Gaslighting is one of the worst things one can go through. I have a list of narcissist gaslighting examples that I have experienced in past relationships. It has made me realize how terrible it is to make someone question their sanity, perception, identity, and self-worth. They do all this while claiming to love you. That is NOT love.
Gaslighting is an extremely cunning and sneaky way to destroy a person’s sense of reality. From personal attacks to character assassinations to blame-shifting – it’s one of the worst forms of mental abuse that someone can put their partner through. According to life coach and counselor Joie Bose, who specializes in counseling people dealing with abusive marriages, breakups, and extramarital affairs, “For gaslighting abusers, their opinion is the only correct one and any opinion or emotion that doesn’t tend to their needs or approval isn’t right, hence needs to be corrected.”
Allow me to paint you a picture of a gaslighting victim’s mind. Imagine you are stuck in a room that is full of smoke. You cannot see anything. The room stinks, you can’t breathe, your eyes burn, and you feel suffocated. The exit door is wide open. You can easily walk out the door. But you don’t. Because it is not just your sight that is clouded, your brain is clouded too.
What Is Gaslighting In Narcissism?
Do narcissists use gaslighting? Do narcissists gaslight on purpose? The answer to both is yes. At least, most of the time. Because gaslighting and narcissism go hand in hand; let’s say they are conjoined twins. Narcissists are typically manipulative and controlling. An inflated sense of self-importance and a complete lack of empathy are the most common traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Gaslighting in narcissism is a narcissist’s way to gain control over another person. What’s more … they lie.
Oh, the narcissist gaslighting examples that I can give from my personal life. I was head over heels in love once. Like every other person in love, I too was under the notion that this was one of that once-in-a-lifetime kind of love, just like in the movies. And then it started. I was told I am nice one moment and the next I was someone else. I was told that my mood, my personality, my behavior, and my emotions changed from one moment to the next. He sounded genuinely concerned for my well-being.
The way he tried to make me question my own sanity would shock you. He was one person when he was with others, and completely different when we were alone. He succeeded in making me doubt my sanity and feel confused; I gave in to my self-doubt and got tested for Bipolar Disorder. The test came back negative for BPD and my general mental health was just fine too. Yet I chose to stay in the relationship as my narcissistic gaslighting partner’s flying monkey. I truly regret that.
Related Reading: 8 Signs Of Covert Narcissist Hoovering And How You Should Respond
How do you identify a gaslighting narcissist?
The saddest part of dealing with narcissistic gaslighting is that you often miss seeing the long-term adverse effects it’s causing on your mental health, and you mistake their behavior as just another flaw. After all, you are told you are supposed to love the person with all their shortcomings, right? Years later, when you are at a better place in life and look back at the darker times, these gaslighting comments come haunting you in your sleep. After all, gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse.
Now that we are here, we cannot let you endure the misery or turn a blind eye to the visible signs of the emotional abuse you are putting up with. So, here are a few common traits of a narcissistic gaslighter to help you pinpoint the problems prevailing in your relationship:
- One of the early signs is when they make you feel small
- You are often made to feel unsure of your own feelings and judgment
- Do they give you a vibe that they are your savior? As if you will be lost in a sea of bad decisions and lovelessness if they don’t rescue you?
- Even if it’s their fault, they convince you that it’s yours and you end up apologizing every time
- They are inconsiderate of your emotional needs and say hurtful things very easily
- They avoid meaningful conversations and any real effort to resolve conflicts
- As a manipulation tactic, they use your own words against you and end up denying things they should be apologizing for
- Constant comparison, criticism, and blame-shifting are tell-tale signs too
- They play the innocent victim card in every situation trying to justify their actions as an expression of love
Related Reading: 5 Signs Of Emotional Abuse You Should Watch Out For Warns Therapist
9 Common Narcissist Gaslighting Examples
I asked Joie why people tend to stay in such mentally scarring and abusive relationships. She said, “People are not aware of all these categorizations and demarcations and terms. The partner in most cases doesn’t realize they are dealing with emotional manipulation tactics of narcissistic gaslighting until it’s too late. They don’t know the signs of an unhealthy relationship. So it’s not that they chose to stay with a narcissist, they simply chose to stay in a relationship.”
In most cases of gaslighting, the abuser is a narcissist. This severe form of mental abuse through controlling another person’s mind is pure toxicity. There are many things narcissists say when gaslighting in an argument. If you hear any of them, run as far away from that person as you can. Below are some of the common narcissist gaslighting examples you need to be aware of. Some could be unconscious gaslighting examples while others are very deliberate.
1. “Maybe you are imagining things in your head, but that’s not what happened”
Let’s say, Sam and Emma are dating. They have planned to meet up for lunch. When Sam enters the restaurant, he finds that Emma has invited her friends as well. And the whole time, Emma barely speaks to Sam as she’s busy chatting with her girl gang. Later, he says, “I thought it was a date. Why did you call me there if you wanted to hang with your friends?”
She casually replies, “Don’t be silly. I invited you because I wanted to spend quality time with you, and we had a great time. Stop imagining bad things.” This is where something like an abusive relationship begins. That’s Level One of your narcissistic gaslighting girlfriend/boyfriend. They make you question your perception of reality and doubt your own memory.
This could easily be an innocent mistake or a misunderstanding or it could also be one of the unconscious gaslighting examples. You may not question their intentions during the honeymoon phase because you are too smitten to see the situation objectively. If it has happened once or twice, that’s acceptable. But when it begins to happen over and over again, you need to sit up and take notice of the pattern of narcissistic gaslighting. Make sure you know all the warning signs of gaslighting before it’s too late.
How to respond: “I am not making up stories in my head. I was there the whole time and I am speaking from what I saw and felt. I am not blaming you for spending time with your friends. Perhaps the next time, we can meet one-on-one because I love it when we are paying attention to each other.”
2. “I never said that”
Sam thinks Emma loves rom-coms. He has planned a movie night with popcorn, pizza, and beer. And then, when the movie starts, Emma says, “I don’t really like rom-coms.” Sam is a bit puzzled at this because he vividly remembers a conversation that took place around movies where Emma expressed her love for romcoms. She trots out one of the classic narcissist gaslighting phrases in relationships, “I never said that. Maybe one of your exes said it.”
“That never happened.” “I never said that.” “Are you sure I was there when you said that?” These statements are all a portrayal of a typical gaslighter personality. The victim starts questioning their reality. You start relying on the manipulated versions of reality created by a narcissistic gaslighting boyfriend or girlfriend, which increases your dependency on them.
How to respond: “Honey, I wouldn’t plan a rom-com film night unless I clearly remember you telling me you enjoyed such movies. I think this relationship will work better if you could stick to your narratives. Otherwise, it leaves me very confused.”
3. The trump card – “You are oversensitive”
This is one of the most toxic gaslighting phrases in relationships. You are not oversensitive. It’s the abuser who is insensitive and cold-hearted. They do not care about your feelings and emotions until it serves them in some way. The relationship between an empath and a narcissist is not exactly a joy ride after the initial mystery is lifted and this is where you begin to crumble.
You didn’t see it coming. Your self-doubt increases, and your conviction and confidence drop. Your feelings are constantly invalidated. And you have started believing it all. Your narcissistic partner’s end goal is met. Those days are not so far when you see yourself apologizing for taking a stand against their disrespectful remarks that make you feel utterly humiliated.
How to respond: “Can we discuss this and come to a middle ground so you don’t feel so overwhelmed with my expression of emotions and I can still feel safe being vulnerable around you?”
4. “You are the problem here. Not me”
Blame-shifting is one of the most common narcissist gaslighting examples and a manipulative type of malignant narcissist gaslighting. There is a difference between a regular person lying and a narcissist lying. A regular person normally lies in order to get out of a tough spot. But when a narcissist is gaslighting you with lies, they will twist things in a way that will make you feel guilty and small.
They will make you feel like you are the one lying. As if the victim is at fault. They not only do not know how to stop lying in a relationship but are also adept at turning the tables and making the victim appear as the bad guy instead of taking responsibility for their own actions. “Sometimes, people do not know better and think acceptance is the right thing to do rather than break up,” says Joie.
I guess that’s why I stayed with a narcissistic gaslighting boyfriend for so long. I might have stayed longer if I hadn’t found out about his affairs. When a narcissist is caught lying, they will make it look like it is someone else’s mistake. They want to hold someone else accountable for their lies.
How to respond: “I am ready to take responsibility for my actions, and I wish you would do the same too. Can you tell me what you would have done if you were in my place?”
Related Reading: 13 Sure-Shot Signs He Pretends To Love You
5. “Learn to take a joke”
Another manifestation of chronic gaslighting is when they accuse you of having little to no sense of humor. Your partner sends you a meme and laughs at your expense, and when you reply back saying it offended you or made you upset, they write back with something like “Learn to take a joke.” This is one of the gaslighting examples of narcissist text messages you’d get used to receiving if you’re in a relationship with a manipulator. It’s never a joke if the purpose is to hurt you or offend you.
When you confront your narcissistic gaslighting boyfriend or girlfriend for hurting you with their crass joke, they will make fun of you for being a bad sport. This is one of the warning signs of a toxic relationship. “I was just teasing you.” “Oh, don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.” “You are being paranoid.” “It was just a joke. Don’t get so worked up.” “Stop making things bigger than they are.” These are all the things a gaslighting narcissist husband or wife says, in order to prove themselves right.
How to respond: “I don’t appreciate such comments in the name of humor and it bothers me. If you care about my feelings at all, I hope you won’t crack such jokes in the future. That’s my boundary.”
6. “I am doing this because I love you”
Love bombing is a common sociopathic and narcissistic abuse strategy, yet it is one of the most overlooked narcissist gaslighting examples. A gaslighting narcissist husband/wife will always use love as a defense to make you believe them and maintain control over you. And when you don’t agree with them, they will accuse you of not loving them equally.
They will push their sinister agenda and constantly try to influence you and your opinions. Before you fall for their gaslighting tactics, you need to learn a few tips on how to deal with a narcissistic spouse. “I am saying this because I love you and want to protect you.” “I think I know what’s best for you because I love you.” “Believe me, I know what’s best for you.” “You need to trust my actions and intent.”
Folks, please do not fall for such narcissist gaslighting phrases in relationships. A manipulative, narcissistic partner will shower you with fake love, concern, affection, and intimacy. They will learn about your insecurities, your innermost desires, and secrets. They will learn everything there is to be learned about you and then they will use it to exploit you mentally.
How to respond: “I love how you take care of me and I believe it’s out of genuine concern. But I’m an adult and perfectly taking care of myself. Let’s give each other the freedom to choose for ourselves.”
7. “You must work on that”
Being subjected to constant criticism makes you doubt yourself, irrespective of how good you are at something or what your strengths and skills are. In the case of narcissistic gaslighting in relationships, the abuser tries to get you as off-balance as possible. They will criticize you for being overly emotional as a part of their hidden manipulation tactics. They will criticize all your life and career choices, and even your food preferences, dressing style, or other lifestyle choices. They will constantly remind you of your past mistakes.
Eventually, this will corrode your sense of self-worth. It will feel like your confidence is in a shambles. They will constantly hurl insults at you. “You have no control when it comes to burgers.” “You don’t know how to manage money.” “You are not wife material.” “Nobody will love you as I do.” “You will never get anyone better than me.” Trust me, dear readers, I am shaking as I type this. I have heard it all!
How to respond: “Sometimes, your words can be quite hurtful. I am trying to work on certain aspects of my life. If you could be a little more supportive and less critical, it will be easier on me.” OR “I’m quite proud of the way I manage this aspect of my life. I will tell you if I need your advice, though.”
Related Reading: Feeling Unwanted In A Relationship – How To Cope?
8. “You are just insecure and jealous”
Another common narcissist gaslighting example is accusing the victim of going trough paranoia. When this phrase is thrown around easily, there is a high chance that your narcissistic gaslighting boyfriend or girlfriend is cheating on you. They will project their errors and insecurities on you instead of taking responsibility for their actions. It may feel like you are doing something wrong. But don’t forget, this insecurity is on them.
Do malignant narcissists use gaslighting? Yes. They don’t just gaslight you, but they will also accuse you of gaslighting them. They will accuse you of being a narcissistic gaslighter. “Why do you think I am cheating on you? Is it because ‘you’ are cheating on me?” “Why are you acting so paranoid?” “Stop accusing me of things you might be secretly doing.” These are, clear and loud, narcissist gaslighting examples. The abuser will often paint you as a jealous and insecure person. This is why knowing how to respond to gaslighting becomes crucial.
How to respond: “There are enough reasons for me to believe you are cheating on me. So, unless you are ready to come clean about it, I can’t hang in here hoping you would change and come back someday. We should take a break and give ourselves the time to think about the whole situation again.”
9. “You are crazy. You need help”
Crazy, mental, psycho, lunatic, irrational, insane, and delusional are the words thrown around casually and frequently. It is natural for narcissistic people to find fault with everyone but themselves and throw false accusations at others. Let’s say you’re in the middle of a fight and you send your partner a long text message conveying the way this falling out has made you feel. They reply, “I am not the problem here. You are.” Such gaslighting examples of narcissist text messages show how they project their issues onto you.
No matter how much you bend over backward for them, you will never be good enough. You will never be deemed worthy of their love. They will bring you to a point where you lose sight of what’s wrong and right. You will have no energy left in you to call them out. They will drain your sanity and rationality. It gets difficult to maintain your sanity when your partner is a narcissist and a compulsive liar.
How to respond: “I know I have said or done anything that crosses the boundaries of sanity. However, you are probably right. Maybe I do need help. I need help to figure out how to stay in this relationship with a narcissist and not lose my voice, my individuality, and mental peace at the same time.”
Joie says, “Gaslighters never realize the harm they are causing another person. Only through counseling can they see it. Rectification too takes time. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for gaslighting. The rigidity of the perpetrator’s thoughts, beliefs, and convictions gets the better of their sense of judgment.”
- Narcissists are control freaks and manipulative by nature and gaslighting is one of their hidden manipulation techniques. Their partners and family members often become their main source of narcissistic supply
- The major goal of narcissistic gaslighting phrases is to confuse you about your own reality and judgment
- These people don’t acknowledge your emotions. They use your own words against you and make you feel guilty about ‘their’ shortcomings
- This can cause irreparable damage to the self-esteem of the partner at the receiving end
- Do narcissists gaslight on purpose? Many times, narcissists do not have any self-awareness. They don’t know that they might need therapy
- Many people are so used to normal gaslighting that they do not realize its negative effects
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (and other similar personality disorders) and the nature of gaslighting go hand in hand, making a detrimental combination causing damage to the abuser’s romantic partner. Going through the stages of self-doubt, difficulty in decision-making, and a constant feeling of loneliness and fear, you may end up finding yourself on a therapist’s couch.
Our final thoughts are that you must look for a healthy way out of this. Finding a support system or talking to a trusted friend or a family member is beneficial. They often become the only ones you feel comfortable trusting when you are full of doubts. Also helpful is getting in touch with your self by engaging in activities such as your hobbies, new skills, and other forms of self-care. These things can improve your self-confidence and broaden your focus.
If you have been experiencing gaslighting and other toxic behavior, skilled and experienced counselors on Bonobology’s panel of experts are here for you. Don’t be in love to the point that you start believing your partner’s twisted narratives as truth. If you experience malignant narcissist gaslighting, you must exercise vigilance and caution, practice self-care, and distance yourself from your abuser.
If you are in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.
For anonymous, confidential help, 24/7, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
This article has been updated in July 2023.