How to Protect Yourself from a Gaslighter
This month, we are talking all about gaslighting. In our last article: Word of the Year: Gaslighting, we dive into what gaslighting is and what common phrases gaslighters will use. If you don’t already know, gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse. Yes, is it a form of abuse.
Gaslighting causes chronic stress and severe emotional distress. The constant barrage of verbal (and sometimes physical) assaults eventually wears away your sense of identity, self-worth, and self-confidence while also eating away at your sanity. You may be more vulnerable to gaslighting if you suffer from any mental health issues that weaken your resistance, such as a history of abuse or trauma, low self-esteem or depression, for example.
How to Spot a Gaslighter
Gaslighters need control and power. In a relationship, they need to be in charge, and they need to be right about everything, routinely imposing their judgments on you. A gaslighter’s tactics—constantly criticizing, blaming, making verbally abusive statements, intimidation, denial of responsibility, minimizing abusive behavior, and proclaiming dissatisfaction with a relationship—may be subtle at first.
You may not sense something is deeply wrong until you find yourself existing in a never-ending state of confusion and self-doubt. Gaslighters are blamers, using lines like, “You made me do it” or “I did it because you wouldn’t listen to me.” They may accuse you of having issues or needs that they actually have, such as suggesting you’re not being honest with yourself. They may find ways to take credit for your accomplishments. When a gaslighter gives a compliment or apology, it is often backhanded: “You look almost as good as you did when I first met you” or “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
NOTE: A gaslighter does not have to have all of these qualities to be one.
What Causes a Person to Gaslight?
People are not born gaslighters. Rather, it is socially learned. You may witness gaslighting, be a target of gaslighting, or happen into it. For some, it then becomes an automatic response to feeling off-balance in an argument, and a way to deflect responsibility, and gain control.
A gaslighter is determined to exert control over someone. They engage in and want to win a power struggle, and in gaslighting relationships, the gaslighter seems to have unlimited stamina to undermine their victim. They realize that gaslighting is a powerful way to destabilize their partner.
The goal is always to weaken resistance, break spirits, appear blameless, and create chaos and confusion in the mind of the victim. Gaslighting isn’t an isolated or occasional event. It’s an insidious and persistent pattern of behavior that keeps you questioning yourself and those around you while slowly eroding your self-esteem and even your identity.
There are Four Main Reasons Why a Gaslighter Behaves This Way:
- It can be a planned effort to gain control and power over another person.
- A person has been raised by a parent or parents who were gaslighters, and they learned these behaviors as a survival mechanism. They learned it from the best.
- The golden child created in their family of origin. Children learn from a gaslighting parent that they are the golden child who can do no wrong or the scapegoat who is blamed for doing everything wrong. That teaches the child a false belief that people operate in absolutes, that people are either all good or all bad, without any gray areas, and so they start to behave towards others as if this is true.
- Certain mental health conditions such as narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder lend themselves to gaslighting as those illnesses give people a distorted view of themselves and others and a propensity toward manipulating others for their own ends by any means necessary, as well as never acknowledging their own culpability or faults and projecting that onto others.
If You Suspect You Are Being Gaslighted, Here’s Some Advice:
- Pay attention to what the person does, not what they say. Gaslighters say one thing, but their actions say another.
- Don’t listen to someone who constantly tells you “You’re crazy” or makes similar comments that make you routinely question yourself.
- Don’t believe anyone who tells you that others, especially your family and/or friends, agree with them and not you. Gaslighters will often use those closest to you as ammunition.
- Remember that it’s not you; the gaslighter is 100% responsible for their behavior.
- Present incontrovertible evidence and be direct with the gaslighter when they try to deny or evade the truth, as long as you are in a position of safety when doing so.
Gaslighters do not respect boundaries, and they tend to lash out when you try to enforce them. Staying in a relationship where there is emotional abuse like gaslighting makes it more likely you will also be the victim of life-threatening or deadly physical abuse, and that’s one big reason why it’s so important to establish distance.
As I stated earlier, gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse. Seeking out a mental health professional is so important. You do not have to go through this alone.
If you are struggling right now, let’s talk. You can book an in-person or virtual visit. Together, we will navigate the deep waters of gaslighting.
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CRT, CCDC, CACC | Counselor & Life Coach
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