Gaslighting

Gaslighting involves intentionally changing or otherwise distorting reality to manipulate how others think or feel to get what we want. Individuals who engage in gaslighting attempt to make others doubt the truth of their own experiences. They often do everything they can to get their needs met. 

Gaslighting is a common narcissistic behavior, often seen amongst people with narcissistic personality traits such as a lack of empathy or understanding of others, self-centeredness, superiority, exaggerating one’s achievements, or impatience and being quick to anger when criticized. 

It can be very hard to deal with gaslighting as it often leaves one feeling doubtful and uncertain. Moreover, stepping outside of an intense relationship in order to observe the dynamics involved in gaslighting is challenging, not to mention how one might act to counter these dynamics. Reviewing some common types of gaslighting can be helpful for better understanding these dynamics and useful ways of responding.  

Types of Gaslighting

Several examples of gaslighting include withholding, countering or denial, trivializing or minimizing, distracting or diverting, and stereotyping.

Withholding

Withholding occurs when another person refuses to engage in conversation or listen to your concerns. Although this can involve concrete avoidance, it more commonly involves pretending not to understand what you are talking about. This is often seen in defensive reactions when confronted about gaslighting, which sometimes results in playing a victim. A partner may say, “That makes no sense at all.. You are confusing.. or I guess you have your version of what happened.”

Distracting or diverting 

Distracting or diverting is when another person denies your emotions or what you’re trying to say, causing you to doubt your thoughts and feelings. Gaslighting partners may use platitudes as a way to distract their partners from their feelings, causing the partners to feel as if they are overacting. For example, a partner might say, “I love you so much, and you know I’d never intentionally hurt your feelings.” 

Countering or Denial 

Countering occurring when another person denies your memory of events or acts as if a past event did not occur. They may question your entire memory or parts of a memory, asserting that their version is correct. In more extreme cases, they may even attack your memory abilities or intelligence. For example, a partner might say, “I never said that.. We never talked about it.. or You are thinking of something else.”  

Minimizing or Trivializing

Minimizing or trivializing is one of the most pervasive and impactful forms of gaslighting. It occurs when a person disregards and invalidates your feelings, causing you to think that your emotions aren’t valid in any way. They make use hurtful statements and harsh criticism to blame everything on you or suggest that your emotions don’t matter, and your concerns are not a big deal. When faced with minimizing or trivializing, it may feel as if you cannot share your feelings or you may start believing that everything is entirely your fault. A partner may say “You are overly sensitive, critical, or dramatic and get it together”

Stereotyping

Stereotyping occurring when another person judges you according to your identity, traits, or beliefs, such as gender, race, sexuality, or cultural background to invalidate your feelings and experiences. A classic example is when a partner says, “You tend to be more emotional because you’re a woman.”

Tips for Dealing with Gaslighting

Set boundaries by knowing exactly what you will tolerate and what you will not tolerate.  

Collect evidence to support your views when faced with countering and denial.

Confront the person gaslighting you with confidence despite your feelings of insecurity and doubt.

Trust your instincts and confront by focusing on how their behavior and actions are affecting you negatively. 

Be careful not to minimize your version of the truth if the other person begins to act as a victim or engage in further gaslighting by minimizing your concerns or your memory of events.  

Don’t try to comfort them when they play the victim, and don’t try to lessen your version of the truth for their sake. 

Seek space from the other person or take a break when faced with an argument so that you can reflect and analyze the reality of the situation and decide how you might like to proceed. This is particularly helpful as gaslighting can be emotionally and psychologically draining, making it more difficult to trust yourself and feel confident when the best path is to reinforce a boundary.

One of the hardest decisions to make is the decision to walk away from the relationship if you feel that there is little hope of your partner or friend changing their behavior. It is useful to seek professional support for yourself. Likewise, working with a marriage and family therapist can be useful when navigating these dynamics and asserting appropriate boundaries. A therapist can also help hold the relationship as a central focus and address concerns from an outside perspective, while drawing on their expertise with relationships. If you feel that you might be dealing with gaslighting, remember that you are not alone. This is a common dynamic in problematic friendships, romantic partnerships, and families. Psychotherapy can also be incredibly helpful in navigating these relationships and planning for the best path forward.

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

Visit us at lindquistpsych.com

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Published by tlindquistpsyd

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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