Are You Being Gaslighted By a Narcissist?

...or is there another explanation for the person's behaviour?

Posted Nov 24, 2020

Gaslighting and narcissism often go hand in hand. Narcissists are renowned for being highly manipulative, controlling individuals who are lacking in empathy; gaslighting is a perfect way for them to exert control over other people. Given narcissists’ capacity for delusional thinking and lying—along with their fragile egos and their need to involve other people as their "flying monkeys"—it’s easy to see why narcissists employ gaslighting to maintain their supremacy over others.

Gaslighting refers to a situation in which you are forced to question your reality—for instance, by being told you’ve over-exaggerated a situation, you can’t take a “bit of fun,” or that your version of events never took place. 

Ethan Sykes, Unsplash
Source: Ethan Sykes, Unsplash

Narcissists gaslight because:

  • It’s an effective means to gain control.
  • They can take the higher ground by never admitting they’re in the wrong.
  • They can make you feel bad about yourself.
  • They can convince other people that you’re in the wrong.
  • Gaslighting fits in with their capacity for lying.
  • Gaslighting is an effective way to attack the core of who you are—potentially making you more willing to do what the narcissist wants you to do and to become dependent on them.

If you’ve been on the receiving end of gaslighting, it’s easy to assume that your gaslighter is a narcissist. But while they may well be, there could be other reasons for their gaslighting behaviours. 

Learned Behaviour

If your gaslighter was raised in a family where gaslighting was part of the norm, it may be that they have learned this behaviour. While it’s possible that someone raised in this environment will become narcissistic themselves—particularly if their parents were narcissists—it could be that gaslighting seems like a natural behaviour for them to engage in, given their own experiences. They may engage in gaslighting without displaying the full suite of narcissistic qualities. 

Fear-Based Response

Your gaslighter may have personality traits, or a personality disorder, which is not narcissism but which stems from a point of past trauma and fear. For instance, if your partner has abandonment issues, they may find all kinds of manipulative ways of making you stay with them—including gaslighting. In this case, it could be that their behaviour only comes to the fore when they feel particularly threatened and have found themselves in a situation which has triggered a strong sense of fear.  

Conflict Avoidance

If your gaslighter is someone who hates confrontation, and is far more likely to find passive-aggressive ways of dealing with issues, they may resort to gaslighting instead of being open and honest with you. Part of someone’s need for conflict avoidance and the resulting passive-aggressive behaviour may stem from the fact that it was unsafe when they were growing up to openly express an opinion or to be honest about their needs without this descending into conflict of an unsafe nature.

Not all gaslighting, then, stems from the point of narcissism. But if you’re on the receiving end of this type of behaviour, you need to call it out—whatever the reasons underlying your gaslighter’s behaviour. Being gaslighted calls into question your sense of reality, affects your self-esteem, and keeps you trapped in undesirable situations. Whether or not your gaslighter is a narcissist, you need to either confront them about their behaviour or leave the situation. If a gaslighter isn’t a narcissist, they may have the capacity for greater self-awareness and a greater willingness to seek help for their damaging behaviour.