Gaslighting can cause intense self-doubt, no matter who’s doing it. How can you respond to this behavior?
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that can cause you to doubt your memory, opinions, and even your sanity. It’s a tactic some people use to gain power and control over others.
Romantic relationships aren’t the only situations where gaslighting can occur. It can also happen:
- in a parent-child relationship
- in the workplace
- between family members
On a larger scale, political and authoritative figures have been known to gaslight entire societies.
Research suggests that gaslighting behaviors can be rooted in gender and social inequalities. It tends to be common in intimate relationships where there’s a power imbalance.
It often happens gradually, as well. So you might not realize you’re dealing with gaslighting until you begin to wonder why you’re experiencing so much confusion, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
If you’ve been experiencing gaslighting for a while, you might start to feel depressed, helpless, and indecisive as a result of the manipulation.
One thing to remember in this cloud of confusion is that gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse — if you’ve experienced gaslighting, it’s not your fault. And you’re not the only one.
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But how can you tell if someone is gaslighting you, and is there a way to confront it?
Although it’s not always easy to identify, phrases you might hear from someone gaslighting you include:
- “That’s not what I said. You don’t remember it right.”
- “You’re too sensitive. It’s not a big deal.”
- “I didn’t do that. You did.”
- “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You just make this stuff up.”
- “You’re overreacting.”
- “I was only joking. You have no sense of humor.”
- “You’re being very emotional about this.”
These examples are part of a pattern of words and behaviors that are meant to instill self-doubt and let the person gain control in the relationship.
Over a period of time, gaslighting can cause you to:
- second-guess decisions to the point where it’s difficult to make choices without consulting others
- continually question your mental health status
- begin to withdraw from social situations and family events
- find yourself frequently apologizing to the person gaslighting you
Gaslighting can cause so much self-doubt that you might rely on the person doing it to make more and more decisions for you. And this is often what they want.
If someone is gaslighting you, you’re not to blame for what’s happening. The person using this manipulation technique may be purposely trying to make you feel like everything is your fault.
Knowing how to deal with gaslighting — whether it’s coming from a romantic partner, family member, authority figure, or co-worker — can help you navigate this web of confusion and find yourself again.
1. Recognize it as gaslighting
Determining if you’re experiencing this type of abuse can be a challenge, as many gaslighting tactics are subtle. It might be gaslighting if the person’s words or behaviors:
- happen consistently
- make you doubt yourself
- negatively impact your feelings of self-worth
It can be helpful to know that the person gaslighting you likely has a deep-seated need for control. Recognizing this is often the first step toward gaining understanding that can help you cope.
2. Take note of interactions
Questioning everything you say, do, or remember is a top goal of the person gaslighting you, so consider keeping notes on conversations or interactions.
It can be intimidating to confront someone who’s been manipulating you. But having evidence ready could give you more confidence in your recollections of exchanges and events.
3. Lean on your support network
In the confusion of gaslighting, it can be hard to know what the truth is. Building a support system made up of people who offer a realistic view of your abilities can counteract this self-doubt.
Talking with a mental health professional can also boost your confidence and help you create strategies to deal with gaslighting.
4. Be kind to yourself
Gaslighting can drain you both mentally and physically. For example,
To help reduce the stress, consider focusing on self-care activities like hobbies, learning new things, and socializing with friends. Even taking a walk to get away from the situation can be an act of self-care.
Caring for yourself might also include taking a close look at the relationship and deciding if it’s something you want to continue.
5. Create boundaries
Creating firm boundaries is essential in all relationships — but especially critical when dealing with gaslighting.
You can try to limit your conversations with the person or walk away when they start to use phrases that make you feel doubt or anxiety.
6. Consider stepping away from debates
A person who engages in gaslighting is unlikely to see the situation from your perspective. Attempting to prove that you’re right and they’re wrong will likely leave you frustrated and even more confused.
7. Distance yourself
No matter how hard you try, it’s doubtful that the person doing the gaslighting will change their behaviors unless they choose to. Sometimes the only option left is to create distance between you and them, whether it’s temporary or permanent.
Responding to gaslighting can be challenging in some relationships, especially if you’ve experienced it for a long time.
You may feel afraid to confront this person if they’re your romantic partner or worried you may lose your job if gaslighting occurs at work. So if you choose not to say anything, that’s entirely understandable.
If you want to say something and feel it’s safe to do so, here are some responses to consider:
- “If you continue to minimize my feelings or opinions, I can no longer continue this conversation.”
- “Your viewpoint is different from mine, but I know I’m not imagining things.”
- “Your feelings are valid, and mine are equally valid.”
- “I’m finding it difficult to discuss this with you. Let’s take a break and revisit this tomorrow.”
- “Calling me names isn’t going to make me agree with you. Honest communication is a better way to help me understand your perspective.”
When responding to gaslighting, it’s also helpful to speak in a calm voice with body language that exhibits confidence. This gives verbal and visible signs that you’re establishing boundaries.
When dealing with gaslighting, sometimes how you say something can be just as important as what you say.
Some tips to remember when responding include:
- Avoid using aggressive language or posturing. This can escalate the tactics of the person who’s gaslighting you as they try to sustain control over you and the situation.
- Stay focused on your feelings — not so much on the situation. It may be easier for someone who’s manipulating you to dispute situational events than to disagree with what you are or aren’t feeling.
- Although it might be difficult, try not to become visually upset. This may make the person manipulating you feel validated and cause them to double down their efforts — even though you have every right to be upset.
It’s important to remember that not everyone should try to argue with someone who’s gaslighting them. In some cases, this could escalate to physical violence.
Sometimes, the best you can do is create distance between you and the person. If you find yourself being gaslit, it’s not your responsibility to argue with this person. Whether you engage with a person who’s gaslighting you is a personal choice. There’s no right or wrong answer.
If you’re dealing with gaslighting, you’re not alone. This type of emotional abuse happens in all kinds of relationships. It’s not your fault, and there are ways to cope and heal.