Is Gaslighting The Same As Manipulation?

Gaslighting is a type of manipulation, but not all manipulation is considered gaslighting. Gaslighting is a particularly insidious and hurtful form of manipulation that involves a pattern of abusive behaviors with the intent not just to influence someone, but to control and exploit them.

Manipulation, in a broader sense, describes the act of changing or influencing someone else’s thoughts, emotions, or actions in a deceptive or cunning manner. The term “manipulation” can encompass a wide range of behaviors and tactics, some of which may not necessarily involve causing the target to doubt their own reality.

While manipulation can certainly involve tactics that are emotionally harmful, gaslighting is specifically focused on causing psychological distress and confusion by distorting the victim’s perception of reality and undermining their confidence in their own thoughts.

Manipulation tactics and how they relate to gaslighting

The goal of gaslighting is to shape another person’s perceptions and behaviors to suit or satisfy the perpetrator’s needs.

Here are some manipulation tactics, along with how they relate to gaslighting:


Gaslighting often involves the outright denial of events, statements, or behaviors. Manipulators may deny saying or doing something even when there is clear evidence to the contrary.

For example, if Sarah noticed that her boyfriend Rob was flirting with another person at a party, she might approach him and say, “I saw you flirting with that person earlier.” Rob might reply, “What are you talking about? I was just being friendly and having a casual conversation. You’re overreacting.”

In this example, Rob is using gaslighting to deny his behavior and make Sarah question her perception of the situation and her feelings about it.

This manipulation tactic can instill doubt in someone’s mind and make them question their own memories. Gaslighting often involves repeated denials and contradictory statements, which can create confusion and self-doubt in the victim’s mind over time.


Manipulators may shift or redirect responsibility for their actions onto another person. This tactic can lead the victim to question their own actions and accept blame for things they didn’t do.

Here is an example: Thomas borrowed his roommate’s laptop without asking and accidentally spilled coffee on it. When confronted, Thomas replied, “I can’t believe you left your laptop out where anyone could spill something on it. You should have been more careful!”

In this example, Thomas is shifting the blame for the laptop damage onto his roommate, making it seem like he is at fault for leaving the laptop out. By doing so, Thomas avoids taking responsibility for his own actions and instead makes his roommate feel guilty for something that wasn’t directly his fault.

Over time, repeated instances of blame shifting can erode the victim’s confidence and make them more susceptible to the manipulator’s control.


Trivialization is a manipulation tactic where someone downplays the importance of another person’s feelings, concerns, or experiences. In the context of gaslighting, this can lead the victim to question the validity of their emotions.

Consider a scenario in which Megan and Andrew are in a relationship. Megan expressed her hurt feelings after Andrew forgot their anniversary. Megan approaches Andrew and tells him, “I was really hurt when you forgot our anniversary.” Andrew replies, “Come on, it’s just a date. Anniversaries are overrated, and you’re making a big deal out of nothing.”

In this example, Andrew is trivializing Megan’s emotions by suggesting that her hurt feelings over the forgotten anniversary are unwarranted and that she is exaggerating the situation.

By downplaying the significance of the event and Megan’s feelings, Andrew is attempting to make Megan question whether her emotional response is justified.

Trivialization in gaslighting can contribute to a sense of confusion and self-doubt in the victim, undermining their self-esteem and making them more reliant on the manipulator’s perspective.


Contradiction is a manipulation tactic where someone provides inconsistent or conflicting information to confuse or disorient another person. This tactic can lead the victim to doubt their memory and understanding of events, a hallmark of gaslighting.

Here’s an example: Lexi and Emily are classmates. Emily remembers that Lexi promised to help her with an assignment after school, but she later denies making such a promise.

Emily: “You said you would help me with the project.”

Lexi: “I never said that. You must have misunderstood me.”

Lexi is using contradiction as a manipulation tactic by denying that she made the promise to help Emily. Lexi is aiming to make Emily question her memory and interpretation of their conversation, leading to confusion and self-doubt on Emily’s part.

This aligns with the gaslighting goal of undermining one’s confidence in their own perceptions and recollections.

Moving Goalposts

Moving the goalposts is a manipulation tactic where someone continuously changes the terms or expectations of an argument or situation in order to avoid being proven wrong or to make it difficult for the other person to meet their demands.

In the context of gaslighting, moving the goalposts can be used to keep the victim off balance, create confusion about what is expected, or make them doubt their memory or understanding of an event.

Here is an example:

Rebecca: “You said you would clean the kitchen today, but it’s still messy.”

David: “Well, I didn’t realize you meant the entire kitchen. I thought you only wanted me to do the dishes.”

In this example, David is using the moving goalposts tactic to shift the expectations of what he agreed to do. He thus avoids taking responsibility for not fulfilling his commitment and confuses Rebecca about what was actually agreed upon.

By making Rebecca doubt her memory and perception, David is utilizing the gaslighting strategy of causing self-doubt.

For more examples of gaslighting strategies, read this article. 

Manipulation tactics that are not gaslighting

There are a number of manipulation tactics that are distinct from gaslighting. Below are some examples of manipulative behaviors that do not necessarily involve causing someone to doubt their own reality.


Flattery refers to giving excessive, insincere compliments or praise to manipulate someone’s emotions or actions. Flattery is a way of appealing to someone’s ego or vanity in order to gain favor, influence, or compliance.

For example, someone might tell you, “you are the most beautiful person I have ever seen,” in order to garner a positive emotional response and make you more receptive to their requests or intentions.


Fear-mongering involves creating or exaggerating a threat in order to manipulate someone’s emotions or actions out of fear.

This can also include using bullying or intimidation to get someone to comply with the manipulator’s wishes.

Guilt Tripping

Guilt tripping is a manipulation tactic that involves using guilt or shame to manipulate someone into doing what the manipulator wants. It exploits a person’s sense of responsibility, empathy, or moral values to achieve a desired outcome.

Examples of guilt-tripping might look like: “After all we’ve done for you, you can’t even do this one thing for us?” or “If you loved me, you would do this without questioning.”


Lying is another manipulation tactic that is distinct from gaslighting.

While lying involves deliberately providing false information or misleading someone, gaslighting specifically focuses on causing the target to doubt their own reality, perceptions, and memories. Lying is only considered gaslighting when the victim uses this tactic to create confusion and doubt in the target’s mind.

For example:

Lying is telling your roommate,”I didn’t eat the last piece of cake,” even when you did.

Gaslighting is when your roommate previously agreed to share the cake but is now denying it, and saying, “I never said that you could have a piece of cake. You must have misunderstood me.”

Examples Of Gaslighting As A Form Of Manipulation

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation characterized by the perpetrator’s deliberate efforts to undermine the victim’s perception of reality, memory, and sense of self. The ultimate goal of gaslighting is often to gain control over the victim and avoid taking responsibility for their own actions.

Here is an example of gaslighting in a romantic relationship involving infidelity:

Margo and Anna have been in a committed relationship for several years. One day, Margo discovers text messages on Anna’s phone suggesting that Anna has been having an affair.

Margo says to Anna, “I found these text messages on your phone that indicate you’ve been seeing someone else. What’s going on?”

Anna, gaslighting Margo, replies, “Those messages are just from a friend. You’re overreacting and misinterpreting things. You know I would never do anything to hurt you.”

In this example, Anna is using gaslighting as a manipulation tactic. She is denying any wrongdoing, even in the face of clear evidence presented by the text messages. Anna then attempts to undermine Margo’s perception of the situation by accusing Anna of overreacting and doubting the accuracy of her interpretation.

This manipulation tactic can create confusion and self-doubt in Margo, causing her to question her own judgment and leading her to accept Anna’s version of events.

Gaslighting can also happen in parent-child relationships.

For example, if Lily decides to confide in her mother about her sexual orientation, revealing that she is gay, her mother might respond, “No, you’re just confused. It’s probably just a phase. You’ll grow out of it.”

Lily’s mother is using gaslighting as a manipulation tactic. Instead of acknowledging and accepting Lily’s revelation about her sexual orientation, her mother denies this reality by suggesting that Lily’s feelings are not valid and will eventually change.

In both of these scenarios detailed above, the perpetrators are trying to manipulate the victims’ experiences and feelings, making them doubt their perceptions in order to exert control and maintain power in the relationship.


American Psychological Association. (2015). APA Dictionary of Psychology (2nd ed.)

Buss, D.M., Gomes, M., Higgins, D.S. & Lauterbach,. K. (1987). Tactics of manipulation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52 (6): 1219-29.

Saul Mcleod, PhD

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Educator, Researcher

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Julia Simkus

BA (Hons) Psychology, Princeton University

Editor at Simply Psychology

Julia Simkus is a graduate of Princeton University with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. She is currently studying for a Master's Degree in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness in September 2023. Julia's research has been published in peer reviewed journals.

Anna Drescher

Mental Health Writer

BSc (Hons), Psychology, Goldsmiths University, MSc in Psychotherapy, University of Queensland

Anna Drescher is a freelance writer and solution-focused hypnotherapist, specializing in CBT and meditation. Using insights from her experience working as an NHS Assistant Clinical Psychologist and Recovery Officer, along with her Master's degree in Psychotherapy, she lends deep empathy and profound understanding to her mental health and relationships writing.