What Is Gaslighting? Examples, Types, Causes, & How To Respond

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse whereby a person or group manipulates one or more people into questioning their sanity and perception of reality.

People who gaslight may intentionally or unintentionally use this form of abuse to exert power or control over others with the goal of manipulating them.

Those experiencing gaslighting may often feel confused about their version of reality, experience anxiety, or be unable to trust themselves.

Manipulation of People with Tiny Man with Strings Controlled by Someone Vector Set. Male Marionette with Subordinate Mind and Body Concept
Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic that undermines an individual’s perception of reality, causing them to doubt their own thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

The term gaslighting originates from the 1938 play and subsequent 1944 movie titled ‘Gaslight’ in which a husband tries to convince his wife that she cannot trust her own mind.

In the movie, the wife observes that the gas lights in the house flicker and change, but the husband tries to convince her she is hallucinating. This form of emotional manipulation has since been known as gaslighting.

The definition of gaslighting can be extended to include an act or acts perpetuated by any person in a position of power designed to manipulate less powerful others to doubt themselves or question their own sanity or memory (Davis & Ernst, 2019).

Who is likely to gaslight?

Gaslighting is mostly known to be carried out by one person onto another person, commonly in romantic relationships.

However, gaslighting can also occur in other relationships, such as friendships, between family members, in the workplace, or politics.

Gaslighters may have some overlap with those who have narcissistic personality traits in the sense that both can be egocentric, manipulative, and coercive.

Although narcissists focus on self-absorbed, selfish techniques to use on others, gaslighters fixate on power or control to dominate others.

What is the purpose of gaslighting?

Gaslighting is often a persistent form of manipulation that, over time, can cause the victims to lose their sense of perception, identity, and self-worth.

Emotional confusion appears to be the base of a gaslighter’s agenda, so this may work well on someone who already does not trust their own judgment. Thus, people who trust themselves more may be more immune to gaslighting.

Despite this, gaslighters may persist in their coercion to eventually wear down their victims over time. The tactics of the gaslighter may be used to shake the confidence of their victim, lower their self-esteem, and make the victim dependent on the gaslighter.

Gaslighting tactics

some examples of the types of gaslighting people may use
Common types of ways people can gaslight with examples of phrases

There are many tactics that gaslighters can use to manipulate their victims into questioning their own perceptions of reality, their thoughts, and their feelings.

Below are some examples of these tactics. Many of these tactics may not be in isolation from each other; some may be used in one instance or conversation. The more they are used on someone, the more likely they are to question their reality.


A gaslighter may pretend to forget events or how they happened, such as saying, ‘That never happened.’ They may also accuse the victim of making things up so that the victim appears to be lying.

Even when the victim provides proof of the lies, the gaslighter will not back down and may be very convincing when denying it, even if the victim knows they are lying. This can leave the victim feeling confused, unseen, unheard, and second-guessing themselves.

‘He would tell me ‘I never did or said that.’ In the end, I just did not know what was happening.’

‘Georgia,’ 32

Shifting blame

This can often occur when in conversations or confrontations with the gaslighter. They may twist around the confrontation from the victim to make the victim look like the bad person instead of themselves; thus, the blame is deflected onto the victim.

Victims may believe they are the cause of the gaslighter’s bad behavior. The gaslighter may say, ‘If you behaved differently, then I wouldn’t need to treat you this way.’


This can involve someone belittling or trivializing the victim’s feelings. They may often say, ‘You are overreacting’ or ‘You are too sensitive.’

If they say something hurtful, they may also say, ‘I was only joking,’ to reinforce that the other person is overreacting. Victims may question whether their concerns and feelings are real or may feel silly for overreacting.

If the victim is dealing with someone who does not acknowledge their thoughts, feelings, or beliefs, they may never feel validated or understood, which can be difficult to cope with.


Through withholding, the gaslighter may refuse to engage in a conversation or pretend not to understand what the other person is saying to get out of responding.

They may say phrases such as ‘I don’t know what you are talking about’ or ‘You are trying to confuse me.’

This may also include pretending not to understand the other person’s perspective, which can frustrate the victim and cause them to feel misunderstood.


In countering, the gaslighter confronts the victim’s memories of events with an accusation or denial. They may question another person’s memory, such as saying, ‘You have a bad memory’ or ‘You never remember things accurately.’

These accusations can cause the victim to believe that they may have remembered things incorrectly or have memory problems.


The aim of discrediting someone could be to make them appear emotionally unstable and thus more reliant on the gaslighter. This can be used to change the focus of conversations and may be used to question the other person’s credibility, such as saying, ‘This is just another crazy thought of yours.’

The gaslighter may also spread rumors or lies about the victim, subtly telling others that they are emotionally unstable so that people may even side with the abuser without knowing the full story.

The gaslighter may then use this against the victim to back up their claims, such as saying, ‘Everyone thinks you are crazy.’ To the gaslighter, this is more evidence to use against their victim.

Deflection and distraction

When in discussion or confrontation with a gaslighter about their behavior, they may change the subject or distract the victim with a question rather than respond to the issue at hand.

Not only can this throw the victim off, but it can cause them to question the need to press a matter.

Use of stereotypes

People can intentionally use negative stereotypes to manipulate others. This can include stereotypes surrounding a person’s gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, or age.

A common instance of this in heterosexual romantic relationships is where the man may tell the woman that people will think she is being hysterical or irrational – these being common harmful gender stereotypes.

This can also be used in what is called medical gaslighting. This is when a healthcare provider dismisses or questions a patient’s concerns and makes them believe their symptoms are imagined or exaggerated. Medical gaslighting based on stereotypes is more likely to happen with women and black and ethnic minority groups.

Using loving words as a weapon

Sometimes, when being called out for their behavior, gaslighters may use affectionate language to diffuse the situation. For instance, they may say, ‘You know I love you,’ or ‘I would never hurt you on purpose.’

This can make the victim take a step back and feel guilty for accusing the other person of abuse. However, if the same behavior continues, these words are probably inauthentic.

Rewriting history

Another gaslighting method people may use is to retell stories that work in their favor.

They could change the story to make the victim look like they are the abusive one. For instance, if a gaslighting partner has been yelling at their spouse all evening to the point where the spouse yells back, the gaslighter may rewrite the story by saying, ‘You were yelling at me for no reason.’

The victim may begin to doubt their memories of what really happened, the confusion or second-guessing being the exact intent of the gaslighter.

Types of gaslighting

Intimate partner relationships

Usually, the most thought type of gaslighting occurs in romantic relationships. This was demonstrated in the movie ‘Gaslight’ whereby the abusive husband manipulated his wife into believing she imagined things to make her easier to control.

Because of the intimate nature of these relationships, it can make it easier for gaslighters to use their abuse frequently and intensely.

Gaslighters may also use this type of abuse to isolate their partners from friends and family, prevent them from living their normal lives, and even escalate to physical abuse in the long term (although this is not always the case).

Child-parent gaslighting

Another common form of gaslighting can occur when a parent gaslights their child. (Riggs & Bartholomaeus, 2018).

The child may confront their parent as an adult, explaining that their parent may have done things to wrong them growing up.

A gaslighting parent may deny or ignore the child’s subjective experience, refuse to own their role in a problem, or act as if they themselves were the one that was wronged.

Rather than being emotionally supportive, gaslighting parents may make their children feel worse about themselves if the blame has shifted to make the parent the victim. Another way a parent can gaslight is if they are overly controlling.

This means they may have controlled what their child should like, dislike, value, and believe.

They may say that their child likes particular things or tell them what they are feeling, such as, ‘You’re tired,’ when the child may not have felt this way.

Institutional gaslighting

This type of gaslighting can occur at any company or organization. The organization may deny or hide information to make themselves look good and lie to employees about their rights.

This could occur when someone may come forward to expose the institution for any wrongdoing.

The whistle-blower could be portrayed by the institution as irrationally overreacting to normal interactions, leading them to doubt their own perceptions and mental state (Ahern, 2018).

Political gaslighting

While it is common to think that gaslighting can only occur on one person, it can be used on large groups or populations of people.

Political gaslighting can occur when a political figure or group may use lies, denials, or manipulates information to control people. Examples include when a politician downplays or keeps things hidden that they may have done wrong or discredits opponents by questioning their mental instability or bringing up past actions.

They may also use distraction tactics through controversy to divert the public’s attention away from important events that they may find threatening or uncomfortable.

Since these individuals are in positions of power and influence, this can make large groups of people more likely to be gaslighted by them.

Racial gaslighting

A person or groups of people may gaslight Black and minority ethnical groups’ experiences of discrimination. They may deny that these individuals experience racism despite evidence to the contrary (Johnson et al., 2021).

Examples of this have been seen during the Black Lives Matter movement. Individuals shared how they experience racial injustice due to their skin color, to which many other individuals have denied that racism exists or have downplayed the injustice.

They may have commented such things as ‘That’s just how things were back then,’ or ‘Racism doesn’t exist anymore.’

Gaslighting can occur when people who stand up for racial injustice are made to believe they are being irrational, over-sensitive, or too emotional, intending to undermine their message.

Likewise, the gaslighters may deflect by making themselves the victims.

Misogynistic gaslighting

Gaslighting can be used to trivialize or dismiss problems that specifically affect women based on misogynistic stereotypes.

A study found that medical professionals were twice as likely to attribute coronary heart disease symptoms in middle-aged women to mental health conditions compared to middle-aged men (Maserejian et al., 2009).

In this way, gaslighting can be used to downplay women’s physical symptoms for mental health symptoms. They could say things such as, ‘It’s all in your head’ to reinforce the archaic stereotype that women are irrational and hysterical.

Misogynistic gaslighting has also been found to be prevalent when women have given testimonies about the harm done to them by men (Stark, 2019).

In her article, Stark suggests that people who intend to undermine women’s testimonies of abuse may challenge their credibility by dodging evidence that supports the woman’s account and using ‘displacing’ tactics, attributing to the woman’s cognitive or characterological defects.

Tribe gaslighting

The term ‘tribe gaslighting’ is believed to be coined by Dr. Ramani Durvasula to describe how other people may empower the abuser and further place doubt on others’ realities.

Tribe gaslighting can occur in all the other types of gaslighting mentioned above.

For instance, if someone is in an intimate relationship with someone who they believe is gaslighting and they share their concerns about their partner with their friends, the friends may respond by saying things such as, ‘I haven’t seen them behave that way’ or ‘Maybe you’re misunderstanding their actions.’

Another example at the workplace could be if an employee confides in their co-worker about their boss mistreating them, and the co-worker responds with, ‘I don’t think they would do that’ or ‘I think this is a great place to work.’

This type of gaslighting, as described by Durvasula, is when other people around the abuser doubt the victim’s experiences because they have not experienced this abuse themselves.

This usually happens because other people may only see one side of the abuser and thus find it hard to believe that they would be abusive.

If multiple people, including the abuser, are placing doubt onto the victim, this could cause the victim to question whether they are actually being abused, or they may not want to share their struggles with anyone for fear of not being believed.

Signs that someone is being gaslit

some of the key signs that you are being gaslighted
Gaslighting examples – Some of the signs that may indicate you are being gaslighted

Below are some of the signs that individuals can notice if they suspect they are being gaslighted. It is worth noting that each sign is only meant to be seen as a possible sign of gaslighting – some of the signs can occur outside of gaslighting. Likewise, one does not have to experience every sign for it to be gaslighting.

  • They may doubt their own feelings, emotions, and reality and try to convince themselves that the abuse they are experiencing is not that bad.

  • They may be afraid of speaking up or expressing their emotions around someone as they have learned that sharing their opinions usually makes them feel worse. They may choose to stay silent as a result.

  • They may feel vulnerable, insecure, and always on edge around the gaslighter.

  • They may have low self-esteem.

  • They may feel alone, powerless, or convinced that people think they are irrational or mentally unstable. Thus, they may be isolated from other people close to them.

  • They may start to wonder whether they are what the gaslighter says they are. The words they hear may make them feel like they are wrong, unintelligent, or inadequate. This may incite negative self-talk.

  • In the past, they may have felt they were strong or assertive, but now they may feel weaker or more passive.

  • They may worry that they are too sensitive due to the gaslighters minimizing behaviors and words.

  • They may feel intimidated or threatened by the person gaslighting them as if something bad is going to happen when they are in their presence.

  • They may apologize more often than the other person, including apologizing for their actions or who they are, without understanding why.

  • They may try to live up to the expectations and demands of others, no matter how unreasonable, resulting in feeling inadequate.

  • They may second-guess themselves and start wondering if the details of past events are real or imagined. They may even stop trying to share what they remember for fear of being wrong.

  • They may begin making assumptions that other people are disappointed in them.

  • They may start worrying that there is something wrong with them or they have a mental illness.

  • They may rely on others, usually the gaslighter, to make decisions for them since they may distrust themselves.

  • They may defend the abusive person’s behavior if they start believing what they are saying or lie to friends and family to avoid having to make excuses for the abuser.

  • They may feel hopeless, joyless, worthless, or incompetent.

  • They may often feel very confused.

Below is an experience someone had about feeling confused by a gaslighter: 

‘I would be upset about something, then he would bring something else up. Before I knew it, I did not know what topic we were on anymore. All I knew is I was at war now about a million things instead of the one. This caused me to feel exhausted and fatigued, making my memory feel distorted.’

‘Georgia,’ 32. 

Impact of gaslighting

Gaslighting can strain mental health and could cause feelings of anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns. Some people may turn to substance use and suicidal behaviors as a result of gaslighting.

Persistent gaslighting can wear away someone’s sense of identity, self-worth, and self-confidence.

Some people may be more vulnerable to the negative effects of gaslighting if they have a history of abuse or trauma, low self-esteem, or depression, for example.

After a while, people may believe that they deserve the abuse they are facing. The impact of persistent gaslighting can last long after the gaslighter is out of the victim’s life and often leads to a lifetime of self-doubt, making this a catastrophic issue.

Causes of gaslighting

Gaslighting is an unhealthy form of manipulative control that may arise from a need to dominate others. People are not born to be gaslighters; rather, it is socially learned.

They might have witnessed gaslighting, been a target of gaslighting themselves, or happened into it. For some people, it can become an automatic response to feeling off-balance in an argument and used in a way to deflect responsibility and gain control of the conversation.


A possible reason people gaslight is that they were raised by a parent who gaslit them, and thus they learned these unhealthy behaviors as a survival mechanism.

The child may have been treated as the scapegoat to their parents and was blamed for doing everything wrong, so they learned to portray these behaviors to others.

Otherwise, children may learn from their parents that they are the golden child who can do no wrong, so if someone criticizes them, they use gaslighting as their defense.

Both parenting styles may teach the child the false belief that people operate in absolutes, that people are either all good or all bad, without any grey area. Therefore, they start to behave toward others as if this belief is true.

Mental health

Mental health conditions such as narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder could cause people to gaslight.

These mental health conditions may give people a distorted view of themselves and others with an inclination towards manipulating others for their own ends.

People with these conditions may never acknowledge that they are doing anything wrong and may project their own faults onto others. Those with narcissistic personality disorder, in particular, often have symptoms such as a constant need for admiration and attention, as well as a lack of empathy.

This can go hand-in-hand with gaslighting, as this form of abuse aims to make the gaslighter look more admirable at the expense of others’ feelings.

Low empathy

Gaslighters might possibly lack empathy or emotional intelligence. If someone is unable to empathize with others or see things from another’s perspective, they may be more likely to act in ways without consideration for how their actions affect those around them.

Some gaslighters may be unaware of what they are doing to others. The gaslighter may not act consciously and often may not recognize their own motives for their behavior.

Again, this could result from their upbringing and a genuine belief that their behavior is normal if it is what they were exposed to as a child.

How to respond to gaslighting

Below are some things that you can do if you feel you are dealing with a gaslighter:

  • Practice paying attention to what you think and feel. If, during conversations, you notice the topic turns into a blaming session on yourself rather than a back-and-forth discussion, this may be a sign that you are being gaslit.

  • Pay attention to where the conversation may pivot from a balanced conversation to a more hostile one. You could tell the gaslighter that you wish for the conversation to end if the conversation is no longer productive.

  • Explain to the gaslighter that you can talk to them more when the conversation is not so heated.

  • Pay attention to what the gaslighter’s actions are rather than their words, as they can say one thing, but their behaviors can say another.

  • Choose not to engage with someone if they are making you question your reality or are making negative statements about your mental stability.

  • Avoid arguments with the gaslighter. Trying to get them to see that they are wrong can be more fuel for the gaslighter, and they are not likely to back down or accept they are wrong. It may be best to end the conversation.

  • If the gaslighter is using distractions such as changing the topic to avoid talking about their behavior, you could respond by calmly asking if the conversation can be brought back to what you wanted to talk about or explaining that you can discuss a new topic later if that is what they want to do.

  • Gather proof of gaslighting to help you identify that your memories and feelings are real and that someone is manipulating them.

    This can include safely keeping a journal, voice memos, or photographs in a secure location. This may also include sending emails of any proof to a trusted friend or family member.

    This way, the sent email can be deleted from the sent box, and the evidence can be removed while safe in someone else’s hands.

  • It may be useful to be direct with the gaslighter when they try to deny or evade the truth, only if safe to do so.

  • Setting boundaries is important to help preserve emotional energy and make mental health a priority.

  • Remember that the gaslighter is 100% responsible for their behavior.

  • In instances where the gaslighter is negatively affecting your life, and you realize there is no reasoning with them, it may be best to distance yourself from them or to cut them out from your life completely if you can do so safely.

  • People can also create a safety plan that includes ways to protect themselves from emotional abuse before, during, and after leaving the relationship or situation.

    This can include planning safe places and escape points, the contact details of someone that can be called upon for help, self-care activities to help cope, and a plan for safely leaving the abusive situation.


Ahern, K. (2018). Institutional betrayal and gaslighting. The Journal of perinatal & neonatal nursing32(1), 59-65.

Davis, A. M., & Ernst, R. (2019). Racial gaslighting. Politics, Groups, and Identities, 7(4), 761-774.

Durvasula, R. (2018, November 15). Gaslighting by Tribe. Psychology Today. Retrieved 2023, March 30, from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/guide-better-relationships/201811/gaslighting-tribe

Johnson, V. E., Nadal, K. L., Sissoko, D. G., & King, R. (2021). “It’s not in your head”: Gaslighting,‘splaining, victim blaming, and other harmful reactions to microaggressions . Perspectives on psychological science, 16(5), 1024-1036.

Maserejian, N. N., Link, C. L., Lutfey, K. L., Marceau, L. D., & McKinlay, J. B. (2009). Disparities in physicians” interpretations of heart disease symptoms by patient gender: results of a video vignette factorial experiment. Journal of Women’s Health, 18(10), 1661-1667.

Riggs, D. W., & Bartholomaeus, C. (2018). Gaslighting in the context of clinical interactions with parents of transgender children. Sexual and relationship therapy33(4), 382-394.

Stark, C. A. (2019). Gaslighting, misogyny, and psychological oppression. The monist, 102(2), 221-235.

Sweet, P. L. (2019). The sociology of gaslighting. American Sociological Review, 84(5), 851-875.

Thomas, L. (2018). Gaslight and gaslighting. The lancet. Psychiatry, 5(2), 117-118.

Further reading

Examples of Gaslighting Phrases Used To Confuse And Control

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.

Olivia Guy-Evans, MSc

Associate Editor for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MSc Psychology of Education

Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.