Manipulation and gaslighting are common terms. While they are used widely, this post will focus on these terms in the context of teen dating and relationships. Many teens use these terms to describe aspects of their current dating/romantic relationships and even friendships. While these terms can be overused and/or misused, they are in some cases accurate ways to describe unhealthy behaviors.   

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, manipulation means “to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means, especially to one’s own advantage.” Manipulation can have a significant impact on teen relationships and can lead to unhealthy and sometimes abusive patterns. When one person manipulates their partner, it involves using tactics to control or influence their thoughts, feelings and/or behaviors. These tactics can include lying, guilt-tripping, withholding information, and/or pressuring the other person. Manipulation creates an unhealthy power imbalance in a relationship and can lead to one person feeling powerless, alone, and unsure of (or badly about) themselves.  

Gaslighting, like manipulation, can also have a harmful impact on relationships. Gaslighting involves the manipulation of one’s partner in ways that cause them to question their own memories, judgement, and even their perception of reality. It can involve one person denying their partner’s recollection of past events or feelings, retelling an incident to shift blame, challenging their partner’s assertions of what they believe to be true, and other similar tactics. This is an extremely toxic pattern of behavior that might lead some teens to feel uncertain about their emotions, decisions, or reality itself. They might begin to question who they trust and may start second-guessing their own thoughts and decisions.  

Manipulation and/or gaslighting in a relationship may show up in a variety of ways. For example, one person might:

  • Tell their partner if that person really loved them, they would go to a party with them, even if the person’s parents said they weren’t allowed to or it wasn’t a party the person felt comfortable going to.   
  • Pressure their partner to quit an activity or stop spending time with friends or family so the couple can have more time together. 
  • Physically assault or verbally/emotionally harm their partner and then either deny that it happened or change the story to make the incident seem not that bad or that it was their partner’s fault 
  • Threaten to harm themselves if their partner tries to end the relationship or talk to someone else about what’s going on. 

One of the especially toxic aspects of manipulation and gaslighting in a relationship is that people who use these tactics can be very effective in shifting blame away from the person who is causing the harm to the person who is being harmed. For example, if one person says something hurtful and their partner reacts, that person might respond, “I’m sorry that you think that was hurtful.” Instead of listening to and validating their partner’s feelings by apologizing or trying to understand their partner’s perspective, the person’s response puts the responsibility for the feelings on the hurt partner, without acknowledging any role in causing, or addressing, the harm. 

Both gaslighting and manipulation may isolate the person experiencing them from their family and friends. Loneliness, feelings of vulnerability, and increased reliance on the manipulative partner are three possible outcomes. These are all really tough things to experience and talk about. In light of this, we have some tips below that we hope can be helpful if you, or anyone you care about, finds themself in a relationship that involves manipulation and/or gaslighting. 

Tip #1: If something feels off or uncomfortable to you, honor that feeling and trust your instincts.  

Tip #2: Establish boundaries and communicate them early and clearly. Let your partner know what is acceptable and what you are not okay with. If you don’t know beforehand or in the moment, that’s completely okay and natural! Try to communicate if and when things become clearer to you. If your partner does not respect your boundaries, this is a red flag. Please don’t be afraid to reach out for help. 

Tip #3: Build a strong network of friends, family, and/or trusted resources. Having a trusted person, whether that’s a friend, family member, therapist, guidance counselor, or other, to consult with and confide in is important, especially if you are going through a difficult situation.

Maya Loewenberg attends Gann Academy and is in her junior year. She originally got involved with TeenSafe to learn more about what teen dating abuse is and is now passionate about educating teens on the importance of healthy relationships. 

If you are concerned about a relationship you are in, or if you are concerned about someone you know, trained advocates at Love is Respect are available 24/7 to offer support by phone at 866-331-9474, by texting LOVEIS to 22522, or by online chat at Teens and adults can also reach out to JF&CS Journey to Safety at or by calling 781-647-5327 ext. 1213 for additional support. 

JF&CS TeenSafe is partnering with CJP’s Jewish Teen Initiative to engage more teens in educating our community about how to identify unhealthy behaviors in relationships and seek help when needed. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Throughout the month, TeenSafe Peer Leadership Fellows will speak on important topics relating to teen dating abuse and healthy relationships through blog posts and Instagram posts. For more information, please follow @teensafe_jfcs on Instagram.

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