Someone tells you that you’re imagining things or says something didn’t happen when you’re sure it did. These kinds of comments are examples of what popular culture has termed “gaslighting.” While gaslighting isn’t a clinical diagnosis, it does describe certain behaviors or behavioral patterns.
Experiencing gaslighting can be frustrating and may even take a toll on your emotional well-being. Fortunately, you can take steps to protect your mental health while dealing with gaslighting.
Below, we’ll explore these behaviors and offer suggestions for dealing with them while protecting your mental health.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation and psychological abuse meant to make someone doubt their reality. In a gaslighting scenario, the manipulator repeatedly denies the validity of the victim’s experiences or feelings. They may trivialize the person’s concerns, shift blame onto them, or even fabricate events as a way to confuse or control them.
It’s become a popular — and overused — term over the last few years (much like “narcissism” and “toxic relationships”), but it’s important to note that it’s not a clinical or mental health diagnosis. You won’t see this term used in the official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V), and no one can be diagnosed as “a gaslighter.”
However, that doesn’t make the behavior any less damaging.
These behaviors weaken the victim’s confidence and make them more susceptible to the manipulator’s control. Being on the receiving end of this kind of behavior repeatedly can have long-term emotional and mental health effects, like low self-esteem and an increased risk of anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions.
It may be hard to recognize when you’re being gaslit — which is part of what makes gaslighting so damaging. But knowing what to look for is a great first step toward protecting your mental health. Remember that “gaslighting” is not a diagnosis or clinical term but a series of manipulative behaviors.
To help you determine if you may be on the receiving end of gaslighting behaviors, let’s look at some common examples of what they look like in action. As you read, keep in mind that gaslighting can occur in any kind of relationship — platonic, romantic, personal, or professional.
Your thoughts and experiences are valid. When someone gaslights you, they might tell you that you shouldn’t think or feel a certain way or that your experiences don’t really matter. This is invalidating behavior, and it’s one of the main tactics gaslighting abusers use.
This behavior allows the abuser to slowly gain control in a relationship. They can gradually lower their victim’s self-esteem and erode their self-confidence, resulting in a power imbalance that gives the abuser the upper hand.
Remember that gaslighting behaviors are a form of abuse. When someone gaslights you, they might deny hurtful actions, like insulting you. Even if you confront them with evidence of the abuse, they’ll still deny it.
Denying or minimizing abuse makes victims question their own memories or perceptions. They might wonder if they’re really experiencing abuse. This makes it easier for the abusive behavior to continue.
Your feelings and emotions are important, but if someone is gaslighting you, they may tell you otherwise. They might belittle your feelings and emotions, telling you you’re overreacting to something that upsets or angers you.
Trivializing your feelings might make you feel guilty about expressing or showing your emotions. You might also develop self-doubt when someone you love and trust tells you your feelings aren’t important.
Having supportive friends and family around can boost your emotional well-being. Your loved ones can provide support that makes it harder for abusive, gaslighting behavior to affect you. People who use gaslighting tactics are well aware of that, so they often aim to distance their victims from loved ones.
Someone who’s gaslighting you might talk you out of spending time with family and friends as often as possible. This creates an isolated environment that gives the abuser even more control.
When someone gaslights you, they might act coldly toward you instead of being affectionate. They might keep important information from you or ignore you. This is psychological manipulation, and it can take a toll on your emotional well-being.
Abusers use this manipulative tactic to punish their victims or try to control them. Withholding information, affection, or attention may end up causing feelings of depression or anxiety in victims. As a result, the victim may say or do whatever the abuser wants in order to earn the affection back.
Does someone in your life argue with you about the details of a past event? Do they challenge your recollection of the event or alter the details? This isn’t the same as a simple disagreement over how, when, where, or what happened. After all, people’s recollections of the same event may differ.
People who use gaslighting tactics often do something more sinister. They may very well know that your recollection of an event is accurate, but they purposely twist or reframe your memories. This can leave you distressed and deeply confused as you question your own memories and recollections.
When you’re used to treating others with kindness and respect, gaslighting may be difficult to understand. However, learning more about the motivations behind this kind of behavior can help you address and counter it.
In the sections below, we’ll explore some of the most common reasons people turn to gaslighting behaviors. While understanding these reasons may not make the behavior acceptable, it may give you a better idea of where it comes from.
In some cases, gaslighting boils down to a desire for power. This desire for dominance and control is often a driving force behind gaslighting. Someone who gaslights others might want to gain control in a relationship, so they resort to these behaviors.
How does gaslighting help someone achieve power? This behavior destabilizes their victim’s reality, causing self-doubt, confusion, and other emotional and psychological effects. The manipulator then uses this to increase control in the relationship.
Abusers who gaslight often play the blame game as a manipulative tactic. They use emotional manipulation to avoid accountability. Even if you catch them doing something wrong or lying, they’re not likely to admit it. Instead, they might turn it around and put the blame on you.
What happens when abusers shift blame onto their victims? They get to avoid accountability, while their victims may start doubting themselves and thinking the issue truly is their own fault.
Someone who gaslights might come across as confident, but that’s not always the case. Some of them have a fragile ego that they want to protect. Others might have a carefully crafted persona they don’t want anyone to see through.
When someone or something challenges this false self-image, it might trigger gaslighting behaviors. For example, someone with a fragile ego might pretend to be brave or strong in front of others. If this mask drops and they show fear, they might use gaslighting behaviors to soothe their bruised ego, gain a sense of control, or punish someone.
People who show gaslighting behaviors are often insecure — which may help explain their desire for control over others. Instead of facing their own insecurities or admitting to flaws or faults, they project these onto others.
What might this look like? Someone with a tendency to lie accuses their victim of lying, but won’t admit to their own lying behavior. Abusers might do this as a defense mechanism instead of taking responsibility for their actions, which allows them to maintain control and protect their self-image.
Solid relationships are built on trust and transparency. When gaslighting is involved, this can be hard to achieve. Some people use gaslighting as a kind of smokescreen to hide vulnerabilities or cover up wrongdoings.
People who gaslight usually aren’t willing to admit to their fears and weaknesses or own up to their mistakes. They might use gaslighting behaviors to keep these hidden away. Instead of building strong relationships with others, they end up with relationships based on mistrust and deception.
Gaslighting might make you feel powerless. But recognizing when you’re being gaslit and learning more about it can motivate you to reclaim that power. With support, you can take steps to protect your mental health and regain emotional strength. Self-care, awareness, and assertiveness are the keys to achieving this.
It might not be easy, but know that your experiences are valid, and you don’t have to accept gaslighting behavior in any relationship. If you’re in a dangerous or abusive relationship, take steps to safeguard your health and don’t hesitate to contact emergency personnel if necessary.
If you’re not in immediate danger, the following suggestions may be helpful in building skills for addressing gaslighting and protecting your mental and emotional well-being.
To combat gaslighting, arm yourself with knowledge and awareness about it. Use the information we’ve covered in the previous sections to familiarize yourself with common gaslighting tactics and red flags.
For an additional layer of support, consider therapy. A therapist can help you understand gaslighting behaviors and help you build productive, adaptive skills for addressing them.
Find out more about how SonderMind’s personalized approach to therapy can help you get the guidance and support needed to deal with gaslighting.
Believing and trusting in yourself is always important. But it’s even more important when you’re being gaslit. Your inner strength and self-trust can help you handle gaslighting behaviors and weaken their power over you.
Self-validation (telling yourself that you matter and are worthy) and affirmations are great ways to protect yourself from doubt. Affirmations can be short, simple phrases you repeat to yourself, like “I am worthy of self-love.”
Dealing with gaslighting means accepting that you won’t win arguments with them. In fact, it’s best to avoid getting tangled in arguments with them since this can increase self-doubt and confusion.
Having simple and straightforward conversations with someone who’s gaslighting you can help prevent them from manipulating you more. Keeping things clear and brief gives them less to work with.
Putting your mental and emotional well-being first is a priority when dealing with gaslighting. Focusing on your wellness and self-worth may help lower your risk of developing anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions.
Do your best to find time for activities that can boost your self-esteem and bring clarity to your life, such as making a list of your accomplishments or proudest moments. Step outside your comfort zone to learn a new skill or celebrate small victories in your day-to-day life.
Setting boundaries can help protect you from gaslighting. Boundaries are a way of letting others know what you need in order to have adaptive or positive interactions with them. For example, your boundary might be refusing to let others talk down to you.
Keep in mind that setting boundaries with someone who gaslights you doesn’t mean they’ll respect those boundaries. You might need to enforce your boundaries repeatedly when interacting with them, like ending conversations when they cross boundaries or reminding them what your boundaries are.
Since gaslighting often involves deceptive behaviors, you might want to keep records of your interactions. You might not need to do this for a simple conversation, but it’s a good idea to do so in formal settings.
Documenting these interactions, like writing about them in a personal journal, can serve as a touchstone of reality. You can refer to your documentation if you’re feeling confused or doubting yourself.
Loving yourself can be a highly effective way to protect against gaslighting. Self-care activities that foster self-love can help you build mental resilience, making it harder for abusers to sow doubt and confusion in your mind.
A few self-care activities to try include:
Your support system can play a valuable role in helping you combat gaslighting. Friends and family can provide external validation and support that reminds you just how much you matter. Professional support through therapy or counseling can offer additional help when you’re experiencing gaslighting.
Take the stress out of finding the right therapist: Let SonderMind connect you with the providers who match your needs.
Remember that gaslighting revolves around the use of manipulative tactics. Even if someone tries to make you feel guilty or accuses you of something you didn’t do, don’t blame yourself.
Focus on self-compassion and understanding instead. Forgive yourself for doubting your own memories or believing what a “gaslighter” tells you. Treat yourself with kindness, patience, and compassion to help combat the effects of gaslighting behaviors.
Your safety and well-being are the priority when dealing with gaslighting. Some situations become unsafe or unbearable, making it important to have an exit plan.
With an exit plan in place, you can take steps to get yourself away from an abuser with gaslighting behaviors. If the gaslighting escalates, you’ll know how to get to a safe environment where you can focus on healing.
Gaslighting can slowly take over your life and alter your perception of reality. Remember that your experiences are valid, and you don’t have to accept gaslighting behaviors. When you can recognize these behaviors and implement practices to protect your mental health, you can regain control.
SonderMind is here to help you get a fresh start after dealing with gaslighting. Connect with the right therapist, and begin your journey.