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What to do if you’re a victim of gaslighting

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Emotional conversations and confrontations are never easy for people to manage. Whether it be angry partners or challenging parents, often when things get tough, it seems easier to shrink away and accept what the other person is saying even if you know it’s not true.

There’s a name for this type of manipulation, and it’s called gaslighting.

Not sure if you’re a victim of gaslighting? See if you can identify with these phrases:

  • “You must be imagining things.”
  • “Why so serious? I was just pulling your leg.”
  • “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
  • “Are you insane? You know that’s not what happened.”

According to The Sociology of Gaslighting, a journal written by the American Sociological Review, gaslighting is defined as a type of psychological abuse aimed at making individuals feel crazy. It forces the victim to doubt their sense of reality and judgment after repeated psychological attacks from the abuser in question.

Responding to gaslighting can be both triggering and exhausting, depending on the intensity of the abuse you’re enduring. The issue has drawn attention across the years and even portrayed in the early years of cinema.

While there is still an ongoing debate on the proper response to gaslighting and how to prevent it, we’ve put together some ways to counter unfair manipulation from a friend, loved one, or even a colleague.

#1: Take a breather

Gaslighting usually brings on extreme emotions from both the abuser and the victim. If you’re suffering from its effects, you might cycle through an entire round of emotions including anger, fear, worry, and pain.

To not let those feelings overwhelm you, focus instead on giving yourself some space to calm down and take a breather. To regain focus at the moment, go ahead and take a short walk. Do whatever it takes to give you the strength to push back against those emotions.

#2: Gather proof along the way
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Collecting records or data of the times and things the person who’s often gaslighting you is a great way to help validate your feelings during and after the experience.

Begin by keeping pictures, screenshots, texts, emails, and even any property your partner damages while they’re with you. Keep a note of your conversations with gaslighters so you can look back as evidence when the situation calls for it.

In severe cases, you may even want to consider using your phone to record them talking so you can have something concrete to back you up where necessary.

#3: Voice your concerns calmly

For the Chinese-educated peeps, we’re sure you’ve come across this phrase – “老虎不发威,你当我是病猫”. It is an apt phrase to demonstrate how gaslighters might step all over you if you don’t speak up.

Voicing your concerns openly and calmly is a great way to let others know that you’re not going to put up with their abuse or disguised insults anymore. Don’t allow such people to confuse you or shake up your confidence.

#4: Trust your memory
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If your partner is labelling you as crazy or unstable for remembering a particular encounter clearly, trust your memory. Misremembering typically involves smaller details, not larger ones. Thus, learn to trust your gut and responses before you trust anyone else.

But it would be wise not to get drawn into the conflict. Instead of saying “I know I’m right” and get whirled up in the argument, say, “It seems like we recalled things differently, but I don’t want to bicker over it.”

#5: Practice self-care

Constantly being in the loop of gaslighting scenarios can significantly affect your nervous system. Give yourself a break by sleeping it off or focusing on overall self-care.

Engage in activities that can help you establish a good routine that prioritises your needs and makes you comfortable, so you can ready yourself to stand up against gaslighting.

Here are some general ways to improve well-being:

  • Journal down your feelings
  • Include positive self-talk or daily affirmations
  • Spend some quality time with your loved ones
  • Try aromatherapy yoga or attend a meditation session
  • Do something you enjoy (e.g. ice skating, crossword puzzles etc.)
#6: Talk to someone
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As a victim of non-stop gaslighting, you might be too emotional to view things objectively. As such, it would be wise to seek a second opinion. Talk to someone you trust and seek their insight or input on the situation.

Since they aren’t directly involved in the problem at hand, the chances are that they can offer you an unbiased perspective. Even if they aren’t able to provide any advice, having someone there for you physically or emotionally can help a bunch.

For those facing gaslighting at work, it’s best not to meet with the person alone. If time permits, invite a neutral and trustworthy coworker alongside the meeting to just sit-in and listen to the conversation. Limit your contact with the gaslighter as much as possible.

Final thoughts

Gaslighting can be tough to bear. Don’t face it alone! Besides heeding the above tips to help ease the situation, it’s also advisable that you seek a professional opinion. You can speak to a counsellor or a therapist about your issue and gain insights from the psychologically trained.

All will be well again! Take heart.

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