The Right Way to Respond to Gaslighting and Manipulation

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Not today, Satan.

How to Respond to Gaslighting: 5 Simple Steps You Need to Follow

We all know a friend, ex-boyfriend, or boss who has manipulative tendencies.

"Oh, I thought I already sent you that spreadsheet" responses in an office. Or, "I thought our double date was next weekend, you told me it was!" from a husband. Such points of conversation can be categorized as gaslighting.

If you, or a loved one, are surrounded by someone who is manipulative in relationships, you'll need to know all about ways to respond to gaslighting tactics. Because gaslighting can be slight, simple, or uneasy to detect, we've rounded up some important information for you to know about gaslighting and give you tools to respond to gaslighting. Fear not, a healthy and happy relationship is possible.

What Is Gaslighting?

Simply put, gaslighting is psychological manipulation by the hands of someone else. By definition:

Gaslight (verb): to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.

The term was coined from the 1944 film Gaslight starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and Angela Lansbury. Bergman plays Paula, a loving wife who returns home with her new husband, Gregory, to live in a townhome in London that her aunt bequeathed to her. Slowly, Gregory begins looking for expensive family heirlooms and jewelry. To throw Paula off his trail, he begins gaslighting her. He flickers the lights in the house, convinces Paula she's going crazy, and other manipulative tactics to get what he wants.

What Are Some Examples of Gaslighting?

Oh, I'm so glad you asked. Some examples that I have pulled together are:

  • Your spouse comes home from work, late, and you simply mention, "Oh you're home late, I thought you didn't have to stay past 6 p.m." Instead of a healthy answer, they might respond with, "I told you I was coming home late, you don't care about my career do you?" Thus, turning a simple question or critique, back to you.

  • You invite your new boyfriend out to meet your friends. You talk about a place and time and agree. When you mention the plan the day of, you're met with such responses like, "I thought we weren't meeting friends yet" or "Wow, I thought that was going to be later on this year, but I guess I'll go now so it doesn't look bad." Alas, a gaslighting scenario!

  • You locked the front door. You're positive, because you do it every night. Your roommate lambasts you the next morning because you didn't lock the door. You were sure you did it, but after comments like, "you're going crazy" or "you must've imagined locking the door" you are unsure you actually did it. Bam! Gaslight!

Unfortunately, pinpointing exact gaslighting behavior isn't as simple as it seems. Gaslighting can be very easy, slight, or faint. Withholding information, lack of understanding, and irrational blame are also examples of gaslighting.

How to Respond to Gaslighting: An Investigation

There are many ways to respond to gaslighting behavior. It could be as simple as an honest conversation or it could result in ending a toxic relationship. Depending on the severity of the situation here are a few tactics to avoid manipulation.

1. Look for It

Something off in your relationship? Are you feeling crazy but know you're not? If you start looking for gaslighting tendencies, you might realize your partner is manipulating you, either intently or not. Once you're familiar with the term and can observe examples, you'll be able to assess the situation.

2. Approach the Situation

Okay, so now you've acknowledged the gaslighting situation. What next? If you bring this information to your partner, ideally they'd be open and welcome to change. Maybe they didn't realize they were doing it. That would be the best case scenario. But, if they are doing it on purpose there may be more to their insecurities and self-doubt and it shouldn't be directed towards you. Which leads us to...

3. Evaluate the Relationship: Is It Worth It?

So, if it's a boyfriend of 10 years who means well and wasn't gaslighting maliciously, then the relationship could be saved. If it's toxic, aggressive, or manipulative then you must evaluate the importance of the relationship and ask yourself, is it worth it? Gaslighting is unhealthy and doesn't have to be tolerated especially if it's affecting your well-being. Our advice? Extinguish that fire and move on.

4. Seek Professional Help

If you are unsure of how to proceed or are met with more manipulation tactics, seek professional help. Psychiatrists, therapists, and other medical professionals can help diagnosis, treat, or assist others in dealing with gaslighting people.

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