Narcissists are damaged individuals forced into a cyclical life in which they’re either on top of the world or down in the dumps.
There is no in-between for a narcissist, and the downsides are so extreme and unpleasant that they’ll do everything they can to avoid them, including gaslighting you.
Narcissists use gaslighting to manipulate their victims and make themselves look and feel better.
They employ various gaslighting techniques to achieve their goal – to make you believe their version of events over your own.
Gaslighting tactics like denial, countering, withdrawal, and projection, are all very different, but their purpose is the same – to make you doubt your reality and question your state of mind.
Today, I want to draw attention to some of the most common gaslighting tactics narcissists use to manipulate you so you can identify them, control your reactions to them, and prevent yourself from falling for the narcissist’s manipulative tricks.
10 Gaslighting Tactics Narcissists Use To Manipulate You
Denial is one of the narcissist’s favorite gaslighting tactics. The narcissist casts doubt on your perception of reality by denying events, statements, or actions.
Instead of accepting the truth, they create an alternate version of events that aligns with their desired narrative.
Imagine you asked your narcissistic partner to bring you a change of shoes because you broke your heel on your way to work. When you see him, he has no shoes and denies being asked to bring them.
“How can I have forgotten something I was never asked to do?” he demands.
Instead of acknowledging his wrongdoing, he adamantly denies the event, leaving you confused and uncertain of your own memory.
The denial gaslighting tactic is insidious because it erodes your confidence and replaces it with self-doubt. Over time, this can lead to a loss of identity and an overwhelming reliance on the narcissist.
By dismissing your emotions or reactions as overblown or invalid, the narcissist makes you question the validity of your feelings and fear you’re overreacting.
The narcissist uses this gaslighting tactic to distort reality and erode your self-confidence by downplaying or invalidating your emotional responses, leaving you confused and self-doubt.
Let’s say you tell your narcissistic partner that you felt uncomfortable when he flirted with someone else at a party. Instead of acknowledging that his behavior caused you distress, he belittles your emotions, telling you you’re overreacting.
This calculated dismissal undermines the validity of your feelings and reactions, creating an atmosphere where the narcissist’s perspective is elevated above all else.
As you internalize this dismissiveness pattern, you question the authenticity of your feelings and reactions. Over time, you may hesitate to express yourself or even doubt the validity of your own emotional experiences.
#3 Changing the Subject
Narcissists use this gaslighting tactic to avoid accepting responsibility and divert attention from their own wrongdoing.
This calculated maneuver involves the narcissist swiftly shifting the focus of a conversation away from their actions, sidestepping accountability and leaving you disoriented.
Imagine you confront your partner about why he’s been out so late at night recently. Instead of acknowledging the behavior and explaining, he starts talking about your recent work schedule and how busy you’ve been, suggesting that you’re to blame.
In this scenario, the narcissist’s strategy is two-fold. First, they sidestep the uncomfortable topic by making you feel as though your concerns are misplaced or exaggerated.
Second, they imply that your actions somehow prompted their behavior, making you question your perspective and potentially doubt the validity of your feelings.
This calculated manipulation aims to leave you feeling off-balance and discouraged from pursuing the original topic of conversation.
You tell your narcissistic partner you’re feeling betrayed after he spent the whole evening talking to their work colleague instead of you. Rather than seeing things from your point of view, they lash out, accusing you of making a mountain out of a molehill.
“We had a few things that needed discussing, and I thought you were mature enough to deal with it,” he says. This response invalidates your feelings and experiences, making you doubt the legitimacy of your emotions and causing you to question whether you’re indeed “overreacting.”
For more gaslighting examples like this, read my article 12 Examples Of Narcissist Gaslighting In Relationships.
By belittling your feelings, the narcissist minimizes the impact of their behavior on you and casts doubt on the validity of your emotional response.
When using this gaslighting tactic, a narcissist will question your version of events or even attempt to rewrite history.
A narcissist using this tactic might insist that certain events never occurred, that conversations didn’t unfold the way you recall, or that your memory is unreliable.
For instance, if you confront a narcissist about a promise they made and they deny ever making it, they’re attempting to cast doubt on your memory.
This tactic is particularly effective because memories are personal and subjective, making them susceptible to manipulation.
By making you question your own recall, the narcissist gains control over the narrative, creating confusion and self-doubt.
To counter this gaslighting tactic, it’s essential to trust your own memory and seek validation from external sources whenever possible.
Narcissists intentionally withhold information, communication, or emotional support to create confusion, anxiety, and dependency.
By controlling access to crucial elements of a relationship, the narcissist gains power and maintains the upper hand.
Narcissists employ withholding in various ways. For instance, they might deliberately avoid answering questions, ignore messages, or give vague responses to create a sense of uncertainty.
They may also withhold affection, praise, or emotional validation as a form of punishment.
The narcissist’s intermittent positive reinforcement—alternating between providing and withholding attention or affection—creates a cycle of emotional highs and lows that keeps you constantly trying to obtain their approval.
By manipulating your emotional needs, the narcissist reinforces the belief that your worth and happiness are dependent on the narcissist’s actions.
Your self-esteem will plummet as you continually seek the narcissist’s validation, furthering your emotional dependence on them.
When narcissists use the blocking or diverting tactic, they strategically redirect conversations and topics, reallocating blame to avoid taking responsibility for their actions or confuse you.
Imagine you confront a narcissist about how they’re consistently late. Instead of admitting to their poor time management, they swiftly change the subject and start pointing the finger at you, claiming you’re overly controlling or obsessed with punctuality.
This diversionary tactic deflects attention from their behavior while subtly shifting the blame onto you.
As a result, you’re left feeling invalidated and frustrated, questioning whether your concerns are legitimate or if you’re indeed being too demanding.
This manipulation can lead to a distorted reality where the narcissist’s actions are downplayed and your feelings marginalized.
#8 False Accusations
Narcissists who use this gaslighting tactic falsely accuse their victims of doing things they themselves are guilty of.
For instance, they may accuse you of flirting with other people when it’s actually them that has a roving eye.
By doing this, the narcissist makes you defend yourself against their accusations, effectively diverting attention from their actions and shifting the focus onto your supposed wrongdoings.
This gaslighting technique is highly effective in confusing and disorienting the victim. You find yourself caught up in defending your innocence, giving the narcissist control of the narrative.
#9 Gaslight by Proxy
Some narcissists will even get others involved in their gaslighting, influencing their perceptions to make it seem like you’re the one who’s mistaken, irrational, or unreliable.
For instance, the narcissist might share distorted versions of events or exaggerate your reactions to others, making you appear unreliable or emotionally unstable.
This can cause those around you to doubt your credibility and side with the narcissist.
Or you might confide in a mutual friend about the narcissist’s abusive behavior only to be met by astonishment.
This creates a form of “tribe gaslighting” where the disbelief and minimization of others mirror the tactics used by the narcissist.
Many gaslighting examples highlight the use of projection as a gaslighting tactic.
If a narcissist is cheating on you, for instance, they might turn the tables and accuse you of being unfaithful, using projection as a psychological defense mechanism.
By accusing you of having the traits or intentions that the narcissist possesses, they create confusion and doubt in your mind, making you question your own reality.
The narcissist’s projection deflects attention from their actions and puts you on the defensive, forcing you to prove your innocence rather than addressing the narcissist’s behavior.
By projecting their own faults onto others, narcissists maintain control over the narrative and avoid accountability for their actions.
Remember, if you suspect you are a victim of gaslighting, it is crucial to seek support from a professional therapist or counselor.
Is Gaslighting Intentional?
Most gaslighting is intentional, and many narcissists use these manipulative tactics with deliberate purpose.
Fully aware of the psychological impact of their actions and words, narcissists strategically employ gaslighting to gain control over their victims, undermine their confidence, and maintain a sense of power in the relationship.
But sometimes, gaslighting can be unintentional.
How Do You Know You Are Being Gaslighted?
If you notice consistent patterns of manipulation or distortion, you could be experiencing gaslighting.
How do you know the narcissist is gaslighting you? Read my article to find out more about the signs of gaslighting and how to respond to different gaslighting tactics so your self-esteem and sense of reality remain intact.
Why do Narcissists Gaslight?
Narcissists use gaslighting to control their victims and undermine their confidence and self-esteem.
Gaslighting enables them to avoid facing up to their faults and continue living in an alternate reality where their superiority and perceived perfection go unchallenged.
By distorting your perception of reality and fostering doubt in your judgments, narcissists can perpetuate their dominance and manipulate situations to their advantage.
This control over the narrative allows narcissists to perpetuate a facade of grandiosity, deflecting any accountability for their actions while keeping you emotionally dependent and disoriented.
How Common is Gaslighting for Narcissists?
Many narcissists use gaslighting tactics daily, whether they’re aware of it or not.
Studies and clinical observations have shown that narcissists use gaslighting to undermine their victims’ perceptions, self-confidence, and autonomy.
Although the exact frequency may vary from one individual to the next, in general, gaslighting is a common tool that narcissists use to exert power and maintain dominance over their victims.
Can You Protect Yourself from Being Gaslighted?
The best way to protect yourself against gaslighting is to avoid it altogether. Gaslighting hinges on the involvement of both a gaslighter and a victim, so if you withdraw from the interaction, you can prevent further gaslighting.
Getting the support of trusted friends, family members, and mental health professionals like myself can also help counteract the emotional toll of gaslighting.
By prioritizing self-care, practicing critical thinking, and staying grounded, you can become more resilient to gaslighting and give yourself a fighting chance of surviving the experience.