Thursday, May 23Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Narcissism and Gaslighting: Love Shouldn’t Feel Like This

A relationship is based on a foundation of equality, trust, love, and commitment. Once these foundations begin to break away, the relationship is in jeopardy of becoming unhealthy and unsafe. Spotting abuse and getting out of an abusive relationship is never easy, particularly when you are being controlled and manipulated emotionally. Gaslighting can destroy your sense of reality and a narcissist enjoys nothing more than to tear away your sense of self and identity.  The real truth is that once you have spotted these signs of abuse, your abuser makes it virtually impossible for you to leave as an attachment has formed between the both of you. The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone, and that you can get out and find yourself again. Here are a few signs to look out for, and if you believe that you are experiencing any of these please reach out to family, friends and the support services listed below. 

Narcissism is when an individual needs constant attention, affirmation, and reassurance from their partner. Whilst it is normal for a human being to need love and admiration from their counterpart, you may find yourself dedicating your life to them with little in return. When you meet them for the first time, they sweep you off your feet and you become their entire world. Then they begin to make fun of you, which may be initially interpreted as banter or teasing, but jokes quickly turn into constant belittlement and insults which eventually chip away at your self esteem. They have a lack of empathy for others, cannot understand other people’s feelings and often do not add any emotional value to the relationship. For example, they will be unable to give you comfort in your hours of need and will likely downplay the situation. A narcissist dominates the conversation, showing off their achievements and accolades to boost their esteem by putting others down. The most important thing for a narcissist is how they are perceived by others. Their “image” will be incredibly important. For example, they may avoid taking photos with you, belittle you in front of others and constantly seek the attention of other people on dating sites. A prime example of a narcissist would be Joe from the Netflix programme You, as he feeds off of attention and admiration, getting both frustrated and angry when that love is not shown. The heartbreaking reality is that a narcissist will keep chipping away at you until you do not have anything left. The tragedy is that they will struggle to let you leave, as they have become dependent on you. It feels incredibly confusing, and you may ask yourself, ‘How can this person clearly not like me, but screams at me when I ask to leave?’ You’ll often find that that wonderful person you first met returns when you’re at your breaking point, but only for a while.

Another form of emotional abuse is gaslighting. The term first appeared in the 1944 George Cukor film Gaslight, where the male protagonist controls his wife and tricks her into thinking that she is gradually losing her mind. Gaslighting is often associated with narcissism and is a type of manipulation and emotional abuse. A gaslighter manipulates the truth and reality in order to deceive their victims by portraying their bad behaviour and attitudes in a positive light. They use phrases such as ‘I was only joking’, ‘ you are imagining things’, ‘you are simply paranoid’, and ‘ you are so ungrateful, after everything I do for you,’  and tear their counterpart down by deflecting the responsibility. You may find yourself apologizing for everything no matter how small, and excusing your partner’s behaviour no matter how awful. This can destroy your other relationships with friends and family, as they may be fully aware of your partner’s true actions. They will likely be confused and critical as to why you are still in the relationship. However, be kind to yourself. Your sense of reality and what you deem to be true has been changed. Try to hold on to your memories and thought processes by writing down what has happened and try to piece reality back together.  

From gaslighting comes manipulation. Manipulative people are seen in all areas of everyday life. They can be friends, bosses, parents, and even romantic partners. They will control the social situation and environment, demand things from the relationship and take credit for successes. They will study their other half deeply in order to find out what makes them strong, their weaknesses, their likes, their routine etc. Building this portfolio enables them to manipulate and control their partner to extreme lengths. A common sign of a manipulative partner is that they alter the narrative in which they are portrayed as the bad person to one of positivity and praise. An example would be if they were having an affair, they would blame their action of cheating on their other half, saying that they made them cheat because they were not fulfilling their needs. They place the blame on another and change the reality due to the conviction and confidence they display. 

If you believe that you are experiencing any of these signs of abuse, don’t be afraid to speak out. Recognising your relationship as abusive is never easy. Even the worst relationship has good days and magical memories. You will want to stay for that wonderful person that you first met, but even a day of abuse isn’t worth it. You deserve so much more than that. It is never your fault, no matter the circumstances. It may take a while to leave and it will be heartbreaking, but please reach out. We have listed resources below to help. Remember you are never alone.