Narcissism is a very complex form of abuse. A narcissist’s behavior patterns are convoluted and designed to create as much confusion, self-doubt, self-blame and anxiety as possible.
One of the core dynamics of narcissistic abuse is gaslighting. The traditional definition of gaslighting circulates around the concept of someone denying and/or doubting your reality so frequently that you begin to question your own perception of reality.
However, gaslighting can manifest in a multitude of ways, and you can learn about them by reading our article, How to Deal With Gaslighting.
The complexity of narcissism often leads to a lot of questions that go unanswered.
When you find out about narcissism and a narcissist’s willingness to eradicate your emotional stability, it is incredibly destabilizing, sometimes more so than the abuse itself.
The inspiration to create this article came from a survey we did among our 231 participants. We asked them to tell us the questions they had once they found out that they were suffering narcissistic abuse.
After looking through their responses we found that one of the most common question was does gaslighting have to be intentional?
Table of Contents:
- Does Gaslighting Have to Be Intentional?
- Gaslighting From Narcissist Enablers Is Not Intentional
- Gaslighting Yourself Is Not Intentional
- What Should You Take Away From This Article?
Does Gaslighting Have to Be Intentional?
To be straightforward, when gaslighting comes from a narcissist it is intentional. But when it comes from a non-narcissistic individual the answer is maybe, or maybe not.
To grasp a comprehensive understanding of the reasoning behind this answer, let’s take a deeper dive into narcissistic behavior.
Gaslighting From a Narcissist Is Intentional
One of the most destabilizing aspects of narcissistic abuse is how two-faced they can be. A narcissist’s objective is to fabricate and maintain a reality that portrays them as admirable, attractive, desirable, and both physically and mentally healthy.
Many researchers have determined that a narcissist’s insecure need to fit in and be accepted by society originates from an unhealthy/abusive childhood.
Their upbringing is also to blame for their emotional immaturity and inadequacy. Meaning that no matter how hard they try, a narcissist could never truly uphold their superficial version of reality.
But those of you who’ve suffered narcissistic abuse know that they can definitely fake it.
They can be the charming and charismatic entertainer that you fell in love with in front of other people but the moment you are alone they’re nothing but invalidating, discouraging and malicious.
They could be the loving and devoted parent at all of the public events, but neglectful and abusive parent behind closed doors.
It’s so destabilizing and isolating because everyone on the outside of the relationship is in awe of your parent, partner, friend, or co-worker while you remain repository for their negative emotions behind closed doors.
Choosing who deserves their empathy or wrath is a very conscious decision that narcissists make and a very strong indicator that narcissists know that their behavior is wrong.
The Shame-Rage Spiral
The shame-rage spiral is a fantastic example of a narcissist knowing that their behavior is unacceptable.
Imagine that you’re at a company Christmas party with your narcissistic supervisor. The night starts out just like any other night would, your supervisor is telling grandiose stories, grabbing people’s attention, making jokes at others expense and so on.
As the night progresses, his/her “jokes” become more and more malicious until finally, someone calls him/her out on it.
When a narcissist’s sense of specialness, fabricated reality, or authority gets contradicted, it triggers their suppressed shame. Shame is an incredibly destabilizing feeling and because of a narcissist’s emotional inadequacy, they’re unable to regulate their own emotions.
Instead of taking a step back, feeling embarrassed, and apologizing for their ridiculous behavior, a narcissist will project the shame that they feel onto others through rage.
Because rage is essentially anger out of control, it is rarely a justified response. Meaning that it is met with disapproval, disgust, criticism, and even anger, which is another contradiction to the narcissist’s reality and triggers their suppressed shame, beginning the cycle again.
It’s an insane aspect of narcissism and exists in every single type of narcissistic relationship. If you’re not sure if you’ve experienced this, it usually manifests in days, weeks, and even months of constant arguing. It doesn’t matter what you do, a narcissist can’t be soothed.
Gaslighting From a Flying Monkey Is Intentional
For me, when a narcissist enlists a flying monkey, it is one of the most sinister forms of manipulation in the narcissistic realm. A flying monkey is a person that a narcissist manipulates into participating in their smear campaign and turning against you.
The sole purpose of a flying monkey is to protect the narcissist’s version of reality. To do so, they’ll target those close to you in an attempt to cut you off from the people you’re most likely to confide in.
This means they’ll spread lies and demeaning gossip to your close friends, family members and even authoritative figures like therapists, doctors, and lawyers.
The problem with flying monkeys is that they believe the narrative the narcissist creates that portrays the narcissist as the victim and you as the abuser. Because of this, flying monkeys become very narcissistic themselves.
They’ve even been known to go as far as pretending to befriend the victim to gather information about them to report back to the narcissist.
Imagine that you’re about to end a relationship with a narcissist. For a narcissist, this means one of two things.
They are either terrified that you’ll expose their abusive behavior to other people, or terrified of losing their source of narcissistic supply and scapegoat.
Terrified of Being Exposed
The well-being of a narcissist is heavily dependent on their ability to maintain their version of reality that portrays them as admirable, relevant, desirable, and successful.
This is because they are terribly inadequate and emotionally immature. In other words, they’re incapable of regulating their own emotions. This is problematic because they have an insane amount of negative emotions suppressed within their psyche.
As someone who has experienced narcissistic abuse, you have seen the narcissist for who they really are, and that puts them in a very vulnerable position. Meaning that when you break up, they’re terrified that you’ll use the information you have to expose them to everyone else.
You may be thinking that this isn’t as significant as I’m making it out to be, but it most certainly is.
The reason being that during their upbringing, the narcissist in your life developed a belief that the only way they could be accepted by others is if they conform to, and exceed societal norms.
Meaning that they gravitate towards things like appearance, money, social status, power, and control instead of self-awareness, the way they treat others, emotional stability, and happiness.
Therefore when you’re in a position where you could destroy their core values by simply being honest about how insanely abusive they are, they take it as if someone spat in their face and go on the offensive.
Terrified of Losing Their Narcissistic Supply & Scapegoat
This dynamic of having so many negative emotions suppressed within their psyche without a suitable way to regulate them is exactly like the reaction Mentos have with soda.
If you drop a pack of Mentos in a soda bottle and close the lid as tight as you can, it is going to explode because the reaction has nowhere to go.
The only way to prevent that from happening would be to remove the cap. When it comes to narcissistic relationships, the people they abuse are the hands that would remove the cap off the soda bottle, preventing it from exploding.
This is called scapegoating. When a narcissist projects all of their negative emotions onto you, essentially turning you into a repository for their negative emotions, you are their scapegoat.
Words can’t describe how important scapegoats are to a narcissist’s well-being, it is arguably the equivalent of the importance of water to the human body.
The other side of this is narcissistic supply, the validation and admiration they receive from others. The only way a narcissist is able to maintain their fabricated reality is if they are validated and admired by those around them.
Depending on the type of narcissism, there are different ways they’ll accumulate narcissistic supply but it is still essential for their well-being.
The perfect example of this is communal narcissism. Communal narcissism is a very peculiar aspect of the narcissistic realm. Communal narcissists get their narcissistic supply by doing charitable things for others.
They are the type of people to donate a lot of money, volunteer in the community, do charity work in developing nations and so on.
But here’s the catch…
They only do these things to be validated and admired by others. If there isn’t a camera rolling, journalists interviewing them, or some other significant person there to bear witness to their actions, they won’t do it!
When communal narcissists don’t get the validation and admiration they were looking for, they become consumed with a suppressed rage that they only let out when nobody is watching. They are truly the embodiment of a narcissist’s need to be accepted by society at all costs.
This desperate need for narcissistic supply exists in every single type of narcissism. When a narcissist feels their narcissistic supply slipping away, they’ll enlist flying monkeys to manipulate you back into the relationship.
What Should You Take Away From This Section?
When gaslighting comes from a narcissist or flying monkey, it is intentional. They both wake up every single day and make a conscious decision to manipulate, invalidate, devalue, and traumatize you.
It is a really hard reality to accept when speaking about flying monkeys because these are normally people you’ve confided in before.
But the fact of the matter is, if they didn’t respect you enough to come hear your side of the story before choosing sides, it is very unlikely that they were someone who deserved to be a part of your life in the first place.
Of course there are different circumstances to every situation, but as a rule of thumb flying monkeys are people who don’t respect you enough to hear your part of the story.
Gaslighting From Narcissist Enablers Is Not Intentional
There are many people who don’t understand narcissism, so they approach the situation as they would a healthy relationship. These are called narcissist enablers, and while they may be innocent, they’re still detrimental to your well-being.
When you confide in someone who doesn’t understand narcissism, you’ll likely be gaslighted by accident. For example, imagine you were talking to a therapist or relationship coach about your narcissistic partner.
Because they don’t understand narcissism, one of two things may happen. First, they’ll likely shut you down the moment you use the word “narcissist.” Or second, they’ll give you horrible advice that has the potential to keep you trapped within the narcissistic abuse cycle indefinitely.
Seven Phrases Narcissist Enablers Say:
- Wow! Are you sure it happened like that?
- Well, relationships aren’t meant to be easy.
- I’m sure he/she is just joking around, they do that to everyone!
- That doesn’t sound like the Mike/Rachel I know…
- I will talk to him/her for you.
- Maybe you two need to work on your communication skills.
- It sounds like you might be exaggerating a bit.
This is really, really dangerous because narcissist enablers have the potential to push you back into the abusive cycle.
Nearly 92 percent of our study participants have reported that at one point or another, they weren’t confiding in others because they knew what they were experiencing was wrong, they were confiding in others to get their reality validated.
In other words, they needed just one other person to acknowledge the abuse they were experiencing to justify their desire to escape the narcissistic abuse cycle.
When you’re in a situation where all you need is your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs validated by one other person and you accidentally come face to face with an enabler, it is very dangerous for your well-being.
Gaslighting Yourself Is Not Intentional
One of the saddest parts about narcissistic abuse is that after months, years, and even decades of a pervasive environment of manipulation, invalidation, devaluation, and projection, you learn to gaslight yourself.
How the Five Types of Gaslighting Manipulates You Into Gaslighting Yourself
- Traditional Gaslighting
- Traditional gaslighting is when someone brazenly denies your reality, emotions, needs, thoughts, and feelings. Over time this level of manipulation forces you to abandon your own version of reality and accept the convoluted version that the narcissist in your life has fabricated.
- Gaslighting Through Minimization
- When a narcissist minimizes your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs they are trying to manipulate you into feeling guilty for having them. Over time this type of gaslighting will force you to remain silent because you believe that you don’t have the right to feel the way that you do.
- Gaslighting Through Ultimatums
- Gaslighting through ultimatums is a fear tactic. Narcissists use this form of gaslighting to manipulate you into associating your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs with the fear of their response. Over time, this level of abuse will force you to remain silent because you don’t want to experience whatever they are threatening you with.
- Gaslighting With Diversions
- Much like minimization, gaslighting with diversions is another form of gaslighting designed to silence you through guilt and shame. When you confront a narcissist about your emotions, feelings, needs, or thoughts and they respond with an abundance of irrelevant topics, it is gaslighting through diversions. It silences you by tricking you into gaslighting yourself into believing you should talk another time or not talk at all.
- Gaslighting By Contradicting Your Reality
- This is a very common form of gaslighting in the narcissistic realm. Gaslighting by contradicting your reality occurs when you confront a narcissist about your thoughts, needs, feelings, and emotions but their response is a direct attack on your ability to perceive reality correctly. Over time, you’ll begin to distrust yourself and like traditional gaslighting, rely on the narcissist for the “correct” version of reality.
The reason escaping the narcissistic abuse cycle is so devastating is because with this level of manipulation, you’ve accepted the narcissist’s version of reality! As horrible as it may be, it offers some level of dysfunctional stability to your life.
Therefore when you’re able to break free from the abusive cycle it’s almost like a second wave of traumatization because you’re forced to abandon your versions of reality again, but this time it is for your own good.
What Should You Take Away From This Article?
Gaslighting from a narcissist is intentional.
One could defiantly make an argument that gaslighting from a flying monkey isn’t intentional. In my opinion, this would be a very ignorant decision to make because flying monkeys have made a conscious decision to accept the narcissist’s version of reality that portrays you as the problem/abuser and the narcissist as the victim.
Flying monkeys are usually people who are close to you, so they should know you well enough to evade the narcissist’s manipulation, but they choose to buy into it. Of course, there are circumstances where this will not always be the case.
For example, I met a woman whose ex-abuser told her family that she had started to drink again. Because she has a history of abusing substances, her family was really concerned for her wellbeing and bought the narcissist’s story.
But as a rule of thumb, flying monkeys are making a conscious decision to side with the narcissist in your life.
When it comes to narcissist enablers, there is a way that you can turn them into supporters. By learning how to explain narcissism to others, you’ll learn how to confide in others without using words like narcissist, narcissistic, narcissism, and so on.
This is a very important skill to learn because like I mentioned before, some people will shut you down the moment you say something like “he/she is a narcissist” simply because they don’t understand narcissism themselves. You should check out How to Explain Narcissism to Others to learn how to turn enablers into supporters because it is a very important aspect of managing narcissism!
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.
Ismail, S., Urus, N. S. T., Binawae, F. I., & Siraji, A. H. A. S. (2021). The protection of a wife’s rights against the elements of narcissism and gaslighting in domestic violence: The impact during COVID-19 pandemic. Linguistics and Culture Review, 5(S4), 2175-2194.