NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, June 3, 2023

What Are the 7 Stages of Gaslighting in a Relationship?

Gaslighting is a form of emotional and psychological abuse. Gaslighters emotionally manipulate and exploit others to undermine them and get them to doubt their own perceptions, experiences and understanding of events (see my article: Are You Being Gaslighted?).

What Are the 7 Stages of Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a power dynamic which can be used as a tactic in romantic relationships, friendships, family relationships, work situations or any situation where two people are interacting together.  

In this article, I'm focusing on the stages of gaslighting and the importance of getting help in therapy if this dynamic doesn't change.

The goal of the gaslighter is to make the gaslightee feel insecure and anxious so the gaslightee is more easily dominated and manipulated.

Gaslighting is often found in codependent relationships because the gaslightee is overly dependent emotionally and psychologically. This makes the gaslightee easier to manipulate (see my article: Bait and Switch as a Form of Manipulation).

Gaslighting often gets worse over time if steps are not taken to either change the dynamic or get out of this destructive dynamic.

What Are the 7 Stages of Gaslighting?
Here are the usual seven stages of gaslighting:
  • Lie and Exaggerate:  The gaslighter uses false presumptions and accusations to create a negative perception of the gaslightee. The objective is to put the gaslightee on the defensive by denying the gaslightee's reality: "Your contribution to our marriage is nothing compared to mine. I work at a stressful job so we can pay our bills. All you do is stay home and watch the kids."
Gaslighting is a Form of Emotional Abuse
  • Repetition: The gaslighter continues to repeat the same accusations to stay on the offensive, control the relationship dynamics and dominate the gaslightee.  This is similar to psychological warfare in that the more the accusations are repeated over time, the more likely the gaslightee will believe them. 
  • Double Down on Accusations When Challenged: When the gaslighter is called on their manipulation, they often double and triple down on their accusations. They use more lies, denial, blame, deflection and other manipulative tactics to create doubt, anxiety and insecurity in the partner. The gaslighter might say to the gaslightee, "You're too sensitive" or "You're so dramatic."  They can also: 
    • Question the gaslightee's memory about situations
    • Trivialize the gaslightee's concerns
    • Counter against what the gaslightee says by lying and making up details
    • Brush off the gaslightee's concerns
    • Divert the gaslightee's attention by changing the subject
    • Discredit the gaslightee to family members, friends and other mutual acquaintances by portraying the gaslightee as confused, having a bad memory or being the source of the problem in the relationship.
  • Wear Out the Gaslightee: The gaslighter attempts to wear out the gaslightee by constantly remaining on the offensive. The gaslightee often becomes more anxious, pessimistic, fearful and self doubting, which makes them even easier to manipulate. Gaslightees will question their own perceptions and this is how the gaslighter continues to dominate the relationship.
Gaslighting is a Form of Emotional Abuse

  • Give False Hope to the Gaslightee: Another manipulation tactic is when the gaslighter will occasionally treat the gaslightee better temporarily. They might be milder in their criticism or express superficial remorse to give the gaslightee false hope.  They might tell their partner that they're now "ready to change" or attend couples therapy or "start over," but this is usually a tactic to get the partner to become complacent and let down their guard.  At that point, the gaslightee might think, "Our relationship really isn't as bad as I thought because my partner is willing to work on our relationship" or "My partner finally understands and he's willing to change." But this tactic is a way to temporarily appease the gaslightee to give false hope.  The goal is to temporarily back off to eventually regain power in the situation during the next phase of gaslighting. 
  • Dominate and Control: The ultimate goal of gaslighting is to dominate and control the relationship so the gaslighter can manipulate and take advantage of the gaslightee on an ongoing basis.

How to Deal With Gaslighting
  • Recognize the Signs of Gaslighting During the Early Stage:  By recognizing the early warning signs and identifying the problem right away, you can let your partner know that you're not going to put up with this manipulation.  
  • Don't Get Into Arguments With the Gaslighter: Gaslighters are usually experts when it comes to arguing, so don't get in arguments with them. They're good at rationalizing, deflecting, twisting your words and using other manipulative tactics, so don't go down that rabbit hole or you'll find yourself on the defensive and exhausted.
  • Maintain Your Individual Identity: If you maintain your individual identity and don't form a codependent relationship with the gaslighter, you're less likely to allow the gaslighter to break you down. This means maintaining your sense of self, your individual interests and relationships with supportive friends and family members (see my article: Growing as an Individual While in a Relationship).
Staying Calm and Grounded
  • Be Assertive and Set Boundaries With Your Partner: Let your partner know that you're not going to put up with this behavior.  Your partner might try to use other tactics to manipulate.  If your partner doesn't respect your boundaries and still tries to manipulate you, stay calm and disengage. You can call a time-out, go for a walk, listen to music or find other ways to disengage from the gaslighter's attempts to dominate you (see my article: Setting Boundaries in Your Relationship).
  • Recognize You Can Only Control Your Own Behavior: In the heat of the moment, it's easy to try to control your partner's behavior, especially in a gaslighting situation. But this usually energizes the gaslighter because they're especially good at manipulating in these situations and pointing out how you're trying to control them without acknowledging that they're trying to control you. So, it's better to focus on yourself and your own behavior instead of trying to control their behavior.  
  • Rebuild Your Self Confidence: Find ways to revitalize yourself and find joy and peace of mind. Recognize things that you're good at doing.  If you have given up hobbies you used to love, reengage with these hobbies. Keep a journal to focus on your strengths and find other ways to affirm your self confidence (see my article: Developing Internal Resources and Coping Skills and Focusing on Your Personal Strengths).
Rebuild Your Self Confidence
  • Practice Self Compassion: Be compassionate towards yourself if you're struggling with gaslighting. Give yourself the same compassion you would give a good friend in the same situation (see my article: Developing Self Compassion).
  • Make a Decision as to Whether You Want to Stay or Get Out of the Relationship: If the gaslighting continues and it's eroding your self esteem, make a decision as to whether you want to stay or get out. No one can make this decision for you. Many people who experience gaslighting leave abruptly and then return to a destructive relationship because they haven't taken the time to think about what they want and plan what they want to do (see my article: Should You Stay or Should You Leave Your Relationship?).
Getting Help in Therapy
  • Get Help in Therapy: If you're in a relationship where your partner is gaslighting you and they're unwilling to change, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed mental health professional. A skilled psychotherapist can help you to regain your sense of self so you can heal from the damaging effects of gaslighting.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.