Because the narcissist is in a dissociated, fractured state of mind, their gaslighting cannot be understood through the lens of logic or ‘fairness.’
A normal person who bumps up against harsh reality will feel a spike of shame, then shift their approach to harmonise their inner reality with the outer reality. They empathise with others and consider the greater good. Then they try to cooperate in a way that honours their needs as well as those of others. They understand the golden rule; that one should treat others as they would like to be treated.
A narcissist does it the other way around; outer reality must be manipulated and altered by any means necessary to support the narcissist’s inner reality. As a result, gaslighting in the narcissist is born.
The Chaos Behind The Narcissist’s Gaslighting
A narcissist is fractured inside and lost in paranoia, with no cohesive sense of self. They dissociate often while plagued with multiple, conflicting emotions or states. Their inner world is chaos, and they struggle to make sense of the confusion.
Meanwhile, they know that they need to be perceived as ‘normal’ on the surface, and of course, superior.
Due to dissociation, the narcissist also has gaps in their memory. This is a horrifying reality to face, and the only way to fill the gaps is to create a fiction of what happened.
There is no logic to the narcissist’s mind-boggling storytelling. Their sense of self is completely fragmented, with no cohesive train of thought, emotion or narrative. Therefore, they stitch together a Frankenstein narrative using any trick or lie they can come up with.
To avoid the horror of their behaviour, the narcissist believes their own fiction as though it were true. In this way, the narcissist is not lying when gaslighting — they are simply creating an ‘alternative’ truth.
Examples Of The Narcissist’s Gaslighting
Gaslighting from a narcissist manifests in the following ways:
- Denial: The narcissist will challenge your memory and argue against your interpretation of events. They will counter with phrases such as: “That’s not true” or “Are you sure I said that?”
- Blame-shifting: When you express your distress at being mistreated, the narcissist will point out your bad behaviour. They will tell you that if they had a dollar for every time you did the same thing, they would be a millionaire.
- Trivialising: The narcissist, after hurting you in some way, will tell you that they were only joking. They might call you “too sensitive” or tell you that life is too short to create drama out of nothing.
- Diverting: The narcissist might simply try to change the topic, or ask you if you can just forget it and move on. They might shame you by telling you that your relationship could be amazing if you just stopped sweating the small stuff. By offering you an easy way out of conflict, they make you look like the person who wants trouble.
- Compassion: In the middle of being called out, the narcissist will tell you they love you and how terrible it is for the two of you to be in this situation. This causes you to soften, and consider dropping it altogether to get back to the love.
The narcissist cannot bear to see themselves as an abuser, since it challenges their perception of themselves as all-good. As a result, they will do everything in their power to explain away their behaviour and cast you as the persecutor instead.
This is what Jennifer Freyd coined as ‘DARVO,’ which is an acronym for ‘deny, attack, reverse roles, victim, offender.’ It is an insidious form of gaslighting the narcissist uses to avoid their shadow, by reframing situations to cast themselves as the innocent person.
The narcissist will drag you into a washing machine cycle of nonsense by denying or playing down what they did, pointing out your supposed bad behaviour, and then drawing attention to themselves and the pain that they have to go through because of you.
To maintain their ‘all-good’ image, the narcissist can only feel emotions which belong to a ‘superior’ person. Shame, guilt, sadness, doubt, anger; none of it acceptable.
Therefore, the narcissist must find a way to covertly syphon their negative emotions into others instead. This is yet another shadow-denial form of gaslighting which Melanie Klein labelled ‘projective identification.’
Projective identification is done in disguise, usually beginning as a harmless ‘chat.’ As the conversation progresses, the narcissist will slip in their judgements and ‘hint’ toward the things you do wrong. The conversation then gradually and casually ‘drifts’ from a reasonable heart-to-heart into a hypnotic monologue.
On the surface, you are locked into a normal conversation. However, using subtext and conversational drift, the narcissist will make sweeping statements which cast you in a negative light. This is done so cleverly that you unconsciously take on the ‘all-bad’ role and its associated feelings while still believing you are having a normal conversation.
Projective identification is what typically leads to ‘reactive abuse,’ where a target takes on and acts out the narcissist’s shadow emotions — without consciously grasping how it happened.
Eventually, the target wakes up from the shock of being triggered, where before that, slowly but surely, they felt the temperature inside them rising like boiling water, before they snapped from being cornered into the ‘bad’ position.
As soon as the target’s trigger hits, the narcissist springs up and points the finger, piling on the judgements to drive home their point that the target is bad. In this way, the narcissist:
- Relieves themselves of their negative traits and emotions.
- Gains the moral high ground, and,
- Reinforces their false self as being ‘all-good.’
To top it all off, the narcissist even forces the target to blame themselves for the argument.
All the while, the target has no idea how it all happened, and is completely unaware that the narcissist had injected them with their poison. It is absolutely crazy-making.
The One Way To Deal With Drama
Gaslighting often catches you off guard. Out of the blue, you find yourself on the back foot, questioning yourself or arguing a point which makes no sense. You end up confused, furious and indignant, and questioning your own reality.
There is no logic to or reason for these episodes. Gaslighting and drama are merely symptoms of the narcissist’s need to shape reality to suit their fractured inner state.
Avoiding shame, needing attention, misdirection, boredom, grandiosity, or simply wanting their way; the motives behind gaslighting are numerous. You could rack your brain trying to work it out, or opt for another option: Disengage, and choose sanity.
Sanity means taking a deep breath and grounding yourself in your inner truth, and knowing when enough is enough. Insanity involves remaining in the washing machine of madness. It is a fine line between the two, and a choice that is always yours to make.