7 Stages of Gaslighting in a Relationship and How to Respond

June 14, 2021

Has someone ever forced you to question your thoughts, memories, and even your own sanity? These are all forms of gaslighting

What is gaslighting? Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories. Gaslighting whether intentional or not is a form of manipulation. This is commonly seen in relationships including those with parents, friends and bosses. The most devastating forms of gaslighting is when it occurs in a relationship between a couple. Some of the repercussions from this are leading to a person developing mental health concerns, such as posttraumatic stress and a low self-esteem which can lead to depression. 


Here are some signs of gaslighting in a relationship: 

  • You find yourself doubting your reality 
  • Your partner is dismissive of your feelings
  • They never let you talk during conflict
  • Your partner doesn't apologize when you express hurt
  • Your partner blames you or outside circumstances
  • You start believing that your just not working hard enough in your relationship
  • Apologizing often 
  • Making excuses for your partners behaviours 
  • Using your voice brings out feelings of guilt.

Experiencing any of these emotions is a sign to understand the problem and take the next required actions to help the situation and respond. 


Here are the 7 gaslighting stages involved:

1. Lie and Exaggerate.

The gaslighter will give you the impression that there is something wrong about you, they accuse you with false presumptions and accusations, rather than objective, and verifiable facts. 

(E.g. “The work your department does is a waste of time and resources. How do you even justify your employment?”)


2. Repetition.

They need to repeat their statement constantly in order to stay on the offensive, control the conversation, and dominate the relationship. 


3. Blow up When Challenged.

When the gaslighter gets called out on their lies, they escalate the argument by doubling their attacks, denial, blame, and more false claims. Pressuring more doubt and confusion on the victim.

(e.g.“When I caught my husband cheating, he flatly said it didn't happen - that i imagined the whole thing. He called me psychotic.”)


4. Burn Out the Victim.

By staying on the offensive side, the gaslighter then eventually wears out the victim who will then feel discouraged, fearful, and self-doubting. The victim will continue to question their identity and reality. Trivializing how you feel: (e.g. “oh yeah, now you're going to feel sorry for yourself”)

5. Codependent Relationships.

The definition of codependency is “excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner.” (oxford dictionary) In the relationship the gaslighter makes the victim feel insecurity and anxiety. The gaslighter then has the power to gain acceptance, approval, respect, and security. The gaslighter will often threaten to take them away creating a codependent relationship based on fear and vulnerability. 


6. False Hope.

As another manipulative tactic, the gaslighter will occasionally treat the victim with kindness or remorse, to give the victim false hope. 

The victim may think “Maybe he’s really not THAT bad,” “Maybe things are going to get better, let's give it a chance.”

7. Dominate and Control.

The end goal for a pathological gaslighter is to gain control,  dominate, and take advantage of another individual. By maintaining their manipulations and lies the gaslighter keeps the victim in a constant state of insecurity, doubt, and fear. 


Now that you're aware of what gaslighting is and looks like the next step is to recognize when you're being a victim of it. Try addressing it with them, it's important you try to create a new way of communicating. 

Although it can be difficult, if the relationship is worth saving your partner will need to know their behaviour is making you feel this way. If they continue to dismiss your feelings try consulting a psychiatrist or a psychologist who specializes in manipulations. They can help you with your fears and doubts and help explain the different emotions you have experienced along with communication styles. 

Here are some communication tips to help pitch the conversation that will avoid your partner from getting defensive:

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