How to Respond to Gaslighting

Learn how to respond to gaslighting in a healthy, safe manner.

Gaslighting is a manipulative practice that is intended to rewrite history and make the victim feel that they are responsible for something that often never happened. Responding to a gaslighter can be difficult, but necessary. Here, we’ll explore some of the ways to prepare, respond, and take the next steps toward healing after being subjected to gaslighting behavior.

Identify the Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a manipulative practice that is intended to rewrite history and make the victim feel that they are responsible for something that often never happened. Responding to a gaslighter can be difficult, but necessary. Here, we’ll explore some of the ways to prepare, respond, and take the next steps toward healing after being subjected to gaslighting behavior.

how to respond to gaslighting | graphic illustration of person confused and conflicted

Identify the Gaslighting

Before being able to address gaslighting behavior, it is necessary to make sure it has been properly identified. Gaslighting is when an individual uses language such as “that didn’t happen” or “you’re being dramatic or paranoid”. It directly calls into question the victim’s memory of a situation and is meant to make them question the order of events or whether the events happened at all.

Red Flags of Gaslighting

Red flags of gaslighting include deflecting conversations that try to address the gaslighting, habitual lying, shifting blame, engaging in intentionally confusing or deceptive language around a sequence of events, and aligning others to their point of view to establish their own credibility instead of the truth. Stay vigilant for these warning signs to avoid any further emotional abuse and gaslighting behavior.

Gaslighting in Practice

Gaslighting is meant to be subtle. It can creep into everyday interactions that leave you confused and unsure of yourself. Turn to the following examples of gaslighting behavior as a way to identify the patterns and conduct commonly used by gaslighters:

  • Denial of an event: The gaslighter outright denies that a situation or conversation ever happened, causing the target to question their memory.
  • Doubt: Casting doubt on a situation to blur what actually happened; i.e. “Are you sure that’s exactly what they said? You could have misheard them.”
  • Strength in Numbers: The gaslighter calls on the help of others to reinforce the gaslighting narrative over what actually happened. 
  • Projecting Behavior: The gaslighter will project their bad behavior onto the target and shift blame away from themselves; i.e. “You’re the one who is lying about the sequence of events, not me.”
  • Habitual Lying: Outright lying on behalf of the gaslighter to rearrange how something happened, or whether it happened at all. 

Minimizing Feelings: The gaslighter makes the concerns of the victim feel unwarranted and usually an “overreaction” when they are approached with them.

How to Respond and Next Steps

If you see the previously mentioned signs happening repeatedly in your relationships, such as someone constantly denying what they said, dismissing your feelings, or rewriting history, then it’s a strong sign of gaslighting and emotional abuse. This is your cue to take action and move toward healing. Healthy responses to gaslighting are productive, beneficial, and necessary; however, it can be difficult to enact them. It is important to remember throughout the process that manipulative and toxic behavior should never be tolerated and that your life will greatly improve without it. Here’s how to respond to gaslighting in a healthy way and take back control:

how to respond to gaslighting | graphic illustration of woman consoling her upset friend

Don’t take the bait

Gaslighters are generally looking for emotional responses from their victims. Avoid getting sucked into any heated arguments. Make sure to take a deep breath in these kinds of confrontations and try to address them with confidence and facts. By depriving the gaslighter of this kind of emotional response, it will compel them to also have a more clear and concise conversation where progress may actually be made.

Journal and Document

Keeping a journal, jotting down notes, and recording conversations when applicable can be crucial to a meaningful conversation with a gaslighter. With hard evidence on your side, it will be nearly impossible for a gaslighter to refute the truth. Dating entries is essential, and things like taking pictures and adding specific details to jog your memory can also be extremely helpful to reference. Writing down specific phrases that a gaslighter uses over a long period of time also helps. If you address a gaslighter and say, “I’ve been noticing you are saying that I am overdramatic a lot lately” and then show them a tally of every time you have heard them say it and made a note, it may help the reality sink in further for them.

Limiting Contact

Limiting your time with a gaslighter can be beneficial to both parties. For the victim, it can provide clarity on whether or not the relationship itself is worth pursuing further. It can be insightful for the gaslighter, too. If they are someone who is remorseful of their actions they can take this time to work on themselves and their patterns of behavior to stop from behaving that way in the future.

Building a Support System

Talk with trusted family members and friends about your experience with being gaslighted. A close inner circle will be there to remind you that this kind of behavior is unacceptable and will reinforce your self worth. It is also advantageous to periodically check in with them to monitor the frequency of the gaslighting behavior, and it can help you see a more independent view of the situation at large.

Focus on Self-Care

Exercise, meditation, and self-affirmation all go a long way to help improve a person’s self-image. Gaslighting can be emotionally draining, so don’t forget to recharge with doing things that you enjoy and benefit your health.

Set Boundaries

Depending on the severity of the gaslighting behavior that you are experiencing, it may be beneficial to set boundaries with the gaslighter early on once you have identified the toxicity that they exhibit. Learn to say “no” and establish clear boundaries that you and your support system have determined.

Seeking Professional Help

Professional help from a therapist or mental health counselor is the best way to deal with gaslighting behavior in your life. A therapist can provide invaluable support in navigating gaslighting and other toxic behaviors while also developing personalized coping behaviors that are effective. In addition, they can also help you build up your self-esteem and further heal from any emotional abuse you have encountered.

Moving Forward

Whether you decide to work through gaslighting behavior with the abuser or choose to walk away from the relationship altogether, moving on is imperative for your mental health and well-being. Assess the relationship in which you have witnessed gaslighting behavior and determine whether or not it is worth pursuing any further. Then, lean on your trusted circle of support to help you through the healing while continuing to improve your own health and self-worth. Gaslighting is an emotional, manipulative, toxic, and detrimental act for anyone who is a victim of it. Remember above all else that you are worthy of healthy relationships that are free of gaslighting.

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