Why do people gaslight their romantic partners?

Published: 27 July 2023

A new study by a McGill University PhD student is looking into the effects of gaslighting in romantic relationships. The term is used to describe a form of psychological abuse in which a person or group causes someone to question their own sanity, memories, or perception of reality. Despite its prominence in pop culture and armchair psychology, research and clinical interest in gaslighting is relatively sparse, according to lead author on the study, McGill University PhD student in Psychology Willis Klein

The research, which was published in the journal Personal Relationships and completed while Klein was studying at the University of Toronto, also sheds light on the underlying motivations of gaslighters and how gaslighting unfolds within relationships. Through a qualitative analysis of survey responses from 65 gaslighting victims (ages 18 to 69), Klein and his co-authors at the University of Toronto were able to identify a number of traits and behaviors gaslighters generally share. They uncovered two primary motivations for gaslighters: avoiding accountability for bad behaviour (such as infidelity) and controlling the victim’s behaviour. The researchers also discovered three notable consequences for people who’d been gaslighted: The victim felt a diminished sense of self, increased guardedness and increased mistrust of others. 

A qualitative analysis of gaslighting in romantic relationships by Willis Klein et al., was published in Personal Relationships.

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