What To Do If Someone Is Gaslighting You

7 min
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Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse in which a person – the gaslighter – misleads another individual – the victim – to doubt their reality. It is a tool of psychological manipulation that is typically used deliberately by narcissistic people, to confuse others. When someone is being gaslit, they can wind up doubting themselves, leaving them feeling frustrated, emotionally low, and suffering from low self-esteem  – perhaps even wondering if they’re crazy.

A gaslighter will confuse their victim by denying their reality by backtracking on things they’ve said before, lying to alter the perception of what actually happened in a particular event, or judging their victim in ways that can be damaging. For instance, imagine that you’re feeling low or anxious about something that is a valid concern to you. You express how you feel, only to be told “You’re too sensitive” or “You’re overreacting”, leaving you feeling dismissed by the person you’ve opened up to, as they try to actively minimize this intense emotion you’re feeling. Gaslighters tend to use toxic phrases that can often powerfully and negatively affect the victim in many ways, from misleading them to making them question their own memory, in the hopes of causing someone to cancel their own reality and emotional experience as if they are invalid. To learn more about gaslighting (including where the term originated from), click here

Gaslighting can occur in romantic relationships, as well as between family members, friends, and in the workplace. Beyond the feeling of confusion it can leave you with, being gaslit can take a toll on your mental health, potentially leading to feelings of stress, self-doubt, anxiety, or questioning one’s self-worth, intelligence, or abilities. But thankfully, if there is a gaslighter in your life, there are ways to minimize some of the power they try to wield over you, in a way that is healthy and doesn’t draw you into the web of drama they often try to create. One way to do this is by learning to identify common tactics that a gaslighter may use, such as the toxic phrases they say. Here are a few examples:

Common Gaslighting Phrases

If someone frequently uses these phrases with you, they may be a gaslighter. If this is happening to you, then ask yourself how these phrases make you feel. Are they causing you to question your reality, and the truth of what you know has happened in a certain situation? Are they instigating feelings of self-doubt, or minimizing emotions that you should feel safe to feel? This toxic communication pattern can make one feel mentally drained, and some studies have even considered gaslighting to be a covert form of bullying

Confirm to yourself - clearly, calmly, and rationally - if it is gaslighting

Not all gaslighters realize that they are doing it. Some may simply be unaware of how they are affecting others, while some may simply have an ego-syntonic personality disorder, where they truly believe that they are in the right and others are in the wrong, seeing the world through a very narrow view that is only in line with their own belief systems. Others may be fully aware of what they are doing, using deliberate words and actions shared with negative intent and no remorse. It exists on a spectrum. But with that in mind, one of the first places to start in distinguishing this can be to have a conversation with a gaslighter, to help you gauge this. 

These conversations can be difficult, since gaslighters tend to be experts in manipulation. It is for this reason that it’s important to prepare yourself for such a conversation, so that whatever the outcome, you can walk away with a more firm understanding of whether you are being gaslit or not, whether it’s intentional or not, and essentially, what you are dealing with. If you’re trying to figure this out, then the first step you can take is to give yourself a little perspective. 

Distance yourself from the gaslighter

The effects of regular exposure to a gaslighter can leave you feeling confused and frustrated, and for this reason, one way to escape the chaos and gain some perspective is to distance yourself from that person. This doesn’t mean you need to cut them out of your life completely (not yet, anyway) – instead, try to first ensure that you’re carving enough time away from them to recharge your mental and emotional health, whether that’s some me-time, or time spent with other people. Try setting some healthier boundaries, whether that’s replying to their messages less often, being more bold about stating your need for a little space, or cultivating some firm self-care rituals. Once you’ve found this space for yourself, use it to quiet your mind, recharge your inner peace, and re-evaluate your relationship with the gaslighter. 

Write down what is being said

Keeping a record of such a situation can be particularly helpful for you to maintain your sanity in many ways. But rather than doing this in an effort to “catch them out”, do this with the intention of keeping track of your own version of events – so that no matter what occurs down the line, you have evidence of what happened, what was said, and how you feel. If needed, this can later act as proof (for yourself as much as anyone else) of your reality, and make it easier for you to distinguish between your version of what happened, and the gaslighter’s so-called version of it. Consider it a means of protecting yourself against further emotional manipulation when you try to bring these issues up with the person in question: if they deny what they’ve said before, for instance, you will feel more confident about speaking your truth if you have it clearly marked down somewhere. Your records of a situation may do more than offer you courage and clarity for sticking to your authentic version of reality: much like journaling, they may even help you gain clarity on the situation, with a clearer picture of what is happening, and how you feel.

Talk to someone you trust

A famous Chinese saying by historical figure Liu Xu proclaims that: “The outsider sees most of the game”. It suggests that those who are too deep in a situation can find it hard to maintain the same perspective that is afforded to them by a slightly bigger picture – and in this situation, it can reflect how someone who is in a close-knit relationship with a gaslighter may not be able to see things as clearly as someone with a more removed, third-person point of view. Confiding in someone you trust can help to shed light on things you may be missing – whether that’s your own behavior or that of the perceived gaslighter – and in doing so, help you make a more informed decision about what’s been happening, and what you’d like to do. 

However, bear in mind that seeking help doesn’t mean discussing the situation with all of your friends in the hopes of making them cheerleaders to support your stance no matter what. Nor is it wise to discuss it with people who will only offer “help” based heavily on their own weighted prejudices or experiences. Rather, the goal is to discuss the matter with someone who can offer unbiased opinions, who is mature and wise enough to remain fair as they try to understand the relationship dynamics between you and the gaslighter in question. Whether it’s a trusted friend, or a qualified professional such as a counselor or therapist, the right person will help you come to your own conclusions, by helping you judge the situation with more logic and sensibility, so that you can feel more clear and confident about your next step. It is also worth noting that many gaslighters will attempt to isolate their victim from others, in an attempt to remove that person’s support system – and in doing so, place themselves from a position of greater power and influence over them – so someone being gaslit in this way may need to actively seek out someone to talk to as a means of helping to break this cycle.

Stand your ground

Suppose you have established that they are indeed gaslighting you, you’ve collected evidence about it, you’ve talked to someone you trust about it, and you’ve approached the gaslighter about it. During this conversation – or multiple conversations, perhaps – it is incredibly important to remember what brought you there in the first place. Due to the manipulative nature of a gaslighter, it can be easy for these conversations to result in a belief that the gaslighter will change, for good – even if they have not given you any good reason to believe this is the case. If it’s not the first time you’ve brought this up with them, and they’ve assured you multiple times that things will be different now – yet still, nothing changes – it may be time to accept the reality that their efforts to stop the behavior are insincere. In this case, it may be time to break the cycle by taking matters into your own hands. Remind yourself that a person with narcissism as a definitive personality trait is unlikely to change their ways without their own motivation to do so, and that it is important to manage your own expectations with what you can hope to achieve through a conversation about someone’s gaslighting behavior. Employ a bit of stoic thinking by reminding yourself that you cannot force them to change their behavior, but you can still change your own reactions to it. And in some instances, this may involve walking away.

Know when to walk away

When you have already exhausted the other possibilities, and nothing seems to be changing no matter how much you’ve tried to address the issue as calmly, fairly, stoically, and logically as possible, then at that point, there’s only one thing left you can do: to disengage. Alas, when it comes to gaslighters, leaving the situation isn’t always simple. Whether it’s in a romantic context, a work-related situation, or with a family member for instance, many times, when someone tries to end a relationship with a gaslighter, the gaslighter in question will employ their usual tactics with extra vigor. After all, keeping you in their life allows them to continue exercising their control over you, and provides an outlet for this need in their life – so walking away only benefits you, and not them. When you’re sure that this relationship is not serving you in any positive way, and that you do not feel supported, valued, and respected by this person – and even your gut instincts have made it clear to you that it’s not going to change –  it’s time to let it go. Clearly and calmly state to the gaslighter that you will no longer be participating in this, and that the relationship is over – and that your decision is final. If they continue to persist even after this – and they may well do – you may need to find ways to block their communication or avoid places and routes that may allow them contact with you for a while. 

Breaking free of a gaslighter is not easy, but with time, as you stick to your guns and stand tall with your self-respect, self-compassion, and within your boundaries – and hopefully, with a great support system around you – it is possible to close that chapter. By putting a stop to this behavior, you will be able to move on and recover from the negative effects it has had on your mental health, regain your self-confidence, and hopefully make space for healthier new relationships in its stead.

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All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals and other resources that influenced this article: Gaslight and Gaslighting - The Lancet Psychiatry; What Is Gaslighting?; Gaslight - American Psychological Association; 18 Gaslighting Phrases That Experts Say Are Unfairly Belittling Your Emotions; A Qualitative Analysis of Gaslighting in Romantic Relationships; I Think My Friend Is a Gaslighter; Gaslighting in Families: Signs of Gaslighting Parents; Gaslighting in Nursing Academia: A New or Established Covert Form of Bullying?; How to Recognize the Signs of Emotional Manipulation and What to Do; 10 Sayings in Mandarin That Will Help You Understand China; 25 Best Couples Therapy Techniques, Exercises, and Activities to Try in 2022; What Is A Dating Coach? Plus, Get To Know The Reasons Why You Must Hire A Dating Coach; What Is Personality - Psychology Today.

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