These days, it seems like everyone is talking about gaslighting. But what exactly is it?
How would you recognize when someone is doing this to you? And what are the steps to take when someone is gaslighting you?
According to experts, here are the tips on how to respond to gaslighting:
Dr. Monica Vermani, C. Psych.
Clinical Psychologist | Author, “A Deeper Wellness: Conquering Stress, Mood, Anxiety and Traumas“
Gaslighting is the prolonged, highly manipulative coercive control of one individual by another.
It is carried out by someone in close contact and in a position of trust:
- an intimate partner
- a close friend or family member
- someone with a close working relationship with the target of the manipulation
Deliberate, prolonged, subtle, and complex, gaslighting plays out in a series of manipulations over an extended period of time.
We are all potentially vulnerable to this powerful and dangerous form of manipulation. This devastating form of abuse can creep in virtually undetected.
Emotionally abusive people — often people with low self-esteem — who wish to control others rather than engage in mutually respectful relationships that require consideration, empathy, compassion, and kindness, seek ways to undermine and overpower someone they fear losing, regardless of the damage to the target of their manipulation.
Decide to break free from a gaslighting relationship
Escaping from a gaslighting relationship is not easy, but it is possible. It is not uncommon for a victim of gaslighting to mount a tremendous and often challenging effort to regain their freedom and autonomy.
One of the first steps is deciding to leave. From there, leaving involves:
- ending all communication
- cutting the abuser out of your life entirely
- bringing in the support, you need to assist you when your abuser attempts to re-establish control
As with any form of abuse, understanding how gaslighting works, feels and acknowledging what is happening are the first steps to breaking free.
Here are five steps to free yourself from a gaslighter:
Get clear and get real with yourself about what is happening in your life
Make a promise to yourself to put an end to it if:
- Your self-esteem is at an all-time low.
- You find yourself isolated from your support systems.
- You find yourself doubting your thoughts, perceptions, and version of events and situations due to the influence of an individual you trust and admire.
- You acknowledge what is going on.
Make a conscious effort to reconnect with your strengths and sense of who you are
Steel yourself for the effort that lies ahead, and ground yourself in the knowledge and understanding of how gaslighters operate.
Make a list of friends, family members, and professionals you can confide in as you move beyond your abuser.
Reach out to someone who can support and help you
Reach out to that trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional, someone who can support you and help you through the challenges of breaking the cycle of abuse.
You will need support, strategies, and validation to make the right choices as you break free. Focus on self-care and positive self-talk as you prepare to end the cycle of abuse.
Distance yourself from your abuser
Depending on your situation, you may need to end all communication with an intimate partner, quit a job, or end a friendship.
You may need to rely on your support a great deal when your abuser seeks to re-establish their control over you. If necessary, end all contact with your abuser.
Stay diligent in your efforts to protect yourself from repeated patterns of abuse
When it comes to gaslighters, prevention is the best form of self-protection.
Work with a mental health professional to:
- address the fallout of your abuse
- understand how gaslighters operate
- recognize red flags and warning signs of manipulative people
- protect yourself from potential abusers
With the strategies and knowledge I place, next time someone challenges the integrity of what you know to be accurate, you will realize who and what you may be dealing with.
Be aware of the strategies of the gaslighter
Becoming aware of the strategies and behaviors of a gaslighter is the best form of prevention and self-protection. Gaslighters destabilize their target.
They deliberately challenge the perceptions and realities of their target
They deliberately challenge the perceptions and realities of their target, leaving them doubting their sense of reality and their ability to see the world with accuracy.
They often isolate their targets from friends and family members
They often isolate their targets from friends and family members who would typically serve as a touchstone and support system for their target.
They lie and deceive to confuse their target
Gaslighters deflect. Gaslighters intentionally lie and deceive to confuse their target. They deny their target’s truth — and their own lies — even in the face of evidence to the contrary.
They change subjects, shift focus, and change lanes when confronted with their manipulative behaviors and lies.
They shower their target with praise and affection to maintain control
And finally, when the object of their manipulation is in a state of extreme self-doubt or threatening to abandon their abuser, gaslighters shower their target with praise and affection to maintain control.
Related: How to Deal with Controlling People?
We are meant to live our highest and best lives and surround ourselves with people who align with our goals and values.
Understanding and identifying how abuse and manipulation can creep in and play out in our relationships is key to protecting ourselves and those we love from this dangerous form of emotional abuse.
Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Specialist | Medical Reviewer, OK Rehab
Focus on the person and consider why they feel the need to undermine you
When someone is gaslighting you, the first thing to remember is that it is a reflection of them and not you.
It’s easy to blame yourself if you’re being told you’re a terrible person, but try to focus on the other person and consider why they feel the need to undermine you, as it usually stems from insecurity and dominance issues.
It’s also wise to remind yourself of your positive qualities, as when you are constantly being criticized, you are likely to start believing the critiques.
Think back to how you were before the relationship
If you are in a long-term toxic relationship, perhaps think back to how you were before the relationship, and this will help you separate yourself from the person your partner is claiming you are.
Depend on your close friends and family to keep you grounded
Finally, if you ever feel like you are losing your mind, which is very common for gaslight victims, depend on your close friends and family to keep you grounded.
In some cases, they will be able to directly back you up, such as confirming that your recollection of events is accurate, and in other cases, they can be there for you and remind you that you are not crazy.
What to say when someone is gaslighting you
Be stern with the person
Firstly, be stern with the person who is gaslighting you, make it clear that you will not give in to their criticism, and begin questioning your sanity.
To do this, say things like:
- “I know that’s what happened.”
- “I was there too.”
- “You are twisting my words.”
Set boundaries with your words if the person is being relentless
Secondly, set boundaries with your words if the person is being relentless with the gaslighting.
Say things like:
- “I will not continue this conversation.”
- “I am not interested in arguing with you — if you want to make your point, you will need to stop insulting me.”
Validate your own feelings as you speak
Finally, validate your own feelings as you speak. Not only will this show your partner that you are not easy to manipulate, but it will also remind you to embrace your emotions and intuition rather than dismiss them.
Use one of the following phrases:
- “My feelings are valid.”
- “I will not apologize for how I feel.”
- “I am telling you how it made me feel, so do not assume what my emotions were.”
Steps to take when someone is gaslighting you
Communicate that you are not willing to put up with a dynamic that is marked by gaslighting
We have already covered the first step to take — communicate that you are not willing to put up with a dynamic that is marked by gaslighting by using specific phrases that demonstrate your emotional maturity.
Rely on loved ones to remind you of your worth
Relying on loved ones is also crucial in times like this, as they will remind you of your worth and prevent you from falling into the trap of believing the gaslighters’ lies.
They may also support you if you decide to step away from the relationship or friendship, and this will be beneficial as it can be a lonely decision to make.
Walk away from the relationship or friendship
Finally, walk away from the relationship or friendship. If the other person is unwilling to see your side, they do not deserve to know you on a personal level, and they need to be taught that they cannot treat people in this way.
Otherwise, they will continue to do it to you. Set a firm boundary, walk away, and do not communicate with them if they attempt to contact you.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Gaslighting triggers an internal experience that makes coping difficult; you may blame yourself, minimize your experience, and/or engage in self-judgmental thoughts/statements to add a thicker layer of shame and guilt for simply being.
When placing boundaries on someone who is gaslighting you, it’s essential to cope with these uncomfortable and painful emotions and thoughts because that’s what will help you maintain your boundaries while minimizing the emotional spiral.
Related: How to Deal with Emotional Pain
The spiral, or emotional dysregulation, may still happen, but it may be less intense, or the duration may be shorter.
Here are some questions to help guide you to respond with compassion with experiencing gaslighting behaviors from others:
Acknowledge the thoughts and feelings coming up without judgment
Acknowledge the thoughts and feelings coming up without judgment, even when the initial thought is maladaptively critical.
In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, there is a mindfulness skill that focuses on being non-judgmental. Of course, as humans, it’s easy to make judgments.
- I’m stupid
- I shouldn’t be feeling this way
- I’m being dramatic
- I’m creating problems
The goal is to create awareness around the judgment and not add additional judgments. If you’re factual and observant, like a scientist, it can create more space for curiosity.
Original thought: “I’m stupid for making a big deal and confronting them about this thing.”
Judgmental Response: “Oh my god! You can’t even be nice to yourself! You’re bad at everything.”
Non-Judgmental Response: “That sounds really intense. I wonder what the feeling is underneath that statement?”
Validate yourself to be open about what you want to do next
While it’s important not to judge the judgments and to challenge those judgments, it’s also important to not minimize the feeling tied with the judgments.
Usually, judgments happen when an uncomfortable feeling pops up (anger, sadness, fear, hope, guilt, shame, etc.) because it can be easier to judge than to sit in that emotion.
It can feel too vulnerable. However, avoiding the feeling can escalate the judgments and the shame/guilt that is usually tied to it.
Validating the initial feeling, while it can be intense, can also lessen distress duration. The judgments may not be valid, but every emotion you feel is valid — regardless of the reason.
If you can validate yourself, it will be easier to be open about what you want to do next.
Be curious about how you respond based on your needs and wants
There is this assumption that you must confront someone who is gaslighting as a boundary. That is not always the case because the level of privilege and resources can make placing a limitation dangerous (financially, emotionally, physically, etc.)
This is why learning to validate the emotion and lowering defenses can help reduce being reactive to make the best decision for yourself.
- If it is safe, you can be direct and tell them you no longer want to talk about this topic or that their opinion is irrelevant. If this is someone safe, this might be an excellent opportunity to work through the conflict and resolve it.
- You can also choose not to say anything and create distance for future interactions.
- Suppose you cannot keep a distance or place a boundary with them. In that case, you can also create an internal border by gathering support, such as friends and peers, and actively challenging any internal gaslighting that might happen.
Survivor of Childhood Emotional Abuse | Self-Publishing Consultant, House of Hives
When dealing with gaslighting, remember you will never win a debate with a toxic person, as they can be so convincing in the way they run rings around you — proving how “wrong” you are and how “right” they are.
Besides, they are not interested in resolving the situation but instead want to be deliberately confusing.
Keep a record of the abuse
Keep a record — especially where abuse may lead to legal action (divorce, custody, abuse in the workplace). I used to send emails to my narcissistic boss that summarized our face-to-face meetings factually.
For example, I would write:
“Am I correct to understand that a, b and c? If I have missed anything, please reply to this email.”
This creates a paper trail and, if nothing else, will help you keep track of things without losing your mind.
Don’t make snap judgments of others
Try not to make snap judgments of others just because you have heard bad things about them. The abusive person may be manipulating your opinions of others to divide and conquer.
By keeping you isolated, they make you more susceptible to their manipulation of reality.
Don’t keep the experience a secret
Secrecy isolates you too and makes it easier to manipulate you. Find someone you trust to share your experience with and possibly compare notes. This is how my ex-husband and I often figured out manipulations from my family members.
Keep a journal or a diary
Another way to notice inconsistency and manipulation is to journal or keep a diary. It can help you keep track of your life and thoughts and ensure you don’t get lost in the abuser’s version of the story. Ensure your journal is kept private and away from the toxic person.
Realize that you’re not responsible for anyone else’s behavior than your own, even though abusive and toxic people would gladly have you believe differently.
And please, if any events escalate to violence, find safety first and then report it to the police immediately.
Psychology Teacher and Family Lifestyle Blogger | Founder, The Instant Pot Table
Gaslighting is a tactic that can be used in all sorts of relationships — romantic, platonic, familial, professional — and it can be hard to identify and even harder to deal with.
Here are my top five pieces of advice for handling gaslighting:
Pay attention to your gut
If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Your first reaction to something is usually the most accurate. If you question your judgment or reality, trust your gut and look for corroborating evidence.
Keep a “reality check” list
Write down what happened, when it happened, and who witnessed it. This can help you keep track of events and remember them more clearly.
Seek outside support
Talk to someone you trust — a friend, family member, therapist — about what’s happening. It can be helpful to have an outside perspective, and talking to someone who can offer objective support can help you feel less alone and more capable of dealing with the situation.
Take care of yourself
Make sure to take care of yourself — mind, body, and soul. This is a difficult situation, and you need to be as strong as you can be. Taking care of yourself will help you be more resilient in the face of gaslighting and better able to deal with the situation.
Set boundaries with the person who is gaslighting you
It’s important to set boundaries with the person who is gaslighting you. Make it clear what behaviors are not acceptable, and stick to those boundaries.
This can be a difficult thing to do, but it’s important to remember that you have a right to set boundaries and to expect them to be respected.
Practicing Licensed Counselor, Gospel Centered Health | Podcast, “Gospel Centered Health” Host
A narcissist will seek out friendships and intimate relationships with people who are less secure and dominant than they are.
When a narcissist is mad at you, they will blame you and make it seem like it’s your fault. Being keenly aware of these manipulative and gaslighting tactics is key to protecting yourself.
Hold firm to your convictions
When a narcissist is mad at you, hold firm to your convictions and care not to let them talk you into something you didn’t want. A skilled narcissist will talk you out of your opinions and the truth.
Say no, and then don’t engage
The best way to handle this is to say no and then don’t engage. The narcissist is desperate for control, and the more you engage, the more power you hand over that they can wield against you.
Related: How to Communicate With a Narcissist
Ask yourself how you can grow your confidence and stand firm
It is also extremely important to work on yourself. If you are in a relationship or friendship with a narcissist, remember they are drawn to people they can dominate easily.
Seek counseling and learn how to hold boundaries
Since a narcissist will rarely get help, you can be the one to seek counseling and learn how to hold boundaries. Allow this situation to grow you in strength and confidence, and seek out those who will treat you according to your remarkable worth.
Clinical Director, ChoicePoint
Gaslighting can be highly frustrating. Try to implement the following to give the best response to being gaslighted:
Take some time away to process all the emotions
It is advised to take some time away to process all the emotions like anger, frustration, and sadness. You should assure yourself that it is not you who is at fault (hopefully) and just stay quiet because no matter what you say at this time, it will not make a difference.
Document what a person with gaslighting is doing to you
Take ample screenshots of their texts and emails. It’s good to involve people and take their individual opinions. Sometimes abusers play with the mind so much that the victim can’t easily address a gaslighting behavior.
Speak up regarding the behavior
One should always speak up regarding bad behavior. Bad behavior is something that triggers a lot of people. So address gaslighting appropriately.
Focus on caring about yourself
Self-care is a form of therapy and helps one to get rid of bad behavior. Take care of your emotional and physical needs. Seek professional help. Gaslighting can become a serious issue and can turn into abuse.
This abuse can cause generational trauma. Seek help for this and turn it into your strength. A professional can see everything wrong with you and can help you navigate through the turmoil.
Lauren Debiec, M.A
Addictions Therapist, The Ohana Luxury Drug Rehab
Recognize that you are a victim of gaslighting
Gaslighting is done in an attempt to make a person question their own judgment or sense of reality.
The person may tell you that you are being too sensitive or overreacting to serious issues, like verbal abuse. Gaslighting is often seen in abusive and unhealthy relationships.
If you are the victim of gaslighting, here are some tips to help you respond:
Assert yourself and stand firm in your assumptions
The first step is to assert yourself—stand firm in your assumptions. Don’t let the person question your reality.
Have strong boundaries and maintain them
Make sure you have strong boundaries and maintain those boundaries. Make it clear that you allow the other person to make you second guess yourself and end the conversation right there.
Take some space from the person or the situation
You might take some space from the person or the situation if needed, especially if the person is not respecting your boundaries.
Eric Patterson, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor, Choosing Therapy
Let the other person know what you notice and allow them to respond
For gaslighting, a simple first step is to let the other person know what you notice. Tell them you believe you are being gaslighted, and allow them to respond. You can gain tremendous information from their response.
If they deny or act like you are the problem, you can see that they are not interested in changing. If they reconsider their thoughts and actions, they may be workable.
Avoid showing strong emotional reactions
Next, shut down your response. If the gaslighting continues, you have to limit your responses.
Avoid showing strong emotional reactions; instead, offer little in your feedback. The goal here is to offer no reinforcement to extinguish the gaslighting behaviors.
Walk away from them when possible and reduce contact when available
If the behaviors from the other person do not end, you must walk away when possible and reduce contact when available. These people may not change, so trying to change their behavior will be a useless endeavor.
Keresse Thompson, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Therapeutic Healing by Reese | Podcast, “Diary of An Empath” Host
Leaving your narcissistic spouse is the best outcome
Gaslighting is a term used when an individual distorts your reality to make you think that something is not true. We often hear this term with a “Narcissist.”
Narcissists can be endearing and come off so loving in the beginning. The difference here is that they are fishing for information to use again with that person at a later time for their advantage. Narcissistic traits can 100% fall on a spectrum.
But true Narcissists always show the same patterns of behaviors:
- Narcissists don’t have empathy, although the terrifying thing is that they can come off like they do if it benefits them somehow.
- Narcissists view relationships like a phone; when they need it, they pick it up; when they are done, they put it down; when it breaks, they get a new one.
Relationships are just a utility to serve their needs. Do they genuinely love? No. But most have deeply routed trauma and are deeply insecure.
Most never seek out therapy unless forced. I don’t recommend anyone to get treatment with a narcissistic spouse. Leaving is the best outcome.
Related: How to Divorce a Narcissist
Clinical Psychologist and Speaker | Author, “Better than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love“
Inform them that their behaviors are not amusing
Gaslighting is like a thousand stab wounds. It is a gradual erosion of your confidence. And if you allow it to persist for too long, you will question more than just your reality. You will question every part of your identity.
“I was kidding around.”
If the other individual does not find the joke amusing, you punch down rather than up. People who use humor to cover up their misbehavior are motivated by shame. And shame constantly interferes with intimacy. The ability to see the humor in a situation is a gift.
Is your lover manipulating you with your talent?
If so, inform them that their behaviors are not amusing and discourage them from using humor to deflect. Sometimes individuals are unaware that they are using humor to deflect. Humor becomes an instinctive self-preservation mechanism.
Kassondra Glenn, LMSW
Mental Health Writer | Psychotherapist, Diamond Rehab
Affirm your own reality in these situations
Gaslighting can bring up a lot of self-doubts, even a feeling of “going crazy.” It is essential to affirm your own reality in these situations.
This can look like writing down events as they occur and writing down your feelings regarding the events. Identifying what you are experiencing can help you come from a grounded place rather than a reactionary one.
Further responses vary based on the situation. Gaslighting exists on a spectrum, as do people who engage in gaslighting. Some individuals may be receptive to feedback and holding a conversation.
Others may not be fully there and can require stricter relational boundaries. And others still may be unsafe to have interactions with and require total disengagement.
Article Writer and Psychology Major Student, Personality Max
We’ve all been victims of gaslighting in the past; it could be from work, at home, or relationship.
Gaslighting has become so normalized in some scenarios that people don’t even realize they are being gaslit.
Sit for a moment and ask yourself if someone has ever said these phrases to you:
- “That’s not what happened. You imagine things again.”
- “It was a joke; you’re too sensitive.”
- “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
If those phrases sound familiar and are recurrent in your life, you’re probably living with or close to a gaslighter.
Recognize when you’re being gaslit
The first step is to recognize when you’re being gaslit. Once you understand the situation, you can take the following steps:
Take some space to sort through your thoughts
It’s completely understandable if you need some space to sort through your thoughts and validate your emotions. If you keep staying with the person, they would only gaslight you more.
Gather your data like screenshots or recordings
If you wish to confront the person, then this step is crucial. Gather evidence like screenshots of texts or make recordings of things they say to you. Make notes of your conversations when you can.
Talk to them
Gaslighting can make you feel like you are losing your mind and shakes your confidence. When you tell them that the things they say to you are irrelevant, they will redirect their criticisms to a more vulnerable party.
Seek professional help or confide in a trusted person
Gaslighting can become so severe that it takes a strain on your mental health. If this is the case, seek professional help or confide in a trusted person.
Founder, Love Devani
Gaslighting happens in every kind of relationship. It can occur at home, at work, or in your romantic relationship.
As a relationship expert, I believe that when people see you as a gullible person or someone easy to trick, they will most likely use you as a victim. They will gaslight you and turn the situation to make them a victim instead.
Here are the ways to respond when someone is gaslighting you:
Stand on your belief
Do not let them tell you otherwise. No matter how convincing they are, believe in yourself. As long as you think you are right, do not listen to them and believe in yourself.
End your relationship with them
It is important to prioritize yourself at all times. If people around you gaslight you, it is best to cut them off in your life. They will surely do it the next time they are given a chance. Hence, keep a distance from them to prevent it.
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