What is Gaslighting?

POSTED ON 03/09/2020 IN Emotional Wellbeing

Carrying on from recent blog posts that have looked at different elements of psychological abuse within a relationship, this one will look at another term called gaslighting, which has become more widely known in recent years. Gaslighting can happen within any kind of relationship, and refers to when a person tries to convince another they are wrong about something even when they are not.

Gaslighting can be carried out in a number of less serious ways, such as by disagreeing with someone or refusing to listen to what they are saying even when they are correct, but it can be used in a more serious way and be used as a form of manipulation. The term ‘gaslighting’ can be referred back to the 1944 film ‘Gaslight’ where a man is shown to manipulate his wife so much that she believes she is losing her mind. Gaslighting is where an entity or a person gains power by making the victim question their own reality, and is carried out slowly so the person doesn’t realise how much they have been brainwashed. It can be very serious as it can affect the victim by making them doubt their own ideas, question their sanity, and can have a hugely negative effect on their confidence and self-esteem. In an intimate relationship, for example, it can be used by one partner as a way of controlling the other; it is a way of carrying out emotional abuse. This relationship example will be used going forward.

Sometimes gaslighting can be carried out by someone who doesn’t even realise they are doing it. This could come from their own insecurities about having less power in a relationship, or about being wrong, and is from a yearning for undermining the other person. Such insecurities could develop from past relationships or from childhood experiences, but gaslighting can also be used as a deliberate way to make their partner feel less confident about themselves and more unlikely to make a challenge. There are various ways and techniques gaslighters use to carry out this abuse.

There are various actions gaslighters carry out to manipulate. They tell lies that are blatant which makes the other person unsure that anything they say is true. They also deny they have said something even when there is proof to the contrary, which then makes the other person question their own reality and what they believe. The more these two things occur, the more the gaslighter’s reality becomes more accepted. Another way a gaslighter makes someone question their own reality is by telling them that everyone else is a liar. This could be the media, friends or family, and is another way of ensuring that they are the only source of the truth because having the boldness to say such a thing makes the other person believe it to be the truth, when it is actually a manipulation technique. A gaslighter making their partner confused can also be carried out by using positive reinforcement, where praise is used to make the partner question whether the gaslighter is all bad, but it is a way of creating uneasiness and again question their reality. A gaslighter can also use projection which is where they project their own actions onto their partner, such as they are cheating but they accuse the other person of doing so. This is also an example of how the gaslighter’s actions do not match what they are saying; they are accusing their partner of doing the very thing they are.

A gaslighter can use other people in their manipulation as well. Children, for example, may be used in a way to make their partner not feel worthy enough to be a parent. Other people may be used in the gaslighter’s lies by saying they agree with what they say about the partner, like not being worthy, but this again is another lie and is used to make the partner feel isolated. Telling other people lies about their partner’s mental health is also a hugely controlling technique as these people will then question anything the partner subsequently says about the gaslighter. When they also tell their partner the same lies, they will question their own mental health as well. Making the partner confused and question everything ensures the gaslighter is the person they turn to in order to feel more stable. All of these actions can wear the partner down over time. Gaslighting is carried out gradually, and can then get worse, but because it is carried out slowly, the partner may not realise it is happening.

Like with lots of things in society, I think knowledge is power, and by knowing what gaslighting is can hopefully help people to spot the signs within any type of relationship, not just an intimate one, and be stopped before it causes a great deal of damage.


Relate offers help and support on all types of relationships. Contact Relate on 0300 0030 396 for general enquiries or to book an appointment.


Sarah Keeping 

Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach      


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