As a psychiatrist who treats many individuals struggling with issues surrounding relationships, at times, I encounter patients describing behaviors from their partners that cause them to doubt themselves and question their memory and even their sanity. Further exploration of these patterns reveals how this behavior negatively impacts my patient’s mental health and confidence. In this context, my role is to help my patient regain confidence and faith in their powers of observation and perspective and move towards healthy relationships in the future.

The strategic manipulation of making someone doubt their history or perspective to exert psychological control is referred to as “gaslighting,” a term derived from a 1938 Alfred Hitchcock play called Gaslight. In this eerie drama, a husband tries to convince his wife that she is losing her mind so that he can steal from her. In the play, the man turns the lights up in the attic to search and abscond with his wife’s jewelry collection. This causes the gas lights to dim on the lower level where his wife is sitting. When his wife asks why the lights are flickering, he convinces her it is all her imagination, and gradually, she begins to doubt her version of reality. 

What is Gaslighting and How Does it Impact Well-being? 

So what exactly is gaslighting, and why is it so destructive? At its core, gaslighting is when someone utilizes denial and lies to make another person doubt what they objectively know as accurate. Examples of gaslighting include:

  • Trivializing someone’s thoughts, feelings, or experiences.
  • Shifting blame.
  • Pretending not to understand something clearly communicated.

The gaslighter uses these techniques to evade accountability for their actions. Gaslighters do more than try to smooth over or minimize a problem. Their goal is to deliberately destabilize the other person and rewrite history on their own terms and to their advantage.

Signs of Gaslighting and Strategies to Stop It

So, how can you know if you’re being gaslighted? Red flags include suspicions that a partner is frequently lying to you and repeated attempts by your partner to shut down dialogue through constant interruption and talking over you. Gaslighters refuse to acknowledge their partner’s emotions and experiences as valid, causing them to defend their point of view rather than address the issue at hand. Here are some examples of techniques gaslighters use.

  • Stonewalling. Stonewalling is when one member of the relationship ignores the other-sometimes referred to as giving someone the “silent treatment.” It often occurs when one member of a couple questions the other’s behavior. Instead of addressing their partner’s concerns, a gaslighter might refuse to see their perspective, disengage, and withhold affection until the ignored partner feels abandoned, rejected, and unworthy. 
  • Twisting. When a victim confronts a gaslighter, they often deflect by twisting facts, accusing their partners of being “paranoid” or “overreacting,” and attempting to displace blame on their partners. The gaslighter might use phrases such as “you never remember things correctly” or “you know I would never say that” to cause their partner to question their memory and thoughts.
  • Trivializing. Trivializing is when a gaslighter blames their partner for blowing things out of proportion or being too sensitive. This makes their partner doubt the legitimacy of their concerns and even their emotional wellness and perceptions. This helps them dodge accountability and causes their partner to lose trust in themselves, making them even more dependent on their abuser.

Each of these techniques overpowers a victim’s sense of rationality. They also support another psychological tendency that leads to distorted reality, the illusory truth effect. This is a tendency to believe lies and false information when they are repeated to the listener. Research has shown that familiarity can override rationality, even when an individual knows the truth but is persuaded to feel otherwise by consistently being told a falsehood. The illusory truth effect is also behind “fake news” and is frequently utilized in advertising and other coercive campaigns.

What Types of Relationships are Vulnerable to Gaslighting

Gaslighting can occur in any close, personal relationship. It is commonly thought to affect romantic partners, where one member of the couple denies emotional or physical abuse, infidelity, and other nefarious behavior. But gaslighting can occur in many different types of relationships as well. For example, in parent-child relationships, parents might make a child question their memory and perception. Abusive or controlling friends can use gaslighting to minimize, bully, or exclude a victimized friend. Employer-employee relationships are not immune. In these instances, workplace harassment like bullying or discrimination is denied or minimized. The common thread in each is the gaslighter’s distortion of the truth. This results in gradually undermining the victim’s confidence to establish psychological control or influence over them. 

Recognizing Gaslighting and What to Do About It

What should you do if you suspect you are being gaslit? The number one key is to learn to recognize the patterns. Do you feel your partner does not listen, stonewalls, or deflects if you bring up a contentious topic? Is he or she overly defensive, call you crazy, or is paranoid when you ask about the validity of their behavior? If you see these patterns, document the incidents via journals, voice memos, screenshots of text exchanges, or other records so you have a paper trail of proof that could help identify gaslighting. Try opening up to a trusted confidant about what has happened, or speak with one of the clinicians at The Midtown Practice. We can help reassure you that your perception aligns with reality and that you aren’t “going crazy” but being manipulated and gaslighted.


Often, the most effective way to handle a gaslighter is by disengaging from the relationship. This is recommended if they need more accountability or willingness to get professional help. Continued exposure typically creates further psychological damage by making you doubt your own life story—the road to recovery from gaslighting rests on rebuilding self-trust. Our skillful therapists can help you regain your moorings and identify manipulative falsehoods. Through psychotherapy, you can rebuild a support network that enables you to feel safe and validated. If you relate to the dynamics described here and have additional questions specific to your situation, please contact us so we can help you break free from an unhealthy relationship and move on to build healthy, stable bonds that you enjoy and make you feel grounded and at ease. 

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