How to Respond to Gaslighting and Avoid Manipulation

Published May 3, 2022
Angry man is yelling at his wife

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse and a type of manipulation where victims are given false information that causes them to question their reality. Often, victims of gaslighting are told misleading details about themselves, which also causes them to question their memories of certain interactions or events during which they were being gaslit. Knowing the signs of gaslighting, as well as how to respond to it, is important in order to avoid manipulation in any relationship where gaslighting is occurring.

Common Gaslighting Red Flags

Gaslighting can present itself in many forms. You may not recognize that you are experiencing gaslighting at the moment that it is happening, which is one reason why it is difficult to see the red flags and understand that you are being manipulated. Becoming aware of whether gaslighting is happening in your relationship is an important first step, but it can be difficult to identify when you are so close to the situation. Someone who is gaslighting you might:

  • Tell you obvious lies.
  • Change the retelling of events to place the blame on another.
  • Deny that you ever said/did something, even if you have proof.
  • Say that you are "too sensitive" when you express your feelings.
  • Take action that does not align with their words/promises.
  • Turn others against you by saying that you're "crazy."
  • Insist that their perspective is the only truth.
  • Project their feelings/insecurities onto you.
  • Use your own insecurities against you to get what they want.

What Does Gaslighting Sound Like?

After learning some of the common red flags of gaslighting, you may still be wondering what these instances would look like in real life. Depending on the relationship you are in where gaslighting may be occurring, this manipulation can sound very different. Some common phrases that a gaslighter may tell you during an argument or conversation are:

  • You know I never said that.
  • You always have to be right.
  • You always blow things out of proportion.
  • You are confusing me with someone else.
  • You never told me that.
  • Why can't you let go of the past?
  • Can't you take a joke?

Signs That You May Have Experienced Gaslighting

Gaslighting can completely change the way you view yourself, the way you go about your day-to-day life, and your ability to connect with others. This is due to the confusion and constant second-guessing that occurs as a result of gaslighting. Also, if you identify that someone you know gaslights others, it can still be unclear whether they are also gaslighting you. Victims of gaslighting often experience common shifts in behavior, such as:

  • Believing that they can't do anything right, or that they are always wrong.
  • Feeling the need to apologize constantly.
  • Experiencing a disconnect with their sense of self.
  • Constantly feeling nervous/anxious.
  • Making choices to please others first, instead of themselves.
  • Isolating themselves from people in their social circles.

Useful Phrases for Responding to Gaslighting

Knowing what to say when you find yourself in a situation that involves gaslighting is no easy task, especially since it can take a great amount of courage to challenge the person who is gaslighting you. It's important to stay rooted in your reality and let the perpetrator know that you believe your feelings are valid. Some useful phrases to respond to gaslighting include:

  • I see that you and I have different perspectives on this subject, and this is how I see it.
  • I realize you disagree with me, and I am not imagining things.
  • My feelings are what they are, and this is how I feel.
  • I understand your intention was not to hurt me, and I know that I am still feeling hurt.
  • I feel like I am not being heard, and may need to take some space.
  • I understand that you feel strong emotions, and my emotions are valid, too.
  • I don't think I'm able to discuss this right now, and I need to take a break.
  • This is what I need/want right now.

How to Respond to Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that can seem overwhelming and difficult to respond to; however, there are steps you can take in order to avoid further manipulation.

Gauge the Situation

Part of what makes gaslighting such a difficult cycle to break is that victims question their reality because of it. Often, victims can experience gaslighting for an extended period before recognizing what is happening in their relationship. Understanding and accepting that you may be a victim of gaslighting is an important first step in breaking the cycle. Knowing some of the common signs of gaslighting, as well as noting any changes in your behavior since/surrounding those incidents is a good way of gauging your current situation.

Reach Out to Loved Ones

Turning to friends and family for emotional support is a great way of regaining confidence in your feelings and perceptions that may have been shaken due to gaslighting. Reconnecting with your social circle will give you a chance to share their thoughts, feelings, and worries in a supportive environment. This gives victims a chance to share their stories with others and receive an outside perspective that may be able to confirm that gaslighting may be happening in their relationship. Also, it can allow you to distance yourself from the person who is gaslighting you, both mentally and physically. Regaining confidence in your sense of reality is important in challenging gaslighting manipulation. Reaching out to loved ones can include texting, phone calls, hanging out in person, or finding support groups online with others going through similar experiences.

Gather Evidence

Gathering evidence is another way of validating that you may be experiencing gaslighting in your relationship. This may look like taking screenshots of texts, capturing pictures, or recording conversations. Collecting evidence is another way of proving to a victim that the reality they experienced is, in fact, true, despite claims from the person who is manipulating them. Reflecting on this evidence can help you rebuild confidence in yourself, and encourage them to take further steps to set boundaries and challenge the gaslighting behavior.

Set Boundaries

For some, leaving a relationship that involves gaslighting may be the best option since it can be a major deal breaker. However, if this is not a possibility in your specific relationship, then setting boundaries is a good way to disrupt gaslighting. Setting boundaries can look like many things, such as explaining that you do not want to talk about certain topics, or noting to the other person that you two simply have different viewpoints on a subject and that you do not wish to continue the conversation. It can also be setting rules, such as not allowing shouting during arguments, and physically removing yourself from the situation if the boundaries are violated. Sticking to your boundaries is a strong response to gaslighting because it can often prevent a situation from escalating into manipulation.

Seek Professional Support

Teen listens to advice from therapist

It can be beneficial to seek professional support in any situation that is mentally or emotionally draining and overwhelming. Reaching out to therapists or mental health workers in your area is a great way of finding support and validation in your current situation. In addition, they may also be able to work with you to set goals in your relationship surrounding gaslighting, and provide insight and plan next steps to help you get to where you want to be as an individual and in your relationship in the future. Therapists offer another layer of support to victims of gaslighting, and can also act as an unbiased ear to whatever situation victims of gaslighting find themselves in.

Finding Immediate Support

If you find yourself in a situation where you need more immediate support, then reaching out to hotlines may be a good option. The Domestic Violence Hotline provides free telephone and chat support 24/7 that would allow you to talk with a counselor by dialing 1-800-799-7233, or texting "START" to 88788.

Avoiding Manipulation and Responding to Gaslighting

Identifying that gaslighting is happening in your relationship is not always easy, but it is the first step in moving forward and avoiding further manipulation. Solidifying your sense of reality through gathering evidence, connecting with those in your social circle, and possibly reaching out for help are ways to stay grounded in what you know to be true.

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How to Respond to Gaslighting and Avoid Manipulation