Gaslighting and manipulation are the same in the sense that gaslighting is a type of manipulation. However, there are other forms of manipulation that are not considered gaslighting. So although gaslighting is always manipulative, manipulation is not always gaslighting.
Manipulation is an umbrella term that describes strategies used to influence and control the perceptions and behaviors of other people. The American Psychological Association defines it as “behavior designed to exploit, control, or otherwise influence others to one’s advantage.”
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that allows the perpetrator to exert control over the victim. Psychological manipulation refers to altering and interfering with another person’s mental and emotional state through the use of certain tactics (described below).
In This Article
Manipulation tactics and how they relate to gaslighting
The goal of gaslighting is to shape another person’s perceptions and behavior to suit or satisfy the perpetrator’s needs. This can happen in various forms, including:
This involves the perpetrator using logical arguments and reason to get what they want. It is difficult to argue with facts, and this makes the victim more likely to give in. For example, “you don’t even like your friend X, why would see them?”
This manipulation can instill doubt in your mind and make you question your decision to see your friend. As such, it can be considered gaslighting.
A person might regress to child-like behavior (whining, crying, or pouting) when they want to achieve a goal, such as not wanting their partner to be angry at them. This behavior often comes from wanting to assume the role of a victim and shifting blame onto the victim, which is a form of gaslighting.
Gaslighting can be used as a form of coercive control by confusing the victim and thereby controlling their thoughts and actions.
Ignoring or avoiding someone can be used as a means of punishment, emotional manipulation, and control. It is often used to turn the tables on the victim and can therefore be considered a form of gaslighting.
This refers to reducing the quality of something. It could be used by a manipulator to make you stop doing something you enjoy, but they do not want you to do. For example, “tennis is such a stupid sport, why would you want to do that?”
It can also refer to self-debasement, which means debasing oneself to manipulate the other person to forgive or believe them. Debasement is a form of gaslighting as it can distort the victim’s perceptions.
This means a person has told you to do one thing, but once it has been provided, they are not satisfied or tell you that it was not what they wanted. It can confuse the victim and make them doubt their memory or understanding (e.g. “I was so sure that’s what you asked me to do”), which is gaslighting.
For more examples of gaslighting strategies, read this article.
Manipulation tactics that are not gaslighting
Manipulation does not always involve gaslighting. Below are some examples of manipulative behaviors that are not considered gaslighting:
This refers to excessive and insincere compliments or praise. Flattery benefits the committer in some way, for example, to get something out of you. Someone might say “you are the most beautiful person I have ever seen,” which is likely an exaggeration aimed at making you like that person.
Threatening someone directly, for example, by threatening to hurt them or their family, is a way to exert control. The perpetrator uses fear to get what they want.
This means indirectly expressing discontent without openly addressing it. It can include making snide or sarcastic comments, ignoring or avoiding another person, or being uncooperative.
When a person lies, they are shaping your perception of something, and therefore this is a form of manipulation. Lying is only gaslighting when the victim already has a certain perception, and the perpetrator lies to distort or confuse this perception. If the victim does not have a particular perception, it is purely lying, not gaslighting.
For example, if you do not know where your partner was and they tell you “I was at the gym” when really they were with another person, this is lying. If you know they were with another person and when you confront them they tell you “that’s not true, I was at the gym”, this is gaslighting.
Examples Of Gaslighting As A Form Of Manipulation
Gaslighting describes a variety of behaviors that confuse and distort the victim’s perception, memory, and sense of reality. The perpetrator’s aim is to control the victim and avoid taking responsibility.
An example of gaslighting in a romantic relationship is when a person is caught being unfaithful and the perpetrator denies this, even in the face of clear evidence. They might say, “no, that did not happen” or “that wasn’t me” or “you are imagining things again.” The perpetrator might accuse the victim of being jealous and insecure to shut down their argument.
If the perpetrator has no way of denying or lying about it, they might try to turn the tables, for example, “what about that time you flirted with the waitress? I didn’t say anything that time. I never know what you’re up to – you’re probably cheating on me”. Or they might play the victim “I only did that because you never pay me any attention.”
In this example, the gaslighter is trying to manipulate the victim into believing their narrative (“it did not happen”). If this does not work, they might try to manipulate the victim into forgiving them or turn the tables so they do not have to take responsibility for their actions.
Gaslighting can also happen in parent-child relationships. For example, if the child tells their parent they are gay, the parent might deny this reality by saying “no, you’re not” or “it’s just a phase.”
Another example is if a person reports a sexist or racist comment or behavior and is told, “you’re imagining things” or “don’t be so sensitive.”
In these scenarios, the perpetrator is trying to manipulate the victim’s experience and make them doubt their perceptions.
American Psychological Association. (2015). APA Dictionary of Psychology (2nd ed.)
Buss, D.M., Gomes, M., Higgins, D.S. & Lauterbach,. K. (1987). Tactics of manipulation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52 (6): 1219-29.