In the movie, Gaslight (1944), Paula, played by Ingrid Bergman, is perfectly sane. But her new husband, Gregory, played by Charles Boyer, wears her down psychologically until she no longer knows what’s real and what’s in her imagination. One of the key things he did to convince her she was crazy was to hide a valuable brooch and then make her think she lost it. Further, he taunted her about how irresponsible and foolish she is to lose such a valuable piece. He used many other items throughout the movie: a picture, a letter, and the gaslight lamps, which is where the movie–and the behavior–get their names. Here is a clip of the movie:
If you haven’t seen this movie yet and you or a loved one have experienced gaslighting from a known or suspected narcissist, you really need to check it out! click on the picture of the movie below for more information.
So, why do covert narcissists hide your personal things? As a general rule, narcissists hide your personal things in order to systematically drive you crazy. Even though you are, in fact, right about what you have thought, said, or done, they will continue to chip at you until you no longer believe your own truth. And all the time they are doing this sounding like they are so kind and innocent to everyone who is observing from a distance. With all of this, they have won the psychological long game.
Let’s take a look at what that looks like in more detail.
Table of Contents
Why Covert Narcissists?
So, why are talking about covert narcissists rather than overt? The answer is pretty simple. Overt narcissists don’t care about offending others as long as they come out on top. They will crush an “opponent” (this can be a spouse, child, sibling, parent, literally anyone that they see as a challenge) without thinking twice about who will see them. Or they will revel instead about the fact that everyone saw them take someone down without a second thought. They simply don’t care about being seen as nice, kind, or normal. They are what they are and everyone around them needs to fall in line.
Covert narcissists, on the other hand, are painfully aware of the mask they wear. And they absolutely need everyone to see them as perfect in any way. They have to make the perfect first impression. And they have to have all the perfect answers and solutions. They need to be perceived as the nicest. And that is why they have to constantly gaslight those closest to them. It allows them to get the narcissistic supply they need while still maintaining a “squeaky clean” reputation to those on the outside of his private life.
For those who are not familiar with the term narcissistic supply, Wikipedia says the term was coined by Otto Fenichel in 1938, to describe a type of admiration, interpersonal support or sustenance drawn by an individual from his or her environment and essential to their self-esteem. He identified two main strategies for obtaining such narcissistic supplies—aggression and ingratiation—contrasting styles of approach which could later develop into the sadistic and the submissive respectively.
This covert behavior manifests as gaslighting, which absolutely includes hiding things and then implying to the victim that it is their fault for misplacing it or hiding it themselves. The victim knows very well this did not happen. At first. But then, over time, when the narcissist keeps on accusing them of losing things that they themselves have hidden, the victim begins to think that they have become forgetful, negligent, or even crazy.
Why Covert Narcissists Hide Your Personal Things
Covert narcissists hide your personal things for a couple of reasons. Let’s break each one down.
- Covert narcissists hide your personal things because they can control you. If they hide your keys and you are searching frantically for them, they get the satisfaction of watching you panic. When you don’t make it to work on time, they get the satisfaction of making you miss important aspects of life. Over time, they can even get you fired.
- Covert narcissists hide your personal things because they can confuse you. You are sure you left your phone on the side table. Then you put a load of laundry in the washer, got a drink and checked the mail. When you came back the phone was gone. You thought you left it on the side table. But you were also all over the house, so you could have inadvertently grabbed it. The narcissist watches you flit around, trying to remember what you did with that daggone phone. But he won’t help you. And then, after looking one more time in the bedroom, you come out to find it laying right there on the dining room table. You are so confused. It doesn’t make sense. But your narcissist makes sure to berate you for being so careless and forgetful. After all, what if it was something really important?
- Covert narcissists hide your personal things to convince other people that “there is something really wrong with you.” Those were my ex husband’s favorite words to me on an almost daily basis for years. But I knew he was wrong and I wasn’t buying it anymore. Unfortunately, he would feign concern for me to several mutual friends and a few actually believed his set up and lies. The funny thing is, most of the people who believed and supported him were either flying monkeys or narcissists themselves. The real people didn’t fall for his poorly set up ruses.
- Covert narcissists hide your personal belongings because they enjoy watching you suffer between the taking of your personal items and the frustration of knowing where they were and that they aren’t there anymore. They will sit back and enjoy the show that they have purposely created. And if you ever stopped long enough to look at them, you would see that look on their face of satisfaction for what they have caused.
- Covert narcissist hide your personal belongings so they can throw off suspicion toward them and throw other victims under the bus. Early in my marriage, with a 2-year-old daughter and 8-month-old son, some money I had left on my bedroom dresser had disappeared. My kids couldn’t even see, let alone reach it. But yet, that didn’t stop him from saying that our kids had stolen the money. I was flabbergasted. They didn’t even know how to use money, let alone have a chance to it that they wouldn’t be with us at any store. Money continued to turn up missing for the next 20 years, until he finally stopped hiding it and openly said that he was taking any money that anyone left out because they deserved to lose it.
Let’s take a look at another short clip of the movie, Gaslight, in reference to Gregory hiding a picture and then accusing Sheila of taking it.
The Bigger Picture of the Covert Narcissist’s Gaslighting
While hiding things is certainly one of the bigger forms of gaslighting and used by the vast majority of narcissists, there are other forms of gaslighting that are used extensively as well. I can’t touch on all of them in this article, but here are some of the most major ones.
- Lying–about anything and everything. The famous saying goes, “How can you tell when a narcissist is lying? When his lips are moving.” A major lying component is telling most of the truth but switching out little details. Each additional lie gets further from the actual truth until all reality is changed.
- Triangulating–pitting people against each other. This can be gossiping or lying about one person to another, then pretending that person was the one defaming that person to start with. Another example is saying bad things about two different people to each other, then stepping out of the way to let them fight it out, not realizing they were set up.
- Changing the facts and then accusing the victim of getting the facts wrong. This may be the most used gaslighting tactic of all.
- Behaving in totally different ways for different people. For example, my ex would be super religious and kind when around fellow church members, then a tyrannical ruler to lower ranking sailors at his job. Unfortunately for him, his two worlds would collide on occasion and later I would hear that things were not always what they seemed with him.
There are plenty more examples, but you get the idea! I’m sure you can tell me plenty of stories with different circumstances, although all pretty related in tactic. All narcissists’ playbooks are the same.
When you live with a narcissist, expect your personal items to go missing from time to time. Then, when you are frustrated beyond words (at least g-rated ones, lol), expect those items to magically appear again in places that you know you had already looked. Know that it isn’t you. And don’t let your reality become distorted by these crazy mind games!
If you find yourself caught up in a narcissist’s bag of tricks, know that you don’t have to stay there! One of the most helpful books I read about this came from a friend who is a licensed counselor. It is called Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving With the Self-Absorbed. She read it because of the narcissist in her life and loved the peace and strength it gave her. By the time I read it, I was already divorced from my narcissist, but it was really good reading it and seeing how far the healing had brought me. I think it’s a perfect book for you to recognize all of the hidden things that narcissists do. Then it gives you steps on breaking free from being trapped under the narcissist’s thumb. Check it out!
What has your experience been with your narcissist? What was the craziest item-gone-missing story? I would love to hear it.
Feel free to comment below, or if you don’t feel safe commenting in a public forum, feel free to contact me here.
Blessings and hugs,