A question we received but didn’t have time to answer during our last support group meeting was, “What is it about gaslighting that makes it work so well?”

Gaslighting works because it causes tremendous self-doubt, plays on your need for stability, feeds on your emotional dependency, isolates you from your support system, uses incremental manipulation, and causes cognitive dissonance.

In this article, I will help you dive deeper into these reasons so you can better understand why gaslighting works so well.

1.) It Causes Tremendous Self-Doubt

Generally speaking, our brains trust what we hear often. 

When someone keeps telling you the same thing repeatedly, even if it’s wrong, you might start to believe it. 

For example, imagine someone telling you every day that the sun rises in the west. 

Even if you know it rises in the east, if you hear the false statement enough times, you could very well start to doubt what you know. 

A woman doubting herself.

That’s the power of repetition, and gaslighters use this to their advantage. 

Suggested Reading: 6 Examples of Gaslighting In Narcissistic Relationships

By constantly challenging or denying your thoughts, feelings, emotions, needs, memories, and many other things, they make you unsure of yourself. 

Over time, this can make you more dependent on the gaslighter to tell you what’s “real,” making their manipulation even more effective.

2.) It Plays on Your Need for Stability

People typically like things to make sense and stay consistent. 

It’s like wanting your daily routine to go as planned without unexpected changes. 

When someone keeps confusing you or making things seem unpredictable, it feels uncomfortable. 

So, sometimes, it’s easier to accept what they’re saying even if it doesn’t seem right. 

To a degree, gaslighters know this, so they intentionally make things confusing. 

They make you feel like your world is upside down. 

And because you want things to feel normal and stable again, you might start believing their version of events, even if it’s wrong.

3.) It Feeds on Your Emotional Dependency

Everyone has people in their lives whose opinions matter deeply to them, people who they lean on for support, love, and validation.

Gaslighters know the power of these emotional ties and they work hard to become one of those key people in your life.

But instead of offering genuine support, they manipulate.

When you rely on a gaslighter for emotional support or approval, they have power.

They can make you feel great one moment and confused or worthless the next, depending on what they want from you.

A woman talking to her therapist and showing signs of gaslighting.

Over time, wanting to feel good and avoid negative feelings can make you more willing to agree with the gaslighter or dismiss your own thoughts.

It’s like if every time you shared an opinion, someone made you feel silly for it.

Eventually, you might stop sharing your opinions or even start to doubt them.

Gaslighters take advantage of this natural human tendency to seek approval and avoid discomfort, making you reliant on their views and less trusting of your own.

4.) It Isolates You from Your Support System

Imagine being on an island with just one other person. 

Every day, they tell you stories about the world outside. 

At first, you might remember things differently, but over time, since they’re the only one you talk to, you might start to believe their stories more and more.

This is what gaslighters do. 

They try to separate you from your friends, family, and other close people. 

By doing this, they make sure they’re the main one you’re listening to, meaning they become your main source of information and opinion.

Without others to remind you of what’s really going on or to validate your feelings, it becomes harder to resist the gaslighter’s version of events. 

5.) It Uses Incremental Manipulation

I want you to imagine that you’re listening to music, and the volume is turned up a bit every few minutes. 

At first, you might not even notice it’s getting louder. 

But after a while, you’ll find it’s much louder than when you started, even though you never heard a sudden increase in volume.

That’s how gaslighters often work. 

They don’t usually start with big lies or manipulations. 

Instead, they change things a little bit at a time. 

At first, they might say or do things that seem slightly off. 

Suggested Reading: 100 Common Gaslighting Phrases

Because the changes are small, you might let them slide. 

But as time goes on, those small changes add up. 

By making tiny adjustments over time, they can end up making you believe something very different from where you started.

This slow approach makes it hard for you to pinpoint when things started going wrong, and before you know it, you’re deep into believing their twisted version of reality. 

It’s a sneaky way they keep you off balance and in their control.

6.) It Causes Cognitive Dissonance

Have you ever felt torn between two opposite ideas? 

It’s like wanting to eat a piece of cake because it tastes good but also knowing you should avoid it for health reasons. 

That uncomfortable feeling you get from holding two conflicting beliefs is called cognitive dissonance.

Like everything else I’ve listed in this article, gaslighters use this to their advantage. 

For example, let’s say someone you really care about tells you something that doesn’t match what you remember or feel. 

Now you’re stuck with two conflicting thoughts: “I trust this person” and “I’m sure what they’re saying isn’t right.” 

A man saying he trusts someone.

Because it feels bad to be stuck in the middle, you might try to eliminate the discomfort. 

For many, it’s easier to do this by doubting themselves than to believe someone they care about is being untruthful or manipulative.

By making you feel this conflict, gaslighters can push you towards accepting their version of events just to make that uncomfortable feeling go away. 

What Should You Take Away from This Article?

Gaslighting is one of the most powerful manipulation tactics that abusive people use. 

It works because it:

  • Causes tremendous self-doubt
  • Plays on your need for stability
  • Feeds on your emotional dependency
  • Isolates you from your support system
  • Uses incremental manipulation
  • Causes cognitive dissonance

Thank you so much for reaching this article. I hope you found it helpful!

About the Author

Hey, I’m Elijah.

I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years. 

I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.

Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.

If you’re ready to heal, visit The Institute of Healing from Narcissistic Abuse to get started.


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