How Gaslighting And Narcissism Are Related

By Russ Womack|Updated June 22, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Robin Brock , LISW

Specific traits that make up mental health conditions are rarely, if ever, isolated. In fact, it's been estimated that 45 percent of people with one mental health condition meet the criteria for two or more disorders. Take depression and anxiety, for example. One study found that half of the people with either anxiety or depression have the other condition. A few of the common symptoms between the two are:

Discover More About The Connection Between Gaslighting And Narcissism
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  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping

Some of the symptoms you'll find in one condition, you'll find in the other. But when we speak of depression and anxiety, we're talking about a condition where someone is emotionally and physically struggling with no desire or intention of hurting or manipulating others. That's not the same with gaslighting and narcissism, though. Gaslighters and narcissists have the motive to gain something only for themselves.

Let's look at some common traits with gaslighting and narcissism, and then follow up with danger signs to look for when in a relationship with a gaslighter or narcissist.

What Are Gaslighting And Narcissism?

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation and brainwashing to make the victim doubt and ultimately lose their sense of perception, identity, and self-worth. The term "gaslighting" comes from the 1938 British play Gas Light, where a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy using various tricks, thereby causing her to question her perceptions and sanity.

A narcissistic personality disorder is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, are involved in troubled relationships, and lack empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that's vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

How Gaslighting And Narcissism Are Related

The Lie And Exaggerate

Both gaslighters and narcissists are prone to frequent lies and exaggerations about themselves and others and tend to lift themselves by putting others down. Narcissists and gaslighters can be adept at the distortion of facts, deliberate falsehoods, character assassinations, and negative coercions. Why is it so effective when gaslighters and narcissists continue their lie, even when the evidence points toward a blatant lie? Because it works! First, you get confused as to why someone would outright lie, and then when caught in the lie, would downright deny it, poker face and all. Most people, when caught in a lie, will admit to it and apologize. But not a gaslighter or narcissist, and it goes against what you know as normal human behavior, which is exactly their weapon of choice.

They Rarely Admit Flaws And Are Highly Sensitive When Criticized

Narcissists and gaslighters rarely admit fault. And when they do, be assured that it's not for your benefit, but theirs. They may put on the mask of admission, but more likely, it's only to get something they want. Keep in mind that it all about their needs, their progress, their gain. However, many narcissists and gaslighters have thin skin and emotional sensitivities, and therefore will react defensively when called to account for their negative behavior. When challenged, they are likely to either fight back with temper tantrums, excuse-making, denial, blame, or they might take flight by abruptly leaving, avoiding the other person, giving the silent treatment, or other forms of passive-aggressiveness.

False Image Projection

As stated before, narcissists and gaslighters are ultimately insecure and thin-skinned. To counteract this lack of confidence, they will project false and exaggerated images of themselves. Many narcissists like to impress others by making themselves look good externally. On the other hand, gaslighters create this idealized self-image of themselves not by puffing themselves up but rather demoralizing others, obtaining the same result of superiority. They will achieve this through several tactics:

  • This is when the gaslighter feigns a lack of understanding, refuses to listen, and declines to share their emotions ("I'm not listening to this!", "You're just trying to mess with my mind!")
  • The gaslighter questions the partner's memory despite the victim having remembered things correctly ("Are you sure about that?" "Look what happened the last time you thought you were right!")
  • The gaslighter redirects the conversation from the point at hand to questioning the partner's thoughts, thus once again controlling the conversation ("What are you even talking about?", "I'm not discussing this again!")
  • Convincing the partner that their views and emotions aren't important ("Are you going to let something so small ruin what we have?")
  • Forgetting / Denial. They pretend to forget things that have occurred to manipulate/brainwash their partner to believe the act didn't happen ("What are you talking about?" "You're exaggerating.")

Rule Breaking And Boundary Violation

Many narcissists and gaslighters enjoy getting away with violating rules. For example, narcissists might do something as seemingly benign as cut in line at the movies, purposefully under-tip a waiter or waitress, invade another person's personal space, borrow items without returning them, use another person's things without asking, disobey minor traffic laws, break appointments without calling ahead to reschedule, and not following through on promises. Gaslighters will, as seen previously, use more demeaning tactics like subtle degrading remarks, public or private shaming and humiliation, angry and hateful speech, and hostile attacks on what they perceive as undesirable individuals and groups.

Emotional Coercion

For most of the partners of gaslighters and narcissists, frequent manipulation and subsequent suffering are where most of the damage is caused. Both gaslighters and narcissists thrive upon spreading and breeding negative emotions to feel important and powerful while keeping their partners insecure and off-balance. They manipulate and twist other's thoughts and feelings, and in the course of action, show little if any remorse for causing pain to the people in their lives, including loved ones. In fact, they often blame their victims for having caused their pain and troubles ("Well, this wouldn't happen to you if you weren't so lazy!). Many narcissists and gaslighters have unpredictable mood swings, and you are prone to be swept up in a dangerous and upsetting emotional drama.

Manipulation

Discover More About The Connection Between Gaslighting And Narcissism

The bottom line is that both gaslighters and narcissists have one main goal in mind-to do whatever they want to benefit themselves and get what they want no matter the cost, creating pain, heartache, or trauma to the other person. And no one is exempt. If you're in their way of what they desire, then you're fair game. And one of the primary tactics that both gaslighters and narcissists use is manipulation.

Gaslighters conduct psychological manipulation toward individuals and groups through persistent distortion of the truth to cause their victims to question themselves and feel less confident. Simultaneously, narcissists will falsely position themselves, whether in a relationship, at work, or in society, as the "expert" or "authority" on all subject matters. And just like the gaslighter, the narcissist will criticize or judge others, all while using their "position" as validation.

Gaslighters and narcissists can cause immense trauma in a relationship, whether it be a partnership, a marriage, or friends and family. Worse yet, you could very well be traumatized even before being consciously aware of it. Here are some of the dangers that gaslighting and narcissism can do to a relationship.

The Dangers Of Gaslighting And Narcissism Relationships

They Erode Your Trust In Yourself

The main strategy of both a gaslighter and a narcissist is to convince you that you can't live without them and that to survive, you'll need to rely on them completely. The gaslighter will demean and insult their partner more aggressively, while the narcissist will make their partner believe they are less than because, well, they are superior.

They Erode Your Trust In Other People

As kids, we believe that everyone is good and kind, and loving. But as we get older, life has thrown a few heavy punches at us; we realize that not everyone is angelic. Nevertheless, we still hold on to the hope that there are still kind people in the world. And then it happens: when we become close to a gaslighter or narcissist, their actions and selfish ways can all but diminish the remaining hope we had for the world.

They Hurt Your Relationships With Friends And Family

Often in relationships with gaslighters and narcissists, you're well into the relationship before realizing how down and out you are. And by then, your partner has met your closest friends and has had dinner with the family. And with the subtle, almost stealth manipulative and cunning ways of gaslighters and narcissists, you might end up at a point where you believe them over your friends and family, and damage can be done.

They Make You Not Want To Be In A Relationship Again

After experiencing such a traumatic experience where you've been manipulated, controlled, and used for the mere pleasure and desire of someone who cares nothing about you, it's no surprise that you might be very wary of stepping back into the single scene again. At the very least, you'll more likely be overly cautious and skeptical.

They Make You Forget Who You Are

After being run through the mill with a gaslighter or narcissist, you might very well be at a place personally where you've lost most or all the identity of who you are. After all, the relationship was all about them, not you. As a result, you might have forgotten who you are, what you like to do, and what you need and desire.

Gaslighters and narcissists are sly and devious, all to fill a void within their emotional selves. They feel inadequate and empty, and instead of seeking help, they prey upon others to fill that need, all the while leaving a path of destruction in their wake. Being in a relationship with a gaslighter or narcissist can be confusing and damaging, and it's important to realize that it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. It's important not to take on guilt or shame for not seeing the red flags, and seeking professional help is a great option to help you through this. You are not alone. ReGain has professional counselors who understand dynamics like this and are looking forward to speaking with you and getting you positioned for your new life. Online counseling through ReGain can be reached from the comfort and convenience of your own home (or wherever you have an internet connection).

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