“…the act of gaslighting does not simply affect women who are not quite sure of themselves. Even vocal, confident, assertive women are vulnerable to gaslighting. Why?Because women bare the brunt of our neurosis. It is much easier for us to place our emotional burdens on the shoulders of our wives, our female friends, our girlfriends, our female employees, our female colleagues, than for us to impose them on the shoulders of men.” ~Yashar Ali
Can an intelligent person be tricked into self-doubt and eventually believing they’re crazy and/or not good enough?
If you’ve ever been manipulated by a narcissist, you probably already know the answer to that question. Of course it can happen. And it does – far too often. Here’s why and how.
So let’s start out by defining it. What is emotional manipulation, anyway?
To put it simply, emotional manipulation is how others try to change your behavior, thoughts, and feelings through misleading practices. These practices can be harmful to everyone involved.
Some of the difficult people in your life may try to use emotional manipulation to control you. There are various kinds of emotional manipulation, from a child who cries to get what she wants to an adult narcissist who causes everyone around her to be miserable when she doesn’t get what she wants.
Do you feel like you’re being controlled by someone else? You might be involved with a narcissist.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that no one wants to be controlled, especially when they’re an otherwise responsible and capable adult.
Sometimes, when someone you love is manipulating you, you might begin to wonder if you’re a little crazy.
That’s called gaslighting – and it’s a real thing.
(In fact, awhile back, I got gaslighted by a semi-famous narcissist – check that story out here.)
Are you tired of it yet? Let me ask you something.
Do you really want to fight back? Or are you one of us who seriously hates confrontation so much that we are willing to give up our own happiness for the rest of our lives in order to avoid pissing off the narcissist?
Still not sure? Well, listen – gaslighting is such an effective way to manipulate people that it’s almost impossible to detect – especially if your narcissist has been at it awhile.
Did you know?
The term “gaslighting” comes from a 1944 movie in which a man systematically attempted to drive his wife crazy, in part with the gaslights in their home. Learn more about gaslighting. Try this foolproof trick to gain control over a narcissist
Arm yourself now: learn these signs that someone you love is trying to manipulate you.
One of the most common ways a narc will use emotional manipulation is to blatantly deny or gloss over the truth. This is a key sign.
You might be shocked at the levels to which a narcissist will stoop in order to get his needs met.
For example, he might make a promise or a statement, but deny it later – sometimes even in the same breath. Typical narcissists will pretend that the truth isn’t what it is and conveniently blame your need for drama/bad memory/overreaction for it – or refuse to make any acknowledgement of it at all.
Why Does Gaslighting Work So Well, Even on Intelligent People?
It’s a slow and methodical form of manipulation that kind of resembles a form of brainwashing.
Of course, when he tells you to “prove it,” you’ll have nothing but your word. He knows it and he uses it against you.
Here’s what’ll happen.
He says you’re full of it, you say it’s true. This goes on until you’re tired of it, and then you most likely give in and just agree with him (or at least stop speaking your mind in order to get him to shut the heck up).
- It’s difficult to prove the truth without a recording, email, or other physical evidence. You might find yourself saying or thinking, “I should start recording our conversations.”
- In some cases, the narcissist will try to fight the evidence by saying stuff like “you are crazy,” or “you are always making up stuff in your head!”
- As an experienced emotional manipulator, a narcissist can make you believe that it’s actually your fault because you’re not remembering the previous conversation the same way.
- They can make you feel guilty and ashamed, so you don’t pursue the subject anymore – and it works more often than even I would like to admit it.
- As a person who is dealing with a narcissist, you might already be dealing with serious side effects such as PTSD or C-PTSD, among others – that might also be why you haven’t ended the relationship yet.
Laying on the Guilt
Narcissists love using guilt to manipulate their victims. It’s a go-to tactic that most do without even realizing it. It’s often very subtle and outsiders won’t see it – but a look or a statement can make you feel like you’re physically ill, because you know that it’s inevitably going to be cited in the next episode of narcissistic injury or rage.
Narcissists love to use passive-aggressive tactics to manipulate you, and this is one of their favorites.
They have a knack for hitting you where it hurts – they WILL find and exploit your weak spots, so it’s easier to make you feel guilty.
This is where the narcissistic injury part comes in. Your narc will pretend to be the victim so you’ll feel sorry for him.
And if you refuse to go along with the charade, you’re in for it. He’ll whine and cry and bitch and moan to get what he wants!
The “poor thing!”
He’ll stop at nothing, remember? He will act like he’s so put-upon, such a victim. He will even go so far as to accuse you of being insensitive and mean.
So essentially, just be aware that he’s just acting like a little toddler who needs attention and in this case, he’s seeking your sympathy. This is another important sign to recognize.
The IDGAF User–The narcissist will stop at nothing to get what he wants. He literally does not give a f*ck (IDGAF thing) will use your friends and other family members to hurt you.
Asking You to Kill the Messenger
Narcs often use other people as messengers or mediators to control you or some aspect of your life.
Without concern for anyone involved, these abusive manipulators will use various people to send you hurtful messages or to blame you for their issues.
Sometimes this presents itself as someone pretending to be concerned about a “problem” you’re having – which of course offers them the right to “express their concern” to everyone in earshot, often leading to genuine attempts to help you out from well-intentioned outsiders who don’t realize they’re playing the narcissist’s well-practiced game of manipulation.
Fear and Intimidation
A narcissist knows that you hate confrontation – and that’s why, when he feels threatened, insecure or in any way “under-served” by you, he may just resort to anger and threats to manipulate you.
The narc uses anger to frighten and coerce the people in his life.
Threats and angry outbursts are used to make the other person feel uncomfortable and upset – and it’s not because he can’t control it – it is a willful behavior designed to make you conform to his will.
Narcs often use what they claim is justified anger to interrupt or stop a conversation they don’t like. For example, a narc who is confronted about an affair he’s having may use an angry outburst and threats to end the conversation or storm out of the room. (He will definitely blame the person confronting him.)
The anger can escalate to physical violence, so it’s important to pay close attention to the situation and seek help if necessary.
Head-Stepping and Insecurity
Know how some people will intentionally gossip about and relentlessly pick on people in their lives? Maybe it’s done in the form of “I’m just trying to help,” or maybe it’s done in a more direct way, as in “you’re always so lazy/boring/stupid, etc.”
In other words, a narcissist is very likely to try to belittle you in order to bring you down to his own level. This allows for much more effective manipulation.
Plus, you’ve got to remember how a narcissist’s head works – he’s very insecure, despite the fact that he would never admit that to anyone, least of all himself.
Sure, the main goal of this tactic is to make you feel inferior, and that makes you much easier to control. But in reality, another big he loves to criticize you and point out your flaws so much is that it helps HIM feel superior.
Playing Power Games
A narcissist doesn’t know how to deal with people who aren’t intimidated by their abusive behavior, so they spend most of the time focusing on vulnerable targets when they’re seeking their narcissistic supply.
These relentless manipulators seek out sensitive people (they are quite commonly drawn to empaths) because it’s easier to influence them. They deliberately look for people who are vulnerable and insecure. They can spot your insecurities and use them.
In the beginning, a narcissist may even seem kind and concerned as they gather information about you. However, this quickly changes to control.
Sensitive people and empaths are more likely to become a source of narcissistic supply for people who want to control them. They’re less likely to stand up for themselves or speak out against the manipulators. It’s important to spot these signs in a relationship.
You can recognize emotional manipulation and refuse to let yourself be controlled. You already know that these kinds of relationships are unhealthy and toxic. Seek professional help if you need to, but it’s important that you do whatever you need to do to make positive changes in your life.
Remember that you’re worth it, and that you do deserve to be happy. This is YOUR life. How are you going to spend it?
Angela Atkinson is a Certified Life Coach and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic relationships since 2006, Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed coaching and has certifications in life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. In her life coaching practice, Atkinson’s clients enjoy her personalized approach that allows and encourages them to become the best possible versions of themselves and to succeed in doing what they love most. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online and NarcissismSupportCoach.com.