Recognizing, Responding, and Reclaiming Your Reality from Gaslighting

Recognizing, Responding, and Reclaiming Your Reality from Gaslighting
Written By: Clinical Psychologist
Reviewed By: Counselling Psychologist
MA Psychology Pennsylvania State University, USA
Last Updated: 11-01-2024

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Imagine this: you recount a vivid memory, only to be told it never happened. Your partner insists you misinterpreted their words, that an objective event was a figment of your imagination. You re left doubting your own sanity, questioning your perceptions, and wondering if you re truly the one at fault. This, my friends, is gaslighting, a manipulative tactic that can leave you feeling disoriented, isolated, and emotionally drained.

What is Gaslighting?

The term "gaslighting" comes from the 1938 play "Gaslight," where a husband manipulates his wife into believing she s imagining things, dimming the gaslights in their home while claiming she s imagining it. Gaslighting aims to gain control and power over the victim by creating confusion, doubt, and dependence.

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that involves deliberately manipulating someone s sense of reality. It aims to erode their self-confidence, cast doubt on their memories and perceptions, and ultimately, gain control over their thoughts, feelings, and actions. It s a subtle and often insidious form of manipulation, designed to leave the victim questioning their own sanity, perceptions, and memories.

Perpetrators use a variety of tactics, including:
Denial: Blatantly denying events that occurred, often with fabricated counter-narratives.
Minimization: Downplaying or dismissing your feelings and experiences, making you feel like they re "overreacting."
Shifting blame: Turning the tables, painting you as the aggressor or responsible for their own hurtful behavior.
Trivialization: Making light of your concerns, dismissing them as trivial or unimportant.
Isolation: Encouraging you to cut off ties with friends and family, creating a dependent and isolated environment.
Projection: Accusing you of the very behaviors they are exhibiting, further blurring the lines of reality.

The Impact of Gaslighting

Being gaslighted can have a profound impact on your mental and emotional well-being. It can lead to:
Loss of self-esteem: When your reality is constantly questioned, it s easy to start doubting yourself and your ability to trust your own judgment.
Confusion and anxiety: The constant uncertainty about what s real and what s not can be incredibly disorienting and anxiety-provoking.
Depression and isolation: Feeling unheard and invalidated can lead to depression and withdrawal from social connections.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): In severe cases, gaslighting can even lead to PTSD symptoms, such as flashbacks, nightmares, and hypervigilance.

If You re Being Gaslighted: What Can You Do?

If you suspect you re being gaslighted, watch out for these red flags:
You constantly feel like you re "walking on eggshells" around the person.

  • You find yourself apologizing for things you haven t done.
  • You question your own memories and perceptions.
  • You feel like you can t trust your own judgment.
  • You re constantly being told you re "too sensitive" or "overreacting."
  • You re isolated from friends and family.

It s important to remember that you re not alone. If you suspect you re being gaslighted, here are some steps you can take:
Trust your gut: If something feels off, it probably is. Pay attention to your intuition and don t dismiss your feelings.
Document the behavior: Keep a journal or record conversations where you re being gaslighted. This can be helpful in validating your experiences and seeking support.
Set boundaries: Communicate your needs clearly and firmly. Let the person know that their behavior is unacceptable and that you won t tolerate it.
Seek support: Talk to a trusted friend, family member, therapist, or counselor. Having someone validate your experiences can be incredibly helpful in the healing process.
Consider professional help: If the gaslighting is severe or affecting your daily life, seek professional help from a therapist or counselor specializing in emotional abuse.

Remember, you have the power to reclaim your reality. Gaslighting is a form of abuse, and it s not your fault. By recognizing the signs, taking action, and seeking support, you can break free from the manipulation and rebuild your sense of self.

Building Your Resilience

Beyond immediate action, here are some strategies to strengthen your resilience against gaslighting in the long term:
Practice self-care: Prioritize activities that nourish your mind, body, and soul. This could include exercise, meditation, spending time in nature, or creative pursuits.
Build a strong support system: Surround yourself with people who love and accept you for who you are. These positive relationships can provide invaluable validation and support.
Develop healthy coping mechanisms: Learn healthy ways to manage stress and difficult emotions, such as journaling, deep breathing exercises, or mindfulness practices.
Boost your self-esteem: Focus on your strengths and accomplishments. Remind yourself of your worth and value as a person.
Educate yourself: Learn more about gaslighting and other forms of emotional abuse. This knowledge can empower you to recognize and respond to these behaviors more effectively.

Healing and Moving Forward

The journey of healing from gaslighting is not always easy. It takes time, patience, and self-compassion. Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself time to process your experiences. Remember, you are not alone, and there are people who care about you and want to help.
Here are eight tips for responding and taking back control.

1. To start, confirm that it s gaslighting.
Since gaslighting frequently begins subtly and might occasionally resemble other actions, it is not always straightforward to identify. Genuine gaslighting transforms into a recurring scheme of deceit. Generally speaking, the individual gaslighting you wants you to doubt yourself and rely on their interpretation of events. Thus, even if someone is harsh or judgmental in their dissenting opinion, it doesn t always mean that they are gaslighting you. Sometimes, despite evidence to the contrary, people insist they are correct because they are self-convinced of their knowledge. Declaring, "You re incorrect! "I know what I m talking about" isn t always a kind statement, but if they re not attempting to trick you, it s usually not gaslighting. Inadvertent gaslighting is another possibility. Though they might not be constructive answers, sayings like "I don t have time to listen to this" or "Don t you think you re overreacting?" don t always indicate that the other person is trying to control you. Check your feelings as well as their behavior to determine if someone is attempting to gaslight you.
 

2. Give the situation some distance.
It makes sense to have a wide range of intense emotions when coping with gaslighting. Feelings such as anger, irritation, concern, grief, and fear are all perfectly normal, but try not to let them dictate how you respond right away. You ll be able to manage the issue better if you maintain your composure. Given that what the individual attempting to gaslight you has claimed is wholly false, you might want to dispute it. However, they might not give up, and your anger might motivate them to try to control you further. Remaining composed can also assist you in concentrating on the reality, reducing the possibility that their (erroneous) account of events will undermine your self-assurance and belief. Suggest taking a break and coming back to the subject later so that you can gain some physical distance. You can focus and declutter your mind by taking a short walk or going outdoors.

If you re unable to leave in person, consider trying:

  • Breathing techniques
  • Calming down with a picture, item, or visualization exercise 
  • Counting backwards from 10 slowly 
  • Repeating a mantra of affirmation

3. Gather proof
Keeping a record of your conversations with someone who is attempting to gaslight you can enable you to monitor the situation more effectively. You have the option to revisit and verify the facts if they dispute that a discussion or incident actually occurred.
Here are some suggestions:

  • Store or capture screenshots of emails and texts.
  • Snap pictures of any broken items.
  • Record the discussions dates and timings.
  • When possible, summarize your talks using direct quotes.
  • Record talks with your phone. If you need to seek legal aid, you may not be able to use these recordings due to local laws, but you can still tell others about the problem.

Your notes can also be used as proof in cases of gaslighting at work. Just be careful—your employer can have access to work devices—and save your notes on paper or on your personal phone. When at all possible, keep them with you or store them somewhere safe. To avoid being overwhelmed or exacerbating anxiety, be sure to establish limits and engage in self-care while gathering evidence. This may be particularly true if you experience extreme anxiety because recording gaslighting can result in rumination, which can heighten anxiety levels.

4. Bring up the behavior.
Gaslighting is effective because it casts doubt on your judgment and causes confusion. The individual attempting to gaslight you might conclude it s not worth it if you act as though the conduct doesn t upset you. Gaslighting frequently entails deception and lies in addition to insults and criticism. By gently and firmly calling them out, you can let them know that you won t put up with their actions.

Don t be scared to speak up because letting people know about the situation will make them more likely to leave you alone. They might attempt to pass off insults as jokes, sly compliments, or statements like "I m just trying to help." It might help them realize that these tactics won t work on you if you ask them to clarify the joke as if you don t get it.

Let s say a coworker in your department casually remarks that you don t put in enough effort. You may say something like, "Actually, I ve already finished the tasks for this week." in response. If you d like, we can review those right now.

5. Continue to believe your version of events
You could be wondering, "What if it did happen the way they said?" as everyone occasionally remembers events a bit differently than how they actually happened. They want you to doubt reality, therefore resist the desire to doubt yourself. Since you are aware of what transpired, state it confidently and quietly. You might be able to get them to concede if you show them the evidence you have. It might not have any effect, though. If they persist in testing you, avoid engaging in confrontation. Getting into a heated argument might increase stress and make you more susceptible to manipulation. You defend yourself and keep control of the situation when you choose not to engage in conflict. Something like, "It seems we remember things differently, but I don t want to argue about it," could be your response. By shifting the topic or leaving the room, you can prevent more conversation.

6. Put self-care first
While attending to your physical and emotional needs won t likely stop the gaslighting directly, taking good care of yourself can still have a positive mental impact. A gaslighter could try to convince you that self-care is unworthy of you or paint self-care routines as indulgent or sluggish. But even so, it s critical to continue practicing self-care. It might be difficult to find any joy in even your favorite things when you are worried about gaslighting and how it might affect your relationships or career. However, making time for wellness and relaxation techniques can enhance your mental and physical well-being, making you feel stronger and better equipped to handle life s obstacles.
Try the following tactics to enhance wellbeing:

  • Spend time with your loved ones.
  • Make positive self-talk a part of your everyday routine. One way to counteract gaslighting efforts is to reinforce your own worth by reminding yourself of your talents and successes.
  • Make affirmations a daily habit.
  • Allocate time for your interests.
  • Try yoga or meditation.
  • Keeping a journal might assist with processing emotions.

Exercise is another beneficial thing. One benefit is that it promotes physical health. However, tension and distress can also be released through exercise. Exercising vigorously or going for a long run can help release some of the negative emotions that arise after being gaslighted. Regular exercise can also help you sleep better, so it may be beneficial if concerns about gaslighting are interfering with your sleep.

7. Include Third Parties
You may be concerned that discussing the matter with others would cause drama. However, it s critical to seek advice and assistance from trustworthy individuals when coping with gaslighting. Getting advice from a variety of individuals in your life can support your understanding that you are not insane, confused, or experiencing memory loss.

When someone is consistently gaslighting you at work or in other social settings, try to avoid meeting with them alone. It s better to avoid contact, but if you must, find someone impartial and reliable to accompany you or ask them to overhear the talk. Remember that you are not enlisting their support. All you want is for them to watch and see. A person attempting to manipulate multiple people with gaslighting techniques will usually find it more difficult to do so.

8. Look for expert assistance
At times, gaslighting can turn violent or even serious. This does not imply that you are at fault; emotional abuse is frequently hard to address. Although gaslighting can make you feel alone, you don t have to deal with it alone. Based on your unique circumstances, therapists and hotline counselors can provide advice, safety planning advice, and resources to assist you in managing a crisis or possibly abusive situation.
 

 

Reference

References

  • Freixas, E., & Muñoz, M. (2017). Gaslighting: The narcissist s weapon of choice. [Kindle Edition]. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
  • Grande, T. (2020, June 11). Gaslighting: Signs, how to deal with it, and how to heal. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-red-flags-of-gaslighting-in-a-relationship
  • Mayo Clinic. (2021, April 23). Emotional abuse. https://connect.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mental-abuse/
  • MentalHealth.gov. (2019, September 11). Recognizing emotional abuse. https://www.verywellmind.com/identify-and-cope-with-emotional-abuse-4156673
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline. (n.d.). Recognizing emotional abuse. https://www.verywellmind.com/identify-and-cope-with-emotional-abuse-4156673
  • National Network to End Domestic Violence. (n.d.). Emotional abuse. https://www.verywellmind.com/identify-and-cope-with-emotional-abuse-4156673
  • Shulman, R. (2018, February 27). How to recognize and respond to gaslighting. Healthline. https://www.verywellmind.com/is-someone-gaslighting-you-4147470
  • Stark, M., & Stark, S. (2017). Gaslighting: Recognize manipulative and abusive people - and break free. New Harbinger Publications.

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