“Gaslighting can make the perpetrator feel more powerful and in control,” Papin and Jackson explain. A person who gaslights might not have the capacity to sit with their emotions or self-reflect and may even have feelings of low self-worth that they are uncomfortable dealing with. In some cases, gaslighting is used by someone psychologists would identify as a narcissist, where the person has no sense of remorse for their actions or empathy for their partner.
Gaslighting can be done either consciously or unconsciously, they add. Although gaslighting is never justified, there are some people who may not realize they are even doing it. Some people consistently rely on gaslighting as a tactic to maintain control in relationships, so they might not realize how harmful it is. “Some folks have been gaslighting those around them for so long that it’s a second-nature survival strategy,” Papin and Jackson explain.
They and Rosenberg also drew parallels between gaslighting in relationships and larger social issues. Papin and Jackson note that gaslighting “can often intersect with misogyny and white supremacy. These intersections have often excused and encouraged gaslighting behavior to maintain positions of power. Gaslighting is a common method to keep power structures in place and oppress folks who have less access to support and resources.”
These power dynamics can show up within intimate relationships as well. “The more privilege one has, the more their experience gets centralized as ‘normal’ or ‘correct,'” Rosenberg explains. “Gaslighting can show up in relationships as the more privileged partner discounting the experiences of the less privileged partner.”