Relationships

5 Sneaky Signs That You're Dealing With Narcissistic Gaslighting

An expert explains what the term means and how to spot it.

Signs you're dealing with narcissistic gaslighting, according to an expert.
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In a healthy partnership, your significant other should make you feel safe, seen, appreciated, and loved. When you experience an emotionally abusive relationship, however, these positive traits can quickly turn sour. Feelings of insecurity, instability, and fear often arise when you’re a victim in this type of partnership — especially in the form of narcissistic gaslighting.

There are subtle forms of emotional abuse that are difficult to detect at first, and these situations are more common than you might think. In a report by international research data and analytics group YouGov, one-third (33%) of females surveyed said that they had been called “crazy” or “insane” by a romantic partner in the past. As a textbook example of gaslighting, having those insults hurled at you by the person you love can leave you feeling confused. And when the partner who gaslights you is a narcissist, this behavior has a whole other layer of complications.

Narcissistic gaslighting in a partner can be insidious and hard to pinpoint, especially masked under the cloak of a charismatic, charming person, according to licensed psychologist Dr. Stevie Stanford. This can make it difficult for you to realize when the behavior is happening, so it’s important to understand what it really looks like. “Narcissistic gaslighting is when a person intentionally confuses or manipulates another person into believing something untrue for their own gain,” Stanford tells Bustle.

The most critical step to take when you’re experiencing any kind of emotional abuse is to separate yourself from the relationship to begin your healing process — of course, in order to do so, you must first recognize that it’s happening. Here, Stanford shares five common signs of narcissistic gaslighting to look out for.

1

They Make You Question Reality

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Dealing with emotional abuse in a relationship can often cloud your judgment about what’s really happening. When you’re experiencing gaslighting from a narcissist, they are commonly able to chip away at your ability to discern what is real and what they’re wanting you to perceive for their own gain.

“We all have a gut intuition that tells us when something isn’t right,” Stanford says, pointing to that sense of being watched or the feeling when something’s... off. “But, unfortunately, when we have experienced trauma, especially attachment or relational trauma, we don’t trust that gut instinct anymore,” she explains. “As a result, we no longer have a compass for what is true or a lie for someone else’s benefit.”

2

They Isolate You From Others

In any case of domestic violence — including emotional abuse — it’s common for the abusive partner to make their victim dependent on them as a sole support system; As Stanford explains, “The narcissistic gaslighter vilifies people around you that you are close to and trust.” Whether they convince you that your friends and family are out to harm you, or they use control tactics to isolate you from those that you love by creating that dependence (like financial abuse), one major sign of narcissistic gaslighting is your partner attempting to keep you isolated within the relationship.

3

They Make You Feel Like You’re “Crazy”

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It’s natural — and ideal — to trust your partner and feel like you can rely on them to speak their truth and validate yours as well. With a narcissistic gaslighter, however, Stanford explains that you’re likely to begin “questioning your sense of self” because the narcissistic partner will use whatever tactics they can to make you feel “crazy,” as if you can’t trust your perception or instincts.

“In some other forms of abuse, it is blatant who and what is safe,” she tells Bustle. “However, when one is gaslit, they no longer trust themselves, and it takes away their ability to tune into their gut intuition to know what is safe or not.” When this happens, your ability to see their abusive or dangerous behavior is hindered because they will make you feel as though you’re completely off-base and not a reliable narrator in your own life.

4

They Keep You Trauma Bonded

Similar to the ways in which a partner who uses narcissistic gaslighting against you can keep you isolated from others in your life, they can also use trauma bonding to make you stay in the relationship. According to Stanford, one way this can manifest is your partner causing you to “[feel] as if there is something unique about your relationship that others wouldn’t understand.” This tactic can come in the form of you romanticizing abusive or hurtful behavior or hiding those behaviors from others because you think they might not “get it.”

Another example Stanford shares is “feeling embarrassed to tell others about incidents or situations that have occurred.” Even when you know that you are being emotionally abused, or that your partner’s behavior is not OK, sometimes it feels easier to hide that from the people around you rather than expose your partner in order to save yourself from humiliation or judgment for staying in the relationship.

5

They Convince You To Believe Their Lies

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According to Stanford, one common occurrence in cases of narcissistic gaslighting is your partner becoming so persuasive or even insistent on their version of reality that you start to rationalize the lies they tell you in order to make sense of it all. “It is very difficult to tell when we are being gaslit, especially when done by a seasoned and determined narcissist,” says Stanford. “Most likely, they are intelligent, charming, and extremely determined to get what they want.” If you are truly in love with a narcissistic partner and see them and their behavior with rose-colored glasses, your ability to suss out their deception and abuse is significantly hindered.

If you are able to recognize the signs of narcissistic gaslighting in your own relationship, Stanford urges you to seek support from a mental health professional or trusted loved one in order to check in about what is happening and get help to remove yourself from the situation. With the right support system and motivation to leave the abuse behind, there is hope and healing on the other side.

Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.

Expert:

Dr. Stevie Stanford, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist, EMDR, CSAT-C, CDWF, of Driftwood Recovery