How To Deal With Gaslighting In A Relationship
Are you in a relationship with a gaslighter?
Maybe you’ve been hearing more and more about gaslighting, and you’re recognizing some of the same tactics in your significant other.
Why didn’t you notice it before?
You’re human, and we have a remarkable capacity for gaslighting ourselves (to a degree), so go easy on the self-recrimination. We all have stuff.
But you don’t have to live with this abuse for the rest of your life.
What gaslighters do is gradually erode not only your confidence but your identity and sense of meaning. No one deserves that.
If you’re fed up with the abusive tactics and want to know how to deal with gaslighting and finally break free of it, read on.
What is gaslighting behavior?
The gaslighting behavior examples that follow will give you an idea of what to look for.
- Blatant lying (even when you’ve witnessed the truth of what you’re saying)
- Denial and deflection
- Using your needs/triggers against you
- Using what you love against you
- Painting you as crazy/unstable/losing your grip
- Building you up only to tear you down again
- Projecting their crimes or faults onto you
- Attacking your trust in anyone else
It pays to prepare when confronting a gaslighter.
They’ve spent time developing their gaslighting skills, and they’ll use all of them against you if you confront them.
If you’re dreading the encounter, it’s further proof you’re not crazy.
But if you follow the steps described below, you’ll be better able to deflect the gaslighter’s attacks and reclaim your identity and self-respect.
How to Stop Gaslighting in a Relationship
Dealing with a gaslighter can seem like an exercise in sadomasochism, and in some cases, all you can really do is walk away.
They’re quick to deflect any attempts to point out how they’re hurting you or anyone else.
It’s always your fault or someone else’s — never the gaslighter’s.
And they feel no remorse over the way they’ve treated you – or they seem remorseful but then go right back to blaming you or someone else.
Good luck trying to get them to see things your way. They won’t risk it.
At their core, gaslighters are cowards, and they’ll do anything to avoid looking too hard at themselves.
If they’ve hurt or offended you, it’s because you’re oversensitive or have a tendency to overreact. They’re the victim, here.
With that in mind, we’ll tackle how to respond to gaslighting by breaking it down into eight steps — all of which are essential to reclaiming your freedom and protecting yourself and others from retaliation.
Identify the gaslighter’s tactics.
Recognize the specific tactics the gaslighter in your life uses and call them what they are.
Think back to how the gaslighter first made you doubt what you observed or what it meant to you.
The gaslighter doesn’t just make you question your observations; they also attack the meaning behind what you may have witnessed.
So, if they can’t convince you that “it never happened,” they’ll work at convincing you that “it’s not a big deal, anyway,” and “you’re just overreacting.”
Whatever the gaslighter’s favorite tactics, though, identify them by name, and decide you’re done making excuses for your abuser.
Recall who you were before you met the gaslighter.
Think back to how you lived, what you enjoyed, and how you were around other people — particularly those you trusted.
Make a list of the qualities you like about that person. Do you still see that person in you, or do you feel yourself changing into someone else?
It’s normal to think of the things you didn’t like about that person. We’re all a work in progress.
But for now, focus on the qualities you like and want to develop or put to better use.
Remember how it felt to trust your senses, your reasoning, and your gut — before the gaslighter made you doubt all of them.
The problem isn’t you. And you can get yourself back — if you want to.
Decide what kind of person you want to be (and whose).
Decide who you want to be for the rest of your life and how you want to keep growing.
Decide who is going to direct that growth and who will ultimately be responsible for the choices you make.
After all, you’re the one who has to live with yourself, but you’re not the only one who suffers when you hold onto an abusive relationship.
Your example affects more people than you realize.
If you’ve chosen yourself and the person you want to be — independent of and apart from the gaslighter — move on to the next step.
Consider what it will take to be that person.
At this point, you should be asking yourself some hard questions:
- Do I have to make a clean break with this person, or is it possible to change them?
- Is it possible that, after we break up, the gaslighter will mend their ways?
- Can I be the person I want to be and stay in this relationship?
- What kind of person does the gaslighter want me to be?
- What will it cost me to stay with this person — and what will it cost to leave?
You need space and freedom from oppressive influences in order to explore the person you want to be and to grow in that direction.
As long as someone is trying to steer you in a different direction, the best you can do is stagnate.
Related: 9 Ways To Get Over Unrequited Love
Because every attack drains you of the vital energy you need to become who you are and to grow in a better direction.
Are you ready to break free, even if it hurts?
Enlist the help of supportive friends and family.
A support system — or at least one supportive friend or family member — can be the difference between breaking free from the gaslighter and remaining stuck in a crippling relationship.
It doesn’t mean you can’t break free on your own, but when someone else has your back, they make it much easier to leave behind the gaslighter on whom you’ve come to depend.
So, if possible, make sure at least one such person can be there for you when you confront and break free from your abuser.
Plan the conversation strategically.
Plan the conversation so that your support person (or people) can be with you or close at hand.
Stage it on neutral ground, so the gaslighter won’t have you at a disadvantage.
You’ll want to make sure this person can’t use their size, their voice, or the threat of violence to silence, shame, or intimidate you.
Prepare for the aftermath, too. If you’ve been living with the gaslighter, you should have already moved your valued possessions to safer ground (preferably in a location the gaslighter doesn’t know about).
If you’re living alone, ask someone to stay with you that evening. And, if possible, get the locks changed and secure the windows.
Like any bully, gaslighters will use any weapons at their disposal to get you back into “your place” (as they see it).
So, make sure you can get away safely and keep yourself beyond the gaslighter’s reach.
Meet the gaslighter on neutral ground.
Choose a place where you feel safe — a place that levels the playing field.
Don’t let the gaslighter manipulate you into meeting where they feel more comfortable (i.e. where they have a clear advantage over you).
While you don’t want to put the gaslighter on the defensive, it’s completely reasonable to choose the locale yourself in order to ensure you can’t be bullied into submission (verbally or physically).
It’s a short trip from gaslighting abuse to physical abuse; if someone is willing to make you feel small, weak, and dependent on them, they’re also probably willing to use physical force if verbal abuse isn’t enough to keep you under their control.
Make a clean break.
After saying what you need to say — however the gaslighter reacts — say goodbye and let the other know the relationship is over.
You know you can’t be the person you want to be and stay in the relationship, so you’re doing what you believe is best for both of you.
And you won’t be manipulated into changing your mind.
Also make it clear that you don’t want any communication from this person — no calls, no texts, no emails, nothing.
If they send flowers or any other gift, it will end up in the trash or given to someone else. You want nothing more from them, and you don’t want to see them again.
The gaslighter will use any avenue of communication to try to manipulate you back into a place of dependence and insecurity.
Don’t let it happen. Close the gates.
Do you have a better idea about how to deal with gaslighting in a relationship?
Now that you know how to defend yourself against gaslighting, you also know how to protect yourself from falling into the same trap again.
Give yourself at least a few months to recover from the relationship before you start dating again.
And when you do start meeting new people, be on the lookout for gaslighting behaviors.
Don’t allow yourself to get close to someone who makes the alarm bells ring in your head.
You silenced the alarm bells before, and you can do so again. We all can.
It’s something we do to avoid something we too often consider a fate worse than death: ending up alone.
But there are worse things than spending the rest of your life single and unattached — as you no doubt realized before deciding to break up with a gaslighter.
Remind yourself you deserve better. Because you do. Don’t settle for less than real love.
May your honesty and courage influence everything you do today.