Recognizing and responding to gaslighting can be a daunting task, but understanding its nuances is the first step towards liberation from its manipulative hold on you. Gaslighting may occur in romantic relationships, family relationships, friendships, at school and in the workplace.
If you are experiencing gaslighting, it’s important to learn the best ways for responding to the psychological abuse. In this article, we share
- 5 tactics to confront gaslighting abuse
- The best phrases to use when responding to gaslighting, and
- Healing after gaslighting
Let’s get started.
Identify the Primary Manipulation Tactic, First
Gaslighting is a subtle, covert form of emotional abuse that gradually erodes the victim or person’s confidence, making them dependent on the perpetrator and question their own reality. Dependency on the abuser takes place because after gaslighting has been regularly used against the victim they become confused, full of self-doubt and reliant on the abuser to clarify what actually occurred.
It’s a very common form of abuse which is a power play designed to gain control over another person, often used by narcissists, sociopaths, and abusive partners.
Before deciding the best responses to gaslighting, some find it best to clearly define if the gaslighting is abusive, and also, which type of abusive gaslighting they are experiencing. We highly recommend taking a look at these articles on What is Gaslighting and Narcissistic Gaslighting to bring clarity to your unique situation first.
With that professional recommendation off our chest, let’s dive in and learn the top 5 tactics to use when preparing yourself to confront gaslighting and how best to respond when gaslit.
Tactic #1: Give Yourself Space
To respond effectively to gaslighting, it is important that you provide yourself with some mental and physical space from the gaslighter, your abusive partner.
Distancing yourself might feel like an impossible task while you are being gaslighted. However, if you incorporate regular practices that ensure you have breaks from the abuser and their destructive behaviors, your mind will be clearer and you will become stronger and better able to engage effectively or refrain from engaging altogether.
This is one of the best ways to maintain your self-esteem and protect yourself in the long run.
Here are some steps to help you:
Schedule Mental Breaks By Yourself
Whether you pray, meditate, practice silence, or listen to classical music, your mind will rejuvenate and restore during these breaks when they are uninterrupted. This will promote good mental health, help you defeat low self-esteem, and increase your physical well-being as well as prepare you to respond well.
Calendar Daily Breaks
It’s helpful to schedule time in your planner for daily mental breaks. Be sure to identify times when you know your gaslighter will not be around or when you are away from the abusive environment.
Protect this time, even if it’s just ten minutes per day.
During these mental breaks, it’s important to try not to ruminate. Ruminating happens when the brain focuses on negative thoughts or emotions and replays conflict or stressful events over and over again.
Ruminating exhausts the brain. It is very common for gaslighting victims to experience these types of negative thought loops as they desperately try to figure out what really happened.
It may be difficult to stop ruminating especially if you’ve been in a relationship with a gaslighting abusive partner for a while. Trying a few new techniques to make it stop might help your brain get the rest it needs to remain strong.
For example, write down any negative talk that interrupts your rest on a piece of paper. Tell yourself that you can think about those things later.
Another helpful technique is to play instrumental music during your mental breaks. Music can help you break free from or at least interrupt the negative thought loop.
Or perhaps a guided meditation or prayer would serve as a healthy disruption. Either would also provide mental and spiritual rest and rejuvenation.
Over time, it will become easier to give your brain the rest it needs. Don’t hesitate to seek help from a specialist if the tools you implement are not effective.
Practice Positive Self Talk
And don’t forget to use this time to remind yourself that you are valuable, loveable and worthy of being treated in a kind and respectful way. Positive self-talk can increase your confidence and stimulate your brain in positive ways.
Create Physical Space From the Gaslighter
No matter what type of gaslighting relationship you are in – romantic relationships, friendships, with family members, or workplace associations – please schedule regular times to be in a separate physical space from the gaslighter.
For example, you could go for long walks alone, talk with friends, or take a weekend away to visit family members. Whatever it is, find time by yourself or with good, positive people and away from the gaslighter’s destructive behaviors.
As a special note to those of you who are in a domestic partnership or marriage with a gaslighter: there may come a time to consider whether you need a formal separation during which one of you leaves your home for a season. Or if married, you may seek divorce. If you are considering leaving for good, take a look at our blog, How to Safely Leave an Abusive Relationship and Not Go Back.
Tactic #2: Stop Trying To Win The Disagreement
Simply put, you will never win an argument about what really happened in the relationship when dealing with a gaslighter.
No matter how many diverse ways you repeat your version of the story nor the number of recordings, videos, or eyewitnesses you present to prove your point, the gaslighter responds through deflection, blame-shifting, speaking outright lies, and denial in order to save face and confuse or frustrate you.
The person gaslighting may even shame you for presenting evidence of what really happened.
- “I can’t believe you would record our conversation! You’re crazy.”
- “Stop lying!”
- “You’re recreating the truth.”
- “Stop gaslighting me.”
If these phrases sound familiar to you, then you may realize already what is really going on and likely to happen if you keep trying to win the argument. Their responses are all part of gaslighting behavior and intentionally aimed at putting the victim on the defense and deflecting attention away from the gaslighter’s bad behavior.
Don’t get caught in their snare.
If you decide to engage but are not prepared to do so effectively, realize you are likely to get caught in the gaslighter’s snare. Because gaslighting is a form of hidden manipulation, it is easy to miss especially when you’re in the midst of a heated dialogue. It’s exhausting to engage with an active gaslighter and doing so is more likely to cause self-doubt and confusion for the victim than resolution of the conflict. As this plays out, you are likely to second-guess your own perceptions.
The greatest thing you can do is to disengage from the discussion until you’ve learned the best response to deflate the gaslighting. A helpful tool people sometimes use to disengage is to pretend they are observing the exchange in the third person. This type of distancing can help you take some of the emotion out of the situation and protect yourself from reacting in a way that might cause you further distress.
Keep reading to learn about effective phrases you can use to engage a gaslighter effectively.
Tactic #3: Stand Firm
Reject any attempts by the perpetrator to invalidate your feelings or experiences. Traumatic invalidation takes place when the gaslighter repeatedly and intensely invalidates the victim’s feelings and experiences making this particular tactic, standing firm, extremely important for the victim’s protection.
Remain confident in just your reality and version of events. No matter what, you are entitled to your own emotions and perceptions.
We realize how difficult it can be to reject their efforts to blame and invalidate, especially for people who have been in an abusive relationship for a while where your stress levels are heightened and you’re genuinely confused..
After all, an effective gaslighter causes the victim significant cognitive dissonance and self-doubt about their own understandings and sanity making it hard for them to believe they are justified in their position. If this is you, have grace for yourself while you build your strength, and don’t lose hope as it will become easier over time.
So, how can you stand firm?
Remember to Trust Your Gut
Even when you feel insecure about your standing, your body will give you clues and warnings of when you are being invalidated and when you need to respond. We encourage you to pay close attention to how your body is feeling and signaling you and then trust your gut. If something feels off or wrong in your relationship, it’s essential to tune into your body and trust your instincts.
Your feelings and emotions are valid, and you should not let anyone convince you otherwise.
Keep a Record of Your Experiences
It will be very helpful if you begin by keeping a personal record of your experiences and feelings and when you recognize manipulative behaviors or any manipulative tactic.
Journal or create voice records of them. Save key texts and emails confirming what really happened so you may maintain control over your reality. Re-read (or listen) to the recordings when you become confused or begin to doubt yourself.
This will help to validate you, strengthen your self-confidence and remind you of the truth.
Finally, revisit tactics one and two above which will help to solidify your standing on firm ground.
Don’t Wait to be Validated
Remember that the abuser is unlikely to come around and validate your experiences or feelings so don’t rely on or wait for them to do so.
Most abusers are operating with very low emotional intelligence, which means it is challenging (or maybe even impossible) for them to show empathy or compassion toward you. You’re likely to wait a very long time – maybe forever – for them to come around.
Although we all desire and appreciate being validated, it’s healthy for you to remain firm in your own experiences and feelings without the need for validation from others. That said, the value of having a healthy support system to validate your experiences during this challenging time cannot be overstated.
And remember, when you are really struggling, your true friends will not complain when you seek support should you doubt reality or if you see how the gaslighting continues no matter what you try.
Tactic #4: Establish and Enforce Clear Boundaries
Setting clear boundaries can help protect you from further manipulation. Communicate your boundaries firmly and consistently, and consider limiting your conversations or distancing yourself from the person if they continue to disrespect these boundaries.
A meaningful boundary needs to partner with a consequence if they do not comply. A boundary without a consequence is nothing more than a complaint. If you are not strong enough to follow through with consequences you may be better off waiting until you are.
To assist you with this tactic, it is a valuable process to plan in advance the types of boundaries that are important for you to set.
Start by listing out some of the words, actions, and circumstances that make you feel doubt and anxiety when you are with your partner. For example, when the person yells, name-calls, stands too close to you when there’s tension between you, argues, gives you the silent treatment, or makes a big deal in front of other people, your anxiety levels might spike and you may begin to doubt yourself.
If so, it’s time to communicate clear boundaries about these items and identify the consequences if they fail to respect them. Consider the following phrases to express your boundaries:
- “It makes me feel unsafe when you are yelling at me, please stop or I will stop engaging.”
- “I cannot continue this conversation if you keep interrupting me.”
- “We need to discuss this at another time if you choose to keep name-calling.”
- “I need you to wait to discuss this until we are in private, or I will be forced to leave.”
- If they’re in your personal physical space, tell them to “Please step away because you are making me feel unsafe.”
- “I will [stop responding, hang up, or leave] if you don’t stop…”
Advance planning of which boundaries you plan to hold firm to will equip you to steadfastly and clearly enforce them even when you are in the middle of a conflict that may be causing you significant stress and confusion.
Whatever boundaries you set, be sure you are ready to enforce the consequences when they violate your requests. End the talk. Leave. Refuse to respond. Whatever you do, just make sure the consequence is clearly communicated and followed through with or you will lose valuable ground.
Tactic #5: Prioritize Your Self-Care
Taking care of your physical, emotional, and mental health is crucial when dealing with gaslighting. Engage in activities that bring you joy and peace, and remember to practice self-compassion.
This may include:
Getting support from trusted friends and family.
It’s okay to share your experiences with a trusted friend, a family member, or a relationship expert so you may get an outside perspective on your situation. We encourage you to try to find at least one or two people who can help lift some of the burdens you are carrying.
If your abuser has shut you off from your community, consider joining a serious support network or group where you can find safe people to validate your experiences. A healthy community can encourage you to free yourself from the isolation that you or your abuser prefers to keep you in and is an important component of your self-care.
Seeking professional help.
A clinical psychologist, licensed therapist, or counselor who is trained in dealing with emotional abuse and trauma can provide valuable guidance and support. Choosing a licensed clinical psychologist with particular experience in helping gaslighting victims is essential. They will be equipped to support you as you try to understand your feelings and develop strategies to deal with gaslighting.
If your therapist is not supportive it’s time to terminate therapy and find someone new.
You may have chosen to isolate for many different reasons. Community support and activity can provide you with valuable positive reinforcement. Being gaslit causes your stress hormones to accelerate. Stress hormones can significantly compromise your mental well being as well as your immune system.
Anything you can do to promote your own health will help your mind, body and spirit. Moving your body increases endorphins which counter stress and can be an important self-care activity for you to invest in. Walk, run, hike, or swim. Join a gym class or a community sports program, walk on the beach, do a few pushups. Basically, healthy movement and positive interactions with others will help to lift your spirits and strengthen you.
You cannot heal in isolation.
BEST Phrases to Shut Down Gaslighting
Addressing gaslighting tactics requires strategic communication to assert your reality and set boundaries. Whether responding to a text message or face-to-face in a romantic relationship, here are some phrases that can help when responding to gaslighting:
- “I understand we have different perspectives, but this is how I see it.”
- “I feel unheard right now and need a break from this discussion.”
- “I don’t share your perspective. I’m standing firm on my position.”
- “I know you disagree, but I’m not imagining things.”
- “My feelings are valid, and this is how I feel.”
- “I understand you didn’t mean to hurt me, but I’ve told you many times this behavior will cause me hurt and you do it anyway.”
- “Our relationship is now broken and it’s up to you to makes amends and reparations if you want to reconnect.”
- “If you don’t stop breaking your promises I’m going to ask for a formal separation.”
It’s important to remember that—you don’t have to prove your reality to anyone. If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, it’s perfectly acceptable to walk away from the conversation or situation.
Healing after Gaslighting
Gaslighting can leave deep psychological scars, but recognizing its signs and knowing how to respond can empower you to reclaim your reality. It may take some work, but healing after experiencing gaslighting yourself is possible and likely.
The five tactics outlined above will help lay the foundation for your healing journey.
There are many resources to help you increase your self-esteem and improve your overall mental and physical well-being.
Remember, your experiences are valid, and you’re not alone in this journey. With the right support and resources, you can move past gaslighting towards a healthier, more fulfilling life.