Do you feel like you’re never able to win over your narcissist husband, wife, or partner? Or maybe it’s your narcissistic parent, friend, or neighbor? Do you find that they always seem to be a step ahead of you?
Somehow, narcissists have this intrinsic ability to “know” what buttons to push that will hurt you the most. This is because narcissists are expert mind game players. The narcissist is a master of manipulation. They can get you to do things that you don’t want to do and think thoughts that you don’t want to think…all under the guise of “love.”
What are narcissist mind games?
There are so many different kinds of narcissist mind games, but in this case, we’re talking about different types of emotional manipulation. The manipulation of emotions can be so subtle, so smooth, so insidious that you hardly notice it’s happening. Sometimes the narcissist’s words and actions are so contradictory that you might even doubt your own judgment. Each game has a purpose, whether it’s to keep us hooked in the cycle of abuse, to use us for supply, or to manipulate us into giving them what they want. These games are designed to make you feel insecure, relatively inferior to them, and encourage you to compete with them or put your energy into earning their approval.
The good news is that once we know what the games are, we can work through them and learn to break free.
Why do narcissists play mind games with you?
To be able to play mind games, the narcissist has to ignore the feelings of others completely. They have no empathy and can’t see their pain or feel it. They have no ability to connect with others on any other level than a superficial one. They have no interest in others as people other than how they can use them, and they lie for no reason other than to avoid being honest.
In other words, narcissists play head games to control others and be in power. The main goal is to confuse, deceive and manipulate. They enjoy the ‘chase’ and the ‘hunt’ more than the actual ‘kill,’ so they want you to stay hooked at all times so they can keep playing this game. Whether consciously or otherwise, the narcissist’s goal is to keep you confused about and focused on figuring out how to navigate their behavior.
That way, they’ll have more control over you because you’ll be so focused on trying to figure them out that you might not recognize what’s happening. Plus, in most cases, the mind games involve tearing you down and making you feel worthless – so you won’t believe you can do any better than them. It may be hard to believe that a person who loves you would knowingly try to hurt you, but if they are a narcissist, that’s exactly what they do. But you’ve got to understand that a narcissist cannot love you in the same way you could love them.
What are the most common mind games played by the narcissist?
There are many narcissist mind games but these are the most common. They’re used often to play with your emotions, your intelligence, your sanity and they’re used often to confuse you. They don’t mean anything; it’s nothing personal (usually) It’s just for one reason or another they use these mind games to make you feel like you aren’t good enough… like you need to change something about yourself…
The cold shoulder. Ostracization. Social exclusion. Being actively, directly rudely ignored! It’s exhausting, It’s upsetting. And quite honestly, it’s abusive. So, let me ask you something.
Have you been there? Does someone in your life cut off contact, directly or indirectly, anytime you upset or annoy them? If so, you might be falling victim to a well-known manipulation tactic – the old silent treatment.
What is silent treatment?
The silent treatment is amanipulation tactic where someone will stop talking to you. This painful, uncomfortable silence can go on for days, hours, weeks, or even months in order to punish you for some perceived slight. It can cause serious emotional and psychological damage if you don’t realize what is happening. While people who aren’t narcissists may also use this tactic, it is commonly used among narcissists.
Narcissists and the Silent Treatment
Are you dealing with getting the silent treatment from a narcissist? If you are, then you already how upsetting and confusing this can be. When a narcissist is involved, it’s possible that you’re being discarded, either permanently or temporarily. You might be getting the silent treatment due to a breakup or the end of your relationship, or it could be one in a long line of discards during an ongoing relationship. It’s all part of the narcissist’s cycle of abuse. But the narcissist’s motivations are what you’re really interested in, so let’s discuss what they’re thinking when they give you the silent treatment.
What are the narcissist’s motivations for using the silent treatment?
When you think about the silent treatment and how cruel it can be, not only does it affirm that the narcissist lacks compassionate and emotional empathy, but you find yourself wondering how they could be so cruel? What motivates a narcissist to stop communicating with you?
The relationship is ending.
When a narcissistic ex gives you the silent treatment after a breakup, it is not that they are suffering and processing how your relationship ended. That is what you would expect a neurotypical non-narcissistic ex to do. But the narcissist deals with it by searching for a new source of narcissistic supply. You have to remember that this “supply,” for the narcissist, can feel as important as air might feel you or any living being. In other words, despite their claims of wanting to “be alone” or needing to “figure things out on their own,” the narcissist will feel as though they cannot be without it. So, they might have gone silent as they are engaging with others and attempting to get the supply they so desperately need. They can’t stand to be alone with their thoughts.
The narcissist controls you through gaslighting and confusion
Narcissists are known manipulators, and one of their most notorious tactics is to gaslight you through confusion emotional manipulation, and abuse. The silent treatment is the perfect vehicle to accomplish this, and this is especially true of covert narcissists – although their more grandiose counterparts are also skilled at this particular tactic. You know that narcissists enjoy manipulating and gaslighting you. The narcissist loves the idea of you lying awake all night wondering why they are giving you the silent treatment. It actually offers them a certain amount of supply in itself.
The narcissist lives to keep you in limbo
With a sudden change in behavior, the narcissist can throw you into limbo, that feeling where you’re lost and not sure what to do or what’s next. For example, when they go from being overly demanding to not saying anything at all, you might be left spinning. They love the idea of you being distracted all day, unable to focus on anything except for what they could be possibly thinking.
The narcissist feels powerful through silent treatment.`
Narcissists thrive on power, as you know. They envision you waiting by your phone waiting for a text, or even for an email. The fact that they will not send you a message or speak to you makes them feel powerful as they control your emotions and productivity.
If your narcissistic ex is giving you the silent treatment, the best thing to do is not even to acknowledge it at all. Please realize that this is a manipulative tactic to play around with their mind and emotions.
Just in case you’re not familiar with the term, gaslighting is a psychological manipulation technique often used by narcissists to make you doubt your thoughts, your ideas, your own judgment, your ability to understand, and even your own perception of the world around you.
How can you gaslight yourSELF?
See, we really CAN gaslight ourselves – and it’s a phenomenon that isn’t just seen in people who have been in toxic relationships with narcissists. Of course, it’s probably most prominent among this particular population. But it doesn’t have to be the story of your life. There are ways to identify self-gaslighting and ways to overcome it. So, let’s talk about self-gaslighting.
What is self-gaslighting?
Self-gaslighting, sometimes referred to as “internalized gaslighting,” is what you’re doing when you’re suppressing your own thoughts and emotions, and when you’re actively telling yourself that your own thoughts, ideas, feelings, and perceptions are inaccurate or invalid.
An easier way to understand self-gaslighting might be to see it as a sort of remnant of the narcissist’s voice in your own head, in which you sort of “do the dirty work” on the narcissist’s behalf. In other words, you minimize and invalidate yourself and your own thoughts, rather than waiting for someone else to do it. This is often a result of years or decades of conditioning by the narcissist.
Why is self-gaslighting a problem in narcissistic abuse recovery?
When you’re going through narcissistic abuse, you may have developed the self-gaslighting habit as an attempt to pre-screen your conversations with the narcissist in order to reduce stress on yourself and the relationship. It might have been safer for you to sort of censor yourself before speaking.
This mindset isn’t uncommon with survivors, but it’s problematic for you because it causes you to be overly cautious and not trust yourself and your decisions. This keeps you emotionally and psychologically stuck in the toxic relationship, even if you’ve physically left it. It makes moving forward and creating a life that makes you feel happy and fulfilled nearly impossible.
It keeps you stuck in victim mode and never allows you to evolve beyond the role of “survivor,” even if you do manage to remove yourself from the direct influence of the narcissist. It makes you feel not good enough, not smart enough, not “enough” in general. You become a disconnected, fragmented shell of your former self.
What are the signs you’re self-gaslighting?
1. You don’t trust yourself.
Whenever you have to make a decision or a change in your life, you worry that you’ll make the wrong choice. This can be debilitating, especially if you don’t have anyone you can trust to discuss your choices with. In reality, you might even prefer that someone else just tells you what to do – otherwise, you worry you’ll ruin everything, and that you’ll only have yourself to blame.
2. You don’t know who you are these days.
You don’t know how to talk about yourself, and if someone asks you to do so, you’re quick to change the subject. You find yourself feeling numb, or lost, or like you aren’t even sure who you really are anymore. You might not know what you like or what you want, and even if someone directly asks you, you can’t explain who you are in any meaningful way. After spending years or decades focused on the narcissist’s needs, wants, and whims, you have lost the ability to talk about yourself. You’re far more comfortable letting other people talk about themselves, and will quickly change the subject if it turns to you.
3. You’re quick to assign blame…to yourself.
If you’re being honest, you don’t even really like yourself, and your self-confidence is practically non-existent. You’re comfortable in the role of scapegoat, it seems. No matter who’s really at fault, if things go wrong, you instantly assume that you’re wrong and that no one else is responsible. Even with the evidence of someone else being responsible laid out in front of you, you’ll figure out a way to make it your fault. You might imagine that you could have said or done something differently to affect the outcome, or that maybe if you’d just offered the right kind of support, it would never have happened.
4. You’re always apologizing.
You find yourself saying “I’m sorry” so much that healthier people in your life tell you to stop apologizing so much. You are sorry when someone bumps into you, or when you state an opinion or thought – even if no one around you objects. You can’t stop apologizing, and when someone calls you on it, you apologize for that too.
5. You feel like a fraud.
You often worry that people will discover you’re not “enough” or that you’re not even a whole person. Maybe you even have full-blown imposter syndrome. Everything you do leaves you feeling like you’re pretending. You assume everyone around you is more qualified or effective than you, and you are either terrified that people will find out, or you’re already assuming that everyone knows it.
How do you overcome self-gaslighting?
Once you’ve recognized that you’re using self-gaslighting, you’ve already taken the first step toward resolving it. But what comes next? How do you stop gaslighting yourself so you can continue to heal and move forward in your life?
Remember that these aren’t your own thoughts.
As I explained earlier, very often, self-gaslighting feels a lot like a remnant of the narcissist’s voice in your head. So, ask yourself: where do these thoughts really come from and why am I thinking them? Take some time and really think about it. Ask yourself:
Are these thoughts accurate?
When and where did I first think this way?
Who taught me to think this way about myself?
How does thinking this way affect me long-term?
Try this healing list exercise.
One exercise I do with my narcissistic abuse recovery clients to help them create some awareness around this kind of thing is to have them write a list of all of the negative self-perceptions they have picked up along the way. Then, during a session, we go down the list and first identify where they got these ideas from initially. When that’s done, the client will go down the list and cross off these negative self-perceptions and replace them with their truth (or what they want to be the truth). These truths then become new affirmations the clients can use to help them grow forward in their narcissistic abuse recovery.
Think about how you’d talk to your child or another person you love unconditionally.
Survivors often have a really difficult time figuring out how to appropriately treat and speak to themselves. Not only have their parents and other people in their lives not given them the skills they need to love themselves, but they’ve actually worked against the idea of independent thought and autonomy. In order to work through this and speak to yourself in a way that is appropriate and self-validating, think about how you’d speak to your child or someone else who you love unconditionally – and speak to yourself that way. I have found this to be an incredibly effective way to shift my own self-talk.
Use pattern interrupts.
Pattern interrupts are highly effective for so many different aspects of narcissistic abuse recovery, and this is one more way they can be used. When you have been self-gaslighting for so long, it almost becomes an automatic behavior – a pattern – that you fall into without thought. So, when you begin to work on letting go of self-gaslighting, you can use mindfulness to pay attention to your thoughts and ideas, and then you can choose to use a pattern-interrupt to change it.
Easy-to-Implement Pattern Interrupt Ideas
Pattern interrupts are part of NLP (Neurolinguistic programming). Sounds complicated, right? But it’s so simple. Here are some quick and easy-to-implement pattern interrupt ideas for you.
Try a simple affirmation you repeat to yourself in the moment.
Try standing up and moving into a different room of the house.
Try taking a quick shower.
You can brush your teeth or hair or wash your hands.
Try to count all of the items in a room that are a certain color.
5. Work on understanding yourself and your own emotions better.
We become so disconnected from ourselves when we’re involved with a narcissist that we can’t even remember who we are. So one of the best ways to push through self-gaslighting is to take a deep breath and dive into the emotions when we can.
So, if you’re feeling sad, allow yourself to cry if you need to. Then explore the tears: what do they mean? Why are you crying? What is making you sad?
Validate your own emotions and figure out how to resolve them. Take the time to find out what you really want and need, and work on developing more connection to your own intuition. Journaling can help a lot with this because it lets you process and understand your thoughts and emotions.
Ultimately, you can stop gaslighting yourself with a little self-compassion, intention, and mindful action.
Question of the Day – This brings me to the question of the day: Have you ever experienced self-gaslighting, or are you going through it now? Have you found ways to cope? Share your thoughts, share your ideas and share your experiences in the comments section below this video – and let’s talk about it.
Get help with narcissistic abuse recovery, right now.
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Narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships is both confusing and debilitating for the victim of the narcissist. But what is interesting is that nearly everyone who has experienced it can relate to certain issues that come up. In fact, you might be surprised to learn how often we hear the same questions, again and again.
For people who are surviving narcissistic abuse, some of the most common questions I hear from my coaching clients are the following.
Questions like these are asked so often that you might be shocked. But I get it because I’ve been there personally – as have all of our narcissistic abuse recovery coaches and counselors here at QueenBeing. In fact, that’s exactly why we do what we do! We’re here to provide the validation a survivor seeks to help with moving forward. The truth is that getting out of toxic relationships often feels impossible without some validation that the relationship is indeed as bad as you think it is.
The thing is that, quite frankly, a label does not matter. What matters is how you are treated in the relationship – and how you feel when you spend time with that person.
Toxic is toxic.
The struggle to even know if your relationship is toxic is totally normal with emotional abuse. Many of the mistreatments and abuse can be covert and almost impossible to describe. Check out this list of signs that your relationship may be toxic if you need support and validation. Hopefully, this will help you see some common ways people know things are unhealthy and can help you make the decision that is right for your healing and life.
You are confused by any conflict because it feels like your reality is being twisted (gaslighting).
You are required to check-in and it feels like your every move is monitored. You have anxiety if you do not check-in or check-in late.
You feel sad when your partner jokes with you because the jokes feel like hidden criticism or emotional attacks. This is especially true for those who normally find joking to be a fun way to enjoy communication with others.
If you’ve ever been in a relationship with a malignant narcissist or someone who has narcissistic personality disorder, you might have wondered on more than one occasion whether you are the narcissist in the relationship. Thanks to the gaslighting and manipulation involved in the relationship, a toxic partner, friend, or family member may have convinced you tha you are, in fact, the one who is toxic and that they are the innocent victim. So, how do you know if you’re the narcissist – or not? What if You’re the Narcissist? (See video on YouTube or read below).
What’s the Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Narcissism?
Would you be offended if I told you that you have at least a little bit of narcissism in your personality? It’s actually the truth! See, every single one of us has some amount of narcissism.
So, let’s talk about that. One of the biggest things that people ask me when they first find my videos, articles, books or podcasts is, “but isn’t EVERYONE a narcissist?” And my answer is always yes. But…there’s more to it than that. See, there is such a thing as “healthy narcissism,” and then there’s what we call “malignant” or “toxic narcissism.”
Healthy Narcissism vs Unhealthy Narcissism
Whether it’s due to our culture, our technology, our parents, or some other cause, a larger percentage of narcissists seem to be coming out of the woodwork. Some people are even calling it an epidemic. And of course, in the past couple of years, tons of new so-called experts have come out of the woodwork, MOST of them doing the work because they have found someone like me and healed, so they’re trying to give back. There are some who aren’t so genuine in their efforts, but we won’t give them any more focus than they deserve.
Is there a narcissism epidemic?
As news and gossip around certain well-known narcissist-types swirl through the media and our minds these days, you’ve got to wonder if maybe there is a narcissism epidemic, right? In any case, there seems to be evidence of an increase in narcissism in our society, and there are those who would argue that there is a certain amount of narcissism that is healthy for most people.
Would you be totally shocked that I agree with “them,” that there is a certain amount of narcissism that is necessary to survive and certainly thrive in the world these days? It’s true. But a healthy amount of narcissism looks a lot more like a dedication to one’s own happiness and success – along with the ability to empathize with and generally care for other people and their feelings.
How do you know what’s healthy when it comes to narcissism?
What does healthy narcissism really look like? Well, it starts with self-esteem. It looks like loving (or at least being okay with) yourself and understanding that you have value without the need for excessive outside validation. It means that you don’t need people around you to be “less than” you in order to feel validated.
It’s being able to be genuinely happy for another person’s success and able to admit it if you feel a little jealous of it. It’s using those feelings to push you to inspiration and success, rather than to feel insecure and threatened by it.
And this next part is especially important. Healthy narcissism must coexist with healthy empathy skills.That is exactly the difference between a toxic narcissist (or sociopath, or person with narcissistic personality disorder/NPD) and a healthy person with a healthy amount of narcissism.
In fact, I personally feel that compassionate empathy – or the lack thereof – is the tipping point between relatively healthy narcissism and malignant narcissism.
When does it turn into malignant or toxic narcissism?
Officially, a malignant narcissist is a person who has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) along with other antisocial features, paranoid traits, and ego-driven aggression. They may also exhibit an absence of conscience, a psychological need for power, and an inflated sense of self-importance and entitlement.
But here’s the part that’s really important here – it’s the empathy thing. When we say “narcissists have no empathy,” we don’t necessarily mean that they’re not capable of figuring out what you’re feeling. What we mean is that narcissists don’t FEEL empathy in the same way as most people do. They have no compassion, no remorse and they don’t feel regret – unless they regret a choice they made because it negatively affected them directly.
What I mean is that a narcissist cannot feel genuine empathy, and often, unless it benefits them directly, they don’t even pretend to understand how you feel. Of course, when it suits them, they are more than happy to use the ability to read people in order to manipulate them. In fact, even in the cases where they appear to understand emotion, it’s only to their benefit that they use that ability – only when and if it’s required to get what they want from you. THAT is “cognitive empathy.”
And there’s a big difference between the kind of empathy a narcissist displays and actual empathy. To clarify, in general, real empathy is the ability to sense, understand, and feel the emotions of someone else, even if you haven’t had an identical experience. Now, real empathy might be cognitive, emotional, and/or compassionate.
But either way, real empathy means, on some level, you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You can feel what they are feeling even if you cannot relate to what they are going through directly because you can sort of imagine how they must feel. You feel compassion for them and you care about their feelings because of this – and then you act accordingly.
False empathy is sadly used as a manipulation tactic by narcissists when they want something from you. As emotionally delayed as they are, narcissists are usually relatively intellectually inclined. They can “think about” what someone else is feeling, but it doesn’t affect their emotional state directly, nor does it play a part in how they treat the other person.
Malignant Narcissists Do Not Recognize Boundaries
Narcissists by nature are wired to do whatever is necessary to get what they want, and they do this in varying degrees of intensity, often pushing their victims to the point of emotional exhaustion, isolation, depression, and even various forms of PTSD – and then there are the physical symptoms involved with emotional and psychological abuse.
Considering who these people are and how much they seem to need from the people closest to them, you won’t be surprised to know that they are quite often attracted to their polar opposites, for obvious reasons. While a toxic narcissist will create excessive “rules” for you and will enforce them even to their own detriment at times, they will refuse to accept your own boundaries, and often, if you do have the nerve to try to express those boundaries to the narcissist directly, they will actually intentionally cross them, just because you asked them not to do so.
It is one more way they show you they’re in control. This may start off small at the beginning of your relationship. For example, let’s say you have a new friend who might be a toxic narcissist. You tell them early in the relationship that you really prefer they call you before they drop by. They do at first, but over time, there are little drop-ins that you don’t expect. They’re just dropping off that thing they borrowed from you that one time, what’s the big deal? Or they just happened to be in the neighborhood, but they forgot to call. Do you mind making them a little something to eat?
Then, before you know it, they’ve got their own key and they stop by anytime it pleases them. And they complain if your house isn’t company-ready. Yep. They will slowly push your boundaries bit-by-bit until they completely obliterate them.
Why do we accept this?
We tolerate this kind of abuse for a few different reasons – and you might be surprised to learn why. But here’s the thing. Often, when we end up in toxic relationships with narcissists, we also may have been raised by them – or at least, deeply affected in childhood by some form of abuse or trauma.
Many times, that does come from a disapproving or controlling parent – or a directly abusive one. Or, in some cases, our parents may have just been really neglectful of our emotional and/or physical needs. Let’s talk about why the narcissist chose you and how this is connected to the suffering you’re facing in this toxic relationship.
What do narcissists look for in a partner or friend?
Narcissists seek out empathic, highly intuitive people for a reason – we care about how people feel and we are driven to action by their intense emotional outbursts. This is because growing up, someone taught us that in order to receive love, we needed to keep them happy by doing SOMETHING – we either had to live up to their particular standards for us (and often, those were impossible standards), or we had to stay out of their way, or we had to do whatever they told us to do, or whatever your parent’s particular needs and demands were.
We learned that love was not unconditional, even where it should’ve been, and we learned that our value wasn’t in our individual selves so much as it was in our ability to serve the toxic person in our lives. So, we became people pleasers and we learned that loving someone meant to do anything we could to make or keep them happy, regardless of the personal cost to ourselves and our mental or physical health.
And let’s not forget how easy it can be to love bomb us – as people-pleasers, we are wired to want people to like us, and to seek the best in everyone. We are willing to put up with being treated like we don’t matter, and we are trained to literally put other people before our own HEALTH even – just to make them happy and to feel like they love us – even though that is clearly not the truth. See how that might make for an ideal source of narcissistic supply?
Narcissists Make You Feel Unlovable
In case you didn’t catch it – and just to remind you – the people who taught you that you weren’t lovable unless you served them and met all of their demands – they were wrong. Actual love doesn’t require you to give to the point of physical illness, or to put your own mental health on the back burner, or to ALWAYS give in and do what the other person wants, even when it’s against your moral, ethical, or personal beliefs. Real love doesn’t require you to give until you’re completely drained and never get anything in return. While a “real love” relationship might sometimes look like 40/60 or 70/30 in certain situations, the “average” ratio of give and take should be close to 50/50.
Bottom Line on the difference between healthy and unhealthy narcissism? Healthy narcissism is self-focus, self-confidence, self-interest, and personal drive, but these qualities must coexist with a healthy concern for others and the ability to genuinely empathize with them.
Unhealthy, malignant narcissism and NPD involve the lack of emotional and compassionate empathy and concern for others, combined with an unhealthy amount of self-focus. And of course, this kind of narcissistic person is secretly quite insecure and very troubled, in some cases – but you may never know that unless you look beyond the smoke and mirrors.
Have you ever dealt with a narcissist who seems to conveniently forget things that are important to you, but who never seems to forget that time 10 years ago when you stepped on their toe or said something that hurt their feelings? Someone who would be very forgetful when they promised you they’d do something that mattered, but who would never forget if you even looked at them cross-eyed? How did that feel to you?
Maybe you worried that they were losing their memory or started Googling stuff like “early-onset dementia” or “convenient memory loss.” Or, if you are still in a relationship with a narcissist, whether they are a parent, spouse, partner, friend, or coworker, and you are noticing that their memory seems to be going south, then you might be wondering about this right now, at this moment.
If your toxic relationships look anything like mine did, you might find this to be especially poignant when you think back to incidents where the narcissist said they’d take care of something, but pretended to forget that they made such a promise.
Later, they’d end up blaming you for being irresponsible. For instance, the narcissist in your life may have told you that they were going to take care of the grocery shopping on Wednesday. But then when you go to cook dinner on Wednesday night, they’re offended when you ask what happened with the groceries. At that moment, rather than taking responsibility and acknowledging that they forgot or chose not to do the shopping for whatever reason, they might accuse you of forgetting to do the shopping. And when you remind them that they said they were going to take care of the shopping, they get angry and deny having said that.
Despite the fact that you know for sure they said it, they will insist that you’re mistaken, and narcissistic rage will ensue as they give you a good “dressing down,” reminding you how scatter-brained and flaky you tend to be. By the time this emotionally draining exchange is over, you’ll find yourself wishing you’d just done the shopping yourself – and you never ask them to do it again.
Of course, if we’re being honest, this was the narcissist’s desire all along – to avoid the responsibility of bringing home the proverbial bacon and then frying it up in a pan part – but as always, they’ll expect you to serve it up to them with a smile if and when they want it, regardless of your own state of wellbeing and ability to drop whatever you’re doing and take care of their many demands in any given moment.
But I digress. Now, here is the question you have really been wanting to ask.
Do Narcissists Really Have Memory Problems?
Yes, and no. It’s complicated – and there are a couple of different possibilities here. Let me explain.
First, it’s important to remember that, as much as they make us doubt it, narcissists are technically human. And all humans seem to have a certain amount of bias as well as selectiveness in both their perceptions and their memories.
For example, you know about confirmation bias, right? That is where someone will only notice or remember things that confirm what they already believe. And we all know how nostalgia can lead to a convenient “forgetting” of the bad parts of life – for example, when a woman has a baby, we don’t focus on the gross, painful parts of giving birth, but we do focus on how amazing it was that we managed to have a baby. The truth is that, in this case, humanity might be in serious danger of extinction if it was any other way.
Even survivors of narcissistic abuse will find themselves dealing with what might be called nostalgia-based selective memory – but we call it “abuse amnesia.” That is what happens when we are away from the abuser in our lives for a while and we start to forget all the bad parts of being in a relationship with them. It’s when “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” on a toxic level. You literally sort of “forget” all of the bad stuff and begin to romanticize the reality of your toxic relationship. This is dangerous as it leads to reuniting with your abuser. Too many of us end up going back to the very people who made our lives feel miserable – simply because some part of us wants to believe them when they swear they’ve changed – and because on some level, we really sort of “forget” the depth of how they actually treated us in the relationship.
This is truly just how the human brain functions. Our memories function sort of like little databases, keeping records in realtime over the course of our lives. As our brain manages our physical bodies, it also grabs a few main details of each situation we deal with every day, or at least those situations that seem to matter to us in the moment – good or bad. It discards the stuff that doesn’t feel or seem important to us – and if we tap into that memory later to figure out what happened, our brains attempt to sort of reconstruct that situation, based on only those saved details.
C-PTSD and Selective Memory
If you’ve been in a toxic relationship with a narcissist, then you might be experiencing C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder), which is a serious mental health condition affecting a large percentage of victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse. This disorder can take years to treat and many professionals aren’t familiar with its symptoms or misdiagnose it. They may even victim-blame if they aren’t familiar with the subtle tricks of a narcissist. Unfortunately, it can be a lifelong condition, but it can be managed with mindfulness and behavior modification, among other therapies and modalities.
With that being said, one of the most often-reported symptoms is short-term memory loss, along with longer-term loss in some especially traumatic cases where people might sort of blackout painful incidents of verbal or emotional abuse suffered at the hands of a narcissist. This is a result of the way our brains function under the stress of being in a relationship with a narcissist.
This is partially related to the trauma, which has a tendency to cause us to sort of live instinctively – as in, a constant state of fight-or-flight and/or freeze mode. And you know when it’s really hard for the human brain to form and retain new memories, right?
When Narcissists Use Selective Memory in Gaslighting
So, when it comes to a narcissist who hurts us emotionally, we obviously consider this important and significant. This is part of our survival instinct. It makes sense.
But when you consider that narcissists tend to have incredibly volatile emotions along with a lack of emotional and compassionate empathy – not to mention that when they are feeling upset or angry or embarrassed – or when they’re feeling anything other than being fully in control of the situation, and then you add in the fact that they don’t see you as real, relevant or important as they are…well, their “selective” memory might be understandable, in a way. Right?
Of course, with narcissists, nothing is so simple. And in many cases, if we’re being honest, it isn’t really about a naturally-occurring personality defect. In fact, for most narcissists, selective memory is used as a manipulation tactic, at least some of the time. It is one of the many ways they gaslight you – as in manipulating you by psychological means into questioning your own sanity.
They might claim they don’t remember doing something that hurt you so they can get out of taking responsibility, for example. Or, (and this is more common in my experience), they might even sort of attack you for EXPECTING them to remember – and they might even try to use this to justify their abuse (or to deny it completely).
The fact of the matter is that narcissists only care about what they want and what they need. And sadly, when it comes to you, they are mostly only concerned with the narcissistic supply you provide them.
The Conveniently Forgetful Narcissist
The truth is that, while human memory is fallible and while narcissists are technically human, most of the time, unless they are diagnosed with dementia or another memory-affecting disease, the narcissist’s memory is as good as anyone else’s.
In other words, narcissists will remember what they choose to remember.
They might selectively remember how much you love something. Here’s a hypothetical example to explain it a little more clearly. Let’s say that at one time, you told the narcissist you love white roses but that you’re allergic to yellow daisies to the point that it could endanger your life.
They will remember that when it is convenient for them – and forget when they feel like it.
So, during love bombing, you’ll get all kinds of white roses. And then, when they are in the devalue phase, where they’re noticing everything wrong with you and picking you apart, they will forget you like flowers at all. Or they’ll fill the house with yellow daisies and get mad at you when your throat closes up and you have to rush to the emergency room. They’ll say you are just being dramatic.
And once that incident is over and they decide they want some more of the narcissistic supply they can provide you, they might want to suck you back into the relationship with a good, solid hoover maneuver. That’s when they will suddenly recall that you love white roses, and they’ll expect you to be ever-so-grateful that they “thought about you” and that they brought you these beautiful roses. And, you might even fall for it, because they will seem so sincere and like they really mean it.
But don’t let your soft heart fool you here, my friend. The fact is that those white roses you love so much are being used as a tool to reel you in once again. That is the only reason they decide to remember that single fact about you in any given moment (and it is the same reason they forget when it is convenient for them).
Especially during the devalue and discard phases, the narcissist might suddenly recall something embarrassing that you did years ago at a party or among friends, and they might intentionally humiliate you with the story. And you can bet that they will certainly never manage to forget that one time you had let them down 20 years ago – but they won’t recall that you failed to do whatever they expected because you were in the hospital having surgery – they’ll just remember that you forgot to pay the water bill or that you didn’t make their lunch for work that day. Seriously.
Let me be clear here. The narcissist remembers and forgets things that matter to you at different times because they instinctively recognize that you will have emotional reactions to them in either case. In other words, they use this “selective memory” thing as a way to control and manipulate you.
Ultimately, while the narcissist most certainly can and does occasionally have moments of forgetfulness or things that really slip their minds, in many cases, it can be a smokescreen for the gaslighting techniques they use to control you and manipulate you into doing what they want.
Question of the day: Do you know a narcissist who used selective memory as a gaslighting and manipulation tactic? Do you believe that they are just having the same issues as other humans? What do you think? Share your thoughts, share your ideas, and share your experiencesin the comments section below this video – and let’s talk about it!