Gaslighting and how to recognise it

Gaslighting is a type of manipulation that invalidates you and can even lead to you questioning your own sanity.

You may recognise statements such as:

  • “That never happened; you must be imagining it.”
  • “Everyone agrees with me, you’re overreacting.”
  • “Wow, are you going mad or something?”

If these do sound familiar, you may have been the target of gaslighting which, in essence, is a form of emotional abuse.


The term comes from the 1938 play 'Gas Light' where a character’s reality is slowly being undermined by her supposedly devoted husband. The original title stems from the dimming of the gas lights in the house that occur when the husband is using the gas lights in the flat above while searching for jewels belonging to a woman whom he has murdered.

In the story, the wife notices the gas lights dimming in their own home and he attempts to convince her and others that she is insane by manipulating small elements of their environment and insisting that she is mistaken, remembering things incorrectly, or delusional. “Why don’t you rest a while,” he suggests. “You know you haven’t been well.”

The movie touches on something that many people go through in their relationships. Some mind games that people will play to get what they want can be extreme but, in the majority of cases, it is just to get you to do what they want or to get what they want from you.

They may even involve your friends and family, getting them onside by saying negative things about you, whilst they appear to be the nicest and most sane person around.  They can try and isolate you from family and friends too, so that they are the only one that has an influence on your life, and they have you in a space that they need. If this goes on for long enough then you and everyone around can start to think that this is really about you. It is also likened to many traits in a narcissist.

Here are five common methods used in gaslighting:

1. Gaslighters override your reality.

This is where they try to get you to question your own judgement. Over a prolonged period of time, if they question you enough, you can start to question yourself and your reality.

They are often the people who have told a lie so often that it becomes their reality, and they want you in this reality too.

2. Gaslighters aren’t out to destroy you; they’re out to make things easier for themselves.

Unlike in the play, the gaslighter isn’t usually trying to destroy a relationship. Quite the opposite in fact. They actually want the person around, want to maintain the relationship. They just want it all on their terms.

By the same token, it isn’t a conscious process. Indeed, gaslighters don’t sit around plotting to undermine someone’s sanity. Instead, it comes from the unconscious need to control their environment. They work to undermine so that they won’t be challenged. Then the relationship can go the way they want, without the inconvenience of having to discuss things, compromise or work together.

3. Gaslighting is fuelled by insecurity.

Why else would someone need to control their relationship and their environment so completely? Why else would they not want to be challenged, be questioned or be wrong?

The way they feel within themselves is lacking self-love, self-confidence and self-worth, and the way that they fill this gap is to have someone fill it for them. If they can get someone under their control then it fulfils their need to feel important and cherished. Something they can’t manifest from within.

4. Gaslighters try and make disagreement impossible.

If a gaslighter can get you to doubt yourself enough or discredit you, then you will find it hard to protest. Anything that you say can be immediately countered, automatically suspected and evidenced with things they have said before. Therefore, they think you can no longer disagree. And, when you do, the more they can point to evidence that you are wrong, again!

5. Gaslighters make you agree with their point of view.

They are looking for the world to conform in order to keep them safe and comfortable in their own minds. And they need people to agree with them.

It is not enough that what they say is listened to or heard, they actually really need the person to agree with their point of view, that they are right. And also, that a person believes that they needed to be undermined because what they were saying/doing was wrong.

They cannot face being invalidated, so they need you to agree and then invalidate yourself. They want to lead to someone questioning themselves in the first place, making their life easy and unchallenged.


Why would this happen in your life?

Gaslighters are often insecure and they need external validation (as they are not capable of validating themselves). The person that they are able to convince will also struggle with how they feel about themselves, and find it hard to self-validate.

The difference is that the gaslighter has taken to controlling their relationships so that their insecurity and vulnerability is not challenged or exposed. To give in to their needs and to be influenced by them means that you are lacking with a belief in yourself - maybe you are a people-pleaser and find it hard to remain in your space.

The law of attraction is at play here, too. If you have struggled in relationships where you have felt that you cannot be yourself, that you have often been told that you are wrong or have not been listened to, then as you have grown up this has become your belief. Subconsciously you will be attracted to relationships that confirm this belief, the same way that a gaslighter believes that they need to be with people they can control and will be attracted to those who doubt themselves in this way.

Of course, this kind of passive aggressive behaviour can be exhibited by anyone towards anyone, it isn’t always a gender issue. But, it is more commonly exhibited by men towards women, as men have more of a tendency to try and manage their emotional environment using control to get their emotional needs met.

How can coaching help?

Interpersonal relationship coaching will help you to understand the way you feel and why you behave in certain ways, attract certain types of relationships and have certain limiting and negative core beliefs. This will increase confidence and self-worth and create new positive beliefs and enable you to live the life that you desire.

Find a relationship coach who can help you on your journey to self-belief today.

Life Coach Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by John Kenny

John Kenny is the UK’s leading interpersonal relationship coach and has spent the past decade working with clients to help them to understand themselves, their relationships, their beliefs and what is holding them back from living a life that they choose.

Qualified and registered as a practitioner John can help you in any area of your life.… Read more

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