What is Gaslighting and How to Avoid It

By Michelle Farris, Licensed Psychotherapist.

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse and manipulation. People who are codependent often experience gaslighting in relationships. In this article you will learn what gaslighting is.

What is gaslighting? 

Gaslighting is when someone purposely makes you doubt your own reality. It’s a toxic behavior to gain control of you and the relationship by creating self-doubt. The person who is gaslighting tries to influence and control your thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, especially when they differ from theirs.

What kind of person typically gaslights you?

Gaslighting behaviors are commonly practiced with people who are narcissistic, alcoholic/addict or display a lack of accountability. 

For instance, the narcissistic person gaslights to make themselves appear to be superior and get what they want, while the alcoholic gaslights to get the focus off their addiction. Like the alcoholic, someone who lacks accountability will gaslight for the same reason; they can’t take any responsibility for their own behavior. It’s easier to make YOU the problem than to look at themselves.

Why do people gaslight you? 

By gaslighting or creating self-doubt, the focus shifts from what they’re doing (that’s usually toxic) to your behavior – even when it’s healthy! You are seen as the problem rather than in a healthy relationship where both people are willing to look at their behavior.

How does gaslighting start? 

Gaslighting starts in childhood when caregivers can’t tolerate or acknowledge anyone else’s experiences due to their own dysfunction or lack of skill. 

When adults can’t process their own pain in a healthy way, the child’s experiences get suppressed for the same reason. A child’s emotions are seen as a threat. As a result, their feelings get dismissed or denied. Instead of being comforted when feeling hurt or scared, they’re criticized for being sad or labeled “too sensitive” and therefore wrong. When children express their upset, they’re told to be quiet and get along which only further reinforces their growing self-doubt.

The purpose of gaslighting is to gain control over the relationship so they don’t have to change their own behavior.

People who gaslight others can’t tolerate being perceived as wrong, so they will go to great lengths to convince you that you’re wrong. Narcissistic people aren’t willing or able to take responsibility for their own behavior. It’s not how they’re built. This is also true of alcoholics or addicts because being accountable threatens their addiction.

What are examples of gaslighting in relationships?

1. They will find fault in you to avoid looking at their own behavior – they would say something like “You’re the one who is getting mad, I’m fine.”

2. They will belittle your feelings and put you down, so you won’t express them anymore! This sounds like – “You are way too sensitive.” or “You can’t handle anything.”

3. They overreact to feedback as if it were criticism. Sounds like “So basically you’re telling me that I’m a terrible person.” This makes you doubt what you actually said because their reaction is so intense you assume you DID say something. 

4. They will use your words against you. They strive to convince you that they are always right, and you are always wrong. Sounds like -“You said you were going to do this today and you didn’t. That makes you a liar.”

5. They keep score to throw you off balance. They would say something like “If you wouldn’t have done this, I wouldn’t have had to yell at you.”

So how do you know if you’re being gaslighted?

  • When someone can’t tolerate you having different opinions.
  • When someone makes you doubt your thoughts, feelings and perceptions. 
  • When you start questioning everything you say before you say it because you assume that it’s wrong.
  • When you start changing who you are to avoid being gaslighted.

The Antidote to Gaslighting

The first step to avoid gaslighting is to start honoring your own experiences, especially your feelings. 

When you can embrace feelings, they become a trusted resource for you in relationships. Emotions will serve as your guide to honor and protect yourself. For example, a pit in your stomach tells you something doesn’t feel right, and you may need to remove yourself. Muscle tension helps you identify signs of stress and upset.

With practice honoring your feelings becomes second nature. By listening and trusting your own reactions, you become better at taking care of yourself. The more you cultivate this ability the less likely you will buy into gaslighting behaviors. 

Final Thoughts

The antidote to gaslighting is cultivating self-trust. Trusting yourself makes it harder for anyone to gaslight you because you won’t get sucked into believing them. Wanting to be right becomes a toxic game where you’re always losing. 

Instead, self-trust will serve as a reminder to check in with yourself and listen to that still small voice within called your intuition. That is a game you CAN win.

Learn more about how Michelle can help you heal from codpendency. Get her FREE journal prompts for Healing Codependency, Self-care and Setting Boundaries https://counselingrecovery.lpages.co/codependent-worksheets/

4 Responses

  1. Marie Tc says:

    I over think always negative I just can’t stop

    • I know this is a hard habit to break. Consider creating a mantra – a positive statement to help you focus. Even a 12 step saying like this too shall pass or one day at a time can be calming.

  2. Marie Tc says:

    I desperately need help

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