You may have heard the term tossed around in politics, but what is gaslighting? We describe this toxic trait and how to deal with gaslighting below.
The term “gaslighting” has slowly seeped into our lexicon in recent years, so much so that the American Dialect Society named it the most useful word of 2016. But what is it and how can we deal with gaslighting? Gaslighting takes its name from the 1944 film The Gaslight, in which a man uses deception to convince his wife that she is losing her mind.
Likewise, gaslighting is when someone (the gaslighter) manipulates another over time into doubting their own perceptions and accepting a false version of the truth. But gaslighting isn’t simply telling lies in a relationship; it involves consistently rejecting and reframing feelings, memories, and perceptions:
- “No, you’re wrong, I never said that. You must be confused. You always misremember things”.
- “I’m upset that you would blame me. This is actually your fault. I only do this because I care.”
- “I was just joking. You are so overly sensitive. Stop being paranoid all the time, it’s no big deal.”
Because it is so subtle, it’s important to learn how to deal with gaslighting the moment you identify it.
Learn to Identify Gaslighting
Gaslighting frequently occurs in close relationships (romantic, friendships, family, or even a toxic workplace) with a power differential. The gaslighter often uses their authority to build credibility and gain control over others. If you feel dependent or powerless in a relationship, it may be a sign of gaslighting. Look for these signs, especially during disagreements:
- Changing the subject instead of answering difficult questions; using love and affection as a distraction.
- Playing the victim: gaslighters will often shift blame from themselves to you and you may find yourself apologizing and seeking to avoid conflict.
- Constant lying, questioning your memory, and retelling events differently from how they occurred – you may begin second-guessing yourself and siding with the gaslighter.
- Doubting your emotions: gaslighters will downplay, dismiss, or even mislabel your feelings or concerns which can include toxic positivity when the gaslighter rejects your negative emotion or you may begin to feel that you are simply ‘over-sensitive’.
For more details, read our guide on the 5 types of gaslighting, with examples.
How to Deal With Gaslighting: Confrontation
People often gaslight in order to maintain control of relationships or validate themselves. Gaslighting is often employed by narcissists, abusers, or other toxic people, but some may not even be aware of their own behavior because they learned it from previous relationships. This is why it is important to start collecting evidence to calmly confront the gaslighter. This can include writing a journal or taking notes on your phone.
Even if the gaslighter denies the evidence, simply voicing your concerns may be enough for them to reevaluate their behavior.
Set Boundaries and Stay Firm
Gaslighting only occurs when you allow a gaslighter to rewrite your reality. Instead of accepting it, call out gaslighting whenever it occurs. Gaslighters will be less likely to manipulate you if they know it won’t work. You may need to redefine the relationship by setting clear boundaries:
- Listen to your own emotions and voice them; don’t let the gaslighter invalidate you.
- Maintain your side of the story and address ‘mistruths’ when you hear them.
- Have difficult conversations: don’t let gaslighters change the subject during disagreements.
- If boundaries are crossed, disengage and leave the conversation.
For more detail, see our guide: 6 Tips to Help You Set Boundaries In Your Relationship
Create Distance from Gaslighting
Sometimes the best way to deal with gaslighting is simply to leave the situation and disconnect. Create distance from the gaslighter through fewer digital and in-person interactions. Regain control of your narrative by focusing on your own interests, hobbies, or needs.
Try mindfulness-based stress reduction to reconnect with suppressed emotions. Imagine yourself before your relationship with the gaslighter began: if you aren’t happy, confident, or in control of yourself now, then it may be time to create distance. Doing so will give you a better perspective into who you are without the gaslighter and may even give the gaslighter time to reflect on themselves as well. If not, then ending the relationship may be the best course of action.
Deal With Gaslighting by Seeking Help from Others
Abusive relationships such as gaslighting often continue when the victim is isolated from their family, friends, or social circle. Take time to spend with those close to you and don’t be afraid to voice your concerns if you think you are being gaslit.
Sometimes an outside perspective is needed to recognize a gaslighting relationship for what it is. This is why seeking professional help in the form of a therapist or counselor may be necessary: they are specifically trained to identify and address these situations.
- Flying Monkeys: Are You the Victim of a Narcissist?
- Hoovering: 10 Signs It Might Be Happening to You
- 12 Different Types of Journals for Staying Mindful
Do you like this post?