Gaslighting: How to protect yourself

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gaslighting, woman sitting on dock with head down

If you read the title of this post and are not familiar with its first term, then, that’s where you need to start. You can’t protect yourself against it if you don’t know what it is. Emotional and mental abuse is all too active in many households. Gaslighting is a means of manipulation that toxic people use to make you doubt yourself and lose your sense of worth and identity. Not a very pleasant topic, but one that I believe warrants further discussion because so many people are victims are gaslighting who may not even realize it.

A gaslighter’s ultimate goal is to gain control or power (or both) over another person. It can happen in a marriage, in a friendship or in the workplace. It can basically occur in any relationship. I looked up the derivative of the word “gaslighting” and learned that it was named after a 1930s play (which was entitled “Angel Street” in the United States but “Gaslight” on the stage abroad). The play was about a man who was trying to convince everyone (including herself) that his wife was insane.

Gaslighting starts mild and gets worse

If you’re in a relationship with someone who insults you in front of others or makes degrading comments toward you, it may be a gaslighting tool. Does the person in question show signs of being a narcissist? If so, the insults and derogatory comments might be attempts to make you feel inferior or to doubt your worth.

As a Christian, I know that my worth is inherent because God created me and loves me. The first step to protecting yourself against gaslighting is to understand that your worth is something that always exists and no one can take it away or deny it. If someone in your life repeatedly tells you that you are a failure, not attractive, not smart, not *whatever,* try to analyze the situation with more scrutiny. Might this person be trying to gain power or control over you?

What happens if you call out a gaslighter?

If someone is using gaslighting against you, he or she will go to great lengths to perpetuate the attempt. This person might even lie or cleverly use semantics to sow seeds of doubt in your mind. If you try to defend yourself or confront a gaslighter, you may be met with more gaslighting. As this type of emotional and mental abuse progresses, a victim may begin to doubt his or her own sanity (as in the 1930s play). You might feel 100% certain about your perception of a particular incident or situation, then wind up wondering if you’re even capable of knowing right from wrong or reality from false perception. Chances are, your initial thoughts were correct but the gaslighter is using tools of manipulation to convince you it’s all in your head.

Gaslighting leads to codependency

When a gaslighter isn’t gaslighting, he or she might treat you with great respect, kindness or compassion. This often creates more problems because you might be yearning for acceptance and approval. A gaslighter knows just when to dish it out to win you back into his or her favor. Asking your forgiveness, complimenting you, giving you a promotion or making you feel safe and secure appear sincere on the surface, but are often gaslighting tools to keep you from recognizing the abuse.

Protect yourself

No one has a right to abuse you. In a parent/child relationship, in a business alliance or in a marriage, it is traumatic to realize that the other person is abusive. However, you can be proactive to stop the abuse. First, understand that you’ll never “win” an argument with a gaslighter, so learn to be okay with that. If you know something is true or untrue, do not let the gaslighter try to change your mind or cause you to doubt yourself. Confidently state what you know and leave it at that.

You may verbally respond to insults if you choose. For instance, if the person says you’re terrible at your job or are unattractive or lazy, etc., you don’t have to allow the disrespect. You can calmly state, “You do not define my worth and should not speak to people with such disrespect.” Be prepared to end the conversation there or to walk away, if necessary, to stop the abuse in its tracks.

Extreme cases of gaslighting

Every person’s life is unique. Sadly, when gaslighting is at its worse, it might include marital infidelity, a hostile working environment or physical abuse. You have a right to work and live in a safe, healthy atmosphere. Never hesitate to protect yourself. There are many resources available to learn more about gaslighting and how to counteract it. The most important thing to remember is that you are not the one with the problem, the gaslighter is. Trust your instincts and take control of your own life. Do not be afraid to reach out for support.

As for marriage, it can be wonderful yet challenging. Perhaps, your relationship is struggling although it may not involve a gaslighting problem. Maybe you’re dealing with some other difficult issues. Many married couples are able to heal their relationships. Read more about that, here.





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