A narcissist’s ability to manipulate the people that they abuse into feeling crazy is to blame for the continuation of many narcissistic relationships. When you feel crazy it allows the narcissist to manipulate you into accepting their twisted version of reality and keeps you justifying, rationalizing, and normalizing their abuse for months, years, and even decades. 

The most common manipulative techniques that narcissists use to make you feel crazy are gaslighting, intermittent reinforcement, a combination of baiting and self-victimization, and hoovering. 

This article is going to help you understand the different manipulative techniques that narcissists use to make you feel crazy. 

Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a manipulative technique that occurs when someone doubts or denies your reality. If you called out the narcissist in your life for calling you stupid and then they said, “You are just looking for problems now. I never called you stupid!” that would be considered gaslighting. 

However, before we unpack the 6 types of gaslighting that make people feel crazy, it is important that you know that gaslighting is much more than just manipulative lies and deceptive wording.

What makes gaslighting, gaslighting, is the environment that you’re in. There typically are dozens of manipulative behaviors (e.g. mirroring, narcissistic rage, love bombing, baiting, intermittent reinforcement, etc.) that coexist in gaslighting environments and they all help the narcissist in your life manipulate you into questioning your sanity and doubting your own reality.

A lack of knowledge about gaslighting can cause those experiencing narcissistic abuse to feel crazy because they don’t know what to do. They want to protect their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs from the narcissist in their life but part of them questions the morality of doing so.

A victim of narcissistic abuse going crazy over the narcissist's gaslighting tactics

The traditional form of gaslighting occurs when someone doubts or denies your thoughts, feelings, emotions, or needs.

“Why are you pretending like you need all of these ‘special’ techniques to communicate with us? You are so delusional that you can’t even see that you are the problem, not us.

The contradicting form of gaslighting occurs when someone uses lies to contradict your reality. 

“Are you f*cking serious? That is not what happened at all! You are the one who (blank), not me!”

The minimizing form of gaslighting occurs when someone minimizes your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. 

“I don’t understand why you are refusing to share details about your life with me. You are being so dramatic. If I am so abusive, why did you marry me then?”

Gaslighting with ultimatums occurs when someone gives you an ultimatum that is designed to prevent you from expressing your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. 

“I am not playing this game with you again. I do not need to ‘change’ the way that I speak to you. You need to knock it off and stop bothering me about this or I am going to (something threatening).”

A narcissists threatening the person that she is abusing

The diversion form of gaslighting occurs when someone tries to prevent you from expressing your thoughts, feelings, emotions, or needs by saying or doing something distracting.

“Are you seriously going to do this on our vacation? Did you know there are hundreds of thousands of people every single year who can’t afford to go on vacation, there are people who are too sick to go on vacation, and there are people who get f*cking murdered before they can even go on their vacation, but you want to bring up (blank) on a vacation that I paid for?!”

Gaslighting through mind reading occurs when someone invalidates, devalues, degrades, humiliates, and/or punishes you for not being able to read their mind. 

“Oh are you serious?! You know that I was just kidding. Seriously I am not going to be around you if you can’t tell when I’m joking. It is absolutely ridiculous!”

The Intermittent Reinforcement Phase

The term “intermittent reinforcement” refers to the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals and it is an extremely powerful form of manipulation that narcissists use. 

In our article Why Do Trauma Bonds Feel Like an Addiction we walk readers through this entire ordeal much more thoroughly but narcissists use mirroring, future faking, the devaluation phase, and intermittent reinforcement to manipulate you into developing an addiction for their “reward” and it makes you feel crazy.

We are going to briefly guide you through this process so that you can fully understand how narcissists use intermittent reinforcement to make you feel crazy!

Mirroring

Mirroring is when a narcissist absorbs a ton of information about your identity and uses that information to create a falsified identity that makes you believe that they are the “perfect” person for you. 

Mirroring causes you to think that the narcissist in your life can help you become the best version of yourself. You begin to think that they are the key to a happier, healthier, and more secure future. 

Future Faking

A future fake is when a narcissist makes a false promise for the future to get exactly what they want in the present (e.g. “You don’t need to get that job! I can support you babe. Listen, you just need to focus on your goals, don’t worry about earning money, I will always help you!”).

What future faking does is it turns the thought that you have about the narcissist being “perfect” and someone who you can be the best version of yourself with into something much more tangible/believable. It is almost as if mirroring creates a thought/feeling in your subconscious and future faking brings it into your conscious.

The Devaluation Phase

The devaluation phase begins when the narcissist senses that they’ve got you hooked on the happy thoughts, feelings, and emotions that mirroring and future faking creates. 

Once they sense that they’ve successfully placed you up on an emotional pedestal, they kick it out from under you with invalidation, devaluation, humiliation, and degradation. 

The devaluation phase puts you in a state of cognitive dissonance. This is a theory that suggests when we experience an inconsistency among belief, behavior, and information, it causes a tremendous amount of psychological tension.

A victim of narcissistic abuse feeling down.

To ease this tension we will change one or more of the elements that are causing the inconsistency to make everything consistent. When a narcissist uses mirroring and future faking, they give you the information and show you the behavior that you need to have and see to develop a belief that they are someone that you can be the best version of yourself with. 

When they begin the devaluation phase, they change the information and behavior, leaving you with only the belief that they are the “perfect” person for you. To escape the psychological tension, people often justify, rationalize, and normalize the abuse to make everything in their mind consistent.

One of the ways that narcissists manipulate you into justifying, rationalizing, and normalizing the abuse that you are experiencing during the devaluation phase is intermittent reinforcement. 

Intermittent Reinforcement

Just a quick reminder, intermittent reinforcement is the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals. The “reward” that narcissists use is kindness. When they sense that you are emotionally or physically checking out of the relationship, they will strategically use kindness to keep you believing that they are the “perfect” person for you. 

At this point in the relationship you will likely be so emotionally starved that the “reward” of intermittent reinforcement triggers the reward center in your brain. 

This floods your body with dopamine1 which is the same neurotransmitter that is released when people abuse drugs like opiates, alcohol, nicotine, amphetamines, and cocaine. This makes you feel crazy because intermittent reinforcement causes the “reward” that the narcissist gives you during intermittent reinforcement to become your only known source of happiness. 

This causes you to develop an intense craving for the narcissist’s “reward”, lose sight and control of yourself in pursuit of the reward, and remain trauma bonded to the relationship, despite the negative consequences on your mental and physical health. Intermittent reinforcement is one of the most powerful forms of manipulation that narcissists use to make you feel crazy.

Baiting & Self-Victimization

Baiting is a manipulative technique that narcissists use to get you to engage in a negative confrontation (e.g. a verbal or physical altercation, etc.) so they can portray you in a negative light and victimize themselves to both themselves and others. 

They typically do this by using your vulnerabilities and insecurities against you (e.g. “You aren’t going to wear that out on your date right? I mean you look enormous…it isn’t fair for you to be out here catfishing people”).

If you were to engage in a negative confrontation with the narcissist because of the abusive things that they said, you’d be giving them exactly what they wanted and needed to make you feel crazy. They will use your response to victimize themselves and gaslight you into believing that defending your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs was wrong. 

A flying monkey using baiting and self-victimization.

Hoovering 

The term “hoovering” refers to a narcissist saying or doing exactly what you need to hear or see to give them another chance. Hoovering is an extremely dangerous manipulative technique that narcissists use to remain in power and control of you after the relationship has ended. 

Here’s an example of hoovering from Registered Psychotherapist & Trauma Recovery Specialist Heather Kent:

“Mike showed up unannounced to my parents’ house with a thoughtful gift that he made chronicling our time together. He put on an amazing display in front of my entire family. This was the performance of his life. He talked about how he had gone to therapy for his mistakes. He detailed how he had worked hard to change his habits, and he told us that he could not imagine a life without me, and on and on. There were tears, and his grand gestures succeeded in winning me over. Perhaps of even more importance to him, he succeeded in winning my family over as well.” – Heal from Your Narcissist Ex: The Ultimate Guide to Finding Safety and Sanity

In this example the hoovering took place when Mike showed up to Heather’s house and pretended to be a changed man. He didn’t change, he just wanted to regain power and control over Heather to get narcissistic supply. 

Hoovering can make you feel crazy because you know that the narcissist is abusive but the combination of their charming, successful, innocent, honest, desirable, goodhearted, charismatic, and virtuous public persona and all the information they know about your identity because of mirroring manipulates you into second-guessing yourself!

A victim of narcissistic abuse feeling crazy about her reality

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

The fact of the matter is that being in the proximity of a narcissist is naturally going to make you feel crazy if you don’t have healthy boundaries in place because narcissists are some of the most delusional people on the planet and they force others to accept their delusions as reality.

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References:

[1] Pesek-Cotton, Erin F., Joshua E. Johnson, and M. Christopher Newland. “Reinforcing behavioral variability: an analysis of dopamine-receptor subtypes and intermittent reinforcement.”Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 97.3 (2011): 551-559.

Kwiatkowska, Maria Magdalena, et al. “Narcissism and trust: Differential impact of agentic, antagonistic, and communal narcissism.” Personality and Individual Differences 137 (2019): 139-143.