Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic used by people who hoard power in their relationships through making statements that cause the other person to question their own sense of reality, judgment, or sanity. Unsurprisingly, being victim to gaslighting behavior can be detrimental for mental health.
Before getting into the details about how to defend yourself against gaslighting, though, first consider your past experiences to work to identify it. For example, have you ever been in a situation where you felt like someone was distorting the truth and leading you to question your sense of judgment or reality? Maybe you even heard phrases like the following in regards to your experiences:
“You’re being dramatic.”
“I never said those things—you’re making it up.”
“That never happened. You’re remembering it wrong.”
Hearing statements like those may well leave you feeling upset and even a little confused. And that is exactly the intention of someone who is trying to gaslight you.
Gaslighting behavior stems from a desire to exert control and to harness the power in a conflict, an argument, or even over someone entirely.
As for why someone may act this way, a variety of potential reasons may be at play. Generally speaking, though, gaslighting behavior tends to stem from a desire to exert control and to harness the power in a conflict, an argument, or even over someone entirely. There’s nothing worse than being in a friendship or relationship with someone who’s manipulative, but there are ways to defend yourself against gaslighting behavior so it never even takes hold—here’s how:
3 strategies for how to defend yourself against gaslighting behavior
1. Pay attention to the signs
People who gaslight you are prone to being deceitful. They lie, they spread false gossip about you, they minimize your thoughts or feelings, and they lack a sense of personal responsibility. They are also committed to being right and will deflect when there is evidence to support your claim against them. Safe, healthy relationships also shouldn’t lead you to question your memories, thoughts, or sense of self, while gaslighting behavior can have such an effect.
Being aware of signs such as these can help you identify that gaslighting behavior may be at play. Upon noting that, you can be mindful of what may be impacting your decision-making skills as a means to defend yourself against gaslighting.
2. Be assertive
When we experience behaviors we don’t like, it’s important to address them and share our concerns, or else the unaddressed behavior may persist. It’s important to note that not everyone who engages in gaslighting is necessarily spiteful or malicious, and in some cases, gaslighting behavior is the only way a person may know how to deal with conflict.
In this case, the person who is gaslighting may lack the ability to take ownership for their actions, so it’s even more important to take matters into your own hands by speaking up and sharing how you feel. If it’s a friend or partner, there’s value in working to explain how they harmed you and changes you would like to see moving forward in the relationship.
3. Consider letting go
Sometimes we want to see the people we love change; however, that is not always in our control. People have to choose to change. Generally, when you are in a relationship with someone who is abusive and engages in gaslighting, they may not want to give up the power they feel they have, which might result in you having to make the hard choice of choosing to let go. The quality of our relationships matter—and that includes our relationship with ourselves. Knowing this, work to grow comfortable with choosing yourself first.
It’s also important to know that sometimes, noticing the signs of gaslighting—as well as doing the work of leaving relationships that involve gaslighting—can take time. Furthermore, the business of healing, growing, and evolving is often inclusive of hard choices; always remember that you can do hard things.
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