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How to deal with gaslighting

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

Gaslighting is one of those psychobabble terms that get tossed around loosely when describing trouble in a relationship. It is important to know what the term means. Gaslighting is an intentional effort to manipulate an individual by making one doubt feelings, perceptions, and reality in general.

Gaslighting is not disagreeing, and Gaslighting is not arguing about how events occur and or having conflict in a relationship.

People feel convinced regarding the accuracy of their perspective, and disagreements are a natural part of relational communication. However, unless the intention to disagree is manipulation or control, it is not gaslighting.

Gaslighting is much more insidious, with the end goal of bringing about confusion and making manipulation possible.

There are a few examples of ways in which one can identify gaslighting:

  1. Countering: this can look like a disagreement about how events transpired, but usually, the intention is to place blame on the situation… "that is not what happened at all…."

  2. Forgetting or denying: this can look like disagreement or denying something said or done to protect themselves… "I don't remember saying or doing that…."

  3. Trivializing: this can look like minimizing one's feelings and accusations of overreaction… "it isn't that serious; calm down, it was a joke…."

  4. Withholding: brushing off attempts to discuss or resolve things… "You are confusing me, and I don't want to talk about this…."

These tactics are usually attributed to abusive partners. However, Can can also witness displays of toxic behavior in platonic relationships, family members, or even in the workplace. Gaslighting manipulation strategies can happen in different contexts with different underlying intentions.

When considering one's circumstances, it is important to pay attention to how people behave and whether they are employing any of the tactics mentioned earlier. It is also important to pay attention to one's feelings regarding these tactics.

How do you feel?

Do you feel unsure of yourself afterward…doubting your sanity and sense of reality?

Do you feel unsure about whether or not you are too sensitive?

Do you feel guilty, feeling the need to apologize to resolve matters?

Do you feel unhappy with your situation?

Do you feel confused and not like your usual self?

Do you feel like you have to avoid people and explain what is happening?

Once you can identify if the attempts made are truly gaslighting, a very natural response is to feel anger, resentment, sadness, fear, frustration, or any of these feelings.

However, if one understands the intention is to control or manipulate, it is important to meet the attempts calmly.

Be calm

Distress can encourage people to continue the gaslighting behavior.

Keeping calm can help focus on the accuracy of events or conversations.

Sometimes, people need space and physical distance from the triggering situation to keep calm.

Other times it is impossible to walk away or to leave. It is important to find ways to get grounded, breathe deeply, and self-affirm in those situations.

Depending on the nature of the relationship, it may be appropriate to speak up about what is happening.

Speak up

Speaking on the situation helps shed light on your perspective of what is occurring and allows for clarification. This can provide incentives for behavior to be different to avoid what feels like confrontation. Insults, backhanded compliments, or jokes are the ideal catalysts for confrontation: what did you mean by that?

If the nature of the relationship is work-related, it can be vital to collect evidence in order to avoid the consequences of misunderstandings and manipulation.

Collect evidence

Take screenshots, collect emails, photograph damage, and take dated notes of events or conversations using direct quotes. Having proof can go a long way in providing peace of mind because you'll be able to see the pattern.

Involve others

A support network is so important because manipulative behavior perpetrated against someone can feel daunting and isolating.

Having trusted people that can confirm or corroborate your version of reality is helpful.

It is also helpful to seek professional support. When friends and family are not equipped to help, seek a professional to assist with the situation.

Gaslighting can isolate you, but you don't need to handle it alone. Therapists can offer guidance based on your specific situation, including safety planning tips and resources to help you manage a crisis or potentially abusive situation.

Remember, conflict is not gaslighting. Disagreement is not gaslighting. Differing perspectives are not gaslighting.

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