Gaslighting in a Relationship

Gaslighting in a Relationship

Authored by Pin Ng PhD

Edited by Hugh Soames

Reviewed by Michael Por, MD

Relationship Gaslighting

Since becoming a regularly used word in psychology, relationships and the types of abuse one can endure, gaslighting has become something new to watch out for — even though the concept is not new at all.

Many people may have felt the feelings that gaslighting can cause in a relationship or conflict1, but may not have been able to quite put their finger on, or accurately describe to someone else what was happening.

The concept is not new in relationships and neither is the word, but the popularity surrounding the word may be. This rediscovery of gaslighting has helped many people to figure out issues they are having in their relationships. It has helped people realize that often in conflict, they are not the problem — and that their reality is just as true as their partner’s.


What is Gaslighting in a Relationship?


If the term happens to be new to you or you do not fully understand it, gaslighting is often described as one individual denying another individual’s reality. It often involves the gaslighTER telling the gaslighTEE that something they saw or something they remember happening did not happen at all. The gaslighter may not realize they are doing it, but their behavior has a huge impact on the person they are gaslighting.


Victims of Gaslighting in a Relationship often deal with:


  • feelings of self-doubt
  • second-guessing themselves
  • unable to make decisions on their own
  • relying on their partner to make decisions


How does Gaslighting in a Relationship Happen?


These are just a few side effects caused by gaslighting in a relationship and there are often much more. Gaslighting in a relationship can occur with small everyday tasks such as your partner saying they grabbed the mail when you know that you did. Someone who is regularly gaslit is often forced to adjust their entire perspective on something like that even if they know and remember grabbing the mail themselves.

Their partner or friend repeatedly denies their reality and convinces them that it is incorrect. Gaslighting can also happen in really serious situations as well. Your partner could completely deny an affair or infidelity even though you have proof through finance receipts. A person gaslighting someone in a relationship could convince someone who has solid proof that they are having an affair that they are just imagining things and do not understand money well enough to accuse them.

Gaslighting in a relationship can often be confused as sensitivity and they are not the same thing. Someone who is gaslit is often made to believe that they are overly sensitive or easily upset even though they may have every right to be. This constant denial of reality or what the gaslighted believes to be true is enough to make anyone upset or confused.

If this concept sounds familiar to you and you think you may currently or have been the victim of gaslighting in a relationship the past without realizing it, here are some things to look out for:


  • You do not feel adequate enough for your partner. You may begin to believe that your partner is always right and you are dumb or unintelligent. This is not the case. Your partner, friend, or family member just has a way that makes you think that you are.
  • You are indecisive. People who are gaslit often have a difficult time making decisions because they are so regularly convinced that what they think is wrong or incorrect.
  • You apologize. People who are gaslit apologize for way more than they need to. Eventually, they are made to believe that their incorrectness or false reality is a burden to the gaslighter.
  • You think you are overly sensitive. You’re probably not. You are likely just upset because your reality is being denied and that is completely understandable.
  • You feel confused or crazy. Believing one thing and then being told it’s actually something completely else? That has to be confusing. Trying to wrap your head around something you saw with your own eyes not being true is enough to make anyone feel a little out of wack.
  • You make excuses for the gaslighter’s behavior. This person has effectively convinced you that they are always right and you are always wrong. This ideal makes you put them on a pedestal and you will often excuse their behavior because you think of them and their opinion so highly.
  • Something feels off and you cannot put your finger on it. You know that what you saw is what you saw. You know they did not do what they said they did, but you are convinced that you are wrong. This is confusing and it feels weird to have to completely change your perspective on something you felt firmly about.


Am I a Victim of Gaslighting in a Relationship?


If any of those scenarios sound familiar to you, you may need to rethink or adjust this relationship before it takes too much of a toll on your mental health — if it has not done so already. It can be really difficult to approach a gaslighter. You know how the conversation is going to go. They are right and you are wrong. What they think is actual reality and what you think is a falsely imagined version of reality that is only in your head.

For your own sanity, it needs to be fixed. But — it can be difficult. Especially if this is a family member or long-term partner.

Gaslighting Narcissist


Often, gas-lighters are abusive narcissists. When a narcissist gaslights you, they engage in character assassinations where they challenge and invalidate your thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and sanity. The goal of the narcissist gaslighter is to make the victim doubt themselves. Gaslighting abuse causes a person to lose their sense of identity, perception, and worth. Gaslighting is a form of narcissism and sociopathic tendencies as they look to gain power over someone. Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation used in relationships in order to maintain control over another person. The origin of the term can be traced to a British play in which an abusive husband manipulates the surroundings and events with the goal of making his wife question her reality.

You my find that gaslighting in a relationship gathers pace, or becomes even more extreme if the gaslighting narcissist feels like you may be about to leave the abusive situation.

How to Stop Gaslighting in a Relationship:


Write down a conversation where you felt like you were gaslighted. Every detail, what you remember, and what they tried to convince you of. Dissecting detailed recounts like this after they have happened can help you truly understand and wrap your head around what is going on.

Tell a friend or family member. The truth is, if you are being gaslit and you have close relationships with other people, they have probably noticed. You can ask them what they think about your relationship dynamics or if they aren’t aware of gaslighting in your relationship, you can read them the situation and conversation you wrote down in detail. Having someone that you have a different type of relationship with helping uncover what is going on can be extremely eye-opening.

Speak with a professional to help you gather the tools you need to help confront and change the situation. The person who is gaslighting you likely has the upper hand on you when it comes to conflict in the relationship. Even if you have understood and accepted that this is happening, you may not have the tools and words you need to help you fix it. Speaking with a professional, such as a counselor or a therapist can help give you the tools and words you need to say to the person gaslighting you. They can also help guide you through what happens after you begin discussing gaslighting with the gaslighter. The relationship may best be ended, but there may be ways to mend if the individual is willing to put in work as well.

Gaslighting is not new, but that does not mean it’s old news to you. You may have just recently discovered that this is what is happening to you or someone you love. It’s not an easy thing to overcome as it often involves a complete disruption of someone’s reality, but it is vital to do the hard work as soon as possible in order to prevent further and more permanent self-doubt.

References & Citations: Gaslighting in a Relationship

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  2. Kelly JB, Johnson MP. Differentiation among types of intimate partner violence: research update and implications for interventions. Fam Court Rev 2008;46:476–499. []
  3. Johnson MP. Two types of violence against women in the American family: identifying patriarchal terrorism and common couple violence. Paper presented at the annual meetings of the National Council on Family Relations, Irvine, CA, 1999.
  4. Leone JM, Johnson MP, Cohan CL, Lloyd SE. Consequences of gaslighting in a relationship and male partner violence for low‐income minority women. J Marriage Fam 2004;66:472–490. []
  5. Logan T, Walker R, Cole J, Shannon L. Partner stalking: how women respond, cope, and survive. New York: Springer, 2006. []
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  7. Frye V, Manganello J, Campbell J, Walton‐Moss B, Wilt S. The distribution of and factors associated with intimate terrorism and situational couple violence among a population‐based sample of urban women in the United States. J Interpers Violence 2006;21:1286–1213. []
  8. Gilchrist G, Radcliffe P, Noto AR, d’Oliveira AFPL. The prevalence and factors associated with ever perpetrating intimate partner violence by men receiving substance use treatment in Brazil and England: a cross‐cultural comparison. Drug Alcohol Rev 2017;36:34–51. []
  9. Fraser C, Olsen E, Lee K, Southworth C, Tucker S. The new age of stalking: technological implications for stalking. Juv Fam Court J 2010;61:39–55. []
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