Can Gaslighting Be Unintentional?

Written by Angela Atkinson

Today, we’re going to talk about narcissists and gaslighting and whether or not it can be intentional. If you’ve ever had a friend, family member or co-worker who is a narcissist or who suffers from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), chances are you have been the victim of gaslighting, which is a manipulation technique they often employ to get what they want.

(See video here)

In case you’re new around here, let me define gaslighting for you. Used by most narcissists, gaslighting is a pervasive and highly-effective tactic meant to manipulate you by psychological means into questioning your own sanity. Or, in layman’s terms, gaslighting is when a toxic person intentionally messes with your head to make you doubt your reality and your sanity. And, if you haven’t already guessed, gaslighters make you feel crazy because they act like your reactions to their abuse are not rational.

But is it intentional? Are narcissists and other toxic people using gaslighting on purpose? Do they think about it first, or is it just in their nature? Do people who are utilizing gaslighting tactics even know they are doing that?

Can gaslighting be unintentional?

In the examples I gave, do you think that the gaslighting was done on purpose or by nature? Were the narcissists I  talked about calculating or was this just the way their minds work? Well, let’s discuss that. It could go one of two ways.

In some cases yes, a narcissist can be well-aware of what they’re doing. Maybe they don’t call it “gaslighting,” but they have studied you and long-practiced the strategy and how it works in order to manipulate others. It is all about gaining control. The ones who intentionally manipulate and do so in a calculated, focused way tend to be more intelligent as well as higher on the cluster B spectrum. They’re more likely to qualify as sociopaths and psychopaths.

However, in other cases, there are abusers and narcissists who utilize gaslighting tactics without even realizing it as well.

In those instances, they are still wanting to gain control to manipulate others, and when that happens, gaslighting is one of those tactics they use. But that does not mean the gaslighting is intentional. It just comes with the territory. In many cases, children who were raised by narcissistic parents or one narcissistic parent would have learned those tactics along the way by watching what the parent does. It can just be their nature, or a learned behavior. It might look like a bad habit.

For example, if the parent had an addiction and they did not want the children to tell anyone about it, they would use gaslighting tactics to keep the child quiet. This would involve some form of manipulation by the parent. Another common gaslighting tactic that toxic parents use is that they do what they can to alienate the child from the other parent. Especially when the parents are separated or divorced as they will depict the other parent as the ‘deadbeat’ even if that is far from the truth.

The worst part is that oftentimes children who are abused and manipulated sadly repeat history. Some realize that they need to break the cycle so they don’t do that to their children. This can ensure that the toxic legacy doesn’t continue. But those who do pick up those tactics will be more likely to be manipulative towards others even if they are unintentionally gaslighting. They still are doing it to get what they want. And whether or not the manipulator is aware of gaslighting, they both are a pathological way of cruelly manipulating the mind to get what they want. They don’t care if you get hurt in the end.

Bottom line: it is true that gaslighting can be unintentional. But remember this: that does not make it any less problematic than those who are intentionally doing it to you.

The best way to deal with gaslighting is through the gray rock method. You can learn more about the gray rock method right here

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