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  • Writer's pictureGurprit Ganda

The Common Thread of Narcissism and Gaslighting in Perpetuators of DV

Introduction to Narcissism and Gaslighting

The issue of domestic violence (DV) is a multi-faceted problem that impacts millions of people globally. Although physical abuse tends to be the most apparent, the psychological manipulation tactics employed by abusers can be equally destructive. Perpetrators often exhibit narcissistic traits and frequently use gaslighting as a form of psychological manipulation.

Gaslighting by a narcissistic partner

Narcissism involves an inflated self-importance, a constant need for excessive attention and admiration, and a lack of empathy for others (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Gaslighting, on the other hand, is a method of psychological manipulation that causes individuals to doubt their own sanity, perceptions, memories, or grasp of reality (Stern, 2018).

Research has established a strong link between narcissistic personality traits and the perpetration of domestic violence, with a study by Blinkhorn et al. (2016) revealing that individuals with higher levels of narcissism were more likely to engage in psychological aggression and physical assault against their intimate partners.

The Narcissistic Personality: A Closer Look

Identifying the characteristics of a narcissistic personality is crucial in understanding the dynamics of abusive relationships. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by:

  1. Grandiosity and an exaggerated sense of self-importance

  2. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, or beauty

  3. Belief in one's own uniqueness and superiority

  4. Need for constant admiration

  5. Sense of entitlement

  6. Interpersonal exploitation

  7. Lack of empathy

  8. Envy of others or belief that others are envious of them

  9. Arrogant behaviors or attitudes

These traits can manifest in controlling and abusive behavior within relationships. A study by Carton and Egan (2017) found that narcissistic individuals were more likely to use coercive control tactics in their intimate relationships, including emotional manipulation, isolation, and threats.

Fictional Example

Sarah's partner, Tom, constantly boasts about his achievements and belittles her accomplishments. He demands constant attention and becomes angry when Sarah spends time with friends or family. Tom's narcissistic tendencies lead him to control Sarah's actions and isolate her from her support network.

Gaslighting: The Ultimate Control Tactic

Gaslighting is a particularly insidious form of psychological abuse that can have devastating effects on victims. It involves manipulating someone into doubting their own perceptions, memories, and sanity. In DV relationships, gaslighting is often used to maintain control and power over the victim.

Common gaslighting tactics include:

  1. Denying events or conversations that occurred

  2. Trivializing the victim's emotions

  3. Shifting blame onto the victim

  4. Using confusion tactics to disorient the victim

  5. Projecting their own negative behaviors onto the victim

The psychological effects of gaslighting can be severe and long-lasting. Victims often experience confusion, anxiety, depression, and a loss of self-confidence (Stern, 2018). A study by Gass and Nichols (1988) found that individuals who experienced gaslighting in their relationships reported feeling a sense of "losing themselves" and struggling to trust their own judgment.

Fictional Example

Michael frequently accuses his partner, Lisa, of being "too sensitive" when she expresses hurt over his hurtful comments. He denies saying things that Lisa clearly remembers and tells her she's "imagining things." Over time, Lisa begins to doubt her own perceptions and feels increasingly anxious and uncertain in the relationship.

Recognizing the Red Flags

Identifying the signs of narcissistic and gaslighting behavior in a partner is crucial for protecting oneself from abuse. Some red flags to watch out for include:

  1. Constant need for admiration and attention

  2. Lack of empathy or concern for your feelings

  3. Manipulative behavior, including guilt-tripping and emotional blackmail

  4. Frequent lying or denying of events that occurred

  5. Isolating you from friends and family

  6. Blaming you for their negative behaviors or emotions

  7. Making you question your own memories or perceptions

It's essential to trust your instincts and seek help if you suspect you're in an abusive relationship. Research has shown that victims of narcissistic abuse and gaslighting often experience a phenomenon called "cognitive dissonance," where they struggle to reconcile their partner's abusive behavior with their professed love and affection (Arabi, 2017).

Breaking Free from the Cycle of Abuse

Empowering victims of DV to break free from abusive relationships is crucial. There are numerous resources and support systems available for those seeking help, including:

  1. National Domestic Violence Hotlines

  2. Local women's shelters and support groups

  3. Therapists dealing in trauma and abuse recovery

  4. Online support communities for survivors of narcissistic abuse

Rebuilding self-confidence and self-worth after experiencing gaslighting and narcissistic abuse is a challenging but essential process. Strategies for recovery may include:

  1. Seeking professional therapy or counseling

  2. Practicing self-care and self-compassion

  3. Reconnecting with supportive friends and family

  4. Educating oneself about narcissistic abuse and gaslighting

  5. Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries in future relationships

A study by Tummala-Narra et al. (2012) found that survivors of intimate partner violence who engaged in empowerment-focused interventions showed significant improvements in self-esteem, self-efficacy, and overall well-being.

Conclusion: Shining a Light on the Darkness

Awareness and education are crucial in preventing domestic violence and supporting its victims. By understanding the dynamics of narcissism and gaslighting in abusive relationships, we can better identify and address these harmful behaviors.

As a society, we must continue to raise awareness about the psychological aspects of domestic violence and provide support for survivors. By doing so, we can work towards creating a safer, more compassionate world for all.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Arabi, S. (2017). Power: Surviving and thriving after narcissistic abuse: A collection of essays on malignant narcissism and recovery from emotional abuse. Thought Catalog Books.

Blinkhorn, V., Lyons, M., & Almond, L. (2016). Drop the bad attitude! Narcissism predicts acceptance of violent behavior. Personality and Individual Differences, 98, 157-161.

Carton, H., & Egan, V. (2017). The dark triad and intimate partner violence. Personality and Individual Differences, 105, 84-88.

Gass, G. Z., & Nichols, W. C. (1988). Gaslighting: A marital syndrome. Contemporary Family Therapy, 10(1), 3-16.

Stern, R. (2018). The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life. Harmony.

Tummala-Narra, P., Kallivayalil, D., Singer, R., & Andreini, R. (2012). Relational experiences of complex trauma survivors in treatment: Preliminary findings from a naturalistic study. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 4(6), 640-648.

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