Why does a narcissist make you feel crazy?

Being in a relationship with a narcissist can be extremely challenging and leave you feeling confused, anxious, depressed, and like you’re going crazy. Narcissists tend to engage in manipulative behaviors and games that undermine their partner’s sense of self and distort reality. Understanding why and how this happens is the first step to regaining your sense of stability.

They Gaslight You

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where the abuser manipulates situations to make the victim question their own sanity and perception of reality. Narcissists frequently engage in gaslighting by outright denying or reframing events exactly as they happened. This intentional fabrication of the truth is done to promote self-serving interests and gain control over the relationship. When subjected to constant gaslighting, victims tend to doubt what they know to be true and no longer trust their own judgement and instincts.

Examples of gaslighting

Some examples of how a narcissist may gaslight their partner include:

  • Denying something they said or did, even when there is proof
  • Discrediting you and making you feel like you can’t do anything right
  • Blaming you for things that are not your fault
  • Twisting facts to fit their own narrative of events
  • Telling you outright lies and expecting you to believe them
  • Telling you that you are too sensitive or overreacting when you call them out

When exposed to frequent gaslighting, you may start to constantly second guess yourself and feel unsure about your perception of basic facts and truth. This loss of confidence in your own judgement is incredibly damaging and confusing.

They Project Their Issues Onto You

Projection is another common narcissistic tactic that can leave you feeling unstable and confused. Narcissists tend to externalize and project their own flaws, insecurities, and issues onto their partner. For example, a narcissist who deals with inner feelings of inadequacy may constantly pick at their partner’s flaws and make them feel incompetent. Or a narcissist struggling with fidelity may constantly accuse their loyal partner of cheating. This creates an alternate version of reality where the narcissist is blameless and the partner is painted negatively.

Being on the receiving end of projections causes you to feel extremely insecure about yourself and question perceptions that you know deep down are not true. It’s a insidious kind of abuse that distorts your self-image.

They Keep You Emotionally Unbalanced

In order to maintain control, narcissists may purposely keep you feeling unbalanced and unstable through their mind games and manipulations. This emotional volatility destabilizes you and destroys any sense of security you have in the relationship. Some ways they fuel instability include:

  • Intermittent reinforcement and inconsistent affection/approval
  • Idealize you then suddenly become cruel and critical (idealize-devalue-discard cycle)
  • Provoke jealous feelings but restrict you from feeling secure in the relationship
  • Make important promises then quickly break them
  • Threaten abandonment
  • Stonewall you for days then act like nothing happened

Living in constant uncertainty and having your emotions whipped back and fourth is extremely destabilizing. You feel like you have zero control over your emotional state when with the narcissist.

They Isolate You Socially

In order to exert control, narcissists often try to isolate their partner socially. They may outright forbid you from spending time with certain friends and family members, usually the ones who are supportive of you. Or they may try to turn you against the people closest to you by planting seeds of distrust. They also tend to demand the bulk of your time and emotional energy, purposefully keeping you from meaningful social connections.

This social isolation serves to undermine your support network and make you completely dependent on the narcissist. You have no reality check or outside perspective to help ground you. The more cut off you are from other stable relationships, the more at effect you are to the narcissist’s manipulation and mind games. This compounds the unstable and crazymaking atmosphere.

Their Behavior Lacks Consistency

Dealing with someone who is unpredictably nice one minute and cruel the next naturally keeps you in a constant state of anxiety and hypervigilance. You feel like you have to walk on eggshells because you never know what minor infraction might set them off. They keep you hooked in by sporadically rewarding your good behavior with praise and validation. But any little misstep is punished with coldness, rage, criticism, or other forms of manipulation.

Living in this atmosphere of fear and uncertainty is incredibly destabilizing. The severe swings in their moods and treatment of you makes them impossible to properly please or predict. You are anxious but hopeful during the good periods, then totally distraught when they again change for the worse.

You’re in a No-Win Situation

When you try to stand up for yourself and point out their concerning behavior, the narcissist is an expert at evading responsibility and flipping the blame back on you. They make valid complaints seem like just another crazy overreaction on your part. You end up tied in knots trying to explain and justify how they impact you, while they sit back untouched by any accountability.

The narcissist may attack small semantic details and make reasonable requests seem ridiculous. Or they invalidate your feelings by telling you that you’re too sensitive or imagining things. They have an explanation and defense for everything while making you feel wrong for even bringing it up.

This no-win dynamic trains you not to speak up about their behavior. You learn it’s useless to try and make them understand your point of view. You start to distrust your own perceptions and become conditioned to silence your feelings in order to keep the peace and avoid further invalidation.

Their Emotional Impact Doesn’t Match Reality

When involved with a narcissist, you’re often experiencing very intense emotions in reaction to incidents that wouldn’t warrant that response from a psychologically healthy person. For example, your partner ignoring you for a day may completely destroy you emotionally. Or a minor criticism they lob at you might cause you to plummet into depression.

This is because the narcissist has systematically worn down your self-esteem and manipulated your emotions. Small slights cut deeply because they confirm the negative beliefs the narcissist has trained you to accept about yourself. The intensity and inevitability of your painful reactions ends up feeling crazy and out of control.

Why do these dynamics have such a strong emotional impact?

There are several reasons why narcissists can have an outsized emotional impact:

  • They leverage insecurities you’ve confided in them about
  • Your empathy makes you vulnerable to their emotions/outbursts
  • Past emotional wounds get triggered
  • You’ve bonded deeply with them during idealization periods
  • Their rejection/disapproval feels like danger because of past conditioning

In a healthy dynamic where you’re treated with respect, this kind of disproportionate emotional suffering wouldn’t occur. It’s a sign that the narcissist has fostered an unhealthy attachment within you.

You’re Addicted to the Drama

The extreme highs and lows of the relationship activate your body’s addiction pathways. The uncertainty of when you’ll next get the “good” version of your partner back causes obsessive preoccupation. Like an addiction, you suffer withdrawal (painful emotions) when apart from them.

This drama addiction bonds you tightly to the narcissist. You become willing to put up with their destructive behaviors just to get a taste of the euphoria you feel when back on their good side. This love-hate relationship becomes compulsive even as it harms you.

Signs of drama addiction include:

  • Obsessively tracking/analyzing their every mood and behavior
  • Feeling bored without the highs/lows
  • Craving their validation after mistreatment
  • Withdrawing from other relationships
  • Ruminating about them constantly when apart

This toxicity can become literally addictive, making it very hard to break free. The fact that you keep going back to the source of your pain can make you feel like you’re losing your mind.

You’re in Survival Mode

Living under the constant threat of the narcissist’s disapproval, rage, punishment, or abandonment means you’re trapped in survival mode. Your brain becomes wired to detect threats and navigate danger. This triggers the fight-or-flight response and floods your body with stress hormones like cortisol.

Being in a state of constant hypervigilance and stress response disrupts your ability to feel safe, grounded, or secure. The behaviors and choices you make will reflect this dysfunctional state as you try to cope with the narcissist’s abuse.

Some examples of survival mode behaviors include:

  • Appeasing them to avoid blowups
  • Suppressing your feelings to keep the peace
  • Lashing out reactively under stress
  • Doubting your own instincts and memories
  • Isolation from other relationships
  • Walking on eggshells
  • Disorganized thoughts/communication

Living this way does not reflect your true self. Your brain and body are overwhelmed coping with a dangerous person. This can make you feel crazy, like a shadow version of yourself.

You Develop PTSD Symptoms

The chronic stress of emotional abuse actually changes your brain by shrinking the hippocampus and amygdala. This is the type of neuronal damage seen in PTSD. The traumatic effects of narcissistic abuse can leave you functioning much like someone with PTSD.

PTSD symptoms that may occur include:

  • Intrusive memories or flashbacks
  • Hypervigilance
  • Irritability/outbursts of anger
  • Panic attacks
  • Avoidance
  • Emotional detachment/dissociation
  • Nightmares
  • Insomnia
  • Obsessive thoughts

These debilitating symptoms keep your nervous system in a persistent state of stress response. This makes you feel unstable, anxious, depressed, and as though you are losing your sanity. In truth, you are being traumatized.

You Suffer From Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance refers to holding two or more contradictory beliefs or values that conflict with each other. Narcissists are masters at inducing cognitive dissonance in others. For example, they may treat you with cruelty and rejection while claiming they love you. Or they idealize you then suddenly devalue you. These extreme inconsistencies confuse the mind and promote irrational self-doubt.

Being subjected to chronic cognitive dissonance actually causes you to detach from reality as you know it in order to reduce the discomfort of the contradiction. You may start believing their false narratives or dissociate and feel numb. Holding two competing realities in your mind this way is crazymaking.

You Internalize Their Projections

When narcissists constantly accuse you of flaws that are actually true of themselves, you are pressured to take ownership of their issues in order to resolve the cognitive dissonance this creates. If they say you are selfish, aggressive, inferior etc. enough times, you will start to take on those projections and accept them as your own. This causes a distortion of your self-image and confidence.

Seeing yourself through the narcissist’s eyes is very crazymaking. Their extreme devaluation contradicts your lived experience, yet their invalidations are so persistent that you surrender your truth and take on their lies. Soon you come to view yourself as flawed, worthless, and unstable.

In Summary…

The sheer amount of mind games, projections, manipulation, gaslighting, and distortion tactics narcissists use are absolutely crazymaking. Victims suffer a total loss of trust in their own judgement, perception of reality, and self-worth as a result of the narcissist’s abuse.

Living in constant uncertainty and walking on eggshells just to avoid blowups creates persistent anxiety. The crazymaking atmosphere of deception, alternating idealization and rejection, threats, and emotional blackmail keep you off-kilter.

You may doubt your sanity as you try to rationalize the narcissist’s abusive behaviors or find yourself acting uncharacteristically. But in truth, you are reacting normally to a no-win, unpredictable situation of abuse.

Know that the narcissist’s treatment is not your fault, nor is there anything you can do to control their behavior. Your best recourse is to detach from the dysfunctional dynamic and seek support to regain your equilibrium and confidence.

Prioritize loving yourself and reconnect with the stable, grounded person you are beneath the narcissist’s distortions. You have the power to write a new life narrative free from their abuse and projections.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How do narcissists make you feel crazy?

Narcissists make you feel crazy through manipulation tactics like gaslighting, projecting their issues onto you, keeping you emotionally unbalanced, isolating you, and provoking cognitive dissonance. Their behaviors are so irrational and abusive, you question your own sanity.

What are the signs of narcissistic abuse?

Signs of narcissistic abuse include:

  • Feeling insecure and insignificant
  • Apologizing often and self-blame
  • Feeling irritated or drained after spending time together
  • Your needs and feelings are ignored
  • They provoke jealousy but offer no reassurance
  • They rage or guilt-trip you if you try to break off the relationship

How do you recover from narcissistic abuse?

Recovering from narcissistic abuse involves:

  • Getting counseling from an experienced therapist
  • Blocking contact with the narcissist to detach emotionally
  • Joining a support group to feel validated
  • Working on self-care and rebuilding self-esteem
  • Learning to set firm boundaries in relationships
  • Allowing yourself to grieve the fantasy you hoped they would fulfill

What causes a person to become narcissistic?

Causes of narcissistic personality disorder include:

  • Genetics – heightened risk if a parent has NPD
  • Neurobiology – abnormalities in brain structure/functioning
  • Childhood trauma or abuse
  • Excessive parental pampering/overvaluing
  • Unrealistic expectations of specialness
  • Lack of nurturing in childhood

Can a narcissist change?

It is very challenging for an entrenched narcissist to truly change as this would require developing insight, accountability, and empathy – abilities they typically lack. But with long-term therapy and commitment, healing is possible in some cases, especially for younger narcissists.


Being involved with a narcissist is a crazymaking experience that leaves you filled with self-doubt and anxiety. Their manipulations distort your reality, provoke intense emotions, and damage your self-worth. Recognizing the tactics they use helps you know that you are not the problem. Detaching from the narcissist’s dysfunction and rebuilding your life is the healthiest path forward to regain sanity and trust in yourself.

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