How to Protect Yourself From Gaslighting

Posted on: April 15th, 2019 by Pat Mesiti 7 Comments

In my last blog I looked at what gaslighting is. Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation which sows doubt in people’s minds and makes them question their own memory, perception and even sanity. 

To recap, I’m going to use Encyclopaedia Britannica’s definition of gaslighting:

“Gaslighting is an elaborate and insidious technique of deception and psychological manipulation, usually practiced by a single deceiver, or “gaslighter,” on a single victim over an extended period. Its effect is to gradually undermine the victim’s confidence in his own ability to distinguish truth from falsehood, right from wrong, or reality from appearance, thereby rendering him pathologically dependent on the gaslighter in his thinking or feelings. As part of the process, the victim’s self-esteem is severely damaged, and he becomes additionally dependent on the gaslighter for emotional support and validation. In some cases the intended (and achieved) result is to rob the victim of his sanity. The phenomenon is attested in the clinical literature as a form of narcissistic abuse whereby the extreme narcissist attempts to satisfy his pathological need for constant affirmation and esteem (for narcissistic supply) by converting vulnerable people into intellectual and emotional slaves whom he paradoxically despises for their victimhood. Because the gaslighter is himself typically psychologically disordered, he is often not fully aware of what he is doing or why he is doing it.”


Today I want to look at how you can protect yourself if you are being gaslighted. As always the first step to solving a problem is recognising that there is a problem. You need to identify the pattern. Gaslighting is only effective if the victim doesn’t catch on to what’s happening. Most of the time they can’t believe that this is happening to them. You need to act on your suspicions. If you feel uneasy about a situation don’t go into denial – trust your instincts. 

Step outside the situation

Try to step outside the situation. This is hard to do, but don’t take it personally. Why is someone gaslighting you? Do they perceive you as a threat at work? Do you have a shared love interest? Are they jealous of you? Talk to trusted friends, even a mentor. It can be a good idea to speak to a few different people, that way you can get a few different perspectives. Because gaslighting blurs your understanding of reality, talk to family and friends for a clear view of what’s happening.

It’s not about you

Most important to remember is that gaslighting usually isn’t about you. It’s stems from the gaslighter’s desire for power. A gaslighter tends to be flawed and insecure, sometimes they suffer from narcissism. Narcissists at their core have no self-confidence and spend their days trying to appear superior to everyone. At the end of the day you may never understand the gaslighter’s personality or motives – just accept they have a problem and this is not prompted by you. Also accept that you will not be able to change the gaslighter. They will always be broken. Your prime objective is to protect yourself.

Go for distance

If you believe you are being targeted by a gaslighter then you need some distance from that relationship. No longer be readily available and easy going. Become a bit distant. If possible you may want to end contact with this person. Is the relationship worth maintaining given your self-esteem is under attack? 

Do not confront a gaslighter. Gaslighters will respond to your criticism by attacking you. They may even accuse you of undermining them. If the gaslighter is a colleague, try to avoid contact. Go to human resources and ask for help minimizing your time with them. If the gaslighter is your boss it may be time to see a transfer or start looking for another job.

If the person is a family member again you will need distance. If it’s your life pattern you need to think seriously about your future. I strongly recommend both individual and couple’s counselling.

Build up support

You are in a tough situation and you are going to need the help of friends. Explain the situation to a trusted friend or colleague. Even get them to drop by when you are with the gaslighter. In my last blog I explained that gaslighters isolate their victims. At work they might tell you that other people talk about you and say you are incompetent. Don’t believe it. Spend time with people you trust and keep this toxic person at bay. 

Document the abuse

Keep a diary and write down everything the gaslighter does and exactly what happened. Describe what happened, when, and how you felt. Record the names of witnesses. You need evidence. This is a sorry state of affairs, but if you work with a gaslighter you may one day need evidence of their dastardly deed. If the situation escalates to your boss or HR, you’ll be able to support your case with documentation of the events.

By writing about it, you’re taking the time to process your feelings, which will strengthen you against manipulation. 

Believe in yourself

You may have to spend some time on self-affirmations to solidify your self-esteem. Write down a list of your accomplishments, a list of your strengths. Remind yourself that you have dealt with difficult people in the past and lived to tell the tale. 

Also write down the good things that happen in your day. This will help to keep your spirits up.

Seek counselling

Admitting you have a problem is a sign of strength, never weakness. Visit a psychologist. They are experienced at helping people who have had to deal with psychopaths, narcissists and gaslighters. Victims of psychopaths, narcissists and gaslighters often lose confidence and begin to doubt themselves. Sometimes they experience depression and feelings of hopelessness. If this is you, reach out to a professional as being subject to gaslighting is a hard experience. To recover, you need to process your feelings. Victims of prolonged gaslighting stop listening to their own thoughts because they’ve been criticised for a long time, but how you feel matters and you need to give yourself time to feel angry and hurt. It is part of the journey of healing.

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ABOUT PAT MESITI

Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.

 

  1. Nick says:

    If I had read the information in this blog 25 years ago I would have ended my toxic marriage sooner and not lost contact with my children.
    Honesty openness and compromise do not work with gas lighters and fighting back is futile and expensive at all levels. Over the long term though gaslighters lose because they usually get found out. They can take more hostages and gain financially but they still feel worthless at their core; the damage they wreak on the way through though is cyclonic.
    It is refreshing to escape though and new, normal, relationships are often made better because of the gaslighters awful benchmark.
    Thanks for writing about this subject Pat.

  2. Tim says:

    Hi,
    Thanks for explaining what “gaslighting” is and it’s effects. My ex-wife accused me of “gaslighting”. At the time, I was defensive and didn’t believe her explanation of the concept. You see, relationships are complex, and people can change. I now realize I did use tactics of “gaslighting” concerning aspects of our relationship. Yet, those tactics seemed my best option at the time. I was honestly doing the best I could at the time. I now have matured and regret having used those tactics. I resist using those tactics now.
    My reason for commenting is illustrated by what I wrote above: PEOPLE CHANGE! Please don’t tell anyone that a “gaslighter” will not change.
    My ex struggled with a “victim mindset” and her accusations of my “gaslighting” only served to justify her blame shifting. “Gaslighting” and other forms of manipulation and abuse are misguided destructive tactics used by insecure and desperate people, trying to force changes they desire to see in their lives. There are no excuse for these destructive tactics. The resulting damage is real and totally the abuser’s responsibility. Yet, the “victim‘a” perception of the tactics are also totally their responsibility. Growth and maturity can only come when we own our own reality and choose to respond of our own volition. Trying to force change causes distrust.
    Tim

  3. Tumi says:

    I am only now coming to the realization that my mother has been gaslighting me. Ever since I got engaged my eyes were opened to this WORD and what it is I should look out for. I lived with my fiance until he traveled out of the country to which my mom decided to move in with me, now that the wedding is nearing closer and I’ll have to move in with him I feel scared as to how to tell her that it’s going to happen. Firstly she doesn’t want me to get married and when I tell her this she gets soooo hurt…WATER WORKS KINDA HURT, so I reckon she shouldn’t have moved in with me knowing that I will be leaving after the wedding. When I said my fiance and I want to get married this year she asked why the rush (FYI we have been engaged for 2 years now). There are number of things she does which I’m now aware that it’s just a form of gaslighting…I always have to choose her or my man, I can’t have both of them in my life in her eyes. When we planned to go to a concert, she said she wanted to go as soon as I said my man will be sleeping on the couch when we returned she asked me if he’s going too once I said yes she said she doesn’t want to go anymore. I’m mentally drained and emotionally exhausted since she moved in with me…I’m not happy in my own house she doesn’t even want me to call it that (MY HOUSE)
    I don’t know what to do, I feel like I’m going to end up killing myself

    • Pat Mesiti says:

      Hi Tumi,
      Sorry to hear you’re going through these challenges. It sounds like your mother is very emotionally needy and possessive.
      You will need to distance yourself sooner rather than later, even if it means having difficult conversations. People with similar behaviours always need to hang onto people, if it’s not you she hangs on to, she’ll find someone else to hang on to…

  4. Joanne says:

    Thank-you Pat. Thank you for writing in such a straight forward and factual and strong way about gaslighting, which is really stressful when you are going through it.

  5. Melissa says:

    I am going through healing I was raised by two narsisist and now have many many narsisist and toxic people in my family I cut them out two months ago now have just me and my so slowly I’m becoming healthy internally iv always been soft loving caring compassionate empathetic I’m an amazing person but I didn’t even know till 28 years old how to value myself love myself how to have boundaries to say no to feel my emotions to understand my body feeling uncomfortable.

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