What is gaslighting? And how do we protect ourselves from this subtle but harmful form of psychological abuse?
In this article, we’ll teach you how to expose a gaslighter with the following steps:
- Understanding gaslighting tactics
- Check-in with yourself
- Stay grounded
- Gather evidence
- Confront the issue
- Rely on a support network
Gaslighting is manipulative behavior in which a person makes another doubt their own beliefs, perceptions, and convictions for the sake of the former’s gain. This behavior can occur in many relationship contexts, including partner-partner, boss-employee, coworker-coworker, and parent-child.
Gaslighting seems harmless initially, but understand it’s not the same as persuading or convincing someone.
Persuasion and convincing are attempts to get someone to follow your idea, but there is a level of respect and transparency in such behavior that keeps it healthy. Besides, one may be well able to resist persuasion if the end goal doesn’t align with their interests.
Gaslighting is different. It works by infiltrating the gaslighting victims’ minds and leading them into states of confusion and self-doubt.
At that point, they’re more easily manipulated by the gaslighter. Often, the gaslighter acts that way to avoid confrontation, blame, or feelings of guilt for known wrongdoings.
Twisting the story to make the victim seem like the problem helps the gaslighter avoid responsibility and a sense of shame that they might associate with making mistakes.
How to expose a gaslighter
Gaslighting is a form of emotional and psychological abuse.
Victims of gaslighting face a higher risk of anxiety, depression, isolation, and other exacerbated symptoms of psychological trauma. As such, it’s essential to know how to deal with gaslighting behaviors.
Gaslighters are not always intentionally emotionally abusive people. One may have learned gaslighting behaviors to get their needs met, in which case their manipulative behavior might happen unconsciously.
Still, that’s not your problem. Unconscious or not, gaslighting behaviors are incredibly toxic to your mental and physical health and emotional well-being.
So, what can you do if you’ve discovered a gaslighter in your life?
The first step is to understand gaslighting from the inside. What tactics do gaslighters use to manipulate others?
1. Understand gaslighting tactics and behaviors
Gaslighters use the following tactics to help maintain control and avoid personal accountability:
Question your memories
Tell you something happened that didn’t, or something didn’t happen that did.
When confronted about their behavior, a gaslighter may claim that they can’t remember what you brought up or deny your claim entirely.
Gaslighters will avoid direct and honest conversations about issues within the relationship. When the opportunity for such a conversation arises, they’re likely to brush off your attempt to take it, instead making up some excuse not to have it right now.
They may also turn the tables and confront you about a seemingly out-of-the-blue issue. This is known as diversion.
Downplay your feelings
A gaslighter will trivialize your feelings and experiences when you mention their relevance. They may try to convince you that your emotions don’t matter, that you’re being too sensitive, or that you’re being crazy.
Discrediting you in front of others
A common element of workplace gaslighting and discrediting is tarnishing your skills, reputation, and overall name to others by implying that you’re forgetful, complicated, dramatic, or a liar.
2. Check yourself
Not all of the behaviors listed above mean that one is absolutely a gaslighter.
We forget things from time to time or brush off conversations because we don’t feel like having them right now. So, you can’t always notice gaslighting by looking at others’ behavior alone.
You must also consider your feelings and state after spending time with someone.
- When you spend time or confront an issue, how do you feel?
- Do you question and doubt yourself, such as your opinions, beliefs, and feelings?
- Do you start to believe you’re too ‘soft’ or emotional?
- Do you find yourself saying ‘sorry’ a lot?
- Do you feel disconnected from your usual self?
- Do you isolate yourself from others because you know something is wrong but can’t explain it coherently?
- Do you struggle to make decisions when dealing with this person?
If you answered yes to the above, that’s a strong enough sign to take further action on the situation. The above are expected consequences of being a gaslighting victim.
The earlier you take action to protect yourself, the better.
3. Ground yourself
Once you’ve realized that you’re a victim of gaslighting, don’t fret. Gaslighting is rarely a one-off behavior.
When it is a one-off behavior, it’s usually because the temporary gaslighter isn’t dealing with an issue or situation maturely, unlike their typical approach. That might have something to do with stress and trying to cope.
However, if gaslighting is normal behavior, take stock of your situation and consider if it’s worth remaining involved with this person. Before you take any action, take a step back and ground yourself.
As a result of gaslighting, you may find yourself confused, full of self-doubt, and even isolating yourself from those you love and trust.
Take some time for yourself and practice grounding exercises, such as deep breathing, meditation, deep rest, or exercise. Do whatever it takes to give your mind a break, to drop into your body and ground yourself in the present moment.
Understand that one of the gaslighter’s manipulation tools is your own fragile emotional state. The anger, fear, frustration, and sadness that stem from such manipulative behavior can cloud your mind and make you even more likely to be manipulated.
The more you stay grounded, the more self-confidence you cultivate, and ultimately the more able you are to stand your ground.
4. Gather proof
The gaslighter probably won’t take your confrontation lightly. Given the typical gaslighter’s aversion to blaming and personal accountability, any direct confrontation is likely to lead them to more attempts at manipulation.
As such, don’t enter the confrontation empty-handed. Gather evidence by taking screenshots of texts, taking notes on a personal phone to which the gaslight doesn’t have access, or taking photos of a room before and after the gaslighter enters.
Now, what do you do with that evidence?
Your first instinct may be to show it all to the gaslighter, to bring up all the times they manipulated you and criticize them for it. However, it’s important to use tact.
Don’t throw everything at the gaslighter at once. Use your collected evidence solely to help you remember what’s happening.
As mentioned earlier, one tactic gaslighters use is self-doubt. Your confusion helps them avoid responsibility and a sense of shame.
5. Confront single instances
Throwing everything at the gaslighter at once only serves to make you easier to manipulate.
Doing so shows the gaslighter that you haven’t confronted issues in the past even though you had something to say. They may then blame you for not bringing things up at the time and instead holding it all in, convincing you that the way you feel now is your fault.
Instead of a multi-attack, use your grounding exercises and mindfulness to stay with one issue and confront it.
Refer to relevant past instances to support your confrontation but make the main focus whatever is happening now. That keeps the argument in the present, from which place it’s easier to look at the real issue.
When you notice the gaslighter engaging in their manipulative and avoidant behaviors, remind yourself and express to them that your feelings are entirely valid. You’re entitled to question other people’s behavior no matter how much you trust them.
Someone who truly loves and respects you would allow you to be at least a little suspicious at times but would feel secure knowing that their intentions are clean. The gaslighter becomes defensive toward your suspicion because they know their purpose is selfish and manipulative.
6. Cultivate a strong support network
Talking to other people about what you’re going through with a gaslighter is not gossip. You’re not oversharing or crossing a boundary by seeking the ears and advice of a trusted friend.
When dealing with a gaslighter, it’s imperative to cultivate a strong support network. Those who know and love you can offer objective insight into what’s happening.
They’ll notice changes in your thinking and behavior patterns and can relay that information to you. This feedback is vital because, as per the nature of gaslighting, you might lose touch with some parts of yourself.
Moreover, if you’re in a close relationship with a gaslighter, such as a romantic relationship, then you may be somewhat blinded to their unhealthy behavior. You may still see this person through rose-tinted glasses and consciously or unconsciously make excuses for their behavior.
A third party, someone not so invested in or blinded by the gaslighter, will see things more clearly and may even express shock, dismay, or anger on hearing about their behavior.
Gaslighting is a subtle but profoundly destructive behavior.
Sometimes a gaslighter doesn’t know the extent of damage their behavior causes. Other gaslighters know it well.
Either way, the consequences of gaslighting are destructive. Gaslighting victims face an increased risk of mental and emotional health issues due to such a relationship dynamic.
While a social support network is important, it may be wise to bolster that support with a professional. Seek advice from a licensed therapist or counselor who can help you recognize manipulative behavior, your reactions to it, and why you tolerate such a dynamic in your life.
Gaslighting and other forms of manipulation can drastically harm your self-esteem and sense of self-worth, so it’s crucial to seek support. A therapist can also offer support and guidance around cultivating your own ground with a sense of safety and self-compassion as a preventative measure against further emotional abuse.
You don’t have to suffer alone if you find yourself in an abusive relationship with a manipulative person. The sooner you seek support, the more likely you will maintain your personal safety.
If you find yourself a victim of abuse in your own home, remember that you can contact the national domestic violence hotline.