There’s no doubt about it, gaslighting is the most catastrophic form of manipulation because of how versatile it is.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where a person or group of people manipulate someone else into questioning their own identity, reality, and ability.
This is an elite form of manipulation that could manifest in flying monkeys, the formation of a trauma bond, scapegoating, love bombing, and many more commonly seen forms of manipulation in the narcissistic realm.
Over time, those who have been consistently gaslighted become plagued with self-doubt, self-blame, and without qualified guidance, could become codependent.
A Secret Element of Gaslighting
One of the hardest aspects of identifying, healing, or even learning about narcissistic abuse, is that it’s often portrayed through one lens, and one lens only. For example, the traditional definition of narcissism was created through the lens of grandiose narcissism.
Meaning that most of the information you’ll find from your average blogger, vlogger, or even some therapists only addresses grandiose narcissism and covert narcissism because researchers have found they’re interchangeable under the right circumstances.
The problem with this approach is that narcissism is on a spectrum and the various types of narcissism, along with their personality traits, overlap.
When you only look at narcissism through one lens, especially if you are trying to figure out if someone you interact with is narcissistic, there’s a high probability that you’ll write them off as difficult, stubborn, strong, cocky, slightly arrogant, or emotional instead of narcissistic.
This is important to understand because gaslighting is a hallmark of narcissistic abuse.
There are so many different ways it could manifest, that only focusing on one variation of gaslighting could lead to you being trapped within the relationship indefinitely simply because you misidentified narcissistic behavior as something else.
If you want to successfully manage the narcissistic abuse in your life, becoming familiar with the different types should be a top priority.
The Six Types of Gaslighting
Gaslighting exists in every single narcissistic relationship. Whether it be an intimate relationship, between two co-workers, or among friends and family, gaslighting is a core dynamic of narcissistic abuse.
When a narcissist denies your reality, emotions, thoughts, feelings, or concerns, it is the embodiment of the traditional concept of gaslighting.
There are a handful of different theories on how narcissists are created but one thing that is very clear is that the origin of their manipulative and emotionally abusive nature is their emotional immaturity, neglected trauma, and suppressed emotions.
Traditional gaslighting is a manifestation of their insecure need for power and control because of their emotional instability.
By denying your reality so often they slowly force you to accept their version of reality, making you codependent, which gives them a significant amount of power and control.
Examples of Traditional Gaslighting
- That never happened.
- You have no right to feel that way.
- I think you may be mentally ill. You need help.
- I am sorry that you choose to make yourself feel that way.
- You’re being dramatic.
- You’re so paranoid.
- You’re such a liar, I never did that.
- You’re insane.
Gaslighting With Ultimatums
Narcissists are very good at weaponizing your emotions. One of the ways they do this is by using ultimatums to silence your voice.
Example of Gaslighting With Ultimatums:
- If you bring that up again I’m going to (blank).
- You need to stop complaining about everything or I’m going to (blank).
- If you don’t (blank), I am going to (blank).
- I’m not going to talk to you if you keep (blank).
Gaslighting with ultimatums is a tactic narcissists use to coerce you into associating voicing your thoughts, feelings, concerns, and emotions with the fear of being punished. It’s a very paralyzing form of gaslighting that strips you of your voice.
Gaslighting with ultimatums also attacks your identity because over time, you’ll begin to wonder if you are in the wrong for voicing your thoughts, feelings, concerns, and emotions which will inevitably lead to high levels of self-doubt and self-blame.
This is very dangerous because without the proper guidance or knowledge, you’ll likely live your life believing that you aren’t allowed to have emotions that contradict your abuser’s agenda, especially if you’ve experienced gaslighting with ultimatums during your childhood.
Gaslighting by Contradicting Your Reality
A very common form of gaslighting is when a narcissist targets, or contradicts, your reality with lies. This is usually done by claiming that you have a faulty memory.
Examples of Gaslighting by Contradicting Your Reality
- That’s not what happened, you have a terrible memory.
- You’re remembering that wrong.
- Actually, I met you after I divorced my wife/husband.
- Is that seriously how you remember that? You’re insane.
- You can’t remember anything, can you?
- I didn’t say that, you’re the one who said it.
All types of gaslighting have the potential to make you question your sanity but gaslighting by contradicting your reality certainly has the highest probability of doing so.
This type of gaslighting will make you want to go through old text messages, voice memos, voicemails, diaries, photos, and videos searching for anything that can validate your version of reality.
Gaslighting With Diversions
If you’ve ever had any type of relationship with a narcissist, you know how fragile their egos are. It doesn’t matter how you approach them, comments, concerns, questions, and criticisms are always personalized and treated as a vicious attack on their identity.
When a narcissist is in a position where they feel that their identity is being attacked, they’ll often use projection and other evasive phrases as a way to avoid taking responsibility.
Examples of Gaslighting With Diversions:
- I find it funny that you would have a problem with me cheating on you, when you did the same thing to your high school boyfriend.
- Are you really going to accuse me of being selfish when I’m the one who picked up our kid last week from soccer practice because you were too busy with your book club?
- It’s weird that you care if I yell at you but you can’t even stand up to your mom when she yelled at you last Thanksgiving.
- I’m so unbelievably stressed right now. My boss doesn’t know what he’s talking about, my mother is in the hospital, my brother just got a divorce, and now you’re adding onto the weight on my shoulders by ridiculing me for every single thing I do.
- Are you seriously going to complain about me destroying a meaningless cabinet when my mother died 2 years ago?
When a narcissist uses a diversion to gaslight you they’re either trying to project their negative emotions onto you, or they’re trying to invoke an insane amount of pity and guilt to distract you from your original statement.
Gaslighting Through Minimization
The minimization of your thoughts, feelings, concerns, emotions, and well-being is a very common dynamic among narcissistic relationships.
Examples of Gaslighting Through Minimization:
- Are you seriously going to complain about me pushing you into a wall while we’re on vacation? Don’t you know how expensive this place is right? Do you know how hard I had to work to get us here? And you’re just gonna sit there and complain when there’s wives/husbands out there who never get the opportunity to take a vacation!
- It is absolutely absurd of you to complain about every little thing. You’re so sensitive, I can’t handle it!
- I can’t believe you are complaining about me being on my phone at dinner while there are homeless people who don’t get to eat at all.
- It’s not that serious, you’re overreacting.
If you take a closer look at the examples above you’ll notice that gaslighting through minimization can manifest in two slightly different ways.
In the first and third example, the narcissist minimized their partner’s emotions by taking what they had to say and using it to make an unjust comparison with someone less fortunate.
This is an indirect form of gaslighting through minimization that is designed to make the victim feel guilty for saying what they said.
The second and fourth example was a much more direct form of gaslighting through minimization. By labeling their partner as too sensitive or telling them that they’re overreacting, they’re attempting to make their victim second guess themselves.
Gaslighting through minimization is designed to make you feel self-centered, arrogant, and ungrateful for voicing your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and concerns.
Gaslighting By Mind Reading
The continuation of many narcissistic relationship has a lot to do with a manipulative behavior pattern called mind reading. In the narcissistic realm, mind reading is used when referring to a narcissist’s belief that others should essentially be able to read their mind.
This delusional belief is a manifestation of their grandiosity, sense of specialness, sense of superiority, and egocentricity enabling them to assume others should know what they want, when they want it, and how they want it done.
One of the two forms of mind reading is called gaslighting mind reading. It usually happens after a narcissistic rage episode or any other abusive behavior that breaks your boundaries.
Imagine that you were in couples therapy with the narcissist in your life, and you decided it was time to talk about their rageful response the prior week when you accidentally spilled coffee all over the floor.
Their rage traumatized you, and now is your chance to let it all out.
Instead of apologizing or even acknowledging that what they did was wrong, a narcissist will gaslight by mind reading with the following statements:
- You should have known how I would have responded to that.
- You should know me well enough to know that I would never mean the things that I said.
- I was so tired from working all night, it was just a small reaction, you know that! Don’t exaggerate the situation.
- I can’t believe how seriously you take me! You know better than to take me seriously when I get angry.
- You know I don’t know how to communicate my frustration any other way, don’t personalize ever little thing I say.
After months, years, or even decades of the doubt, anxiety, fear, and anguish that comes with narcissistic abuse, comments like that can be incredibly destabilizing and manipulate you into gaslighting yourself.
The Three Hidden Forms of Gaslighting
What comes next?
Whether you’re in a position to leave the narcissist or not, it’s a strange feeling to regain control of your life. It’s almost as if you’re holding all the cards but at the same time you’re trying to balance on a tightrope between two skyscrapers.
We’ve already established that turning back isn’t an option, despite of how much your abuser has claimed to change, you know it’s just hoovering. But when you look forward, there’s three gigantic obstacles in your way.
As you get closer and closer, they begin to reveal themselves. They’re the three hidden forms of gaslighting: narcissist enablers, flying monkeys, and yourself.
Before pushing them to the side, let’s take a moment to learn about them so when you do decide to cast them away, it is for good.
Narcissist enablers are people who don’t understand narcissism. They are extremely dangerous to those who’ve suffered narcissistic abuse due to the fact that their ignorance causes them to gaslight you because they approach the situation as they would a healthy relationship.
Things Narcissist Enablers Say:
- I’ve known (blank) for a long time. I don’t think he would mean to hurt you.
- It sounds like you two need to communicate more.
- You can’t just give up on him/her. Relationships aren’t meant to be easy.
- Woah! You shouldn’t call him/her a narcissist, that’s really unfair of you.
- Oh don’t worry, I’ll talk to him/her for you. I’m great with people.
- Oh my gosh! Are you sure it happened like that?
When someone who has suffered narcissistic abuse accidentally confides in a narcissist enabler, it can be catastrophic.
The reason being that many of those who have suffered narcissistic abuse don’t confide in others to tell their story, they confide in others to have their story validated.
After months, years, or even decades of a pervasive environment of manipulation, emotional and/or physical violence, and agony, self-doubt and self-blame are inevitable.
The courage, strength, and sacrifice it takes to acknowledge that someone you care deeply about, good or bad, has taken a part of your life that you can’t get back is shattered when you’re gaslighted by a narcissist enabler.
While they don’t have malicious intentions, narcissist enablers can be just as traumatizing as the narcissistic abuse you survived.
There is a very fine line between narcissist enablers and flying monkeys with the difference being their intent. Flying monkeys are people narcissists manipulate into turning against you.
They do this by spreading demeaning lies to those close to you. Narcissists are so manipulative that they are able to create narratives that turn your friends and family against you and even authoritative figures like law-enforcement officers, therapists, doctors, and the judicial system.
While narcissist enablers have innocent intentions, flying monkeys are people who have bought into the narrative that portrays the narcissist as the victim and you as the problem.
Things Flying Monkeys Say
- (blank) told me that you’ve been drinking again. You need to stop blaming him/her for everything and take some responsibility for once.
- I’ve heard enough of your lies! (blank) already told me that you were the one who cheated, not him/her.
- Do you really think you can come crying to me after what you said about me? (blank) told me everything!
- (blank) was just kidding around. Don’t take everything so seriously.
- You’re so naggy. You’re lucky (blank) has stuck around for as long as he/she has. They deserve so much more.
- (blank) already told me about how crazy you are! Stay out of our relationship and let me be happy.
Flying monkeys are a manifestation of the suppressed negative emotions narcissists have, specifically the fear of abandonment. Narcissists have a very insecure need to be accepted and admired by society.
Which is why they enlist flying monkeys when they are at risk of being “abandoned” by you, or outed as an abuser. If they are able to devalue your voice before you’ve had a chance to speak, they’re able to protect their fragile egos from exposure.
Me, Myself, and I
Sadly, existing in an environment plagued with manipulation and abuse will cause you to subconsciously teach yourself to gaslight yourself.
Rumination is when someone obsessively overthinks the same thoughts and because of how confusing narcissistic abuse is, it’s very common among those who’ve experienced it.
Examples of Gaslighting Through Rumination:
- I could have done more.
- What if he/she changes for the next person? I can’t just leave now.
- Maybe I am being too sensitive.
- He/she is right, I’m not upset, I’m just tired
- Why do I always do things to make him/her upset?! I must be scared of commitment.
- Maybe I remembered it wrong. He/she would never do that.
- Could I have done something differently?
- Maybe he/she did change. I’ll give them a call.
You should know that rumination can also manifest in a much more angry thought process. After surviving narcissistic abuse and learning about what you’ve endured, it’s very common for some to become very angry.
You could be angry at yourself, angry at your ex-abuser, angry at flying monkeys and enablers, or even angry for the lack of justice. It’s very common to ruminate about getting revenge or making people see the truth.
These thoughts need to be stamped out immediately because by holding onto that anger, the narcissist you worked so hard to kick out of your life still has a hold on you.
Even if you’re not the one who ended the relationship, it takes an incredible amount of strength and courage to be in the position you are now.
Don’t lose yourself seeking answers and/or justice.
How to Defend Yourself From Gaslighting
If you want to protect yourself from gaslighting you need to learn how to explain narcissism to others, use radical acceptance, and remain defiant.
These three techniques were chosen for a very specific reason, so be sure to take heed of what I have to say.
What Do You Say to a Gaslighter?
Those who’ve suffered narcissistic abuse are often immediately shut down by enablers the moment they tell them that someone in their life is narcissistic.
Learning how to explain narcissism to others could potentially prevent this from happening, and subsequently, turn an enabler into a supporter.
Instead of calling someone narcissistic, focus on explaining their personality traits. Narcissists are antagonistic, entitled, explosive, and irresponsible.
“I feel so lost. I don’t know what to do about (blank). He/she has been so combative lately. Whenever we talk he/she always uses my insecurities and vulnerabilities against me.
It makes me so upset but when I cry or become visibly upset, he/she either explodes with anger or tells me that he/she doesn’t have to apologize because I’m being too sensitive.
I feel so empty inside when he/she treats me like this but he/she never takes responsibility for the things he/she says. He/she says that I’m just making it up in my head even though we both know he/she said it.”
Those paragraphs is the exact same technique one would use when trying to support someone in a narcissistic relationship.
It’s never a good idea to tell someone who is suffering narcissistic abuse, but doesn’t know it yet, that the person in their life is a narcissist and will never change.
Not everyone is ready to hear something like that. The same rule applies when communicating with enablers. If you bluntly tell them that someone in your life is a narcissist, they’ll become overwhelmed and most likely side with your abuser.
By avoiding using words like narcissist, narcissistic, and narcissism by only focusing on the behavior patterns and personality traits, you have a much better chance of turning an enabler into a supporter which will prevent you from being gaslighted.
Just to be clear, this technique should only be used on narcissist enablers and other non-narcissistic people who don’t understand narcissism. This technique will never work on a narcissist or flying monkeys.
The reason being that narcissists spend their entire lives fabricating a reality that portrays them as admirable, desirable, acceptable, successful, and attractive so successfully explaining their behavior to them would require them to contradict their own reality which is essentially like contradicting their own identity.
When it comes to flying monkeys, they already believe the narcissist’s version of reality which portrays you as the abuser or problem and them as the victim. You’d be wasting your breath trying to explain the narcissistic abuse you’re enduring to someone who already doesn’t believe you.
In the narcissistic realm, radical acceptance is when you stop fighting the reality that the narcissistic behavior and all it entails won’t change for the better. It’s a very constructive way of having “it is what it is” type of mentality.
This is a fantastic technique to use against flying monkeys because it makes you immune to gaslighting. With that being said, giving up the wish for things to be different is one of the hardest things to do.
When we are talking about flying monkeys, we are most likely talking about friends and family. It can be really hard to watch those close to you turn their backs on you. It can be really tempting to try to defend or explain yourself.
But here is the harsh reality you have to learn how to accept…
If someone you thought was close to you, was willing to blindly follow a narrative that the narcissist in your life created, without hearing your side of the story before turning their backs on you, they don’t deserve to be in your life.
Radical acceptance is hard, but it goes beyond just letting go of the wish for things to be different. Radical acceptance also means that you let go of the limitations your abuser put on you by acknowledging that they never have been, nor will they ever be true.
For this article, we were able to conduct a study among 135 survivors of narcissistic abuse.
We explained these different techniques to the 135 participants in this study, and asked them to think back on their relationship to identify which technique, if any, was most helpful when trying to protect themselves against narcissistic abuse and all it entails.
Out of 135 of the participants,
- 95 of them said the techniques they used fell under the category of remaining defiant.
- 22 of them said that the techniques they used fell under the category of acknowledging that there will never be any accountability.
- 10 of them said that they aligned more with the idea of developing a healthy detachment routine.
- 8 of them said that the techniques they used fell under the category of letting go of the wish for things to be different.
What Should You Take Away From This Article?
Narcissists spend their entire lives creating a superficial reality that enables them to neglect their own emotional instability, therefore, your reality is a threat to their own.
Despite what most of the average information you’ll come across says, narcissists do have the ability to have empathy. That’s what separates narcissism from psychopathy.
The problem is that because of their emotional immaturity, they’re incapable of handling their own emotions, especially ones that make them feel bad about themselves.
Gaslighting is a manifestation of their inability to regulate their own emotions. When you confront them about their abusive behavior, they much rather pretend it’s not true than accept the fact that they are miserable, emotionally inadequate, immature, and terribly alone.
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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.
Sweet PL. The Sociology of Gaslighting. American Sociological Review. 2019;84(5):851-875. doi:10.1177/0003122419874843