The "Crazy-Making" Behavior of a Narcissist

The emotional abuse that occurs in a relationship with a narcissist is merciless and relentless. Narcissists brainwash their victims. They use several different methods of coercion in order to obtain control over their significant other. They threaten, degrade, shift blame, criticize, manipulate, verbally assault, dominate, blackmail, withdraw, withhold love and affection and gaslight their victims.

The dictionary definition of gaslighting is “to drive someone crazy” and narcissists use this method to keep their victims under their control. The term gaslighting was coined in the movie “Gaslight” from the 1940s. Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for her portrayal of a wife who is made to believe she is crazy and imagining things by her husband so he can gain access to her inheritance. He repeatedly lights a gas lamp in one part of the house, causing the other lamps to become dimmer. When Bergman’s character asks her husband about this, he denies that it’s happening and tells her she is seeing things.

They will deny saying things we know they said. They will do anything to cause us to make us doubt our own sense of reality. For example, one of our forum members here used to be married to someone who secretly moved the button on her pants and skirts to make them smaller so she thought she was gaining weight.

Put quite simply, gaslighting is a form of brainwashing. The narcissist denies that events ever occurred or certain things were said. Or they go to the opposite extreme and make up events that never occurred or conversations that were never had. This causes the victim to doubt what they’re hearing and seeing to the point that they begin to question their sanity.

When this technique is first used on someone, initially they know better. However, over time, the victim begins to believe the gaslighter. They start to believe they are imagining things, have some kind of mental illness or faulty memory. When one doubts their perception of reality, the gaslighter is able to control that person because they become completely dependent on the gaslighter for the truth.

A common tactic of a narcissist is to project their own issues on to their victim. This is an attempt to hide any actions or truths they do not want brought to light about themselves. It is their hope that by projecting issues of their own onto you it will distract you from their malignant behavior.

A narcissist wants you to believe you have problems and issues only he can understand and only he is willing to tolerate. By doing this, he believes you will begin to feel unlovable in some strange paranoid way and never leave him out of fear of rejection in the future.

*Self-professed narcissist and author of “Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited,” Sam Vaknin does an excellent job of describing how a narcissist abuses his victim when he writes:
“He infiltrates her defenses, shatters her self-confidence, confuses and confounds her, demeans and debases her. He invades her territory, abuses her confidence, exhausts her resources, hurts her loved ones, threatens her stability and security, involves her in his paranoid states of mind, frightens her out of her wits, withholds love and sex from her, prevents satisfaction and causes frustration, humiliates and insults her privately and in public, points out her shortcomings, criticizes her profusely and in a “scientific and objective” manner – and this is a partial list. Very often, the narcissist acts sadistically in the guise of an enlightened interest in the welfare of his victim. He plays the psychiatrist to her psychopathology (totally dreamt up by him). He acts the guru to her need of guidance, the avuncular or father figure, the teacher, the only true friend, the old and the experienced. All this in order to weaken her defenses and to lay siege to her disintegrating nerves. So subtle and poisonous is the narcissistic variant of sadism that it might well be regarded as the most dangerous of all.”

Gaslighting is incredibly cruel, yet very subtle. It is very difficult to see when you’re in the midst of a relationship with a narcissist. That is why it’s so important to establish NO CONTACT and distance yourself from your abuser. When you’re able to put space between yourself and the narcissist, you begin to see how abusive they really are. It takes time, but eventually by maintaining NO CONTACT you will deprogram from them.

Sam Vaknin ( ) is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited, After the Rain - How the West Lost the East, and other books. He is an iconoclastic and highly controversial columnist.

Jul 18 - 7PM
notyourtoy's picture

big thanks!

Jul 7 - 10PM
adrienne1125's picture

making me crazy

Jun 26 - 9AM
Hollywood's picture

The "crazy making"... it's a group effort.

Jan 3 - 1PM
repressed memory
repressed memory's picture

How true.

Mine didn't really gaslight too much since I never allowed our relationship to move forward very long but was relentlessly brainwashing and making me feel physically flawed by always getting buddies to do his evil bidding. He also would like to scare me like jumping out yelling boo or other childish tactics to create fear in me.
Jun 17 - 1PM
twisted's picture

It was this post that made me join! hello friends.

I apologize for the length of this, but I just have to get it out! A few examples of my ex N's behaviour, this was the kind of stuff that happened all the time! No wonder I felt crazy! Hearing him on the phone trying to make a hair cutting appointment for later that same day. Clearly can hear that they have no time to make an appointment and he hangs up. Comes out of the office and says to me I’m leaving to go get a hair cut. I say Uh, I just heard you not able to make an appointment. He says "I know I was lying, I’m going anyway and I’m going to try and fool them.” (I still to this day have no idea what the hell he meant - but that's the kind of non-sensical stuff he'd say all the time) We were driving up to a friend's cottage in seperate cars with me following him. (because I had to leave early on Sunday and he wouldn't dare cut his good time by leaving with me). He was the one with the GPS and the directions. He was speeding way past the speed limit, and I refused to speed and jeapordize myself just to keep up with him. I could tell by his driving he wasn't even considering if could follow, blazing through yellow lights and I had to stop, etc. So, of course, he lost me. I had to drive around aimlessley in an unfamiliar area in search of the place, finally got him on the phone to confirm the address, and when I finally got there, about a half hour after him, he wasn't concerned at all but already setting up the tent and drinking. The first chance he had he quietly whispered to me so that no one else could hear - 'how could you do that to me.' And then he accused me of going slow on purpose to make him look bad. And then stopped speaking to me, so it was me that had to apologize profusely to him in order to save our face in front of our friends. He was going out with his friends for the night and I had to run a training workshop for work the next day – so since he had taken to coming in whenever he wanted in the early hours of the morning, (and would never dare think of respecting my sleep or work needs) we agreed that he would sleep on the couch that night, and so I (like an idiot) thanked him so much and very nicely made up the couch for him so HE would be comfortable. what a sucker. I got up the next morning to find that he never came home at all. No call, no text, nothing. And I had to train a group of adults all day fuming and distracted with that on my mind. Later when I confronted him, he says we never agreed that and that he had stayed in a hotel for me. He wanted to be praised for staying away and ‘giving me space’ so I could get a good sleep, saying he was just trying to think of me of me and do something nice for me and now was getting punished for it. He had no remorse at all, didn't feel bad, could not empathize at all that he could have even just left a text for my peace of mind...just kept insisting that I had set him up because we never agreed that he would sleep on the couch. And I knew very well we did. That was the day I seriously wondered if it was possible to hire a court stenographer to live with us.
Dec 8 - 4PM
terri's picture

another example

During the most recent hoovering episode, I had picked up some take out for dinner at a restaurant known for their delicious chocolate cake. The exN asked specifically for a piece of cake which I bought for him and took to his house with the rest of the food. I had to help my son with something in the bathroom while the exN unpacked the food. After we had sat down to eat, the exN asked if I had forgotten to get his cake. I said "no", that I had specifically ordered it and the checked the receipt to see if they had charged me for it (yes, they had). At this point, I had become very familiar with gaslighting and the other crazy-making tactics the N's are so famous for and suspected that he was up to something. I didn't react that strongly to the cake being missing. I just stated that they must have forgotten to put it in the bag. Of course, this was the N's cue to start his "poor me - if you really cared about me you would have made sure it was in the bag" routine. I shrugged it off. Later when he wasn't looking, I found the cake in his trash can. Of course, I was enraged and brought this little stunt to his attention. Of course, his reply was "I guess I accidentally threw it out without realizing it. Gee, sorry." Looking back, it really amazes me the lengths they will go to for attention and to create trouble. Truly the mark of a very disturbed person.

Believe in yourself!

Nov 26 - 10PM
chickon2's picture

I called him Gas lighter on our 2nd date

I saw him in the corner of my eye look at my phone while I stepped out of the car.. I asked him about it when I got back in the car. He looked at me and said, I don't know what you are talking about.. I looked at him and said Oh so you are a gas lighter.. he said what is that I said Google it..
Nov 25 - 11AM
truetotruth's picture

Been Looking for this

Gaslighting I had been using the analogy- Cinnamon in the Pot I expalined my exs behaviour to my friends saying that its like he is laceing the pot with cinnamon and I am saying hey baby I taste cinnamon and he is saying your crazy!!There is no cinnamon in this. Over and over. Finding gaslighting was my path to freedom yesterday. I cried the whole way home full of hurt and yet full of release. There is actually a term for Cinnamon in the POT lol.....I am not alone. In the end I truly thought I was crazy. That there is no way he could be this bad of a person. My brain could and still has a hard time handling this truth. If anyone else has experienced this please share. It has helped me so much.
Jul 25 - 7AM (Reply to #13)
onthewayout's picture

I actually scheduled a dr

I actually scheduled a dr appt for this week because I was so sure that I was going crazy....
Dec 7 - 8PM (Reply to #9)
Amazed's picture

When they Brainwash,,

It is an experience that I would not want anyone to be subjected to. They find a way to infultrate your mind, your body, your psyche, and yes, make you feel like you are going crazy. This is just their manipulation. Again, this is just their manipulation. They treat others like puppets on a string, all should be moving and acting for them. Doesn't matter what you want, what you have in your life, who you are, or what you want out of your "relationship" with them. You are are there to make them look good, bottom line. You are there as a cover up for them. Gaslighting can only be seen ONCE YOU get perspective. Thank God that we are able to get perspective. If you are reading this, and haven't gotten perspective on the true evil that they are, stay away from them. Stay NC 18 months, and you will realize the absolute atrocity and toll they have taken on your life, and ALL those around them. They are evil, I am sorry to tell you, they are evil, as in the kind of people who do horrible things evil. They are capable of inhumanity you and I would not dream of. Please stay away from them. I understand the brainwashing, stay away from them, it will get better with time, you have to go total NC.
Dec 7 - 10PM (Reply to #12)
Susan32's picture

The only people who should be subjected to such manipulation...

Are the manipulators themselves! It's the predators who ought to be preyed upon, NOT the innocent people who are devastated in their path. It's the people who think it's OK to infiltrate others, use others to look good, and do horrible things--THEY are the ones who should feel the manipulation, the brainwashing, in its full force. It's not like they're invulnerable. Oh, you bet they have weaknesses. Lots of 'em. Even Sam Vaknin wrote about it. When innocent people are conned, they get sympathy. When con men and manipulators get conned and brainwashed, NOBODY sympathizes with them, because people feel it's justice.
Dec 7 - 8PM (Reply to #10)
truetotruth's picture


I am seeing it but processing that someone can actually do it is give me hope..thank you. I have said the same thing about this as you did "It is an experience that I would not want anyone to be subjected to. They find a way to infultrate your mind, your body, your psyche, and yes, make you feel like you are going crazy". Please keep posting and 18 months of NC is something I long for.
Dec 7 - 9PM (Reply to #11)
Amazed's picture

True to Truth, the person that they are

The person that they are, you cannot comprehend. They have no soul, they have no love, they have no desire to build and grow with another. They only want to further themselves, and go to measures you and I would never be comfortable with. Breaking the law. Lies. Sick behavior, total disfunction. The guys in prision. These are the same types of people the N/Psychopath are. They are capable of huge amounts of harm, and do not care. They guy that can kill people, has no empathy. Their outer exterior is all a facade. If you were to dress yourself as a man, and go out every day, apply for jobs, raise a family as a man, and all the while you are a woman, this is the DOUBLE LIFE this N person lives. They live this double life with their children. They play the father. They are not "a father". They PLAY dedication to a woman. They are not dedicated to that woman. They manipulate others mercilously, only to achieve their ends. If you are successful at work, they will take you down. If you are a kind person, they will take advantage, move in with you, and cheat behind your back. I don't know all your story, however the person you see (attractive, sweet) is NOT the person underneath, it is quite the opposite. Be strong, strong within yourself to just stay away from them. Cry if you have to. Scream if you have to. Be angry if you have to. Get clean out of them, and make resolve to never be maniuplated by them again.
Nov 23 - 8AM
aysha's picture

Oh this is so true, I always

Oh this is so true, I always used to feel like a little girl when I was with him, even when I knew he was completely wrong about something I would never say anything, is this something that they are born with or do they learn it, as all the narcs seem to use it...
Dec 8 - 2PM (Reply to #7)
Susan32's picture

Feeling like a little girl

I was young enough to be the ex-Psych professor's daughter (I was 15 years his junior) For a time, I was afraid of standing up to him. He had me brainwashed. He thought that the teacher/student relationship meant that it was OK for the teacher to engage in crazy-making, emotional abuse, etc. Here he was treating an adult (me) like a child... yet he'd rail about how he hated children, calling them stupid. He'd dismiss his own students as stupid, because they questioned him. And he wondered why his students and his colleagues wouldn't give him the time of day...
Nov 29 - 7PM (Reply to #6)
onwithmylife's picture


I often felt like it was incest with him, father and daughter he treated me and at times I use to say I am not your daughter, it was weird and i had to be so careful what i said to him, really and truly"walking on eggshells" like he hated gays and homosexuals and I did not say anything even though that is NOT me at all, I am a very live and let live person. I really became a lot meeker person that i am because I did not want to lose him,, a shadow of myself................
Nov 17 - 4AM
Scoop's picture

Eww the gaslighing is a

Eww the gaslighing is a killer . The one thing my narc did was try and set himselve up as teacher "i am helping you with youre problems " he would say , he would tell others that "Scoop has lots of problems" but when i ask him what he thought my problems where he never answered it .. hmm projection i wonder ?
Nov 17 - 6AM (Reply to #4)
Susan32's picture

Setting himself up as the teacher...

During the final D&D, when he'd be reducing me to tears, the ex-Psych professor would coldly say "I am teaching you a lesson." His justification was that he WAS my teacher;at the time, he was an authority figure. He must hate it when students graduate&stop considering him their teacher, but just another human being. The ex-P would say I had lots of problems, that I didn't respect boundaries, etc. After I had met his girlfriend, I congratulated him on being engaged... he threw a tantrum, saying I was "imposing" on him and "violating" him. By that time, I didn't care. If I had violated his personal boundaries in the worst ways emotionally possible, I wouldn't have cared, in his case. I knew Narcs have fragile egos (hence the construction of the False Self), so if I had left his totally shredded and devastated, I would've been proud instead of ashamed.
Nov 16 - 7PM
smokabear's picture

thank you for posting this I

thank you for posting this I have been in a gaslight relationship for 6 yesrs I have always had a good memory and told me I was seeing things that were not there hearing things and very convincing to as some of it I wanted to believe I did not see and I thought I was really going crazy just now am I starting to relize the truth thanks for posting
Nov 16 - 6PM
Hunter's picture

The Light

Thank You Lisa. I have been missing him lately. I have gone NC for 5 months. This helps not go back to the abuse. Your comments describe my N to a tea.
Jun 17 - 2PM (Reply to #1)
Done sourcing
Done sourcing's picture


I appreciate that even you get a little tempted by the smell of scrambling eggs. I need to fry a few more for awhile. I made a decision today to be free and completely narc free, and I already feel stronger, safer, and ready to be free again. Chris