How to Deal with Gaslighting the Right Way

E.B. Johnson

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by: E.B. Johnson (Image via Twenty20.com)

Gaslighters are master manipulators, and ones who love to project their own securities over the insecurities and fears of those around them. They are abusers that use the emotions of those around them as weapons, which they wield to maintain power and control over those that love and trust them. They’re toxic, and they can only be brought to the light by embracing our own personal power and strength. That’s not a process that should be taken lightly, however, and it’s never a process that should be undertaken alone. Finding your way back to the light in the way of a gaslighting abuser is hard, but it’s not impossible when you equip yourself with the knowledge needed to thrive.

What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a hot-button term and one that is (understandably) becoming increasingly popular in today’s world. More and more, we are becoming aware of the process, and more and more aware of the toxic and damaging effects it has on the authentic sense of self and confidence that its victims hold.

It’s a complex and multi-faceted means of manipulation, however, and one which is often more subtle than we like to realize. When we’re being gaslighted, it can be hard to tell up from down and black from white. It’s confusing, and this confusion eats away at who we are and at the goals and dreams we set for our lives.

To put it simply, gaslighting is a means of emotional and psychological manipulation that bases itself around 4 primary techniques: withholding, countering, blocking, trivializing and denial. Though all work to undermine the truth, they primarily work to sew confusion and cause the victim to question their own emotions, desire and sanity. Over an even greater length of time, this creates a victim who is destroyed by insecurity and completely unsure of themselves.

How to spot the gaslighter in your life.

There are a number of signs that you’re dealing with a gaslighter and not all of them are as obvious as you might think. Though the traditional gaslighter might rely on the “you’re crazy” technique, some are more insidious in the way they control the emotions of those around the. Truly empowering ourselves to get free of a gaslighting abuse requires getting real about how they tear us down.

A slow erosion of self

Perhaps one of the most malicious facets of gaslighter manipulation is the slow erosion of self that they exercise over those around them. Little-by-little, they use lies, snide remarks and emotional string-pulling to wear down the sense of self that those around them hold. Slowly, confidence and self-esteem erode and the other party becomes a shell of themselves, lost and unsure of even their smallest dream, desire or hope. It’s extremely toxic, but happens subtly — which makes it so insidious to begin with.

Blatant lies

The gaslighter is a liar by nature, unable to face up to the consequences of their own behavior, or the lies and deceits that are thrown back in their face. They don’t care if the people around them know they’re lying. As a matter of fact, those lies are helpful in creating precedent for the manipulations to come. A huge lie is beneficial, because it keeps the people around them feeling unsteady…fertile ground for creating false narratives.

Refusal to accept responsibility

When you’re being gaslighted, it doesn’t matter how much proof you have.The gaslighter is not someone who can accept responsibility for their own actions. They will deny the things they said and the things they did — even when they’re confronted with the proof. You could give them recording, video evidence, finger prints and the word of a deity. It wouldn’t matter.They refuse to accept responsibility for the things they’ve said and done and they use that refusal to flip the story around entirely.

Actions and words not aligned

One of the greatest signs that someone you’re dealing with is a gaslighter is a mis-alignment of words and actions. When dealing with a manipulator of this caliber, taking a step back can often reveal a conscious misalignment of words and deeds. Though they claim to be working for the better good, they actively engage in behavior which creates conflict or turmoil in a number of ways.

Using confusion as a weapon

Confusion is the gaslighter’s greatest tool, as it allows them to carry on with their poor behavior unabated; sewing deceit and heartache wherever they go, while wrecking the sense of self-esteem of those around them. When confronted with a lie, they turn the questioning around on you. The rely on the sense of stability we all crave, and use it against us by uprooting everything in a way that makes us question who we are and how we’re feeling.

Positive reinforcement

Though we traditionally think of the gaslighter as an overwhelmingly negative person, not all of their behavior is (obviously) bad. Positive reinforcement is another tool the gaslighter uses to keep those around them off-balance, leaning into the positivity just before their poor behavior pushes others too far. They cause you to question how you’re feeling and leave you thinking things like, “Well, maybe they aren’t actually so bad. Look how nice they’re being now.” It’s all an act, however, and one major manipulation meant to disguise the truth.

Creating controlling alliances

When it comes to dealing with manipulators, it’s not all intimate relationships and romantic partners. Gaslighters also use their powers to control their friends, family and co-workers — creating toxic environments in which powerful and powerless alliances battle against one another in the puppet-masters ultimate pursuit of chaos and control of all around them.

Committing to crazy

The gaslighter loves nothing more than to use the term, “You’re crazy!” in the heat of a frenzied argument. They will call you crazy, and work hard to make you believe that you’re crazy for even thinking they would do something to harm you. This, of course, shifts the responsibility from them to you (wrongly), and makes it easier for them to form alliances against you. It’s dismissive and small, but an effective tool when it comes to keeping someone scared and under control.

The liar’s narrative

The liar’s narrative is a tool that the gaslighter is not at all afraid to use. Not only will the gaslighter work hard to make you and everyone else believe that your stories are crazy, they’ll also work hard to create a narrative of lies. A narrative in which you, and you alone, are a liar and everything you say or feel is doubtable. It’s a subtle manipulation, and one that (usually) happens without the other party’s knowledge or consent.

How to deal with the gaslighter in your life.

Though the ideal way to deal with a gaslighter is to severe them from your life, it’s not always possible (especially immediately) to do that; so, we have to learn how to deal with them effectively. While this starts with analyzing their patterns of behavior, it ends with a deep dive into who we are and what we can do. Getting away from a gaslighter is all about finding your power and riding it into the sunset of the destiny you’re creating for yourself.

1. Learn to spot the patterns

Gaslighters, like all other forms of abusers, work within patterns, which usually occur in cyclic phases that can be triggered by times of the year, emotions, experiences or even just general encounters and behaviors. These patterns are key in not only learning how to deal with them, but are also crucial in learning how to free yourself from the clutches of the gaslighting abuser.

Start first with spending some time figuring out what drives the gaslighter’s behavior. Observe it. Consider where they’re coming from, and watch how it causes them to respond any time they are confronted with the consequences of their own choices. Take note of the patterns, and note too the effect it or response it elicits from you.

Look for undermining behavior in every form and make a place for it in your important memories. We remove power from the gaslighter only by waking ourselves up to their tricks. Begging them for changed behavior is not going to work. Threatening them or outing them is not going to work. Ifyou’re dealing with someone who actively undermines who you are, you have to wake yourself up and figure out how you’re going to deal with and react to them. That starts with identifying the patterns that are keeping you stuck and scared of someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart.

2. Drop the internalization

When we’re on the receiving end of lies and manipulation, it can really eat away at our sense of self and who we are. Gaslighters depend on this, and they rely on this internalization to keep their victims scared and stuck in relationships or situations that they might otherwise leave. Rather than taking their behaviors on board and asking what we did to cause it, we have to learn how to remove ourselves from the equation and recognize that the gaslighter acts poorly because the gaslighter is insecure themselves.

The emotional abuse and manipulation of the gaslighter has nothing to dow with you. It’s not about you and it never has been. When someone becomes a gaslighter, they do so in order to deflect from their own insecurities and shortcomings. The one thing this type of abuser cannot tolerate is responsibility, so the easiest way to do that is to deflect it onto the soul and heart of another.

Let go of your need to make their poor behavior your own. Don’t take on their lies, and stop taking on their responsibility. Spot the signs of deflection and realize that all the lies and all the drama has one goal and one goal only: to keep the reigns of power and control firmly in the hand of the manipulator. Take your power back by refusing to take on the pain, anger and hurt of someone who is intentionally using your sympathy and your compassion against you.

3. Get clear on what you want

Abusers, no matter what form they take, are toxic and dangerous to the type of authentic happiness we are attempting to create in our lives. Gaslighters undermine our joy, and make it hard to recognize our authentic needs and desires, including those of our closest and most intimate relationships. They don’t just make us question our perception of them, they make us question our perception of self — and resolving that requires re-centering and getting clear about what we want.

If you’ve found yourself in a potentially gaslighting relationship, you have to take a step back and really ask yourself, “Is this worth it?” Consider where you are now and where you want to be. Look at the person sitting on the other side of the table. Really look at them. Do they stack up to what you really want in a partner or a friend or an ally? Do they bring value to your life in any real way?The answers have to be brutally honest in order to be effective, and that alone might take time to come to terms with.

Consider the full scope of everything they are and everything you want to be. Some relationships just aren’t worth saving, but some are inescapable (for example: an abusive or emotionally dismissive parent). Figure out what sort of relationship you’re dealing with, and from there you can start to make a plan to free yourself; both inside and outside of that toxic relationship.

4. Create a support system

The support systems we build around ourselves are important, and can provide critical feedback and perspective when things go wrong in our other relationships. Abusers often make it hard to maintain a support system, as isolation makes it easier for them to keep their victims off balance and uncertain of what’s going on. When you’re too close to a topic, it can be hard to see it for what it is, but our support systems can help rectify that and empower us to make the right decisions for our own lives.

Establish a strong support system that you can rely on and one that is outside the clutches or manipulations of the gaslighters. Don’t reach for mutual family members, and try to avoid involving friends that are close with both you and the potentially abusive party. Instead, form your own relationships outside of the toxic ones and look for new perspectives that can help shift or reaffirm your own.

Isolation is no excuse for allowing someone to take advantage of you. If it’s safe to do so, find a way to reach out to new people through classes, special events or even just local meet-ups and hang-out groups. There’s no right or wrong way to go about creating a support network, but it is important that we are proactive in doing so; so that we can avoid backing ourselves into a corner in which the only friend we have is the one that’s undermining our confidence.

5. Focus on your self-esteem

The gaslighter is dangerous primarily because the gaslighter eats away at our self-esteem in ways that undermines our happiness in every other aspect of our lives. Our self-confidence is important, and makes it possible for us to fully realize the extent our of personal power and dreams. The gaslighter, however, can’t stand this, as they are someone who is both lazy and terrified of their own ability or lack-there-of. When we focus on our own self-esteem, we confront them with their own, and that’s a mirror the gaslighter just can’t stand to look into.

Take a step back from everything and take some time alone to take a self-esteem inventory. Consider your strengths and consider your weaknesses and write them down on a sheet of paper that allows you to really confront them face-to-face. Use this list to get to know yourself, and use it too to drop the comparisons and recognize the full extent of your own personal power and beauty.

We all have a narrative, but only we have the power to write that narrative — not anyone else. Forgive yourself for letting someone else in, and then take back your power by focusing on all the beautiful parts of yourself that are worth celebrating (spoiler alert: it’s everything). We are not our circumstances, nor are we the things that are dictated to us by our friends, family and spouses. We are our own masters, and we take away the power of a gaslighter by embracing that power and rebuilding our self-esteem.

6. Let go of the need to change

Change is a complex topic, and one whose many facets makes it hard to define in any one term. Change is all around us; the only thing that occurs consistently and constantly in this increasingly chaotic world. It can be a beautiful thing when we embrace it for what it truly is, but that requires taking a step back and realizing that the process of changing is something that can only be done from within…and then only with hard personal work.

You can’t change the gaslighter, nor should you change yourself for them. We are the only one who have the power to change ourselves and our lives, and that can only come when we ourselves desire it. You can’t change for someone else. You can’t change someone else. The only thing you can change is the way you respond and the places in which you plant yourself.

Stop bending over backwards to meet the demands of your manipulator and start asking yourself (on a regular basis), “Is this something I want to do for me, or is this something someone else wants me to do for them?” Be honest with your answers, and don’t just consider the tangible things like money, gifts or physical goods either. Question your emotions too, and question anyone who might inspire happiness, rage or sadness in your for their own personal gratification or endgame.

7. Find professional help

While some are able to free themselves from the clutches of a gaslighter, that’s not always the case for everyone else. One of the most dangerous and damaging aspects of gaslighting behavior is that it ramps up over time, completely destroying the other person’s self-confidence and making it impossible to function and respond to life in any real or meaningful way. Often, the help of a professional in necessary in overcoming the damage caused by a gaslighter left un-checked.

Finding yourself standing on the other side of manipulative emotional and psychological abuse is a hard thing. Because you’ve been forced to doubt yourself so consistently, you might be experiencing depressive symptoms of hopelessness and helplessness. A mental health professional can help redirect your mental health, hope and desires in a way that makes it easier for you to get back on track. They can empower you to get better, and they can empower you to remember who you were before someone else tore you down.

The effects of gaslighting can be devastating and are nothing to be taken lightly. If you’re feeling lost, down or like you can’t come back from all the heartache that’s been cause, they can help shed some light on the reserves of strength that you still have waiting just beneath the surface. Therapists offer practical support and advice when it’s hard to shift our own perspective, and can also connect us with the medical help we might need to boost our healthy recovery. Stop doubting yourself and your thoughts by letting an unbiased professional process them with you in balanced way.

Putting it all together…

Gaslighters are dangerous and for a number of reasons. These abusers use our emotions and our minds against us, to create toxic patterns of behavior that seriously undermine our self-esteem and life plans. When we find ourselves stuck in the clutches of a gaslighting abuser, we find ourselves lost and unsure of who we are and what we want. This is an intentional ploy, meant to keep you scared and stuck to someone who is both insecure and unsure of who they are and what they want. The only way to get free of a gaslighter is to use your own power to do so, which can be reclaimed through a few basic techniques built up consistently over time.

Learn to spot the patterns of poor behavior, and remove the gaslighter’s power from them by wising-up to the cycles they use to manipulate your emotions and actions. Let go of their behavior and detach from it, knowing that it is in no way a reflection of your worth and entirely a reflection of their own insecurities. Gaslighters don’t treat other people poorly because other people are bad. They do it because they feel bad about themselves.Get clear on what you want and cut the ties if necessary and possible. Not all relationships are worth the time, but some are inescapable. Create a support system and focus entirely on rebuilding your own self-esteem if escape isn’t immediately possible. You can’t change them and you should never change yourself for anyone but you. Find professional help and give yourself the tools to build the future that you want and the freedom that you need. Being trapped in the clutches of a gaslighter doesn’t have to be forever, but only you have the power to free yourself.

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Certified Life Coach | NLP-MP | Author I create transformative personal development and self-help content that helps you improve your life and your relationships across the board. You have the power to transform your life, but you have to heal yourself first.

Pelham, AL
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