A narcissist’s tendency to gaslight is peculiar. Regardless of how much evidence is presented to them, they’ll continue doubting or denying reality in such a convincing manner that it manipulates even the most well grounded individuals into questioning their own sanity. It is one of the most powerful forms of manipulation that narcissists use so it is important to understand the reason that narcissists gaslight their victims. 

Narcissists gaslight to remain in power and control of the relationship, to destroy their victim’s sense of self so that they can regulate their negative emotions, and to protect their sense of self by avoiding a contradictions of their falsified identity.

The versatility of gaslighting is what makes it such a profound form of manipulation so this article is going to guide you through the different reasons that narcissists gaslight and we’ve created a short video below about the six different types of gaslighting so that you can be as informed as possible when learning about the reasons that narcissists gaslight.

A Short Video About the Six Types of Gaslighting

Narcissists Gaslight to Remain in Power and Control of the Relationship

It’s common for narcissists to use gaslighting to try to remain in power and control of the relationship, specifically the narcissistic supply in the relationship and the victim’s reality. The reason for this is that one of the most important roles that victims of narcissistic abuse have in the narcissist’s life is to be a source of validation, admiration, and reassurance, which is also known as narcissistic supply. 

The reason that this is so important is because narcissists construct their sense of self out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get from their external environment. For example, a non-narcissistic person might construct a sense of self out of the relationship they have with their children but a narcissist will construct their sense of self out of how many social media followers they have or how much money they have.

The reason that a narcissist’s approach to developing a sense of self is so emotionally inadequate and immature is because of their upbringing. We created a thorough guide to this in our article How Are Narcissists Made but it is believed that narcissism originates from an unhealthy/abusive upbringing with primary caregivers who are unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent.

When this happens the child doesn’t get their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs mirrored which means that they don’t get the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they need to develop a realistic sense of self and to have a healthy cognitive development. 

To develop a sense of self the child will begin to search their external environment for the validation, admiration, and reassurance that their unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregiver can’t provide them. 

A simple example of this would be a child of an unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent parent building their sense of self out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get for being a really good basketball player.

a narcissistic child searching for validation and admiration in his external environment

The child will develop emotional inadequacies and immaturity by building their sense of self like this, but they will also develop a deeply rooted hatred for themselves because the neglect from their primary caregivers cause them to develop a belief that their true identity isn’t good enough to be loved, acknowledged, validated, or reassured by others. 

This is a huge problem for narcissists because they are so emotionally inadequate and immature that they don’t have the capability of regulating all of their negative emotions about themselves so they create a falsified identity out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they accumulate from their external environment. 

A narcissist needs a very consistent flow of validation, admiration, and reassurance to suppress their negative emotions and maintain their emotional stability, which is why their victims play such an important role in their life. It’s for this reason that narcissists use gaslighting to remain in power and control of the relationship. 

If they are able to invalidate, devalue, and degrade the victim and the victim’s reality so efficiently that the victim questions their own sanity and ability to conceptualize their own version of reality, the narcissist will be able to keep their victim trapped within the narcissistic abuse cycle so that they can be a source of narcissistic supply for as long as the narcissist sees fit.

Narcissists Gaslight to Destroy Their Victim’s Sense of Self So They Can Regulate Their Negative Emotions

A narcissist will use gaslighting to destroy their victim’s sense of self so that they can use the victim as a repository for their own negative emotions. As we mentioned in the previous section, narcissists have a ton of deeply rooted negative emotions about themselves that they’re incapable of managing because of how emotionally inadequate and immature they are. 

Their go-to method for managing these negative emotions is to suppress them behind a falsified identity but when that doesn’t work, they simply project them onto other people. For this to work a narcissist needs to be in complete control of their victim’s sense of self and to do this they will subject them to a vicious cycle of gaslighting, devaluation, invalidation, dehumanization, and humiliation. 

The reason that a narcissist is able to do this is because during the process of a narcissist gaining control of the relationship, the narcissistic supply, and the victim’s reality, they are training the victim on a subconscious level to neglect their own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs to make sure that the narcissist has enough narcissistic supply.

What this means is that the victim will become very isolated from friends and family, they will abandon their core values, they will be consumed with ruminating thoughts about their “performance” in the relationship and how they will keep the narcissist in their life, the list can go on and on but the point is that the victim loses sight of themselves trying to be “perfect” for the narcissist. 

a victim of narcissistic abuse gaslighting herself

Once this happens, the narcissist is placed in an incredibly powerful position because the victim is so broken that they’ll begin to rely on the narcissist to develop a sense of self. Instead of helping the victim rebuild themselves, they simply project all of their suppressed negative emotions onto the victim, turning them into a repository for their negative emotions. 

A narcissist will gaslight their victims so that they can destroy their sense of self, rebuild it with their own suppressed negative emotions, and use them as a repository for their negative emotions for the entirety of the relationship. 

It is by far one of the most destructive forms of emotional regulation that narcissists use on a regular basis and is yet another manifestation of how emotionally inadequate, immature, and abusive they really are.

Narcissists Gaslight to Protect Their Sense of Self by Avoiding Contradictions to Their Falsified Identity

One of the most peculiar aspects of narcissism is a narcissist’s tendency to believe their own lies. At a quick glance one may blame this on their arrogance or grandiose sense of self but the truth is that in more ways than one it is actually an act of survival. 

The reason that narcissists gaslight to protect their sense of self by preventing contradictions to their falsified identity is because their sense of self is vulnerable to any form of authenticity, especially the truth. When a narcissist is in a situation where their reality and/or identity is at risk of being contradicted, they will simply use gaslighting to protect themselves. 

A simple example of this would be if someone confronted their narcissistic partner for cheating. A narcissist is smart enough to know that cheating would contradict their falsified identity because it would destroy their public image so instead of taking responsibility for their actions they simply deny it ever happened, degrade the person accusing them, and then project the blame onto the accuser by claiming that they are the ones cheating.

A narcissist projecting cheating accusation

The point that we are trying to make is as much as the narcissist is gaslighting the victim in this situation, they are also gaslighting themselves. What this means is that narcissists need to convince others and themselves of their version of reality to protect their sense of self by preventing contradictions to their falsified identity. 

When a narcissist comes across someone or something that has even the slightest amount of authenticity, it contradicts their falsified identity and triggers all of their suppressed negative emotions. To regain power and control of the situation and their emotional stability, a narcissist will use gaslighting to protect their sense of self by avoiding contradictions to their falsified identity. 

What Should You Take Away From This Article?  

Narcissists use gaslighting for a variety of reasons and it is such a powerful form of manipulation because it can manifest in nearly every single narcissistic behavior pattern imaginable. Narcissists gaslight their victims to remain in power and control of the relationship, to destroy the victim’s sense of self so that they can turn the victim into a repository for their negative emotions, and to avoid any contradictions to their falsified identity.


This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

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References

Cynthia A Stark, Gaslighting, Misogyny, and Psychological Oppression, The Monist, Volume 102, Issue 2, April 2019, Pages 221–235

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