7 Stages of Gaslighting in a Relationship

Gaslighting is a nonphysical form of abuse that involves relentless manipulation, traumatization, and exploitation. In the end, the victim ends up wallowing in self-doubt, and he/she ends up losing his/her identity and sense of self-worth.

The term ‘Gaslight’ is derived from a 1944 film by the same title. In the movie, the husband makes the wife think she is losing her mind, and she doubts her perception of reality.

Gaslighting is evident in our lives all the time, but in more subtle ways but it is manifested in the form of unreasonable scrutiny, some level of mind-control and psychological abuse. It can happen in relationships, workplaces, and many other places in society.

Based on several studies on the subject of gaslighting, here are the stages through which it unfolds.

1. Lies and Exaggeration

The perpetrator first creates a negative basic accusation that he/she builds on over time. For instance, “you are always making up things.” Such broad statements will obviously make the accused defensive.

2. Repetition

The lies are repeated again and again so that the gaslighter can maintain the offense, control conversations, and even dominate relationships.

3. Escalation (When Challenged)

If you bring up the lies, the gaslighter will take the attacks to the next level and use denial, blame, and other false statements in order to ensure you are confused and in doubt about everything. For instance:

“After I caught him sleeping at his desk at work, he insisted that he was not. He said that I was always creeping around snooping on people.”

4. Tiring the Victim Out

The constant attacks eventually start to wear the victim out and they get pessimistic, afraid, doubtful, discouraged, and even less confident of their perceptions and judgments.

5. Create Codependent Relationships

Codependency is defined as too much emotional and psychological reliance on someone. After being gaslighted on a constant basis, the person feels deeply insecure and anxious to the point where the victim has to go to the gaslighter for approval, safety, and acceptance. The gaslighter also often threatens to take these things away as a way to make the victim do what they want.

6. Giving False Hope

From time to time, purely as a way to manipulate the victim, the gaslighter will often show the victim some remorse and kindness, which creates in the victim a false hope that the person is not “that” bad. The victim starts to think that things are about to get better, that maybe there is a chance for them. However, this is all an act to distract the victim from the sorry state they are in and increase their codependency.

7. Domination and Control

In the end, the gaslighter wants to control and dominate the victim, taking advantage of them through lies and manipulations. The goal is to ensure that the victim is always insecure and full of doubt and fear. From this state, the gaslighter can exploit the helpless victim whenever they want for personal gain. Being the only person the abused person can turn to makes the gaslighter feel powerful, and that is a big part of their ultimate goal.