What is gaslighting and what to do if you think it is happening to you

Gaslighting is a way of controlling someone in a relationship which can be used as a form of abuse

Gaslighting is a form of abuse in a relationship
Gaslighting is a form of abuse in a relationship

The term gaslighting refers to when someone manipulates a person into questioning their own feelings, instincts and sanity.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline describes gaslighting as "an extremely effective form of emotional abuse" which gives control and power to the abuser.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

What are the sign of gaslighting?

It can hard to spot the signs as gaslighting tends to build very gradually over time.

There are a variety of techniques which mainly involve disagreeing with a person and making them doubt their own thoughts and feelings.

Partners will 'forget' or deny something that happened or was said. E.g. "I don't know what you're talking about, I did not say that."

The victim is often made to feel that their feelings are unimportant or that they are exaggerating. E.g. "You're too sensitive."

Why does this happen?

Relationship charity Relate say that sometimes, the person doing the gaslighting doesn’t know they’re doing it.

It can be as much to do with their own insecurities around being wrong or having less power in a relationship as it is out of an active desire to undermine their partner.

However in other cases, this can be a deliberate tactic used to make their partner feel less confident and less likely to challenge them. Again, this is a totally unacceptable thing to do and a highly abusive pattern of behaviour.

Where does the term come from?

This term comes from the 1938 stage play Gas Light, in which a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy by dimming the lights (which were powered by gas) in their home. When his wife points it out, he denies that the light changed.

What do I do if I think I am being gaslighted?

Relate advise people to talk to family and friends and try and get an objective opinion on the situation. It can be a good idea to talk to more than one person, that way you can get a few different perspectives.

If you think your partner is doing things deliberately it is a good idea to call the National Domestic Violence Helpline for advice on 0808 2000 247.