Gaslighting is the centerpiece of the narcissistic behavior patterns that plague narcissistic environments. It is often defined as the narcissist’s blatant denial of reality, causing their victims to question their own sanity. However, narcissists aren’t the only people who gaslight others. 

You don’t have to be a narcissist to gaslight someone. In fact, victims of narcissistic abuse will likely experience a variety of non-narcissistic gaslighters on their healing journey. Three types of non-narcissistic gaslighters that they’ll likely come across are non-narcissistic flying monkeys, narcissist enablers, and themselves.

It’s really important to be aware of every single aspect of gaslighting because the structure of narcissistic manipulation that dominates the minds of its victims is held together by gaslighting. So, victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse who take the time to become knowledgeable about gaslighting place themselves in a position from which they can dismantle the entire structure that keeps them trapped within the narcissistic abuse cycle. 

The Three Types of Non-Narcissistic Gaslighters

As we suggested before, the importance of learning the three types of non-narcissistic gaslighters is immeasurable. However, you have to be really careful when doing so. The reason being that these three types of non-narcissistic gaslighters that you’ll learn about shortly, gaslight victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse by accident. 

Even though it is just as dangerous, they aren’t purposely trying to gaslight victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse. This is a tricky situation to be in because after months, years, and even decades of narcissistic abuse, it doesn’t really matter what their intentions are, gaslighting has the potential to throw victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse back into the abuse cycle. 

A victim of narcissistic abuse falling into the narcissistic abuse cycle

Non-Narcissistic Flying Monkeys

The traditional definition of a flying monkey is someone who is manipulated by a narcissist into participating in their smear campaign of the victim. They’ve been known to be quite narcissistic themselves, attempt to manipulate the victim into reconciling with the narcissist, extract information out of the victim to report back to the narcissist and much more. 

However, there’s a lot more to them than just that. You see, there are three types of flying monkeys. There are flying monkeys who have been forced into the role, flying monkeys who have been manipulated into the role, and flying monkeys who have volunteered for the role. 

A flying monkey who has been forced into the role is very common to see in social environments like families and workplaces.

Why? 

The characteristic and personality traits of narcissists often put them in leadership roles. Not because they’re noble or deserve it, but because they’re willing to step on the necks of others for their own gain and we live in a society that consistently rewards that type of narcissistic behavior.

Therefore in environments where there’s a hierarchy like families and workplaces narcissists often find themselves at the top of the social food chain. This is so dangerous because narcissists have a very insecure need for power and control. 

You can read more about the origin of this insecure need in our article How Are Narcissist Made but one of the ways that they fulfill this need is through a manipulative behavior called triangulation.

Triangulation is all about the narcissist making one-one-one situations into two or more-on-one situations. In our article What Does Triangulation Look Like we speak about all the different ways that narcissists can triangulate others but we’d like to focus your attention on a very common method they use, their behavior. 

A narcissist always has a scapegoat, a person who is essentially a repository for their negative emotions and gets the worst of their abuse. When those around the narcissist witness the inhumane, cruel, and evil levels of abuse that the narcissist’s scapegoat endures, they often side with the narcissist out of the fear of becoming the target of their wrath if they don’t.

In a perfect world, onlookers would effortlessly be able to stand up for the scapegoat. However, in social environments that narcissists dominate, there are a numerous number of terrifying consequences for stepping in between a narcissist and their scapegoat.

Two reasons that standing up to a narcissist in a social setting is hard

So, non-narcissistic flying monkeys are people who are forced or manipulated into the role. In adulthood, it doesn’t necessarily excuse their behavior, but it doesn’t mean that they are narcissistic either. 

For those of you dealing with non-narcissistic flying monkeys, our article Do Flying Monkeys Ever See the Truth guides you through the confusion and helps you determine whether or not you should rebuild a connection you once had with a flying monkey who was forced and/or manipulated into their betrayal.

Non-Narcissistic Narcissist Enablers

People who don’t understand narcissism and don’t take the time to learn the basics when they cross paths with it are called narcissist enablers. They don’t have any malicious intentions but they can be just as dangerous as the narcissist. 

How?

We spoke about this in our article How to Stop Ruminating After Narcissistic Abuse but the confusion, self-doubt, self-blame, and anxiety that narcissistic abuse creates often hijacks the victim’s identity and causes them to lose sight of their core values.

What ends up happening is that when the victim begins to acknowledge that what they’re experiencing is abuse, they’ll begin to confide in other people. 

However, they aren’t opening up about the abuse because they’re certain that it is in fact abuse, they’re opening up because confusion, self-doubt, self-blame, and anxiety is so destabilizing that they need someone else to help validate their own reality. 

It’s in these situations that narcissist enablers are just as, if not more, dangerous as the narcissist. The reason being that narcissist enablers are notorious for accidentally gaslighting victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse. If a victim or survivor were to accidentally confide in a narcissist enabler about the abuse they were experiencing, the enabler’s ignorance could push them back into the abuse cycle. 

12 Things That a Narcissist Enabler Would Say

  1. Well, relationships aren’t meant to be easy so maybe you just need to work harder. 
  2. You shouldn’t speak about your mother/father that way… They love you!
  3. That doesn’t sound like (blank), are you sure it happened like that?
  4. Oh it is just a harmless sibling rivalry. 
  5. You have no right to be diagnosing people like that, maybe you’re the narcissist!
  6. Maybe if I talk to him/her for you then the two of you could work things out!
  7. (blank) is just a really driven person, don’t worry about it.
  8. Why don’t you just leave if it is as bad as you are claiming it is.
  9. Are you seriously calling him/her narcissistic? Just because they’re competitive?
  10. It’s not fair for you to try to keep your children’s mother/father away from them.
  11. Well he/she didn’t force you to give him/her all of that money, you made that choice all by yourself.
  12. It sounds like you might be overreacting a little bit.

There is one really good thing about narcissist enablers though. With the right approach, a narcissist enabler can be converted into a very valuable supporter. Those who don’t understand narcissism get really defensive and standoffish when victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse use words like narcissism, narcissist, or narcissistic. They automatically assume that victims and survivors are diagnosing their abuser and miss the fact that all they’re doing is describing their abuser’s behavior. 

We cover this much more thoroughly in our article How to Explain Narcissism to Others but if victims and survivors were to solely focus on the behavior patterns, personality, and characteristics of the narcissist when confiding in others, they’d be much more likely to create supporters instead of adversaries. 

A narcissist enabler getting angry at a victim of narcissistic abuse for calling her abuser narcissistic
A victim of narcissistic abuse focusing on describing the behavior patterns of her abuser to loved ones.

Gaslighting coming from a narcissist enabler is really dangerous but it doesn’t make them a narcissist, just uneducated about narcissistic abuse. 

Victims and Survivors Gaslighting Themselves

Experiencing narcissistic abuse causes victims to develop a corrupted sense of self and others, but it’s also important to acknowledge that narcissistic abuse teaches victims to gaslight themselves. 

The superglue that holds narcissistic relationships together is cognitive dissonance, a theory that suggests the psychological tension that we feel when we experience an inconsistency among the beliefs we carry, behavior we see, and information we have, we change one or more of the elements that are making everything inconsistent to make things consistent. 

In narcissistic relationships this manifests in the form of the justification, rationalization, and ultimately normalization of narcissistic abuse. Stepping back and looking at the nature of the narcissistic abuse cycle and all of the abusive behaviors embedded within it is really sad. 

We all desire healthy, happy, and secure relationships because the thought of being truly alone is scary. 

The structure of manipulation that narcissistic abuse creates is designed to exploit that fear. A narcissist will use narcissistic mirroring, a behavior designed to reflect core aspects of the victim’s identity, to place the victim up on an emotional pedestal just long enough for them to feel healthy, happy, and secure in the relationship, then suddenly kick the pedestal out from under them to begin the devaluation phase. 

After months of believing that they were in a healthy, happy, and secure environment, the initiation of the devaluation phase causes a significant amount of psychological tension. To ease this tension, victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse will try to protect their emotional stability with cognitive dissonance by justifying, rationalizing, and ultimately normalizing the abuse that they’re enduring.

This is incredibly dangerous because it teaches the victims of narcissistic abuse to be comfortable gaslighting themselves. Once one reaches a certain level of comfort with gaslighting themselves, it is really hard to come back from, even with the help of a medical professional which is part of the reason why the National Domestic Violence Hotline has stated that on average it takes seven times for a victim to leave their abuser for good.

Obviously a victim or survivor of narcissistic abuse gaslighting themselves doesn’t make them narcissistic, it just puts them in a lot of danger. 

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

The more information you have about narcissistic abuse the easier it is to escape the abuse cycle. It’s our hope that this article has inspired you to dive deeper into the hidden aspects of narcissistic abuse to find the information you need to protect you and your loved ones from the narcissist in your life. 

Gaslighting is the most dominant form of manipulation in the narcissistic realm because of how versatile it is. It can manifest in nearly every single narcissistic behavior pattern imaginable. However there’s a way that you can take its power and use it against the narcissist in a non-toxic manner. 

Check out our article Is It Possible to Gaslight a Narcissist? (Advice From 432 Survivors) for more information! 


All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References:

Rietdijk, N. W. (You Drive Me) Crazy: How Gaslighting Undermines Autonomy. MS thesis. 2018.

Tormoen, Madeline. “Gaslighting: How Pathological Labels Can Harm Psychotherapy Clients.” Journal of Humanistic Psychology, July 2019,