In my 20+ years of experience providing in-person and online therapy, I have seen how damaging gaslighting can be. It involves serious manipulation that makes you doubt your feelings, perceptions of events, and sanity.
As a clinical psychologist, I've seen several clients struggle to develop healthy relationships due to mental abuse. Around 74% of female domestic violence victims reported being gaslit by partners. But it can happen in any relationship, even with a parent, friend, coworker, or boss.
I'll show you how to identify relationship red flags and equip you with the tools to deal with gaslighting. Here are 10 tactics to help you put an end to this kind of mental abuse.
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1. Learn to Recognize Gaslighting
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where someone makes you question your experiences and memories. The manipulator uses a combination of negative remarks and occasional kindness to undermine your self-confidence. You might often feel confused, show symptoms of anxiety, and lack trust in yourself.
Common phrases include "You're imagining things," "That never happened," or "You're overreacting." These comments are deliberate tactics to make you question your reality.
This behavior is common in people with narcissistic personality disorder. They often play the victim and shift the blame to you. Deep down, they fear vulnerability, so they try to take ownership of their environment and interpersonal relationships. Be aware of these signs if you suspect you're dating a narcissist, and get out of there ASAP.
Types of Gaslighting
Trivializing: They make you feel like your emotions are unimportant or tell you you're just being too sensitive.
Countering: They challenge your memory of events, often twisting the truth or blaming you instead.
Withholding: They ignore your attempts to communicate, dismissing them as confusing or unnecessary.
Diversion: When you confront them, they deflect by changing the subject or accusing you of making things up.
Forgetting or denying: If you recall something they said or did, they may insist they don't remember it or deny it ever happened.
Discrediting: They tell others you're unreliable or confused, which can undermine your reputation, especially in a professional setting.
2. Stand Firm in Your Truth
Gaslighters try to make you think you're wrong about things that happened. They do this so they don't have to take the blame and can control you more easily. It leaves you feeling confused and like you can't trust yourself.
But you can fight back by believing in your own experience. Stand firm in what you remember seeing, hearing, or feeling, even if they say it's wrong. Tell yourself, "I know what happened," or "These are my real feelings." Building faith in your memory and perception makes their tricks fail.
Stay present in each moment. Keep a journal, meditate, and use mindfulness apps. These can strengthen your neural pathways and help you reflect on events. Know you deserve relationships that respect, not distort, your reality.
3. Keep a Record of Everything
When you disagree with someone who might be gaslighting you, take a proactive step and spend five to ten minutes reflecting. Concentrate on who was involved, the events that unfolded, where it took place, and your feelings about the situation. This process will help you to clarify your thoughts and feelings.
Document your interactions with this person to keep a clear record of what's happening. This can be crucial when they deny conversations or events. You can try this:
Keep backups of your texts and emails through screenshots.
Take photos if there's any physical evidence like damaged property.
Note times and dates of conversations.
Summarize these conversations in your own words, using direct quotes where you can.
Betterhelp offers an online therapy journal where you can record your thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
4. Work on Your Confidence
If you're showing signs of low self-esteem, it's time to build yourself up again. Maintain eye contact and a steady posture when they attempt to contradict your experience. Calmly but firmly state phrases like “I clearly remember” or “I know what I saw.” Use a solid tone free from self-doubt.
Make yourself a priority by listening to daily affirmations and appreciating your strengths. Try making small positive changes daily to keep you mentally healthy and rebuild your confidence over time.
I've seen how my previous clients have significantly improved their lives by getting out of an abusive relationship with a gaslighter. If you work on your self-confidence, you can equip yourself with the courage to know when enough is enough.
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4. Set Firm Boundaries
Establishing healthy boundaries can help you deal with gaslighting. Excuse yourself if you sense a discussion becoming unproductive or inaccurate before any manipulation begins. This could sound like: "I disagree and don't think continuing this conversation is helpful" or "It seems we remember things differently. We'll have to agree to disagree."
Walking away protects you from pointless arguments or attempts to distort reality. Applying verbal restrictions demonstrates you can't be pressured into accepting false narratives. Ultimately, you'll be guarding your self-worth.
6. Know When to Walk Away
Recognize when it's time to step back from conversations with a gaslighter. These discussions can be draining, especially when they blame you, twist your words, or distort reality. When you notice these tactics, it's best to end the conversation.
Arguing with a gaslighter often feels futile; they make you doubt yourself, even when you're right. Remember, you're not giving in but avoiding an unwinnable battle.
Shift your focus to building positive self-talk. If you think, "I'm so stupid," work on transforming that into "My feelings are valid. I matter." This strategy is often used in cognitive behavioral therapy. Prioritize your mental health and acknowledge your truth. This way, you're taking care of yourself instead of viewing disengagement as defeat.
7. Strategies for Gaslighting at Work
If you suspect gaslighting at work from a supervisor or colleague, you need to take steps to create a paper trail. Carefully document incidents in a journal with dates, times, direct quotes, emails, and other evidence. Building records allows you to concretely reference events if the gaslighter denies actual conversations or situations later on.
If the gaslighting at work includes harassment, discrimination, or hostility, tell your HR department. HR can step in with disciplinary action or at least make a record of the issue.
8. Get Gaslighting Guidance from a Medical Professional
If you feel a medical professional is dismissing or questioning your symptoms, you need to speak up. According to licensed marriage and family therapist Nick Bognar, nonbinary individuals and women—especially trans women or women of color—often feel they're not taken seriously in medical settings.
To address this, clearly express your concerns to your provider. For instance, say, "I feel like you're disregarding my symptoms. Can we explore what's going on?" If the dismissal continues, consider finding a new doctor.
You can also leave an anonymous review or contact the clinic’s administration about your experience. Or, consider filing a complaint with the US Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights.
9. Lean on Your Support System
Therapist Claire Jack (Ph.D.) says dealing with a gaslighter can severely dent your self-esteem and leave you feeling disempowered. Mental abusers might try to cut you off from support systems, leaving you isolated. If you feel alone, a service like Cerebral can help you connect with communities.
Prioritize spending time around those who make you feel safe and loved. It's difficult reaching out from an abusive relationship, but support exists. Some find comfort in spiritual groups or online communities. Don't hesitate to reconnect with old friends too.
10. Get Help from a Therapist
A service like Online-Therapy.com can teach you how to spot gaslighting, respond at the moment, and heal damage afterward. Remember, it takes time and commitment, sometimes over months, to undo harm—it's not a quick fix.
But it's worth the effort to step toward healthier happiness. Look for a clinician knowledgeable about personality disorders and skilled at establishing safety plans during recovery. Therapy for gaslighting can help you:
Create coping strategies
Process confusing dynamics
Rebuild your self-image
Gain confidence in trusting your perspective
Breaking Free from Gaslighting
To end gaslighting, learn to spot the manipulative patterns even in abusive relationships. Trust your inner truth and memory if a loved one constantly questions your sanity or recalls events inaccurately. Since long-term gaslighting damages self-perception, seek help rather than doubt yourself.
Consider online therapy services like Talkspace for extra support. It provides affordable access to coping strategies and validation as you process confusing experiences. Finally, surround yourself with people who respect your feelings and don't try to distort your reality.
» Ready to heal? Check out these science-based tips for effective online therapy.