Gaslighting is a form of emotional manipulation. It occurs when one person attempts to make the other doubt their own perceptions, memories, and sanity. It is a destructive behavior that undermines the partner’s confidence and can lead to self-doubt and confusion. 

We think about someone having a bullying personality, but that’s not its only form of gaslighting. Here we talk about the Nice Guy Gaslighter.*

The Nice Guy Gaslighter projects an image of being caring, understanding, and empathetic, but these qualities are often used as a means to control and manipulate the other person. They may feign concern for their partner’s well-being while dismissing or invalidating their partner’s feelings and experiences, especially when these feelings or desires conflict with his own.

He really cares

The term “Nice Guy Gaslighter” refers to a person who presents themselves as kind, caring, and considerate. The manipulation and undermining of their partner’s perceptions, emotions, and sense of reality is done with the facade of being a “nice” or “good” person. The Nice Guy Gaslighter uses kindness to gain trust and exert control over their partner.

Here are some characteristics and behaviors commonly associated with the Nice Guy Gaslighter

You thought you hit the jackpot when you met this truly nice guy. He charmed and flattered you. His acts of kindness allowed you to establish a sense of trust in him that you didn’t think was possible. He projected an image of being open, disclosing, invested, and empathetic. As you began to rely on him, he began to slowly and subtly control and manipulate you. He feigned concern for you, but easily dismissed or invalidated your feelings and experiences. He became attentive when you gave in to his requests and withdrew emotionally when you didn’t.

It is almost impossible to spot a “Nice Guy Gaslighter.” Try this: Ask yourself why, if the relationship is so perfect, you feel so numb or unhappy all of the time. After all, Nice Guy Gaslighters do housework and are often great Dads. He may tell you repeatedly how in love he is with you.

The “Nice Guy Gaslighter” uses subtle methods.

These methods work on:

  • your worst fears,
  • your identity, or
  • your deepest dreams to be understood, loved, and appreciated.
  • Your core values like honesty, directness, and openness become the very characteristics that he mislabels as “bossy,” “cutting,” or “cruel.”

If you protest his bad behavior like lateness, drug abuse, or obvious disinterest, you become “controlling, uptight, or needy.” Normal requests for closeness are met with avoidance and excuses.

Somehow your birthdays never feel “special” although he does give a gift and a dinner. The present is never your style, but he loved it “for you.” He had always wanted to try that seafood restaurant he takes you to celebrate. He apologizes for forgetting you are allergic to seafood. At the restaurant he asks with a pout if you prefer to go somewhere else. He looks hurt that you aren’t happy with all the work he did to pick out this fabulous place. There must be something you can order, right?

You feel miserable and ungrateful for feeling miserable and ungrateful.

Who is he?

This nice guy may identify as a feminist, spiritual leader, or activist, so he advocates fairness and negotiation. He goes out of his way to do nice things. Like the psychiatrist Isaac Herschkopf, played by Paul Rudd in the series The Shrink Next Door, he might even provide damming psychological insight as to why you aren’t anxious to cooperate with him. But it’s seldom a direct command. He hints. He intimates. He suggests it’s in your own best interest. He just seems sad or rejected when you blow his suggestion off. He gives you a great big hug when you “decide” to do what he wants you to do. He tells you what a great idea YOU had.

His actions aren’t without a catch. He needs to be seen as nice. But these acts aren’t done because he simply cares about you; they are done for his own self-image, unconscious needs, or desire to impress others.

He is passive-aggressive

He makes backhanded compliments, then denies he meant anything by it. He tells you not to be so sensitive. He dishes out the silent treatment but refuses to acknowledge that is what he is doing. Even his terms of endearments sound  perfunctory or sarcastic.

The change in your relationship evolves slowly, and often after the first baby, the house you’ve closed on, or other definitive acts that bind you together. The change in the relationship leaves you feeling confused, hurt, dismissed and disappointed, but it’s hard to address. When you tell him you just don’t feel as “close” as you used to, he seems annoyed. He seems put out: “Exactly what do you want from me, anyway?” he might ask.

He plays the victim

In the victim role, he portrays himself as unfairly treated or misunderstood. He uses this victimhood in order to deflect responsibility and avoid accountability for his gaslighting behavior.

He’s emotionally manipulative

Guilt-tripping, using emotional outbursts or having meltdowns can be common behaviors. He may make the other person feel responsible for his emotional well-being. If you express your reaction to something he has said or done, you have “hurt his feelings” and should apologize.

He does so much for you, and yet, you can’t help but feel it’s an IOU for a bill you have to pay with your soul. You are confused because you should feel grateful, but instead, you feel ripped off and disrespected.

Gaslighting tactics

He employs various gaslighting tactics, such as denying his actions or statements, trivializing the other person’s feelings, distorting facts, or rewriting history. They manipulate the other person’s perception of reality and create self-doubt, making the victim question her own experiences and sanity.

Disrespectful compliance

Even when you “win” an argument, you feel unsatisfied and exhausted. He embodies what Lester Lenoff calls “disrespectful compliance.”

He seems to acquiesce, but there is an air of disrespect and disregard for it. Your wishes and concerns never get through. Even if he “lets you have your way,” he “bestows” it instead of joining you in that agreement. It feels tainted in a way you can’t put your finger on.

Lack of genuine empathy

Despite presenting himself as a caring individual, the Nice Guy Gaslighter lacks true empathy and understanding. He is self-focused, and often has little investment in deeply understanding his partners, especially when it would require introspection. Their actions are primarily driven by their own desire for control, power, and self-validation.

Over time, you feel numb, powerless, and joyless. Vacations don’t refresh. Plans you have seem flat and lifeless.

“You love him, so ignore your feelings,” you tell yourself. You doubt your mental health.

Everyone loves him (or so you think), so what’s wrong with you? You feel lonely even though people consider you the “perfect couple.”


The term “Nice Guy Gaslighter” does not mean that all individuals who identify as “nice guys” or are kind and caring are gaslighters. It specifically refers to individuals who use their outward appearance of kindness as a manipulation tactic within the relationship. Be aware of these behaviors and learn to trust yourself. Identify and address gaslighting dynamics in your relationship, and aim for healthier and more respectful interactions.

Read Part II: The Glamour Gaslighter…the sex was great, the relationship, not so much.

*My thanks to Robin Stern in her now classic book: The Gaslight Effect for delineating these subtypes