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Episode 38 | September 26, 2023

Chelsey Brooke Cole, LPC, discusses gaslighting and narcissism. She shares what these terms truly mean and how to navigate someone who is a narcissist or manipulating you.

Listen in as Chelsey Brooke Cole explains the difficulties of being in any type of relationship with a narcissist.


Welcome to “That’s a Hard No”the podcast about learning to say no and set boundaries to live our best lives. 

Follow along with me as we learn from fellow strugglers and experts, so that you too can start saying no without feeling fear, guilt, or FOMO. 


Chelsey Brooke Cole is a psychotherapist, author, and certified partner trauma therapist specializing in narcissistic abuse and relational trauma. Chelsey speaks at HR and counseling conferences and national organizations on narcissism in the workplace, how to communicate with difficult people, and effective therapeutic strategies for narcissistic abuse survivors. Join us as she defines narcissism and gaslighting.


Key Takeaways

It’s a buzzword these days – sometimes if it’s overused it’s misused”

[00:02:50] What is narcissism?

  • Personality trait characterized by grandiosity, superficiality, superiority, entitlement, interpersonal exploitation and a lack of empathy
    • These traits are consistently, predictably displaying over time

[00:05:40] Gauging the amount of toxicity you can handle

  • While you may be able to handle quite a bit, you have to gauge how often you can handle a person in your life, to what level they are narcissistic and also how much you have remained yourself

[00:06:36] Malignant narcissist 

  • Pinnacle of the dark triad
    • This is when narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism (a personality trait that denotes cunningness, the ability to be manipulative, and a drive to use whatever means necessary to gain power) all collide – driven by power, profit, and pleasure
    • This is abusive and vindictive levels of behavior
    • These people lack empathy at all
      • Go out of their way to ruin your life, will start a smear campaign, keep you in court, etc.
      • Awful co-parents, legal or business partners

[00:07:12] Narcissistic abuse

  • Described as a multilayered attack on your sense of self
  • Dismantling of who you are and what you believe as well as your worth
    • Caused by:
      • Triangulation
      • Gaslighting
      • Manipulation
      • Passive Aggressiveness
  • Beyond Insidious – extremely difficult to recognize

[00:10:12] What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting happens when someone is set on trying to take over your reality

  • It’s a pattern
  • Beyond having another opinion or perspective
  • Isolating – divided into people who get it and people who don’t


  1. Has to happen with someone you are some form of familiarity or trust with
    1. A stranger can’t make you question your reality/sanity because you don’t trust them
    2. Mostly in relationships, someone you’re getting to know, colleagues, bosses or family
  2. They are lying – denial of reality
    1. They say you did or said something you didn’t
    2. They say they didn’t do or say something they did – deny
  3. Leave you with a sense there is something wrong with you – no longer trust your perspective
    1. Questioning your own competence, your memory, your just general sanity
  4. Repeats

[00:14:37] Ways to spot it

  • Constant difficulty with communication and overall difficult person
  • Always a circular issue – back to the same type of argument over and over
  • You become less and less like your self
  • More depressed, isolated and/or anxious
  • It can be very subtle, you believe the insecurities rather than what’s happening to you
  • Lots of thoughts of “what’s wrong with me?”

“Narcissists are being who they naturally are, antagonistic, they blame shift, they say everything is your fault. They’re looking to do what they want, how they want, when they want and you setting boundaries gets in the way of them doing that.”

[00:16:42] What to do to deal with them

  • A period of understanding – when we start to figure out that the problem is not you
    • You get part of your power back when you get to observe and figure out what you may be experiencing
    • Gaslighter has most power when you don’t know/trust yourself
    • Write things down – take a step back, observe
  • Test the waters with those who may be open to hearing
    • Have you noticed xyz about sop and so?
  • Calling out the behavior then seeing what their reaction would be – if they turn things around on you, this is evidence

[00:20:07] Set silent boundaries – these are boundaries you choose to set in your mind, when you know they are lying or trying to deceive you, mentally reaffirm the truth and reality

    • Empowering yourself
    • They are after getting inside your mind – they want to be the filter in which you see the world – that is the ultimate end of gaslighting
      • Becoming a shell of a person
      • Don’t have a right to feel how you feel
      • Looking to your narcissict to validate you, but they have created the insecurity
  • When do you take it to a boss or cut off a friend? How do you know it’s gone too far? Where is the line in the sand?
    • When the pain of staying is greater than the fear of leaving
    • Tried everything, but it’s not helping
    • Disengaged from the person
    • Feeling stuck
  • Some can heal within and can maintain a sort of relationship but others need to fully disengage

[00:24:18] Healthy relationships

  • What does this look like?
    • Characterized by mutuality – give and take, balance
    • Healthy conversations, disagreeing, having different opinions
    • These can feel strange or unfamiliar
    • Founded on respect/honesty/kindness
    • Empathy, what you would expect in a really good friend. – how to be a really good friend
    • Slow burn
    • Feeling safe and connected

[00:23:23] How to talk to someone when you believe they are being controlled by a narcissist

  • Remember they may be experiencing betrayal blindness – when we want to keep an attachment we are blind to the negative, we overlook things to maintain the happy family or successful position at work
  • Maintain open and honest relationship with the person you are concerned about – they often are isolated and it’s important to remain on their team
    • You can ask questions, subtly plant seeds to support them in seeing the actual reality – reaffirm the truth
  • Don’t go and call them out – you could end up pushing them away as the narcissist wants to keep them from anyone doubting them
Where to Find Chelsey
Credits and Thanks
  • Many thanks to our friends and families (our “villagers”) for listening, and for your continued support.
  • That’s a Hard No is a production of Clever Girl Marketing
  • Marketing and Production Coordinator, Maura Del Rosario
  • Production Support, Evergreen Podcasts, Noah Foutz, Producer
  • New Rock Anthem Music: Written by Noah, and performed by his band, The Big Leagues