Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that someone uses on you to gain control in a partnership, which could be with a loved one, boss, family member or others. The behaviors and comments that accompany gaslighting make you question your own sanity, sense of reality, the past, and can feel as if you are going “crazy.’ If you have ever dated or been married to a narcissist, you know this behavior well as it’s one often used to gain power. Being on the receiving end of gaslighting often results in feelings of confusion, disappointment, doubt, and insecurity.
Some of our clients at Center for Shared Insight in Denver Colorado are overcoming the psychological challenges of gaslighting following a difficult relationship or marriage. For many, this type of psychological abuse is the hardest part of the recovery process, and the part that can take the longest to heal from. In this post, we share four ways to respond to gaslighting that we often encourage clients to use who are recovering from a narcissistic relationship. These approaches may help them interact with that person if they have to for reasons such as going through the divorce process or sharing custody of children.
1. Hold Boundaries
Declaring and holding boundaries that align with your values is almost always a positive way to take back your power. Gaslighting is a form of mental and emotional manipulation and the person acting this way toward you wants something. Maybe it’s for you to take the blame for a situation, for them to avoid responsibility, or maybe it’s that they want you to admit you are wrong. Whatever it is, hold your truth and be firm in your boundaries. Manipulation is a powerful tactic and you must go into those situations with this challenging person with your mind made up, unwilling to compromise your boundaries and values no matter how compelling they are or how crazy they make you feel.
2. Affirm Your Reality
Affirming your feelings, what you remember, and your own reality around a situation is an approach you can use when you feel that gaslighting is happening. This affirmation and form of self-care is practiced with positive self-talk such as “this is what I remember” or it can be shared with your narcissistic ex/partner by stating powerful phrases like these, suggested by therapist Sarah Crosby:
We remember things differently, I hear you and that is not my experience.
I know my truth and I’m not debating it with you.
You are welcome and allowed to have your perspective, and I can have mine.
It’s ok that we see things differently, and it’s not up for debate. I am leaving this conversation
These phrases can be ways to not only hold boundaries, but help them see that you aren’t going to agree, give in, or encourage their behavior, but you will respect their perspective, and you ask for the same in return.
3. Recognize Your Frame of Reference
All situations and experiences in your life lead to the perspective you have today on any given situation. The same is true for your narcissistic partner or ex. When he or she tries to gaslight you, you can reference unique experiences of your past that might influence the way you see the current situation. For instance, if your gaslighting partner thinks you are trying to turn the kids against them, reference their childhood experience of this happening with their own parents (if it did) and point out that unique past experiences may contribute to the lens of current experiences, their sensitivity to current situations, and the tendency to overreact to triggering situations. This might result in anger or further frustration, but it’s a powerful reality to call out.
4. Reach out for help
Overcoming a narcissistic relationship or gaslighting behavior from anyone can be extremely challenging and often requires the support of a therapist and/or group therapy. Therapy can help you identify the behaviors for what they are - psychological abuse and manipulation - which can feel validating and yet, take a while to start to unpack the altered sense of reality and start to help you rebuild a strong sense of what you know to be right and real. Friends and family may be able to be a sounding board, but often can’t support your specific process of action, change, and healing and may not be able to relate if they haven’t been through this time of relationship dynamic themselves
Our team has experience that can help you move beyond these challenging realities and we even host a divorce recovery group that can help you recognize that you are not alone and begin the process of forming a strong support network.