An Integral Understanding of Narcissism and Gaslighting

In General by Dr. Keith Witt


Most of us share negative associations with narcissism and gaslighting, for good reasons.

  • Toxic narcissism—an inflated grandiose sense of self plus the objectification of others for personal gratification—is on display everywhere you look, causing unimaginable damage. We see it daily in families, public officials, lovers, entertainers, extractive corporations, and in leaders who objectify and exploit people rather than nurture and love them.
  • Gaslighting—convincing others to enter violent distorted trance states where they deny the truth before their very eyes—is common with narcissists manipulating others for attention, gratification, and domination.

All true! Toxic narcissism and gaslighting are bad! But such dismissive black and white perspectives usually miss deeper understandings. There is healthy narcissism as well as toxic narcissism. There is healthy wanting-to-influence as well as gaslighting’s horrible wanting-to-influence.

Even more, there are big differences between narcissistic traits, where under certain circumstances someone behaves in selfish and ego-centric ways, and narcissistic personality disorders, where the whole structure of someone’s universe is constructed around entitlement and self-aggrandizement. Most of us have narcissistic traits under certain circumstances. Only a tiny percentage of the adult population has a narcissistic personality disorder.

An Integral understanding looks for deeper dynamics and practical approaches to identifying and addressing narcissism and gaslighting, and positions these problems as developmental challenges for everyone concerned—those dealing with narcissism as well as those suffering from narcissistic wounds.

I’ll go into much more detail on narcissism and gaslighting in future blogs.

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