Gaslighting in Relationships May Be a Common Manipulation Strategy for Narcissists

Jennifer March, MS

When someone thinks about what truly makes up a narcissist, typically the first thought is manipulation. Narcissists are all about what they can get for themselves. Everything in a narcissist's world centers around their own desires and beliefs. A heavy hand of manipulation comes in when a narcissist needs to ensure or strengthen their power over someone.

One of the most well-known tools that a narcissist uses is gaslighting. Gaslighting is a type of manipulation that causes pure psychological torture. A narcissist will use gaslighting to try and alter some part of your memory or behavior to satisfy their own needs.

According to the APA Dictionary, gaslighting is seen as manipulation that is so intense and extreme that the manipulation causes psychological damage to the victim.

We’ve all had our own experiences with manipulation, gaslighting, and narcissists. One way or anything, we all have experienced some level of narcissist control.

I experienced gaslighting consistent manipulation and abuse at the hands of a family member. This family member displayed odd behaviors that I noticed while growing up. The main behavior I noticed was lies. I caught this family member in too many lies to even keep track of. If I questioned these lies, they would gaslight me.

One of the many manipulations and gaslighting tactics that were used against me were lies. I was lied to constantly by this family member. If I caught that family member in a lie, they would swoop in to promptly correct my memory to support their reality. Even after catching them in lies, I still believed this person because I was raised to never doubt what they said.

Now this family member was well respected within the community. They had a doctorate level degree and was a well established, practicing clinician.

But what I had also noticed is that nothing ever changed with this person. Their routines stayed the same, their lavish lifestyle only got better, their lies increased, and their manipulation became too toxic to handle.

I never wanted to admit that this person was a narcissist because, well, they are family. Why would family say such cruel things to me — why would this well-educated doctor tell me such lies about myself.

It was not until recently that I saw this family member for who they really were: a narcissist.

So I went on to believe that I was everything they said I was. I was the manipulative one, I caused problems, I was greedy, I stole, and most importantly I was a liar.

I truly believed that I was everything the narcissist accused me of being. For much of my teen years, I spent my time trying to undo all of the bad things I had done. Did I know exactly what I had done? Nope. I had no damn idea what I had done that made me such a bad person. But I was persistent in trying to prove that I was better than who I once was.

It wasn’t until early this year when I began to question the narcissist's logic and reasoning. It all started one day when I noticed something odd: what the narcissist had said about me, no one else believed. I had been manipulated into believing such horrid things about myself, that I couldn’t distinguish lies from reality.

It all came to a point for me when my now husband and I were talking. I told him that I had done some awful things in my teen years that I needed to make right. I had expressed how badly I had upset the narcissist, and how I needed to prove to them that I was better.

So my husband asked me a simple question:

“What exactly did you do?”

And that’s when the realization struck me. I hadn’t done anything wrong, I was forced to shift my attention to myself instead of noticing what the narcissist was doing.

There wasn’t a single action that I had done that warranted my negative self-image. But I remember how the narcissist confronted me, him telling me that I was so awful and mean that he would be forced to call the police on me.

I remember feeling so devastated and ashamed of my actions. What left me in a true crisis was the fact that I was unable to find one single action that I had done to warrant calling the police. Regardless, I had made the narcissist so upset that I felt tremendous guilt for my actions.

What was the inciting incident to this situation you might ask? Nothing.

I was 17 years old with so many different life changes occurring that I was lost. Not to mention my struggles with OCD from a young age. I was the narcissist's perfect target. I was a young, impressionable kid who wanted validation and approval by someone who I cared about deeply.

I was not a liar, a cheater, or a manipulator — I was none of that!

I found my freedom by being critical of the narcissist. I examined their behavior patterns and began to understand who they truly were.

Narcissists are empty shells, that need power over other people to feel complete.

I noticed that gaslighting was a common method of behavioral control from the narcissist. By invalidating and shaming their victim, the narcissists ultimately gain power over them.

I have built myself up from what was destroyed by the narcissist. I am a naturally empathetic person, not some monster out for money or control.

Narcissists have an arsenal of various tactics to ensure cooperation and strengthen their manipulation with their victims.

But as I am sitting here writing this I feel overcome with a sense of freedom. I am free from the narcissist's lies and manipulation.

All of my adult years have been built on lies from this narcissist. The narcissist ran my life, and I did not even know it. But now I am free to forge a new path for myself.

This is a new start.

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Psych nerd turned freelance writer | MS in Psychology | Mom of two cats and some house plants | #MentalHealthAdvocate #BeKind

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