How To Prevent, Recognize and Recover from Gaslighting

Justin Gammill’s recent gaslighting article exposing the reality of gaslighting made me sick to my stomach. While I have had my share of emotionally unbalanced relationships, I have never participated in a romantic relationship that involved gaslighting. I suddenly felt immense empathy for anyone who had.

Also, I was terrified. As a generally loving, compassionate person who has been accused more than once of wearing my heart on my sleeve, I saw myself cast in the role of gaslightee far too easily.

My empathy grew nerves of steel and started researching voraciously. After plumbing the depths of scores of sources, I’ve come up with what I think is a pretty good couple of lists: one to build your defenses against gaslighting, and another to recognize when you are involved with a gaslighter.

Quick recap: gaslighting refers to a form of mental manipulation that is so subtle and strong that it makes the victim doubt their sense of reality.

The gaslighter is the person perpetuating the manipulation; the gaslightee is the victim of it. While gaslighting has many hallmarks, its manipulations, deceptions and methods are as diverse in their perpetuations as the perpetuators themselves. Gaslighting is always about control and often the product of a narcissist at work.

Non-Engagement, Awareness, Recognition

I’m a big believer in prevention being the best medicine: the best way to avoid being gaslighted, therefore, is to prevent your involvement in a relationship with a gaslighter. Here are a couple of ideas about how to prevent a gaslighting relationship:

1. Cultivate an unwavering belief in your intuition,

and when it speaks to you, listen with the utmost respect. When I doubt my intuition I have to go through a quick mental yes-or-no list: Am I a functional adult? Yes. Am I of sound mind and body? Yes. Have I gotten myself this far in life with this same intuition? Yes. Then why am I suddenly doubting it? Usually, that’s all it takes to realign my staunch devotion to my intuition.

Sometimes we have to reassure ourselves of our own capabilities, but even when my self-esteem is bottoming for some reason (I’m fighting with my boyfriend, something is on fire and shouldn’t be, the cereal ran out and now there’s just a pile of Cheerios dust in my bowl, etc.) I can usually do a quick check-in to reassure myself that even though I may have to deal with the cereal situation I am absolutely capable of doing so. My intuition got me this far and so did yours: chances are, it’s going to keep doing a pretty good job taking care of you as long as you absolutely one hundred-percent believe in it.

2. Recognize, understand and trust those mental manipulations

and distortions of reality are not about you. Again, this has its heart in trusting your intuition, but now you have to go one further and realize that this isn’t about you. In fact, it has nothing to do with you. Gaslighting is all about the gaslighter, and all about their need to control you. If you can recognize that the charming, funny, sweet, adorable, wonderful person with whom you’ve been getting dinner/seeing movies/knocking boots is trying to knock you off your game, then you can realize that it has nothing to do with your game. It’s all about their game. And you can kick them to the curb.

3. You don’t have to “win”:

this isn’t about changing the other person’s perspective. You’re not going to. The only way to win is get out alive & move on with your life. Sometimes we have to learn how not to engage by engaging in the first place, and we want so badly to prove that we’re right and the other person is wrong because they’re trying to make us crazy and we’re not, we’re really not! that we lose perspective of the situation.

The situation is: this person isn’t interested in who you are, how right you are, how wrong they may be. This person is out to throw you into a horribly demoralizing spiral of self-doubt, anxiety, fear, terror and insanity. The only way to win -the ONLY way- is to get out and to get as far away, as quickly as possible.

Are You Involved In A Gaslighting Relationship?

It can be hard to recognize involvement in a gaslighting relationship, but these are some of the signs:

1. You are constantly second-guessing yourself

2. You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” a dozen times a day.

3. You often feel confused and even crazy at work.

4. You’re always apologizing to your mother, father, boyfriend, boss.

5. You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier.

6. You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.

7. You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.

8. You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.

9. You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.

10. You have trouble making simple decisions.

11. You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.

12. You feel hopeless and joyless.

13. You feel as though you can’t do anything right.

14. You wonder if you are a “good enough” girlfriend/ wife/employee/ friend; daughter.

15. You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.

Support: An Essential Component

One of the keys that I think is often overlooked in the prevention or recognition of and recovery from gaslighting is a strong support system.

Many victims of gaslighting become isolated from their friends and families by their abusers.

Being connected and staying connected to the people who love you and care about you and want you to be happy and healthy and in good relationships seems to be an absolutely vital, though sometimes underplayed, component of getting out of and recovering from a gaslighting relationship.

Not to mention a gaslighter doesn’t have a chance with a person whose family and friends love and support them, because they know how to rely on that love and support and the gaslighting simply doesn’t stand a chance. Support systems: families, friends, fellowships, communities, neighborhoods, clubs, activity groups, etc. are all vital to recovery processes and have always been recognized as a signature of a person whose recovery is progressing well.

Surround yourself with people who love you and care about you, and who, when your faith in yourself falters, won’t let you give up, and that gaslighter is going to have to find another victim, because you can’t be one.

Of note: most of the resources I found suggested that women are generally the gaslightees and men the gaslighters. While this may be true in many cases, it’s important to recognize that women can just as easily be gaslighters, and that the “Gaslight Tango” can be just as easily perpetuated in non-heterosexual, non-monogamous, polyamorous relationships and even among families, as in heterosexual relationships.

If you or someone you know is involved in a gaslighting relationship please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline or call 1-800-799-7233. The author of this article is not a doctor and this is not intended as medical advice.

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