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What personality disorder is gaslight?

How to Pinpoint Being Gaslit by a Narcissist

Gaslighting – a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgement. Does this sound familiar to you? Perhaps you’ve experienced gaslighting from a partner, a friend, or even a parent? Unfortunately, gaslighting is quite common in toxic relationships and the effects of being gaslit can, in fact, be extremely severe. Gaslighting is a common tactic used by narcissists and they often use it when defiant and aware of something that they have done that can negatively impact a relationship, hence they become defensive and cause the opposing individual to question themselves and their own actions to wean themselves out of the situation. Before delving into how to pinpoint being gaslit, it is important to fully understand narcissistic personality disorder.

What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

According to Mayo Clinic “Narcissistic personality disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.” Gaslighting is a form of narcissism and sociopathic tendencies as they look to gain power over someone which feeds into their inflated sense of self and their perception that they are superior to others.

Like most cases of abuse, gaslighting is about control. Over time, the abuser may convince the victim that they cause the abuser’s aggression and other toxic traits, but how can you tell when you are being gaslit in order to avoid this?

How to Pinpoint Being Gaslit by a Narcissist

According to Robin Stern, PhD, author of the book “The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life,” signs that you are a victim of gaslighting include:

  • No longer feeling like the person you used to be
  • Being more anxious and less confident than you used to be
  • Often wondering if you’re being too sensitive
  • Feeling like everything you do is wrong
  • Always thinking it’s your fault when things go wrong
  • Apologizing often
  • Having a sense that something’s wrong, but being unable to identify what it is
  • Often questioning whether your response to your partner is appropriate (e.g., wondering if you were too unreasonable or not loving enough)
  • Making excuses for your partner’s behavior
  • Avoiding giving information to friends or family members to avoid confrontation about your partner
  • Feeling isolated from friends and family
  • Finding it increasingly hard to make decisions
  • Feeling hopeless and taking little or no pleasure in activities you used to enjoy

Common Forms of Gaslighting

People who gaslight know your sensitivities and vulnerabilities and use that knowledge against you. They make you doubt yourself, your judgment, your memory, and even your sanity. Here are some common tactics used in gaslighting:

  • Trivializing how you feel: “Oh yeah, now you’re going to feel really sorry for yourself.”
  • Telling you that people are talking behind your back: “Don’t you know? The whole family talks about you. They think you’re losing it.”
  • Saying things to you that they later deny having said: “I didn’t say I’d take the deposit to the bank. What are you talking about? Thanks a lot for the insufficient funds fee we’re going to get.”
  • Hiding objects from you, and then deny knowing anything about it: “You seriously can’t find your sunglasses again? That’s alarming.”
  • Insisting you were or were not at a certain place, even though it’s not true: “You’re crazy. You never went to that show with me. I should know.”

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How to Tell If Someone Is Gaslighting You

With more young people talking openly about mental health, gaslighting has become an increasingly common topic among this age group over the last few years. Gaslighting and other forms of emotional abuse have also shown up in popular media recently—for example, in the Netflix series Maid, the novel and movie The Girl on the Train, and the reality TV show The Bachelorette.

Overall, that’s a good thing, because greater awareness around this form of emotional abuse can help people avoid threatening and unhealthy relationships. But before you accuse someone of this behavior, it’s important to understand what gaslighting really means and how to look for the signs of gaslighting in a relationship.

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Let’s take a closer look at the definition and origin of the word gaslighting, the mental health impact of this behavior, and how to tell if someone is gaslighting you.

What Is Gaslighting Abuse?

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which the abuser attempts to sow self-doubt and confusion in their victim’s mind. Typically, gaslighters are seeking to gain power and control over the other person, by distorting reality and forcing them to question their own judgment and intuition.

The term “gaslighting” comes from the 1938 play Angel Street, which Alfred Hitchock later adapted into the film Gaslight, in which a man tries to convince his wife that she is going insane so he can steal from her. When he turns on the lights in the attic to search for her jewelry collection, and the gas lights dim downstairs, he tells her it’s all in her imagination. Gradually she begins to question her own memories and perceptions.

Gaslighting typically takes place in abusive relationships like this, and is closely associated with other types of emotional and physical abuse. While gaslighting is most common in romantic relationships, it can also occur within family or workplace relationships.

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10 Signs of Gaslighting in a Relationship

If you’re wondering how to tell if someone is gaslighting you, consider whether someone has exhibited any of the following behaviors within your romantic, family, or work relationships:

  1. Lying about or denying something and refusing to admit the lie even when you show them proof
  2. Insisting that an event or behavior you witnessed never happened and that you’re remembering it wrong
  3. Spreading rumors and gossip about you, or telling you that other people are gossiping about you
  4. Changing the subject or refusing to listen when confronted about a lie or other gaslighting behavior
  5. Telling you that you’re overreacting when you call them out
  6. Blame shifting in relationships—saying that if you acted differently, they wouldn’t treat you like this, so it’s really your fault
  7. Trying to smooth things over with loving words that don’t match their actions
  8. Twisting a story to minimize their abusive behavior
  9. Minimizing their hurtful behaviors or words by saying something like, “It was just a joke” or “You’re way too sensitive”
  10. Separating you from friends and family who might recognize your gaslighting abuse symptoms.

Any of these signs of gaslighting in a relationship are cause for concern and indicate that the connection is unhealthy and may be causing severe mental health repercussions for the person being gaslit.

Know the Facts

74% of female victims of domestic violence also experienced gaslighting from their partner or ex-partner, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

What Is Gaslighting Abuse at Work and in Society?

It’s also important to recognize gaslighting abuse symptoms in the workplace and other contexts outside romantic relationships. Blame shifting in relationships and other gaslighting behaviors can take place between colleagues or between a supervisor and employee. Typically the perpetrator acts in a way that causes the other person to question their take on the situation, undermining their confidence and belief in themselves. Someone might use gaslighting as a tactic to avoid owning up to a mistake at work, or to unfairly take credit for a task well done.

Another type of workplace gaslighting is known as “whistle-blower gaslighting.” This describes a situation in which an employee who reports misconduct at work, such as a toxic environment or sexual harassment, is made to feel that they are overreacting, remembering wrong, or misinterpreting.

Gaslighting can also be perpetrated against marginalized or disempowered groups in the workplace. A gaslighter might try to dismiss or deny their colleagues’ experiences or identities. One study involving women of color in the field of academic science found that all participants had had negative workplace experiences, including gaslighting. Women in general are often subject to gaslighting, particularly when reporting gender-based violence, according to a study published in the American Sociological Review. “Gaslighting could not exist without inequities in the distribution of social, political, and economic power,” writes Harvard researcher Paige L. Sweet.

The Impact of Gaslighting Abuse on Mental Health

Being consistently told that you are wrong, confused, or even “crazy” can have devastating effects on mental health. Along with questioning their own reality and beliefs, gaslighting victims often feel isolated and powerless. Gaslighting abuse symptoms also include low self-esteem, disorientation, self-doubt, and difficulty functioning in school, at work, or in social situations.

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As a result, people who experience gaslighting are at a high risk for anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Young adults who suffered from these conditions prior to the abuse may be more vulnerable to gaslighting, which in turn makes their mental health issues worse.

Moreover, even after leaving an abusive relationship, people who have been gaslit often struggle with PTSD and have difficulty both trusting others and trusting themselves. Hence, they may engage in codependent relationships and have trouble building authentic connections. Because gaslighters usually don’t apologize or admit wrongdoing, it’s harder for their victims to move on from the experience.

Gaslighting may not be the only factor leading to mental illness, but the same factors that leave a person vulnerable to gaslighting may result in lower self-esteem, uncertainty about their own reality, anxiety, and ultimately depression. Over time, you begin to believe that there is something wrong with you because one of the most important people in your life is telling you this.

Robin Stern
PhD, author of The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life

How to Tell If Someone Is Gaslighting You and Eroding Your Mental Health

The most damaging gaslighting abuse symptoms are the ones that take root in a victim’s mind and begin to wear away at their self-worth and trust in themselves. Here are some of the mental health consequences of being gaslit.

  • Having trouble making even simple decisions
  • Making excuses for your partner’s behavior to family or friends
  • Constantly second-guessing yourself
  • Blaming yourself for the way the other person treats you
  • Trying to convince yourself that their behavior isn’t really that bad
  • Walking on eggshells around the other person
  • Believing that you are too sensitive
  • Questioning your own feelings, judgments, and observations
  • Feeling lonely and trapped
  • Doubting your own memory and sanity
  • Staying silent rather than speaking up about what you think or believe
  • Being on edge and feeling threatened all the time
  • Starting to believe what the gaslighter tells you about yourself, that you are “crazy” or “stupid”
  • Thinking you can’t do anything right and feeling disappointed in who you have become
  • Spending a lot of time apologizing for your actions.

In addition, perpetrators of gaslighting typically suffer from mental health issues as well. They may have developed these controlling behaviors as a response to childhood trauma, or as the result of Narcissistic Personality Disorder or another psychological condition.

Know the Facts

A study of 250 young adults found that abusers who gaslit their partners also exhibited high levels of emotional detachment, impulsivity, and risk-taking and anti-social behaviors.

5 Ways to Counteract Gaslighting Abuse Symptoms

Once you’ve figured out how to tell if someone is gaslighting you, the next step is removing yourself from the relationship, if at all possible, and avoiding other potential gaslighting situations. Here are some ways to take action and protect yourself if you are being gaslit in a relationship or at work.

Talk to others about what’s happening. Don’t let the gaslighter separate you from friends, family, or colleagues who care about you and respect your viewpoint. Share what’s going on with as many people as possible so they can validate your experience.

Focus on actions, not words. A gaslighter may sometimes tell you what you want to hear in order to keep you in the relationship. But their words are meaningless if their behaviors don’t change as well.

Remind yourself that you are not the reason for a gaslighter’s abuse. There is nothing you could or should have done differently to avoid being gaslit. The abusive behavior was not your fault—it was about the gaslighter’s attempts to control and manipulate you.

Don’t try to argue with a gaslighter. Gaslighting is not a rational behavior and gaslighters will not respond to logic or admit their true motivation. If a partner, friend, or colleague turns a conversation into an opportunity to insult you or question your sanity or ability, step away from the discussion—and the relationship if possible.

Practice trusting yourself again. Once you have ended a relationship with a gaslighter, it may take some time and practice to start trusting your instincts and your perceptions again. Remember that the pictured the gaslighter painted of you is not the truth of who you are.

Support for Overcoming the Mental Health Consequences of Gaslighting

After being in a relationship, friendship, or work environment with someone who was gaslighting you, additional support is often necessary to address gaslighting abuse symptoms. Support groups with others who have gone through similar relationships can be very helpful in helping victims overcome feelings of isolation and self-blame. Therapy can help people who have been gaslit to heal the self-doubt, self-esteem issues, lack of trust, depression, and/or PTSD resulting from this painful experience.

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Treatment with compassionate mental health professionals, alongside a caring community of peers, can allow young adults to get back on track with their relationships and their sense of self-worth. At Newport Institute, our model of care focuses on supporting young people to build trusting connections with others while reestablishing their connection with their own inner guidance and wisdom.

Contact us today to learn more about our approach to young adult treatment and our outpatient and residential locations around the country.


J Sexual Aggression. 2021 Jan; 27(2): 1850893.

J Women Minorities Sci Eng. 2021; 27(2): 1–23.

Am Sociolog Rev. 2019 Sept; 84(5): 851–875.

J Perinatal Neonatal Nursing. 2018 Jan; 32(1): 59–65.

What Is Covert Narcissistic Abuse? Gaslighting, Manipulation, And Intimidation

Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include violence, which could potentially be triggering. If you or someone you know is or may be experiencing abuse, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, available 24/7, at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or text «START» to 88788. Live chat is also available on the National Domestic Violence Hotline website.

Covert narcissistic abuse often goes unnoticed — at least initially. It refers to subtle patterns of manipulative, controlling, and hurtful behaviors used by a person living with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or narcissistic tendencies. This term is generally used when discussing intimate partner violence, but it can also apply to domestic violence between two people living together.

While you’ll find a variety of sources discussing NPD at length, the symptoms of this mental illness are often compressed, exaggerated, or used to describe someone who is not clinically ill. This language can obscure the symptoms and warning signs of NPD and related narcissistic abuse.

This guide explores narcissistic personality disorder and covert narcissistic abuse to help you recognize the signs. We’ll also explore how online therapy can help you recover.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder: A Definition

You Do Not Have To Tolerate Domestic Abuse

Narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD, is a complex personality disorder often diagnosed alongside other mental illnesses. It results in behaviors such as a lack of empathy, a pattern of grandiosity, and a need for admiration. In addition, people experiencing NPD may experience difficulty maintaining personal relationships and regular work.

Symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder include:

  • Unreasonably high sense of self-importance
  • A desire for constant, excessive admiration
  • The belief that they deserve special privileges or treatment
  • Expecting to be recognized as superior and thinking they are superior to others
  • Exaggeration of achievements and talents
  • Preoccupation with fantasies about success, power, beauty, or brilliance
  • Overly critical of people they feel are not important
  • Expecting special favors
  • Expecting others to do what they ask without question
  • Taking advantage of other people to get what they want
  • An inability or unwillingness to recognize the feelings or needs of others
  • A lack of empathy
  • Envious of others and a belief that others envy them
  • Arrogant behavior (e.g., bragging)
  • Demanding the best of everything (e.g., the best car or office)

People experiencing NPD or narcissistic traits may also struggle to handle criticism. When confronted with certain situations and behaviors, such as comments they view as critical, a person with NPD may:

  • Become impatient or angry about not receiving special recognition or treatment
  • Have difficulty interacting with others
  • Easily feel slighted
  • React with rage and try to belittle other people
  • Have difficulty managing their behavior and emotions
  • Struggle to cope with stress or adapt to change
  • Withdraw from or avoid situations in which they could fail
  • Become depressed and moody about not being perfect
  • Harbor and hide feelings of insecurity, shame, humiliation, and fear of failure

NPD symptoms may be «overt» or «covert,» depending on how the individual experiences and expresses them. However, neither presentation is recognized as a subset of narcissistic personality disorder in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — the DSM-5-TR.

For example, overt symptoms may cause the person experiencing them to seem grandiose, charming, articulate, exploitative, or moralistic. Conversely, covert symptoms could cause the person experiencing them to seem chronically bored, inattentive, doubt-ridden, shy, overly humble, deeply envious, forgetful of details, and cold. Covert symptoms may also be more challenging for others to recognize.

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What Is Covert Narcissistic Abuse?

Covert narcissistic abuse isn’t officially recognized by the American Psychological Association at this time. However, it may be in the future.

Regardless, people with NPD or narcissistic tendencies may exhibit covert expressions of abuse. Common manifestations of this covert narcissistic abuse include gaslighting, manipulation, and intimidation.


The term «gaslighting» comes from the 1938 play «Gas Light.» In the play, the main character’s husband systematically attempts to convince her she is experiencing mental instability to cover his scheming and crimes. The husband isolates his wife from contact with and support from others, hides items that she has set down and claims she has lost them, humiliates her by openly flirting with his maid, and claims his wife has done things he has done himself.

These tactics are examples of what gaslighting is — an attempt to destabilize someone’s sense of reality. And it may be used by people with NPD to preserve a sense of superiority and encourage others to doubt their perception of narcissism and its accompanying behaviors.


Psychological manipulation is typically intended to control, exploit, or otherwise influence another person’s behavior to one’s benefit. And it may be used by people with NPD or narcissistic traits alongside behaviors like lying, cheating, and stealing.

In the case of covert narcissistic abuse, this might manifest as behavior or speech designed to lead, guide, and twist the words and actions of those around them to fit the narrative they have created. For example, they may put themselves down to manipulate others into complimenting them.


Intimidation is another behavior a person with NPD or narcissistic traits may display. You might easily recognize the intimidation if the person becomes verbally or physically aggressive and confrontational.

However, if the person becomes defensive, tears others down, dismisses the frustration of those around them, or gaslights their partner by refusing to acknowledge transgressions, it might be more challenging to identify. Subtle manipulation might also involve silent treatments (e.g., refusing to speak to someone one is upset with), covert threats, and passive-aggressive behavior.

If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text «START» to 88788. You can also use online chat.

Therapy For Narcissistic Abuse

You Do Not Have To Tolerate Domestic Abuse

Healing may take time and professional intervention (e.g., therapy) if you are a survivor of narcissistic abuse. And for many, the first step is reaching out to a licensed mental health professional for help.

The same is true if you are experiencing domestic or intimate partner abuse. Leaving situations like this may be and feel challenging, but no one deserves to stay in an abusive relationship.

In-person and online therapy are equally effective options, and both can help you decide how to leave an active abusive relationship or heal from past abuse. Online therapy has many benefits, including a broader range of professionals and no need to travel to an office. It may also be more discreet for those still in an abusive situation.

Research has shown that online therapy is viable for those experiencing trauma and post-traumatic stress symptoms. It can help reduce depression and anxiety, common comorbid conditions, and improve patient treatment outcomes. And it’s more effective than being put on a waiting list by an in-person specialist.


While the DSM-5-TR doesn’t officially recognize covert narcissistic abuse and covert narcissism, the experience is real and valid for those who have experienced it. Recovering from the common behaviors involved in this form of abuse — gaslighting, manipulation, and intimidation — usually requires time and emotional healing. And online therapy offers an accessible place to begin this journey.

At BetterHelp, we’ll match you with a licensed mental health practitioner based on your needs and preferences. Once matched, you can have appointments on your schedule via in-app messaging, voice chat, or video calls. You’ll also be able to message your provider anytime, and they’ll respond as soon as possible.

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Other Commonly Asked Questions:

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1. How do you outsmart a covert narc?

There are a few ways you can outsmart covert narcissist tactics, including giving this person the silent treatment or taking care of your own mental health and well being. When you don’t maintain connections with a narcissist, this may cause them to feel like they have lost control of you. They will have no power over you, which is something they would like to avoid.

2. What are some common phrases used by covert narcissists?

An individual with covert narcissism will say things that indicate that they are the victim, in most situations. They may also say things that are manipulative or help them get what they want. Pay attention to the message they are trying to convey instead of the words. When they never show empathy for you or other people, they could be a narcissist.

3. How does a covert narcissist act when confronted?

Anytime a narcissist is confronted, they may become hostile. This is one of the signs of manipulative behavior. For example, they may indicate that they haven’t done anything wrong, take no responsibility, and say another person is to blame. On the other hand, they could say mean things, act out once you confront them, or exhibit other overt behaviors towards you.

4. Who are covert narcissists attracted to?

Covert and overt narcissists are attracted to those that are unlikely to notice that they are being controlled or people that are able to be controlled. They may be showing you in subtle ways that they are a narcissist, but you aren’t picking up the signs. This is okay, but if you think that you are in a relationship with a narcissist, you should do some research online to find out more about the symptoms of this condition.

5. What upsets a narcissist the most?

Generally, a narcissist will have a great sense of self importance, so they will not be able to respond well when someone says they have done something wrong. It can be problematic for them because they may also have an issue with self doubt that they don’t want others to know about. When they are criticized, it can weigh on this doubt.

6. How does a narcissist react when they can’t control you?

If a narcissist feels like they can’t control you anymore, they may start being more manipulative and hurtful towards you. They may also try to hurt your feelings in a number of different ways. If you think that you are being controlled by a narcissist, it is a good idea to keep a healthy distance between you and them. You can also give them the silent treatment, where you don’t talk to them or respond to their messages on social media. This way, they will be less likely to affect your well being and control you.

7. What happens when you ignore a covert narcissist?

When you ignore a covert narcissist, they may become upset that you are acting in a different way. Your behaviors could cause them to change the way they are acting, and start being more overt in their treatment. For example, they might start engaging in more manipulative behaviors, to get you to notice them.

8. Are covert narcissists aware of their behavior?

In some cases, a covert narcissist knows how they are acting and affecting others around them, although not all of them do. However, even when they are aware of their behavior, they may not care. In other words, they won’t feel that they are to blame for anything. This is different than those that express overt narcissism, where they may not be aware of their treatment of others at all.

9. How can you tell if someone is a covert narcissist?

If someone is a covert narcissist, there are a few traits you may notice about them that might be present. For instance, they may have a need for frequent admiration, an inflated sense of self-importance, and they might feel superior to others frequently. If you notice these signs in someone you know, pay attention to how they treat others. Behaviors that are of a passive aggressive manner to other people can also be a sign of narcissism.

10. What happens when a covert narcissist knows you figured them out?

Once a narcissist understands you have figured them out, this means that they likely know that they are unable to control you further. This could cause them to lash out and say hurtful things or do hurtful things to you. They might start to behave in a more overt manner as well.

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