If you or someone you love is the victim of emotional manipulation, and you’re looking for tips and ideas to help you figure out how to deal with gaslighting behavior in a personal and/or professional setting, this post is a great place to start. We’re explaining what gaslighting is, identifying common warning signs, and providing 8 effective coping strategies for dealing with gaslighters.
What Is Gaslighting?
For those who aren’t familiar with the term, ‘gaslighting’ is a form of psychological manipulation in which someone (or a group of people) undermine a person’s reality by making them question their thoughts, memories, and the things happening in the environment around them. Gaslighting occurs in all kinds of relationships – with a spouse, parent, child, friend, co-worker, etc. – and can have devastating effects on a person’s mental health. Victims of gaslighting feel isolated and anxious, suffer from anxiety and low self-esteem, and sometimes question their own sanity.
Gaslighting tends to occur in relationships where one person holds power over another. The effects of gaslighting tend to be gradual, and as the victim’s self-esteem diminishes, he or she becomes additionally dependent on his or her manipulator for acceptance, validation, and affirmation. Instead of challenging the manipulator, the victim changes his or her perceptions because the threat of the relationship being altered – or ending – is too great.
12 Signs of Gaslighting
If you suspect you are the victim of gaslighting, here are some common warning signs to consider:
- You make excuses for your partner, parent, or friend
- You second-guess yourself and you’re feelings
- You question the accuracy of your recollection of past events
- You don’t feel ‘good enough’
- You worry you’re too sensitive, and that you over-react to everything
- You are more anxious/less confident than you used to be
- You feel as though everything is your fault
- You apologize often for the things you have/haven’t done
- You find it difficult to make decisions
- You are afraid to speak up and express yourself
- You feel isolated from family and friends
- You don’t feel like the person you used to be
How to Deal with Gaslighting
1. Educate yourself
If you want to know how to deal with gaslighting, a good first step is to gain a better understanding of what gaslighting is so you can recognize the warning signs and understand why your partner, parent, friend, or co-worker is attempting to manipulate you. One of the most common reasons people gaslight others is because they want to gain control and power over them. Gaslighting is often associated with other personality disorders like narcissism and antisocial personality disorder, and isn’t always done knowingly or intentionally. Taking the time to step back and understand what gaslighting is, and what may cause your manipulator to seek power and control over you can be an extremely powerful step in figuring out how to deal with gaslighting.
2. Don’t react
As you set out to learn how to deal with gaslighting, you will come to realize that arguing with a gaslighter is pointless as defensive behavior actually fuels their fire. The more you try to defend yourself, they more they will attempt to gaslight you. When you feel yourself getting angry or defensive, do your best not to react. Take a deep breath and count to 10, and determine your best response. You can refute what the person is saying (‘I don’t agree with that point of view…’), try to meet in the middle (‘we have a difference of opinion, and here’s what I think…’), or opt for something more neutral (‘we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one…’). Whichever option you choose, be careful to stay calm so as not to perpetuate the other person’s gaslighting tactics.
3. Don’t second-guess
Gaslighters feed off of self-doubt. They are highly insecure and very talented manipulators, eager to pounce at the first sign of hesitation or apprehension they see in you in an attempt to wear you down further. When you start to second-guess yourself, remember that gaslighting is nothing more than an attempt to gain power and control over you. Ask yourself what is driving the other person’s actions and seek the advice or opinion of someone else to help you stand your ground if needed.
4. Remember: it isn’t about you
Gaslighters are often highly insecure individuals, and their ploys at manipulation are nothing more than an attempt to make themselves feel powerful and in control. They need to feel superior in order to feel good about themselves, and gaslighting is how they cope with their insecurities. It takes some practice to see your interactions with manipulators this way, but it’s a great skill to learn. If you refrain from personalizing your interactions and dig deep enough, you’ll almost always find the real reason why someone is treating you the way they are, and 9 times out of 10, it will have nothing to do with you.
5. Set boundaries
Learning how to set boundaries can be challenging at the best of times, but it can be especially difficult withgaslighters since they are notorious for ignoring and violating boundaries. They fail to see other people’s points of view, and have no empathy for how their words or actions impact others. If you want to know how to deal with gaslighting, you need to learn how to create boundaries. Be clear and concise in communicating the things you will not tolerate and always follow through.
6. Have an exit strategy
If you’re looking for tips to help you figure out how to deal with gaslighting, creating an exit strategy to limit the amount of time you have to interact with someone who tries to manipulate and control you can be helpful. This obviously won’t work in a close, habitual relationship, but can be helpful with parents, adult children, siblings, co-workers, etc. There are many different ways you can do this, and you will probably need a few strategies up your sleeve for different scenarios. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Be upfront about time constraints before engaging with them. Say something like, ‘I only have 5 minutes to chat before I have to do XYZ’ and then check your watch a couple of times before apologizing for cutting your conversation short.
- Ask if you can discuss something in more detail later. This is a great way to feign interest in a respectful manner. You can then come up with a believable reason to avoid the follow-up conversation at a later time if needed.
- Set an alarm on your phone ahead of time. Explain that you have to run to another meeting, with the promise to finish the conversation at a later date.
- Establish a safe word/look with an ally. This will help you signal to them so they can intervene when needed.
7. Accept that your relationship will change
If you are being gaslighted by someone in your life and want to find a way to move forward, it’s quite likely that your relationship will change as you start to stand your ground. Gaslighters are skilled at twisting the truth to benefit themselves, so once you start establishing boundaries and sticking up for yourself, they will attempt to manipulate you to gain even more control over you. Your relationship may become more superficial, and some may decide that ending the relationship is the best course of action for their own emotional well-being.
8. Seek professional help
My last tip for those who want to know how to deal with gaslighting is to seek the help of a trained professional. Educating yourself, standing your ground, and setting boundaries can be very helpful when dealing with a manipulative person, but it’s important to take the time to re-build your confidence and self-esteem as well. Victims of gaslighting often lose confidence in themselves and their ability to make decisions, struggle to feel worthy, isolate themselves from others, and are prone to anxious and depressive thoughts. If this sounds like you, remember that it’s okay to ask for help! A trained therapist will have strategies to help you figure out how to deal with gaslighting and how to recover from the negative impacts it causes.
If you’re trying to figure out how to deal with gaslighting in your personal and/or professional relationships, I hope the tips and ideas in this post proved useful to you. Remember that emotional manipulation very rarely has anything to do with you, so stand your ground, set boundaries, and don’t be afraid to break off relationships if and when it is in your best interest to do so.