Do any of the following phrases sound familiar?
- “You must be going crazy. That’s not what happened.”
- “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
- “You’re imagining things.”
- “No need to be so sensitive. I was only joking.”
If someone in your life often says things like this to you, you may be experiencing gaslighting.
Gaslighting refers to intentional attempts to manipulate you into doubting your feelings, perception of events, and reality in general. Someone trying to gaslight you typically wants to confuse you and make you doubt yourself to make it more likely you’ll go along with what they want.
Although emotionally abusive partners and family members commonly use this tactic, gaslighting can also show up in friendships or the workplace. Left unchecked, it can have a serious impact on your emotional health, productivity at work, and other relationships.
Here are eight tips for responding and taking back control.
Gaslighting isn’t always easy to recognize, especially since it often starts small, and other behaviors can sometimes seem similar.
True gaslighting develops into a repeated pattern of manipulation. The person gaslighting you generally wants you to doubt yourself and depend on their version of reality.
So, someone who offers a different opinion than yours, even in a rude or critical way, isn’t necessarily gaslighting.
People sometimes feel convinced of their own knowledge and insist they’re right, even when evidence suggests otherwise. Insisting “You’re wrong! I know what I’m talking about” isn’t necessarily polite, but it’s generally not gaslighting if they aren’t trying to manipulate you.
People can also gaslight unintentionally. “I don’t have time to listen to this” or “Don’t you think you’re overreacting?” may not be helpful responses, but they don’t always mean the other person wants to manipulate you.
When considering whether someone is trying to gaslight you, take stock of your feelings, not just their actions.
It’s understandable to experience a lot of strong emotions when dealing with gaslighting.
Anger, frustration, worry, sadness, fear — these feelings, and any others, are all completely valid, but try not to let them guide your immediate reaction. Remaining calm can help you handle the situation more effectively.
You might want to deny what the person trying to gaslight you has said — after all, it’s completely untrue. But they may not back down, and your distress can encourage them to keep trying to manipulate you.
Keeping calm can also help you focus on the truth, making it less likely that their (false) version of events will sway your confidence and faith in yourself.
To get some physical space, suggest taking a break and revisiting the topic later. Going for a walk or stepping outside briefly can help you clear your mind and refocus.
If you can’t physically leave, try instead:
Documenting your interactions with someone trying to gaslight you can help you keep track of what’s really happening. When they deny a conversation or event took place, you can go back and check the truth for yourself.
Here are a few ideas:
- Save or take screenshots of texts and emails.
- Take photos of any damaged property.
- Note dates and times of conversations.
- Summarize your conversations, with direct quotes when possible.
- Use your phone to record conversations. Laws in your area may prevent you from using these recordings if you need to seek legal assistance, but you can inform others about the situation.
It’s not always safe to confront abuse in person. But having proof can go a long way toward restoring your peace of mind and supporting your emotional well-being.
When you know the truth, you won’t question or doubt yourself. This alone can help boost confidence and make it easier to handle the gaslighting going forward.
You can also use your notes as evidence for workplace gaslighting. Just make sure to keep your notes on paper or your personal phone since your company may have access to work devices. Store them in a safe place or keep them with you when possible.
While collecting evidence, be sure to set boundaries and practice self-care so as not to overwhelm or increase anxiety. This may be especially true if you’re highly anxious, as documenting gaslighting may lead to rumination, and this behavior could increase feelings of anxiety.
Gaslighting works because it confuses you and shakes your confidence. If you show that the behavior doesn’t bother you, the person trying to gaslight you may decide it isn’t worth the struggle.
In addition to lies and misdirection, gaslighting often involves criticism and insults. Calling these out — calmly and politely — shows them you won’t accept the behavior. Don’t be afraid to speak up, since making others aware of the situation gives them more incentive to leave you alone.
They may try to disguise insults as jokes, backhanded compliments, or say “I’m only trying to help.” Asking them to explain the joke as if you don’t understand may help them realize these strategies won’t work on you.
Say a co-worker in your department makes a flippant remark implying you don’t do your fair share of work. You might respond with, “Actually, I’ve completed the tasks for this week already. We can review those now if you like.”
Everyone remembers things a little differently than how they happened on occasion, and you might wonder, “What if it did happen the way they said?”
But don’t give in to the urge to question yourself — they want you to doubt reality.
Misremembering typically involves small details, such as the color of someone’s shirt or the other people in the room. Your brain typically doesn’t fabricate entire memories. If you remember something clearly and they flat out deny your memory, that’s gaslighting.
You know what happened, so repeat it calmly with confidence. Showing them any proof you have could help encourage them to back down. But it may not have an impact.
If they continue challenging you, don’t get drawn into conflict. Arguing can lead to further tension and put you in a position where you’re more vulnerable to manipulation. By refusing to argue, you protect yourself and maintain control over the situation.
You might say something like, “It seems we remember things differently, but I don’t want to argue about it.” Avoid further discussion by changing the subject or leaving the room.
Worries about gaslighting and its potential impact on your job or relationships can creep into all areas of your life, making it tough to find any pleasure in even your favorite things.
But dedicating time to relaxation and wellness practices can improve your physical and emotional health, helping you feel stronger and more capable of facing challenges in your daily life.
Try these strategies to improve well-being:
- Spend time with friends and family.
- Incorporate positive self-talk into your daily life. To counter gaslighting tactics, for example, you might build yourself up by reminding yourself of your accomplishments and strengths.
- Practice daily affirmations.
- Make time for hobbies.
- Try meditation or yoga.
- Keep a journal to help sort through emotions.
Physical activity can also help. It’s good for physical health, for one. But exercise can also serve as an outlet for tension and distress. A long run or intense workout class may help drain some of the upsetting emotions that come up in response to gaslighting.
Exercise can also help you get better sleep, so if worries over gaslighting have started to interfere with your rest, regular activity can have some benefits here, too.
You might worry talking to other people about the situation will lead to drama. But when dealing with gaslighting, it’s important to get insight and support from people you trust. Seeking input from different people in your life can help reinforce your knowledge that you aren’t confused, “crazy,” or losing your memory.
Your support network might feel upset on your behalf, but they still have some emotional distance from the situation since they aren’t directly involved. This makes it easier for them to offer an unbiased perspective, along with calm guidance and support.
When ongoing gaslighting happens at work or in other social situations, avoid meeting with the person alone when possible. It’s best to limit your contact, but if you have to meet with them, bring along someone neutral and trustworthy or ask them to listen in on the conversation.
Remember, you’re not pulling them in to take sides. You simply want them to observe what’s happening. Someone trying to use gaslighting tactics will typically have a harder time manipulating more than one person.
Gaslighting can sometimes become serious, even abusive. This doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong — emotional abuse is often difficult to confront.
Talking to a therapist is always a good first step. Directories like Psychology Today’s Find a Therapist tool can help you start your search for local counseling resources.
If the gaslighting happens at work, your human resources department may also offer support. Learn more about harassment, and filing a charge, from the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Gaslighting can isolate you, but you don’t need to handle it alone. Both therapists and hotline counselors can offer guidance based on your specific situation, including safety planning tips and resources to help you handle a crisis or potentially abusive situation.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.