The Psychology of Gaslighting

How it Works and Who Does It

Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic that is frequently used in toxic relationships. A gaslighter will manipulate the trust of their victim by making them doubt the accuracy of their own memory, perception, or judgment. If you think you may be in a relationship with a gaslighter, or if you want to avoid becoming one yourself, read on for an explanation of this phenomenon and how to recognize it. 

What is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a type of emotional abuse wherein a person manipulates another person into questioning their own sanity. It typically happens in relationships with a lot of power imbalances, like abusive relationships, abusive friendships, or abusive parent-child relationships. The term comes from the 1938 stage play Gaslight, in which a man manipulates his newly married wife into thinking that she is going insane by slowly and secretly stealing items from her and then replacing them in a different place.

Why Does Gaslighting Work?

Gaslighting works because it is gradual and subtle. In order to avoid detection, a gaslighter will rarely engage in a single manipulation that would be obvious to their victim. Instead, they will slowly and steadily build a pattern of misinformation and false information that gets repeated often enough that it begins to feel normal. Therefore, victims may rationalize the manipulation and try to explain it away as having been a one-time mistake or a misunderstanding. A gaslighter knows this and often takes advantage of a victim’s reluctance to “call out” a friend or partner for manipulation.

4 Signs You’re Being Gaslighted

  • You find yourself questioning your own sanity
  • You’re always apologizing in your relationship
  • You feel like something is “off” in your relationship, but you can’t put your finger on what it is
  • You feel bad, guilty, or ashamed all the time 

If you have at least two of these four signs, you may be in a relationship with a gaslighter and you need to get out as soon as possible. Gaslighting is an extremely toxic form of manipulation and, as such, is extremely harmful to your mental health.

3 Ways to Protect Yourself From Gaslighting

  • Check your facts. You can do this by writing down facts, events, or memories that have been called into question by a gaslighter.
  • Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. If you are in a relationship with a gaslighter, you probably have a lot of shame about the relationship and the fact that you can’t just walk away. Again, remember that this is not your fault, and shame is a sign that you are being manipulated.
  • Maintain your boundaries. If a gaslighter tries to manipulate you into doing something that you know is outside of your boundaries, don’t do it.

Gaslighting is an insidious form of manipulation that can happen in relationships with a power imbalance. If you find yourself questioning your own sanity, always apologizing to your significant other, feeling like something is “off” in your relationship, or being constantly bad, guilty, or ashamed, you may be in a relationship with a gaslighter. To protect yourself from gaslighting, you should check your facts, ask for help, and maintain your boundaries.

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