- Mar 26, 2004
June 3, 2021
Gaslighting can cause intense self-doubt, no matter who’s doing it. How can you respond to this behavior?
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that can cause you to doubt your memory, opinions, and even your sanity. It’s a tactic some people use to gain power and control over others.
Romantic relationships aren’t the only situations where gaslighting can occur. It can also happen:
- in a parent-child relationship
- in the workplace
- between family members
Research suggests that gaslighting behaviors can be rooted in gender and social inequalities. It tends to be common in intimate relationships where there’s a power imbalance.
It often happens gradually, as well. So you might not realize you’re dealing with gaslighting until you begin to wonder why you’re experiencing so much confusion, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
If you’ve been experiencing gaslighting for a while, you might start to feel depressed, helpless, and indecisive as a result of the manipulation.
One thing to remember in this cloud of confusion is that gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse — if you’ve experienced gaslighting, it’s not your fault. And you’re not the only one.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that more than 43 million women and 38 million men in the United States have experienced some type of psychological abuse or aggression by an intimate partner.
But how can you tell if someone is gaslighting you, and is there a way to confront it?
Examples of gaslightingAlthough it’s not always easy to identify, phrases you might hear from someone gaslighting you include:
- “That’s not what I said. You don’t remember it right.”
- “You’re too sensitive. It’s not a big deal.”
- “I didn’t do that. You did.”
- “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You just make this stuff up.”
- “You’re overreacting.”
- “I was only joking. You have no sense of humor.”
- “You’re being very emotional about this.”
Over a period of time, gaslighting can cause you to:
- second-guess decisions to the point where it’s difficult to make choices without consulting others
- continually question your mental health status
- begin to withdraw from social situations and family events
- find yourself frequently apologizing to the person gaslighting you
7 ways to handle gaslightingIf someone is gaslighting you, you’re not to blame for what’s happening. The person using this manipulation technique may be purposely trying to make you feel like everything is your fault.
Knowing how to deal with gaslighting — whether it’s coming from a romantic partner, family member, authority figure, or co-worker — can help you navigate this web of confusion and find yourself again.
1. Recognize it as gaslightingDetermining if you’re experiencing this type of abuse can be a challenge, as many gaslighting tactics are subtle. It might be gaslighting if the person’s words or behaviors:
- happen consistently
- make you doubt yourself
- negatively impact your feelings of self-worth
2. Take note of interactionsQuestioning everything you say, do, or remember is a top goal of the person gaslighting you, so consider keeping notes on conversations or interactions.
It can be intimidating to confront someone who’s been manipulating you. But having evidence ready could give you more confidence in your recollections of exchanges and events.
3. Lean on your support networkIn the confusion of gaslighting, it can be hard to know what the truth is. Building a support system made up of people who offer a realistic view of your abilities can counteract this self-doubt.
Talking with a mental health professional can also boost your confidence and help you create strategies to deal with gaslighting.
4. Be kind to yourselfGaslighting can drain you both mentally and physically. For example, some research on gaslighting in professional medical settings found that nurses who were gaslit by their employers experienced negative health effects and symptoms of self-care activities like hobbies, learning new things, and socializing with friends. Even taking a walk to get away from the situation can be an act of self-care.
Caring for yourself might also include taking a close look at the relationship and deciding if it’s something you want to continue.
5. Create boundariesCreating firm boundaries is essential in all relationships — but especially critical when dealing with gaslighting.
You can try to limit your conversations with the person or walk away when they start to use phrases that make you feel doubt or anxiety.
6. Consider stepping away from debatesA person who engages in gaslighting is unlikely to see the situation from your perspective. Attempting to prove that you’re right and they’re wrong will likely leave you frustrated and even more confused.
7. Distance yourselfNo matter how hard you try, it’s doubtful that the person doing the gaslighting will change their behaviors unless they choose to. Sometimes the only option left is to create distance between you and them, whether it’s temporary or permanent.
What should I say to someone who’s gaslighting me?Responding to gaslighting can be challenging in some relationships, especially if you’ve experienced it for a long time.
You may feel afraid to confront this person if they’re your romantic partner or worried you may lose your job if gaslighting occurs at work. So if you choose not to say anything, that’s entirely understandable.
If you want to say something and feel it’s safe to do so, here are some responses to consider:
- “If you continue to minimize my feelings or opinions, I can no longer continue this conversation.”
- “Your viewpoint is different from mine, but I know I’m not imagining things.”
- “Your feelings are valid, and mine are equally valid.”
- “I’m finding it difficult to discuss this with you. Let’s take a break and revisit this tomorrow.”
- “Calling me names isn’t going to make me agree with you. Honest communication is a better way to help me understand your perspective.”
What not to do when someone is gaslighting youWhen dealing with gaslighting, sometimes how you say something can be just as important as what you say.
Some tips to remember when responding include:
- Avoid using aggressive language or posturing. This can escalate the tactics of the person who’s gaslighting you as they try to sustain control over you and the situation.
- Stay focused on your feelings — not so much on the situation. It may be easier for someone who’s manipulating you to dispute situational events than to disagree with what you are or aren’t feeling.
- Although it might be difficult, try not to become visually upset. This may make the person manipulating you feel validated and cause them to double down their efforts — even though you have every right to be upset.
Sometimes, the best you can do is create distance between you and the person. If you find yourself being gaslit, it’s not your responsibility to argue with this person. Whether you engage with a person who’s gaslighting you is a personal choice. There’s no right or wrong answer.
Let’s recapIf you’re dealing with gaslighting, you’re not alone. This type of emotional abuse happens in all kinds of relationships. It’s not your fault, and there are ways to cope and heal.
Where to find helpSometimes gaslighting comes with other forms of abuse. If you feel you’re in a dangerous situation, support is available:
- You can call the the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 for free, confidential, 24/7 care and support.
- You can call loveisrespect.org at 866-331-9474 or text LOVEIS to 22522 for support if you think you could be in an abusive relationship.
- Ahern K. (2018). Institutional betrayal and gaslighting: Why whistle-blowers are so traumatized.
- Breiding MJ, et al. (2015). Intimate partner violence surveillance: Uniform definitions and recommended data elements.
- Preventing intimate partner violence. (2020).
- Sweet PL. (2019). The sociology of gaslighting.