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7 Stages of Gaslighting in a Relationship


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“If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes accepted as the truth.” ―attributed to various sources

“Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others.” —Paramahansa Yogananda

Gaslighting is a form of persistent manipulation and brainwashing that causes the victim to doubt her or himself, and ultimately lose her or his own sense of perception, identity, and self-worth. The term is derived from the 1944 film Gaslight, in which a husband tries to convince his wife that she’s insane by causing her to question herself and her reality.

In its milder forms, gaslighting creates a subtle, but inequitable, power dynamic in a relationship, with the gaslightee subjected to the gaslighter’s unreasonable, rather than fact-based, scrutiny, judgment, or micro-aggression. At its worst, pathological gaslighting constitutes a severe form of mind-control and psychological abuse. Gaslighting can occur in personal relationships, at the workplace, or over an entire society.

Multiple studies and writings have focused on the phenomenon of gaslighting and its destructive impact.[1][2][3][4][5][6] Here are seven stages through which a pathological gaslighter dominates a victim (excerpted from my book, How to Successfully Handle Gaslighters & Stop Psychological Bullying ). Depending on the situation, there may be variations in the order and the number of gaslighting stages involved:

1. Lie and Exaggerate. The gaslighter creates a negative narrative about the gaslightee (“There’s something wrong and inadequate about you”), based on generalized false presumptions and accusations, rather than objective, independently verifiable facts, thereby putting the gaslightee on the defensive.

“My wife is a pathetic loser, and she needs to know the truth.” ―Anonymous husband

“The work your department does is a waste of time and resources. How do you even justify your employment?” ―Anonymous manager

“I hate it when you put groceries on the checkout counter that way. I told you before I HATE it!” ―Mother to daughter at supermarket