confused woman on psychologist therapy session at office
Psychology, Relationships

This is What Gaslighting Actually Is…

In this life, we passionately pursue relationships that we think will bring us fulfillment and joy. Try as we might, though, we still get things wrong and manage to find ourselves with people who don’t have our best interests at heart. Sometimes, the people we choose to give our hearts to are not always the people we think they are. After some time, we can find that they’re abusive, manipulative and even passive-aggressive.

That’s where the gaslighting partner comes into play. This is the person who always has an excuse and who always has a way of making things your fault. Gaslighters are manipulators, who prey on your emotions in order to secure themselves greater control over you and your assets. They’re dangerous and toxic, and can have an especially corrosive effect on our mental health when left unchecked.

Gaslighting is more common than you think.

This manipulative tactic is far more common than you think. From government agencies to the parents that you know and love — gaslighting is misdirection tactic that is used all the time in order to dismiss or diminish conflict and problematic confrontation. We all know (or have known) a gaslighter in our lives; someone who makes us feel small when they should lift us up, or someone who makes us feel crazy when they should hear us out.

Gaslighting — in its most basic sense — is the act of manipulating someone by forcing them to doubt their feelings, behavior, or even perception of reality. It’s flipping the narrative and shifting the blame by trivializing, diminishing, and outright lying about the other person and their feelings.

If you’ve ever had a partner tell you that you’re “crazy” when you call out their bad behavior, then you’ve been a victim of gaslighting. This victimhood isn’t a permanent one, however. You can break free of the gaslighter in your life and learn how to see things as they really are. To get there you’ve got to anchor yourself in confidence, though, and figure out exactly what you want and what you need from your life and your relationships. Only when you’re sure of yourself can you defeat a gaslighter’s games.

Signs of gaslighting you’re probably missing.

You can hardly turn on a self-help podcast without hearing the term “gaslighting” mentioned. We call politicians gaslighters. We label our partners and our coworkers. But not all gaslighting is as obvious as the self-help gurus would have you believe. Sometimes our manipulators are a lot more subtle, and it takes a little more digging to uncover the covert gaslighting in your life.

Suggesting professional “help”

What happens when you become highly emotional or confront your partner with painful information? Most gaslighters will dodge any sort of blame or responsibility taking by claiming that your behavior or your claims are “crazy”. The covert gaslighter makes this a bit more of an art, though. Rather than calling you crazy outright, they may suggest you seek professional help — there by insinuating that what you’re saying is so outlandish it needs medical attention. It’s a way of stripping your claims of credibility.

Passing on bad rumors

The whole point of gaslighting is to avoid responsibility and to manipulate(and therefore control) the thoughts and feelings of other people. This isn’t something that has to be done directly, though, as the passive manipulator well knows. A subtle way in which the gaslighter might tear you down is through the use of rumors. They pass on bad rumors to you which may not be true at all, and they feed back rumors to others which are meant to destroy your reputation and character.

Blaming you for bad behavior

Gaslighters — like most abusers — struggle with taking responsibility for their poor behavior. It’s one of the reasons they fall into such a toxic pattern. Unable to step up and admit that they’ve done wrong, they defer blame and deflect it any time they are confronted or questioned about their continued manipulation. Somehow, they take your concerns and turn them into your problems. You’re always the monster in their story, and they’re always the victim.

Insisting you’re wrong

Does your partner or spouse insist that you’re wrong, even when it’s clear that you’re right? Do they often play down your intelligence and creativity?Or treat you like you’re stupid? These are all subtle (and less-subtle) ways of destroying your self-esteem, which makes you easier to control. It also has a great deal to do with the ego of the manipulator; something which hangs on a razor’s edge of insecurity and self-obsession.

Minimizing your perspective

How does your partner or spouse react when you try to share a feeling or thought with them? Do they minimize your perspective, or pretend as though your feelings aren’t valid and worthy? Again, this is a technique which is aimed at undermining your self-confidence and your sense of worth. The gaslighter wants you to feel bad about yourself so that you are easier to push around. They want to detach you from your feelings so that you don’t question them on their own.

Blocking your growth

If there is one thing that no abuser or manipulator can tolerate — it’s personal growth. When we invest in personal growth, we invest in ourselves. We rebuild our self-esteem, and through that are able to tap into our emotional awareness and sense of need and expectation. We start to make sense of the world around us, and start to see the world in terms of what we deserve and don’t deserve. Gaslighters can’t tolerate that. For you to grow is for you to wake up. If you wake up, you’ll no longer be under their control.

What to do when you realize you’re a victim of gaslighting.

Have you realized that you’re the victim of gaslighting? Waking up is only the first step. Once you’ve realized there’s an issue, you have to take action to protect yourself and your wellbeing. Anchor yourself in confidence and then create some space in which to reattach to life and loved ones. Then you can start setting better boundaries and find the help you need to extract yourself from their control.

1. Anchor yourself

The toxic patterns and behaviors of manipulators are effective because they separate us from our sense of self. This sense of self comprises not just an acknowledgement of who we are, but our self-esteem and belief patterns too. Becoming divided from that, we become lost, and this is precisely when we become the easiest to control and boss around.

In order to defeat the gaslighter in your life, you have to anchor yourself in an unshakeable sense of self that grows beyond question. Rebuild your self-esteem from the ground up, and when you start to believe in yourself, invest some time getting honest about your needs.

Embrace reality. You have a right to your feelings, and you have a right to question someone when they are hurting you. Don’t allow someone to make you feel crazy simply for being a human. We are emotional creatures, and those emotions help make us the compassionate and understanding people that we are. Anchor yourself in authenticity and stand strong.

2. Create a deal of space

Space is such a powerful thing. When we allow ourselves to break outside of all the noise and all the pressure, we can find genuine moments of quiet and calm for ourselves. In this space we discover more fully what we need and expect from others, but we also get to see all the amazing changes that are taking place within. If you want to heal enough to defeat the manipulator in your life, then you need to get some distance from them and give yourself some space.

Put some distance between you and your relationship, either literally or figuratively. Take a few moments each day, or a couple of hours each week, to simply be alone and present with your thoughts. Process your emotions.Process your thoughts. Take a little time to consider also how the person on the other end of the equation is treating you.

Does being alone in your own space feel better than being with someone who tells you that your ideas and feelings don’t matter? Ground yourself in the moment and allow your emotions to be as they are; powerful and raw. The more you lean into this space, the more you will discover who you are and what you want to do about your situation. After all, it is when we are tested alone that we come to cultivate our greatest strengths and successes.

3. Set better boundaries

Many of us avoid setting boundaries in our intimate relationships, and it’s tragic. Because that’s exactly when we need them most. Boundaries matter in every relationship and they apply to every person who enters (or exits) our lives. Our boundaries are the fences that protect our emotional wellbeing and our mental sanity. They communicate the types of behaviors we expect from others, but they also safeguard us from manipulators and would-be abusers.

Set better boundaries for yourself and be better at protecting them and enforcing them against the world. Never set boundaries before? It’s a great time to start. Simply sit down and ask yourself, “What do I want most in terms of behavior and connection? What behaviors am I unwilling to accept on any terms?”

We all have “no-go zones”. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. If we all went all the way with every suggestion that crossed our path, the world would be chaos. Everyone has a different limit, and everyone has a different ideal when it comes to the behaviors and treatments they are and aren’t willing to accept. Be brutally honest about yours and communicate them regularly.If the gaslighting individual in your life can’t accept it, enforce your boundaries by limiting access to you.

4. Find professional support

Like it or not, dealing with someone who engages in gaslighting is often a bigger issue than we are able to handle. While this behavior is toxic, it can also be a sign of abuse and even more complex underlying issues. If that’s the case, then dealing with it on your own isn’t always an option. Sometimes it’s necessary to bring in a someone with a better perspectivethan you.

Don’t deal alone. Find professional support that you can rely on and open up to them honestly and candidly. There are countless options when it comes to finding someone who can work with you. You can even find a mental health and relationships expert online.

There’s no taboo around getting help anymore. Look for a professional who has experience in the issues you’re experiencing and look for someone with a proven track record of success. They can help you see the situation from a different angle, and they can help you rebuild your self-esteem the right way. They can give you directions and get you back on the path.

5. Remove yourself from bad places

When it all comes down to it, you can’t change someone who has chosen to engage in abusive and manipulative tactics. The only people we can change are ourselves. You won’t convince them to be a better person, and you won’t heal the decades of trauma and habits that have made them who they are today. If they can’t change their behavior on their own, you have to make decisions for them. In short, you have to remove yourself from bad places.

If they won’t take action to change their portion of the toxic environment you’re living in, change it for them by walking away. This isn’t a process that is easy, nor is it one that happens overnight. Rather, it should be a slow severing with plenty of explicit warning.

Sit your partner down and tell them where you’re at. Explain your boundaries to them (again) and give them examples of how those boundaries have been ignored and disrespected. Explain your right to happiness and explain too your desire to see them become the person they’re supposed to be. Once you’ve said what you need to say, let them do the same, but have enough self-respect not to fall for the inevitable twisting knives that are going to come your way.

Putting it all together…

Gaslighting is a hot topic these days, but too many of us completely miss the more subtle signs of this form of manipulation. From insisting that you’re always wrong, to passing on damning rumors — the aim of a gaslighter is to make us feel small and to separate us from our sense of self worth. If we want to avoid this, we have to tap back into our confidence and refocus on action and what matters most.

Anchor yourself in a strong sense of self and an even stronger sense of self-esteem. The more you believe in yourself, the harder it becomes for someone to gaslight you or lead you astray. Cling to the things which keep you strong and lean into a personal space that allows you to build a new perspective. You have a right to be happy and loved. Embrace this, set better boundaries for yourself (which you enforce). We all have lines and limits, and that’s a good thing. IF you’re still struggling to deal with or confront them, enlist the help of a relationships expert that can bolster your courage and teach you better ways to free yourself. Manipulators and abusers cannot be changed by us, only by themselves. Stop trying to change them and have enough dignity to walk when it’s clear that your wellbeing is no longer a consideration.