Gaslighting: the Dark Art of Psychological Manipulation

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or sanity. The term “gaslighting” is derived from the 1938 play “Gas Light” by Patrick Hamilton and its subsequent film adaptations, where a husband attempts to make his wife doubt her own perceptions by manipulating the environment around her. This article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of gaslighting, its origins, its psychological impact, and how to recognize and combat it.

I. Historical Origins and Usage of the Term

The term “gaslighting” entered the popular lexicon after the 1944 film adaptation of the play “Gas Light,” in which a husband manipulates his wife into believing she is losing her mind. However, the concept of gaslighting predates this play and can be traced back throughout history in various forms of manipulation and psychological warfare. Today, the term is used to describe manipulative tactics employed in various contexts, including personal relationships, politics, and workplace environments.

II. The Psychology of Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that targets an individual’s sense of self and mental stability. It is characterized by the manipulator employing lies, misdirection, and deceit to create doubt in the victim’s mind. This process can be broken down into the following stages:

  1. Stage 1: Disorientation – The manipulator creates confusion and uncertainty in the victim’s reality, leading to a sense of instability and disorientation.
  2. Stage 2: Self-doubt – The victim begins to doubt their own perceptions, memories, and beliefs as a result of the manipulator’s tactics.
  3. Stage 3: Dependence – The victim becomes reliant on the manipulator for validation and interpretation of their reality, further eroding their sense of self.
  4. Stage 4: Depression – As the victim’s self-esteem and mental health deteriorate, they may experience depression, anxiety, and other emotional difficulties.
  5. Stage 5: Acceptance – The victim ultimately accepts the manipulator’s reality, having lost trust in their own perceptions and beliefs.

III. Recognizing Gaslighting

Some common signs and tactics of gaslighting include:

  1. Denying or dismissing the victim’s experiences or feelings.
  2. Trivializing the victim’s concerns or emotions.
  3. Countering the victim’s memories or perceptions with false information.
  4. Withholding information or pretending to forget important events.
  5. Diverting conversations to avoid taking responsibility or facing the truth.
  6. Projecting the manipulator’s faults or actions onto the victim.
  7. Using positive reinforcement intermittently to keep the victim off-balance and dependent.

IV. The Impact of Gaslighting

The effects of gaslighting can be profound and long-lasting, with victims often experiencing:

  1. Loss of self-esteem and self-confidence.
  2. Chronic feelings of self-doubt and confusion.
  3. Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
  4. Isolation from friends and family members.
  5. Difficulty trusting others or forming healthy relationships.
  6. A heightened sense of vulnerability and fear.

V. Combating Gaslighting

Here are some strategies to help recognize, cope with, and ultimately overcome gaslighting:

  1. Educate yourself about gaslighting and its tactics to better recognize when it may be occurring.
  2. Trust your instincts and maintain faith in your own perceptions, memories, and beliefs.
  3. Seek support from friends, family, or a mental health professional to help validate your experiences.
  4. Set boundaries and limit contact with the manipulator when possible
  5. Document instances of manipulation, including conversations, actions, and events, to help maintain a clear record of the truth.
  6. Practice self-care and prioritize your mental and emotional well-being, as this can help build resilience against manipulation.
  7. Develop strong coping skills and engage in activities that foster self-confidence and self-awareness.
  8. Consider seeking professional help from a therapist or counsellor, who can provide guidance and support during the process of recovery.

VI. Gaslighting in Various Contexts

While gaslighting is often associated with intimate relationships, it can also occur in other contexts, such as:

  1. Family dynamics: Gaslighting can occur within families, where one family member manipulates and undermines others to maintain control or avoid accountability.
  2. Workplace environments: In professional settings, gaslighting may be employed by superiors or co-workers to discredit, undermine, or control colleagues.
  3. Politics and media: Politicians and media figures may use gaslighting tactics to manipulate public opinion, spread disinformation, or deflect criticism.
  4. Group dynamics: Gaslighting can also take place in social groups or organizations, with members employing manipulative tactics to assert control or influence over others.

Identifying a Toxic Relationship

Relationships are a crucial aspect of human life. They are the source of love, support, and companionship. However, not all relationships are healthy, and some can turn toxic. Toxic relationships can have a detrimental impact on your mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. Identifying a toxic relationship can be difficult, but it is an essential step towards protecting yourself and your mental health.

Here are some signs to look out for when identifying a toxic relationship:

  1. Constant Criticism

In a healthy relationship, partners support each other and build each other up. However, in a toxic relationship, one partner may constantly criticize and belittle the other. This can take the form of negative comments, insults, and even outright verbal abuse. If your partner is constantly putting you down, it could be a sign of a toxic relationship.

  1. Controlling Behaviour

Toxic partners often exhibit controlling behaviour. This can take the form of demanding to know your every move, monitoring your phone and social media activity, and even isolating you from friends and family. If your partner is constantly trying to control your behaviour and restrict your freedom, it could be a sign of a toxic relationship.

  1. Manipulation

Manipulation is a common tactic used by toxic partners. They may use guilt, fear, or other negative emotions to get what they want. For example, they may threaten to leave or harm themselves if you don’t do what they want. If you feel like you’re constantly walking on eggshells and trying to please your partner, it could be a sign of a toxic relationship.

  1. Lack of Respect

In a healthy relationship, partners respect each other’s boundaries and opinions. However, in a toxic relationship, one partner may disrespect the other’s wishes and boundaries. This can take the form of ignoring your requests or even violating your physical and emotional boundaries. If your partner consistently disrespects your wishes, it could be a sign of a toxic relationship.

  1. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse where a partner manipulates you into doubting your own perceptions and reality. This can take the form of denying your feelings, rewriting history, or even making you doubt your own sanity. If your partner frequently gaslights you, it could be a sign of a toxic relationship.

  1. Intense Jealousy

Jealousy is a normal emotion, but when it becomes intense and irrational, it can be a sign of a toxic relationship. A toxic partner may become jealous of your friends, family, or even your job. They may accuse you of cheating or flirting with others, even when there is no evidence to support their claims. If your partner is excessively jealous and controlling, it could be a sign of a toxic relationship.

  1. Lack of Support

A healthy relationship involves supporting each other’s dreams and aspirations. However, in a toxic relationship, one partner may undermine the other’s goals and dreams. They may discourage you from pursuing your passions, or even try to sabotage your efforts. If your partner consistently fails to support you, it could be a sign of a toxic relationship.

  1. Emotional Instability

Toxic partners often exhibit emotional instability. They may be moody, unpredictable, and even explosive. This can make it difficult to have a stable and healthy relationship. If your partner’s emotional instability is causing you stress and anxiety, it could be a sign of a toxic relationship.

  1. Physical or Sexual Abuse

Physical or sexual abuse is never acceptable in any relationship. If your partner is physically or sexually abusive, it is a clear sign of a toxic relationship. You should seek help immediately and remove yourself from the relationship as soon as possible.

Male Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse is a widespread issue that affects individuals of all genders and ages. It can be physical, emotional, or psychological, and can occur in various types of relationships, including those between intimate partners, family members, and roommates. However, despite the increasing awareness of domestic violence against women, male domestic abuse is often overlooked and not discussed as frequently. In this article, we will explore why men do not talk about male domestic abuse and the impact it has on their lives.

Male Domestic Abuse: An Overview

Male domestic abuse occurs when a man experiences abuse or violence from his partner, ex-partner, family member, or someone else with whom he has a close relationship. The abuse can take various forms, including physical violence, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, and controlling behaviour.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in America, approximately one in four men experience physical violence, rape, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. However, men are less likely to report the abuse or seek help due to various reasons.

Why Men Do Not Talk About Male Domestic Abuse

  1. Shame and Stigma

One of the primary reasons why men do not talk about male domestic abuse is the shame and stigma associated with being a male victim. In many societies, men are expected to be strong and dominant, and admitting to being a victim of abuse can be seen as a sign of weakness or emasculation. This can make men feel ashamed and isolated, and they may fear being judged or ridiculed if they speak out.

  1. Fear of Retaliation

Another reason why men do not talk about male domestic abuse is the fear of retaliation from their abusers. Men may worry that their abusers will escalate the violence if they report it or try to leave, or they may fear losing access to their children or property. This fear can make it challenging for men to seek help or escape from the abusive situation.

  1. Lack of Awareness

Many men may not even realize they are experiencing abuse. Domestic abuse against men is not as well-publicized as it is against women, and many men may not recognize the signs of abuse or understand that it is not their fault. This lack of awareness can make it challenging for men to recognize that they need help or support.

  1. Lack of Resources

Even if men do recognize that they are experiencing abuse, they may face barriers to accessing support and resources. Domestic violence shelters and support services are often geared towards women, and men may not know where to turn for help. Additionally, many men may not have the financial resources to leave an abusive relationship, as they may be the primary breadwinners or have limited access to joint resources.

The Impact of Male Domestic Abuse

The impact of male domestic abuse can be significant and long-lasting. Men who experience abuse may suffer from physical injuries, mental health issues, and social isolation. They may also struggle with feelings of shame, guilt, and low self-esteem, which can make it challenging to form healthy relationships in the future.

In addition to the personal impact, male domestic abuse can also have broader societal consequences. It perpetuates gender stereotypes and reinforces the idea that men cannot be victims, which can make it harder for male victims to come forward and seek help. It can also perpetuate the cycle of violence, as men who experience abuse are more likely to perpetrate violence against others in the future.


Male domestic abuse is a significant issue that affects millions of men around the world. However, the stigma and shame associated with being a male victim can make it challenging for men to come forward and seek help. It is essential to raise awareness about male domestic abuse and to provide support and resources that are inclusive of all genders. By breaking down the barriers that prevent men from speaking out, we can start to raise awareness and provide support to the same level as women get for domestic abuse.

My Domestic Abuse Story

It has been almost 4 years since I was told by my doctor that I was a victim of Domestic Abuse, but I hate the term ‘victim’. It gets used too much these days for the smallest of things and just loses its meaning.

I suffered domestic abuse most of my marriage until around 9 years ago, and it was only when I met a new doctor to increase my dosage of anti-depressants, when she asked about my past. I explained my past and she was shocked.

When it was explained to me, I did what many people say – “I thought Domestic Violence is only for women?”. It is not, but sadly the vast majority of support exclusive to women. With my permission, she passed my details on to a project that was being run by Women’s Aid, a domestic abuse organisation for women. They had a small project for men, and luckily there was a group that I could join.

This was in the early days of Covid-19, and the fortnightly meetings were held over Microsoft Teams.

I have always found it difficult to discuss my feelings, as part of some CBT (Cerebral Behaviour Therapy) counselling, I described part of myself being behind a brick wall infinitely wide and infinitely tall, and could not get past that, so that ended. However, with this group, the councillor explained foremost the stigma men have with domestic abuse – the embarrassment and shame of being in that position at the hands of their partner. It takes a lot for a male to explain and admit that they are suffering, when they believe the expectation is just to “be a man”. Words are far easier than actions.

There are so many events I look back to in my history and wonder why I didn’t do anything at the time, but this is one of the main factors of domestic abuse – always being made to feel that you’re useless, that you’re a terrible father, how every little thing is a burden, and to an extent, at the time, I just believed that I deserved it, and that I should be lucky I am still in the family. For starters, over the time I was married, I have been stabbed, bitten, threatened with adultery, hit with cookware (once a cast iron skillet into my shoulder), punched in the head whist driving, and on one occasion was pinned on the floor, with my then-wife attempting to insert a pencil into my eye. Besides using every ounce of my strength against her, the two things I remember seeing was the absolute animalistic look in her eyes, and the colour of the pencil. It was yellow and black striped, and freshly sharpened.

Others on the course experienced abuse to varying degrees – from gaslighting to assault, and as we all shared our experiences, we all understood that we have all gone through similar pasts, but the fact we were all talking together in a safe and confidential environment meant that we could start to put a name to it.

I explained that during my marriage I had developed a drinking problem and had tried nearly every anti-depressant that the NHS prescribed. My monthly assessments would both max out as a depressed person (PHQ-9) as well as someone who suffered from anxiety (GAD-7), but I was just told ‘exercise more’, ‘drink less alcohol’ then sent on my way.

The councillor explained the cycle that the abuser takes – the relationship in the cycle starts off positive, then slowly starts to turn – the affectionate slap starts to sting, little comments here and there have a bit more bite – challenging these would get a retort of “You’re being paranoid” or “oh don’t be silly”, until it comes to a head, when violence can erupt. However, with the gaslighting, and the rejections of your concerns, you end up in a state where you doubt yourself so much that you believe that you are in the wrong, and that the only way out of this cycle is to submit, admit you are in the wrong and beg for forgiveness. The abuser is the one in control and has the power.

I spent many years being told that something was wrong with me, and that I was not normal to the point that I believed it, and it was getting me down – so the negativity I was getting from her, and the self-reflected negativity was really bad. This self-depreciation and low self-esteem meant I relied on her more, I was giving more attention to her, and it was cyclical, forever getting worse, as each time the abuse cycle went round, the knot got a little bit tighter.

Both the councillor and my doctor explained that my ex-wife had a narcissistic personality disorder – selfishness, with a sense of entitlement and a need for admiration, someone to be the centre of attention, and a belief they are special and unique. They have a way of easily winning over new people, but can easily discard people, and turn others against those people to alienate them, and that really it was not my fault, and that all the guilt and pain I had been feeling for many years was unjust.

When we separated, the last string holding me together snapped. I moved into some shared accommodation, and into a room that made Harry Potter’s bedroom under the stairs look roomy. I stopped eating. I was losing on average a stone a week. I started hallucinating and came perilously close to killing myself. I got to the point where I had planned everything out and got everything, I needed apart from one thing. My doctor had given me a phone number to call if I were to ‘do anything’ – this would have had me picked up and locked up in a psychological hospital, I didn’t go that route because, as stupid as it sounds, I was unsure whether that would have counted as sick leave. I do remember though standing in the middle of the room, hunched over due to the angle of the ceiling, thinking, watching the walls rippling, and I imagined being a deep see diver, at the very edge of a trench, looking down into a darkness that was darker than dark. It felt like forever, just looking, then, just like storm clouds, it passed. My drinking got worse, but those suicidal feelings passed, and I promptly moved out and into a place of my own.

At this time, my line manager was not at all supportive – “Your problems are not problems for the company, so you should not let it affect your work” was the support I got. However, ironically, when he went through his own separation, he’d be stomping through the office shouting at his ex wife down the phone in front of everyone. That became a work problem instead.

When I explained this to the group, there was a painful silence, broken by a very quiet ‘wow’ – nobody else had come anywhere close to that.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I am a firm believer in what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I have taken solace from the fact that as painful as it has been for a few years of my life, I have come out of the other side of it. I have won. I have lost so much, but in the end I have still won. Without the constant negativity, threat of violence, and the ability to do and believe what I want, my relationship has improved leaps and bounds with my children, I bought my first house on my own, and I am starting to feel a sense of peace inside of me. People have noticed I am completely different, and I am becoming the real me. I very rarely drink alcohol, I exercise, and I am starting to enjoy life more. There are still scars – the thought of being in a relationship does scare me, and on occasions dip my toe in, but hastily retreat.

The last time my ex-wife tried to control me (even after we divorced), I decided to stand my ground. I noted all her complaints and accusations and responded in a formal two page letter after seeking advice where needed. When she read the letter, she asked me ‘Why did you do this?’ – the once great monster was reduced to what she really was. A small, insecure person. I explained “You had concerns, and instead of arguing about it, I contacted a few government agencies to check to make sure what I am saying is true, and that all your accusations are completely baseless”. I just got an “oh”. That was it. I had not just won the fight, but won the war.

This is my story. I have spoken to many people now, the group I speak to every week, and also people who have contacted me directly, both men and women to tell me their story, and how they too have won, escaping a relationship that has emotionally imprisoned them, but also the people who have been inspired by my story that they need help, they realise that they are in an abusive relationship and need help to take the first major step in escaping.