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.
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.