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What Is Gaslighting in a Relationship?

What Is Gaslighting in a Relationship?

Read on to explore the meaning of the term “gaslighting” in the context of a relationship.

Is Gaslighting Just Another Word for Manipulation?

Gaslighting has become a widely used term in popular culture, but it is nothing new. The term comes from the 1944 movie Gaslight, in which a husband tries to trick his wife into believing she’s having a mental breakdown.

Since then, the term gaslighting has been used to describe a brainwashing technique commonly used by narcissists, cult leaders, and abusive partners.

In relationships, gaslighting is used to put one partner in a position of dependency and the other in a position of power. Tactics are used to make someone else look unstable or irrational.

According to Grand Valley State University’s Associate Professor, Andrew D. Spear, gaslighting is used by a type of abuser who needs their victim to agree with them. It is used as a form of manipulation, but it is a specific and rarer technique for controlling another person.

Manipulation Versus Gaslighting

Children learn to manipulate parents at an early age—they cry, pout, smile, or use their best manners to get things they want. You can also see marketing experts and salespeople manipulating consumers to buy their goods. However, none of these things are gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a pattern of behavior that goes beyond influencing someone to take a specific action. The National Domestic Violence Hotline lists five gaslighting tactics that are different from general manipulation:

  • Withholding: “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”
  • Countering: “You’re wrong. You don’t remember correctly.”
  • Blocking/Changing the Subject: “Who gave you that crazy idea?”
  • Trivializing: “You’re too sensitive. You get angry over little things.”
  • Forgetting/Denial: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You made that up.”

These early signs can seem harmless at first, but they are part of a bigger pattern of gaslighting, emotional abuse, and domestic violence.

If you are in a relationship with someone who uses these tactics or constantly says things that make you second-guess yourself, you may be a victim of gaslighting. Speak with a therapist or call the Domestic Violence Hotline for information and support.

How Gaslighting Works: Techniques Used by Gaslighters

Gaslighting is effective because it confuses the victim so they no longer feel they can trust their own thoughts, memories, and feelings. Therefore, it is difficult for people to recognize when someone uses these techniques on them. In fact, a person who is adept at gaslighting and manipulation knows how to build trust so that their lies will be believed later.

Psychology Today refers to this tactic as love bombing—using a combination of praising and confiding gaslighting behaviors to establish a strong connection before any physical intimacy occurs. Once a gaslighter manipulates someone into having strong feelings for them, they can begin the next phase of gaslighting and manipulation.

Watch out for the following clear signs of gaslighting in a relationship:

Blatant Lying

Lying about unimportant things is one of the earliest signs of being gaslighted. If a person can get someone to accept a blatant lie, they have set a precedent for telling more lies in the future.

Early in the relationship, the lies will be small things, like what the other partner was wearing the first time they met or that the partner told them something they know they never said. The point is not necessarily to “get away with” the lies but to keep the other person unsteady.

Denying Facts Even When There Is Proof

For example, they know their partner said they would pick them up from work. Their friend even remembers the conversation and confirms the statement; however, the gaslighter denies ever making such a promise.

Gaslighting in arguments starts small. The first time something like this happens, the person who was gaslighted may feel certain they are right. Still, as similar incidents follow more frequently, they begin questioning their reality and rely on the abuser’s version of events instead.

Exploiting Weaknesses

A person who wants to gaslight others is always on the lookout for information they can use against someone. For instance, if a victim shares their fears of being an inadequate parent, the gaslighter will find ways to point out incidents of bad parenting subtly. If a victim talks about feelings of unworthiness, the gaslighter will point out negative traits.

These tactics are used to chip away at self-esteem and confidence.

Moving Slowly

Gaslighting a person is done purposefully and gradually over time. Small lies that slowly get bigger and unkind comments that get bolder are common.

The goal of the gaslighter is to slowly turn up the heat so that the other does not notice the gaslighting abuse symptoms until they are under their control.

Words and Actions that Don’t Match

One way for someone to recognize they are being gaslighted is to pay attention to that person’s deeds more than their words. Thus, when a partner’s words and actions frequently don’t align, it may be gaslighting.

Giving Plenty of Praise

Throwing in frequent praise and statements of positive reinforcements is part of the overall plan to keep people confused. This praise often comes after negative or dishonest statements and makes others rethink their opinion of them.

Undermining Stability

People who gaslight in relationships understand that they need to weaken others for their tactics to work. They may convince someone that trusted friends are lying or tell their friends that they are the one who is lying. Gaslighters try to weaken their partner’s connections with work, family, and social circles to increase their dependence on them.
Gaslighting in Relationships

How to Respond to Gaslighting in Relationships

Gaslighting can be difficult to detect, which is why many victims are hesitant to leave a relationship that seems good otherwise.

If someone suspects they are being gaslighted, they should consider taking the following steps:

Gaslighting is often a lead-in to domestic violence. The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that 74% of adult female domestic violence survivors report experiencing signs of gaslighting from their abusive partner.



The stereotype that women are irrational and overemotional can work to an abuser’s advantage; however, gaslighting, psychological abuse, and abuse of power are found in all types of romantic relationships regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

Questions About Treatment?

Our knowledgeable team is ready to discuss your situation and options. Your call is confidential with no obligation required.

What is an Intervention?

In a situation involving substance use disorder, planning an intervention may be the best, and safest, option to help someone who is living with an addiction. So, what does intervention mean? An intervention is a strategically planned process of confronting the person who is living with addiction about the consequences of their actions while simultaneously encouraging them to accept help and treatment for their addiction.1

The key feature of an intercession is that while it can be an immensely helpful option in convincing a person that they should seek treatment, it should not be done solely by friends and family members. Without the aid of a specialist, or someone who is equally trained in the process of interventions, an intervention may do more harm than good.

An intervention specialist is someone that has been professionally trained in helping people break free from their addictions. They can help a person without judgment, emotions, or blame to understand how their actions are negatively impacting themselves and those that they care about.

When performed properly, without judgment or pressure, and with the aid of a qualified intercession specialist, 80-90% of substance use interventions are successful in convincing the patient to seek help.

Early Intervention

Treatment is more effective the earlier that it begins for an alcohol or drug abuse disorder. As with any other health condition, early intervention and treatment can prevent more significant problems further on in life.

Unfortunately, in many cases, an alcohol addiction intervention or a drug abuse intercession does not take place until most other options have been exhausted. It can be difficult for those struggling with a substance use disorder to realize or admit that they need help.

It often takes a life-altering event, such as a divorce, loss of employment, or a housing crisis for a person to be willing to seek treatment. Because early
alcohol and drug intercession can be so beneficial, first responders must be able to recognize the symptoms of substance abuse.3

What is a Nursing Intervention?

Nursing interventions are often the first time a patient will experience care for their disorder. It takes place when someone enters a care facility such as a clinic or hospital for a condition that may or may not be caused or exacerbated by their substance use disorder.

After initial evaluation and stabilization, a nurse will take action to help their patient by suggesting healthy physical or emotional coping mechanisms for a patient that wants to quit using the substance that they are addicted to. The nurse will also be able to offer education and information to the patient about other treatment facilities or care providers that can help them on their road to recovery.

Alcohol Intervention

A Further Look at Interventions

Nearly 50% of adults in America regularly drink alcohol, and it is believed that as many as 25% of those Americans have an alcohol addiction, most commonly in the form of binge drinking. In many situations, once a person with an alcohol use disorder realizes the way that alcohol is negatively impacting their life, they can reduce the amount that they drink, or even quit entirely, without outside assistance.

However, some people that have an alcohol use disorder are unable to see how their addiction is negatively affecting them. In this situation, an alcohol use intercession can be extremely beneficial. Some of the benefits of interventions include:

Drug Intervention

A Further Look at Interventions

Over nineteen million adults struggle with a drug abuse disorder and of those, nearly 74% also struggle with a co-existing alcohol abuse disorder. Drug abuse and addiction can be a much harder disorder to recover from than alcohol addiction, particularly due to the high rate of co-use that most people with a substance use disorder experience.

In many cases, suddenly stopping the use of an illicit substance can be just as harmful, if not more so than using the substance itself. The side effects and withdrawal symptoms that a person may experience when they decide to stop using a substance can be severe and at times life-threatening.

Luckily, substance use is a highly treatable disorder and several medications can help a person wean off of illicit substances in a safe, sustained, and monitored manner. A drug abuse intervention can help someone realize that they have options and that they can recover safely and healthily.

Questions About Treatment?

Our knowledgeable team is ready to discuss your situation and options. Your call is confidential with no obligation required.