or a friend, try to distance yourself as much as possible. (Here are nine signs you are in a toxic friendship.)

How to spot and deal with a narcissist at work

It may well be that you are working for or with a gaslighting narcissist. Here are some signs of a narcissist at work to look out for. 

Your manager may tell you that you are failing to meet expectations or targets, even though you know that you are. Or they could tell you (and others) that you aren’t working hard enough or being productive. Perhaps they might tell you, or insinuate that you aren’t good enough for the job. They may talk about needing to get someone in to help you, or even replace you.  

Eventually you can begin to doubt yourself and your ability to top the job. You may feel as if you aren’t good enough or working hard enough. If you start to experience these feelings, it is a warning sign that you may be being gaslit. 

A manager or colleague should encourage you, bring out your best and build your confidence, not belittle you or criticise you with no constructive suggestions on what you can do to improve (with acknowledgements of your strengths and/or potential). 

If you suspect you are working with or for a gaslighter, make sure you keep evidence of everything you say or do, as they will happily lie to make themselves look good and get you into trouble. And keep a note of everything you are asked to do, your targets and job description, so you can prove to yourself and others (if needed) that you have more than adequately fulfilled your duties. 

Protect yourself from narcissists who use gaslighting 

Gaslighting is a toxic tactic used by narcissists to control and manipulate you. If you suspect you are being gaslight, it is important to get support and validation from people you trust. 

And always remember, you deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, and no one has the right to make you doubt your own reality. So if someone makes you feel bad or doubt yourself, reconsider your relationship with them, and take steps to protect yourself and remove them from your life, as much as possible. 

Read more about narcissists and gaslighting

You can read more advice on dealing with toxic narcissists in these articles:

Photo by Remy_Loz