Gaslighting: what it is and how to overcome

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Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in the which the perpetrator denies or diminishes your experience. It’s a cruel emotional manipulation that makes you doubt yourself and even reality.

Gaslighting occurs in all types of relationships, including family, marriage and other romantic partnerships, friendships, and among siblings. It can also happen at work.

If you’ve had someone tell you your emotions are the problem instead of the issue at hand, that’s gaslighting. If someone denies they said something you know they did, they might be trying to rewrite history.

Gaslighting keeps you quiet by turning the blame on you instead of addressing the problem. Rather than face the issue, your abuser encourages you to blame yourself for the problem.

Gaslighting keeps you quiet by turning the blame on you instead of addressing the problem. Click To Tweet

This allows them to continue in the delusion they’ve done nothing wrong. Or it prevents a dysfunctional family system or relationship from looking at its own problems and what needs to change.

People who gaslight won’t think twice about throwing you under the bus to protect their own image of themselves. They will lie about what happened or deny having said something in a way that’s so convincing you will either doubt your memory or believe they actually forgot.

Either way, you never blame them but yourself for the problem. You go away believing they are innocent and you are guilty and may feel bad about having caused them distress. You even take on the role of patching things up between the two of you.

Fake concern

These types of abusers will pretend to be concerned about you. In reality, they are only concerned about protecting themselves from the consequences of the truth you are telling.

That could mean exposure of them as an inadequate parent or spouse. Or facing the fact that they need to make changes.

Your normal human response to a situation becomes the focus rather than whatever provoked your reaction. For example, if you express honest emotions, these will become pathologized as evidence that you are “crazy”.

This tactic further serves the abuser’s purpose of identifying you as the problem. And makes you turn against yourself and mistrust your emotions.

You are not allowed to have feelings about your abuser’s behavior. Any emotional reaction receives scorn and derision and turns the blame on you.

You are not allowed to have feelings about your abuser's behavior. Any emotional reaction turns the blame on you. Click To Tweet

As a result, you may suppress or deny your feelings because they only make you feel worse. You cut yourself off from the barometer of your feelings, and lose access to the internal guide that signals you to change or confront something.

Gaslighting is difficult to discern because it often comes from those who profess to love and care for us. In order to avoid facing their shortcomings, a “loving” parent or spouse will deny your experience instead.

This leads to the devastating confusion of feeling unheard, unseen, and misunderstood by those who claim to be your support system. Those closest to us have the greatest ability to hurt us. That’s why gaslighting works most effectively in these intimate relationships.

Gaslighting and self-abandonment


It works to silence you because you’ve learned it’s easier to keep quiet and go along with the status quo rather than share your feelings. Your membership in the relationship becomes contingent on you keeping your thoughts and feelings to yourself.

This leads to a psychic and spiritual death where you abandon yourself and your needs. Any desire to be seen, heard, and understood as a separate and unique human being gets quashed in favor of the dysfunction that allows the abuser to stay in the dark.

You feel like you can never be yourself and this is the price you pay to stay in the relationship. In addition, you feel alone, as though everyone around you thinks you’re crazy or a troublemaker.

You desperately want to feel understood, but no matter what you say or do you cannot make the abuser see your point of view. This is done intentionally to discredit you, and will likely never change.

You might feel like you have to prove yourself to the person. This could mean you deny your emotions to appear more calm so they will accept you. Or you go above and beyond to serve or please them hoping to win their favor.

How to overcome gaslighting

1. Name it.

Understand when you’ve been subjected to gaslighting and that nothing you say or do will make the person understand your point of view. The whole point is to undermine you and your position, so trying harder to make them hear you will only increase your frustration.

With gaslighting, nothing you say or do will make the perpetrator understand your point of view. Click To Tweet

2. Keep receipts.

Even a paper trail won’t make a gaslighting narcissist admit wrongdoing. But it will give you consolation and reminders that you’re not making things up. Those email, voice, and text messages will help when you feel tempted to second guess yourself.

3. Self-advocate.

Refuse to allow someone to dictate your behavior. Speak up about your thoughts and emotions. Let them know you’re no longer available to have your experiences minimized, trivialized, or erased from memory.

4. Educate yourself.

Whether it’s from books or by talking to a trauma-informed counsellor, learn more about gaslighting so you understand the signs. Arm yourself with knowledge about this abuse so you’re less surprised when it happens and know how to deal with it.

5. Leave the relationship.

I’ve had to walk away from relationships due to gaslighting. It’s a last resort and sometimes the only way to end the abuse and step into the life you deserve and desire. It’s a courageous act, and my only regret has been not ending these relationships sooner.

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  1. Jo Mc

    My husband does these things, and our counselor told me that he was passive aggressive. She said it’s the most common personality issue to cause divorce, and that he won’t change . It’s up to me to decide how much I can tolerate and decide to stay or to.
    This .. gaslighting … sounds the same. Is it ?

    Sadly, our kids are adults now and try to do the same thing. Hurts my heart , and our relationships.

    • That is difficult and I wish you the best. Yes, it could be the same. Passive aggressive people can also gaslight, but they don’t necessarily do so.