Why are people with ADHD prone to gaslighting?

There has been a lot of talk recently about gaslighting or narcissistic abuse. I work with a lot of folks who struggle with difficult relationships and the word gaslighting or narcissism is thrown around a lot. What I find common is that people with ADHD tend to find themselves in some troublesome relationships. I always try my best to stay on top of the research and the studies so that I can present my clients with accurate and up to date information. I found that I needed to read up more on the correlation between ADHD and gaslighting to see what I could find. I did a quick Google search of “ADHD and Gaslighting” and “ADHD and Toxic Relationships”.  A lot of results that came up were linked to Stephanie Sarkis.  I have read books by Stephanie Sarkis and sat in on her conferences for mental health professionals, but somehow, I missed that she had a podcast. I know that she has done a lot of research on ADHD and toxic relationships. She has written two books on the topic which I have recommended to some of my clients.  I came across an episode of her Talking Brains podcast “Why Are People with ADHD More Vulnerable to Gaslighting?” You can find that episode here. She outlines in her podcast the traits of a gas lighter and the symptoms of ADHD. She also explains the relationship between ADHD and gaslighting relationships. Bingo. Exactly what I was looking for. So, based on the podcast, observations, and other research, this is the relationship between Gaslighting and ADHD.

Why are people who have ADHD prone to gaslighting?

The answer is that people with ADHD tend to: have self-esteem issues, problems navigating relationships and friendships, and tend to look for the best in people.

Self Esteem and Gaslighting

Someone who struggles with self-esteem issues, to put it in an overly simple way, have internalized the message that they are not good enough, they can’t do anything right, and they are the source of the problem. People who are gas lighters prey on these traits.

Typically, people with ADHD are more emotionally vulnerable and have been told constantly they are less than. There is even a book called “You Mean I Am Not Lazy, Stupid, or Crazy?” for adults with ADHD. This really illustrates the point that this has been a consistent message delivered to people with ADHD. There is also a correlation with people who have ADHD and under employment or problems keeping a job. This is the same for people who have chronic medical concerns (another population that has a correlation with toxic relationships).  Under employment and/or low wages also contribute to low self-esteem and financial hardship.

So, how does this carry over into relationships?  1. If you are used to hearing this message, it seems normal to continue hearing this message. A gas lighter will not accept responsibility for their actions and the person with low self-esteem blames everything on themselves any way. Perfect fit. 2. If you have low self-esteem, this leads you to accept less than you deserve in relationships. You believe that you deserve someone that talks poorly to you, because you do not value yourself. There is also some guilt and shame that is associated with ADHD, that is exploited and capitalized on with the toxic partner. 3. If you are financially vulnerable, this feeds into the gas lighters ego of savior and adds an element of control to the relationship. 

History of Troubled Relationships and Gas Lighters

Often people with ADHD have been told that they have poor communication skills because of ADHD. This is true, people with ADHD can have poor communication skills at times. So how do we know the difference between a toxic relationship and a relationship that struggles with poor communication skills? In a healthy relationship both partners have an awareness of what baggage they bring to the table. The person with ADHD may have poor communication skills and will acknowledge that, the other partner will acknowledge their role in the struggle as well.

If you are told that you are less than and that you are not pulling your weight and you are not told what you do well or the role your partner takes responsibility for, this is more than likely a gaslighting relationship. Gas lighters often have an ulterior motive. According to Sarkis “a person who is genuinely interested in the relationship is willing to understand their role, not just blame everything on the ADHD partner. A gaslighting partner will blame the person with ADHD for everything and not take responsibility for their behavior.”

Another item to consider is the handling of finances in the relationship. People with ADHD often have a hard time managing their finances (1. Because they are underemployed and/or have problems keeping a job and 2. they lack the executive function required to manage and budget effectively). There is a difference here. In a healthy relationship one partner may manage the money because they are more skilled than the other partner. In a toxic relationship one partner controls or withholds money from the other partner to create a power dynamic.

People with ADHD can also struggle with friendships and relationships with family members. It is common for people with ADHD to have social anxiety. They have trouble filtering out pertinent data and staying engaged in a conversation. Additionally, there is the concept of out of sight, out of mind. If the friend is not present and, in their face, a person with ADHD might fall off the radar. A gas lighter uses this to their advantage. One of the traits of a toxic relationship is isolating the other partner from their friends and family. Considering this is a problem area for ADHD folks already, it is not that much of a leap to isolate them completely.

The Tendency to See the Good in People and Why This Is Attractive to Gas Lighters

This is more of an anecdotal observation than a conclusion from the data. It could be argued that people with ADHD tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. They give people a generous explanation of their behavior. As an example, if the gas lighting partner has control of the finances, the ADHD partner might say they are just looking out for our best interest.  A person with ADHD might be able to justify and be over empathetic to their partner to excuse their behavior. My theory is that we are coming from the “do unto others” line of thinking. We are so grateful when others give us a generous explanation and don’t assume the worst, so we try to do that with others as well. This tendency to think the best makes it that much easier for a gas lighting partner to exploit the situation.

If you would like some support in navigating or getting some clarity on your relationship, please do not hesitate to reach out. You can schedule a consult here or send me a message.


Kelly, K., & Ramundo, P. (2006). You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!: The Classic Self-Help Book for Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder. : Scribner; Updated edition (April 25, 2006).

Barkley, R., Murphy, K., Fischer, M. (2010). ADHD in Adults: What the Science Says. : The Guilford Press; 1st edition (November 3, 2010).

Sarkis, Stephanie (Host). ( 2019, August 7). Why Are People With ADHD More Vulnerable to Gaslighting? (No. 21) {Audi podcast episode}. In Talking Brains. https://stephaniesarkis.com/blog/talking-brains-episode-21-adhd-gaslighting/