The Narcissistic Dictionary: Terms That Describe Narcissistic Behaviors – A basic guide to gaslighting, love bombing, hoovering, and flying monkeys.
The Narcissistic Dictionary
A basic guide to gaslighting, love bombing, hoovering, and flying monkeys.
Written by Dr. Elinor Greenberg
When I first entered the online conversation about narcissistic personality disorder, I discovered that a number of slang terms were being used to describe narcissistic behaviors that I had never encountered in academic writing. Eventually, I deciphered their meanings.
Some of these terms are actually quite clever and capture important aspects of the experience of loving someone with a narcissistic personality disorder—such as gaslighting, hoovering, and flying monkeys. However, many of these terms are being misused in much the same way that uninformed people casually label people as narcissists without any real understanding of what mental health professionals mean by that diagnosis.
So, in the interests of clarity, I have started to assemble a glossary in which I define the most frequently encountered narcissistic slang terms in ways that are consistent with both my professional knowledge of narcissistic personality disorder and also with how these terms are currently being used in blogs and online articles by non-mental health professionals. I also try, where possible, to provide the source for these terms because knowing the original context often clarifies the meaning.
Note: In this post, I am using the terms “narcissist” and “narcissistic” as shorthand ways to describe someone who qualifies for a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder.
Source: This term comes from a 1938 play called “Gaslight” and the two later 1940’s movie remakes. The play and the movies are set during the late 19th century when gas lights were used for indoor lighting. The basic plot concerns a husband Gregory who is trying to convince his new wife Paula that she is going insane so he can have her committed and get her power of attorney. Unbeknownst to Paula, Gregory is also covertly searching their house for the valuable jewels that he believes are hidden there.
Gregory is a master manipulator and he heartlessly does whatever he can to make Paula doubt herself. He searches the attic causing the gas lights in the rest of the house to dim, but when Paula comments on the dimming lights, Gregory denies that it is happening and tells her that she is imagining things. He takes things, like Paula’s brooch, and then tries to convince Paula that she is losing things and that her memory is not to be trusted. Similarly, when she says that she has heard footsteps the attic, instead of Gregory admitting that he has been up there, he claims that these, like the gaslights and the missing brooch, are all figments of Paula’s disordered imagination and proof that she is going crazy.
Narcissistic gaslighting occurs when people with narcissistic personality disorder refuse to admit that they are wrong or have done something bad to their mate. Even when they are caught in the act, they will often try to convince the other person that he or she is paranoid and is imagining the whole thing.
Example: Betty and the Texts.
Betty has long suspected that her husband Dan might be having an affair, but she had no real proof. He had started staying late at work and a few times had come home drunk with his clothing rumpled. One day when Dan was in the shower, she glanced at his phone and saw a series of sexy text messages from some woman.
Betty confronted Dan with the texts and asked him point-blank who this woman was and told him about her suspicions that he is having an affair. Instead of telling his wife the truth, Dan gaslights her and says: “You must be crazy. Why are you so paranoid all of a sudden? I have no idea who that woman is who texted me. She must have the wrong number.”
Dan refuses to admit that he is seeing another woman and keeps telling Betty that she is paranoid. He continues denying everything even when Betty tells him that two of her friends saw him out to dinner with a sexy blond in a short red dress. This is a classic example of narcissistic gaslighting.