Often in life, we are unfortunate enough to have to deal with people who put our mental health in constant jeopardy. But perhaps the worst of the lot are gaslighters. Gaslighters are master manipulators who will often make you question your own sanity just to gain leverage over you. When someone intentionally manipulates you into doubting your feelings, memory, or your perception of reality, it is called gaslighting. Knowing how to respond when someone gaslights you is crucial to protect yourself from the scarring effects of this manipulation technique.
Usually, in abusive relationships, a gaslighter uses their partner’s self-doubt to constantly undermine their agency of choice. Gaslighters shouldn’t be touched with a 10 feet barge pole, let alone dated. But, there are times when you may realize, much to your dismay, that your romantic partner, one who love, adore, and depend on, may have been gaslighting you to get their way.
Blaming yourself in such situations may come easier than responding to a gaslighter in a manner that can help break this toxic pattern. Unless you know all the tell-tale signs, spotting such creatures and knowing how to respond to gaslighting often proves difficult, especially since acknowledging that the person you love is toxic is easier said than done. We’re here to help you stand your ground against this constant manipulation with this lowdown on the best way to respond to gaslighting, no matter what the situation.
Are You Being Gaslighted?
Before taking any radical steps, the first order of business is to identify the signs of gaslighting. It usually starts small but gaslighters tend to keep taking more and more mental and physical space for themselves if you keep taking it lying down. The easiest way to spot gaslighting is when your partner follows repetitive patterns of manipulative behavior.
The more you question reality and doubt yourself, the more you find yourself depending on them to function. If an egotistical person starts to manipulate you in the name of romance while undermining your mental health, it would be a classic example of narcissist gaslighting. Such people generally gaslight you to feel better about themselves.
They will invalidate your concerns or emotions so they can always remain the center of attention. Have a fever? They’ll tell you to quit whining about your health all the time. Won a competition? They will remind you it’s not really a big deal and immediately start listing the times they won bigger, better competitions. Trivializing and discrediting your reality is how narcissist gaslighting operates.
Unconscious gaslighting is a rarer example of gaslighting. Sometimes your partner may gaslight you without even understanding what they are doing. They are simply following a pattern they will have developed over the years without ever becoming aware of it. Responding to a gaslighter who is blissfully unaware of their toxic patterns can be even trickier. Since they lack any iota of self-awareness, it gets that much harder to make them see the error of their ways.
They are usually so used to treating their partners as inferior, they don’t even notice the damage they are causing. A common instance of unconscious gaslighting is when they mock you and ridicule your opinions in front of others. This sort of gaslighting is often disguised as misogynistic humor. If you have heard your partner say some of these iconic lines, I am sad to say that you may have a gaslighter on your hands:
- “Are you crazy? That’s not how it happened”
- “You have no idea of what you’re talking about”
- “You’re imagining things”
- “No need to be so sensitive. I was only joking”
- “Nothing happened. Stop overreacting”
- “That’s not how I remember it”
If you are only just discovering that you are in a relationship with a gaslighter, this is no time to panic. Once you know how to respond to gaslighting, it is all about coming up with a plan and following through, step by step.
Related Reading: 20 Gaslighting Phrases In Relationships That Kill Love
How To Respond To Gaslighting – 9 Tips
Courtney found herself unable to decide her order while she and her partner were out on a double date with her best friend, Sharon, and her fiance. The friends were meeting after almost a year, owing to being stuck in different cities for the entire duration of the pandemic, and Sharon was taken aback to see her once self-assured, confident friend looking to her partner’s approval on what she should eat.
“Just get whatever you feel like,” an exasperated Sharon finally said. “I think I want the steak but I don’t know…” her voice trailed off. “You don’t even like steak. Besides, in this day and age, how can someone choose to eat a steak knowing how much the meat industry contributes to global warming,” her newly turned vegan boyfriend responded.
“Yes, I’m not sure if I even like steak. I’ll have a salad instead,” a visibly disappointed Courtney responded. Though Courtney was still blind to what was being done to her in the name of love, Sharon saw the red flags immediately. She knew she had to help her friend figure out a way to respond to gaslighting in a relationship, lest it chips away at her self-esteem and self-worth.
Unfortunately, examples like Courtney’s are all around us. There is no way to know when you may have the misfortune to cross paths with a gaslighter. Even when you are in constant contact with one, it may still be hard to recognize them for the manipulator they are. This makes it even more important to recognize the signs and know how to respond to gaslighting in case you ever find yourself in such a situation.
1. Identify the pattern
If you want to respond to gaslighting, know that it begins with identifying the pattern. So, the biggest, bravest step while countering gaslighting is the first one i.e. identifying the toxic patterns of your partner. If you see them always mocking what you say or trivializing your opinions, there is a chance you may be dealing with a gaslighter.
Focus more on their actions rather than their words and notice the things they say. If their actions are inconsistent with what they are saying, it would be easy to guess that they are trying to manipulate you. To effectively respond to gaslighting in a relationship, you need to take off the rose-tinted glasses and view your dynamic pragmatically.
But when you’re emotionally invested in another, spotting their flaws and acknowledging them for what they’re can be the hardest thing to do. In such situations, it’s best to lean on a trusted ally – a friend, family, confidant – and trust their judgment. If your loved ones have been telling you there is something amiss in your relationship dynamics, pay heed rather than brush off their concerns. Only then can you begin to figure out how to respond when someone gaslights you.
2. Take a step back
Gaslighting victims have to constantly and regularly put up with intense fear, anger, and anxiety. This can progressively eat away at their mental health to a point where they start losing their faculties. This vulnerability is recognized by their gaslighters as a chance to manipulate them further.
It’s not always easy to respond to someone gaslighting you and break away from such toxicity. Once this pattern has gone on for long enough, they may succeed in making you believe that they’re the only one you can depend on, creating an unhealthy power dynamic in the relationship. Thus, the longer it goes on, it gets progressively harder to deny them what they want.
In such cases, it is important to carve out some space for yourself. Try going out for walks alone. Breathing exercises and meditation can also help keep you calm and thinking rationally. Taking time out for yourself and away from your abuser can work wonders when you are trying to process and, eventually, escape such situations.
The best way to respond to gaslighting is to regain control of your life, your agency and your confidence in your abilities to make sound decisions, bit by bit. Creating some distance between yourself and your partner can help you do that.
3. Document the evidence
Gaslighting is rarely a one-time event. Gaslighters usually carry out their toxic patterns and plans for days and years. A favorite trick of theirs is denying things they have done or said so you end up doubting yourself. Fixing such a toxic relationship can get nigh on impossible, making you feel trapped and suffocated.
If this sounds like something you’ve been facing, it is important to start collecting and storing evidence like screenshots of texts and emails, recordings of your phone conversations, and detailed daily journals. Whether you’re looking for ways to respond to gaslighting at work or in a relationship, having concrete proof to back your understanding of what’s being done to you is essential.
If you have the proof on your side and know that your partner is lying through their teeth, not only will it help you see their manipulative patterns clearly but also make it much easier to shut down a gaslighter. Evidence can also help you process things better and realize that no, you’re not really going crazy and something really is wrong. And, if matters ever take a turn for the worse and you decide to get a restraining order, the evidence can help you in court.
Related Reading: 11 Signs Your Man Has Anger Issues
This is the hardest step for many victims of gaslighting. When someone is used to being dismissed, ignored, and spoken down to, they start developing an unsure and submissive attitude. In such cases, it is important to know that you can ask for help. Call up your friends for support. Having someone who has your back around can significantly help with your confidence when you decide to respond to gaslighting.
Calmly calling out gaslighters on their lies and rude behavior may often discourage them from victimizing you. Respond to someone gaslighting you using the guise of humor by simply asking them to explain what makes the offensive “joke” they spew so funny.
If you decide to respond to gaslighting husbands, know that it can prove significantly harder since they may quickly turn volatile and violent. Approach such conversations in safe spaces, with friends or loved ones around or nearby. When using confrontation as a means of responding to a gaslighter, always bear in mind that there will be push back in some form or the other. You must cover all your bases before going in for the confrontation.
5. Build up your confidence
If you are already keeping evidence of the conversations and situations when your partner tries to gaslight you, building your confidence up enough to confront them may prove to be much easier. Remember, your self-doubt is their biggest weapon so it’s extremely important not to let it worm its way into your head.
The more you doubt yourself, the easier it will be for them to manipulate you. They might try to draw you into conflict so they can keep harassing you and undermine your confidence. Reaffirm yourself and simply refuse to engage. You know them. You have put in the work and you know their patterns.
Now, it’s time to stop giving them access to your vulnerabilities, which is their only weapon against you, and start dismantling everything from the inside. The best way to respond to gaslighting is to build your confidence and self-worth from the ground up so that you are immune to their manipulative tactics.
6. Invest in self-care
Self-care is the most holistic way of responding to gaslighting. Pampering yourself and giving your mind and body the care they need to heal is important when you are trying to respond to gaslighting. It may not sound like much but the calmer and more collected you are, the harder it will be for gaslighters to manipulate you.
These people prey on vulnerabilities. But present them with calm confidence and they would simply scuttle away to look for easier prey. Besides, unless you invest in self-care and reintroduce yourself to the concept of putting yourself first and investing in self-preservation, you cannot figure out how to respond when someone gaslights you.
Related Reading: My Abusive Wife And Daughters – Mental And Physical Abuse At Home
7. Ask your loved ones
If you are starting to realize that you are being manipulated and want to respond to gaslighting, it may be time to involve the people who are close to you. Your toxic partner will rely on isolating you from your support system so they can take advantage of you. Instead of letting them get away with that, reach out to your loved ones for help and advice.
Gaslighters have a much harder time getting away with their games when faced with a group that simply sees through their attempts at manipulating the victim. A fresh perspective from your friends can also help you identify the toxic patterns and develop a plan to counter them.
8. Get a professional opinion
While asking your family and friends to stand by you is a necessary step, sometimes it may not be enough to turn the tide. After all, they cannot always be with you to stave off your partner’s gaslighting. Seeking professional help and therapy is always a good idea in such cases. Your therapist can show you sustainable ways of responding to gaslighting that can help protect you from emotional abuse even while confronting your biggest fears.
Gaslighting victims also tend to develop psychological issues like lack of confidence or anxiety. This may interfere with their work or everyday life. Having a professional therapist guide you through such trying times can make all the difference. If you need help in determining how to respond to gaslighting in a relationship, skilled and experienced counselors on Bonobology’s panel are here for you.
9. Leave the situation
No matter the advice or help you get, it is never easy to leave a relationship where your partner has manipulated you into thinking you need them to function. But, the only way to safeguard yourself from mental health issues and take control of your life is to cut ties with them completely.
When you decide to stand up for yourself and respond to gaslighting, remind yourself that you deserve better. You deserve a loving partner who does not undermine you at every turn, every step. You deserve encouragement and happiness from a romantic relationship.
Knowing how to respond to gaslighting is easy. It’s the recognition, confrontation, and implementation that takes courage. In the end, if you’re with someone who consciously or unconsciously gaslights you, it is important to remember that you are not alone. It is your life and you are allowed to leave.
If you don’t feel up to a confrontation, know that it’s okay to skip it entirely. Leave quietly without letting them engage with you and ridicule you to stop you from leaving. When they realize they’re losing control, they may lie, try to misdirect you, or turn violent. So, not wanting to take that risk at all is valid.