Do you ever wonder if you’re a victim of gaslighting? In this episode, Chris breaks down this important topic. He tells you what gaslighting is, what it’s NOT, and what to do if you feel you’re being gaslit.
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Have you ever been a victim of gaslighting?
If you spent time in your relationships, either at home or at work questioning your own perceptions or maybe even your own sanity, you may have been a victim of gaslighting. And that’s our topic for today. Now if you are back with us here on The Resilient Self I’m glad to have you back and if you’re new, welcome.
My name is Chris Chris Neal. I am a licensed therapist and teacher and I help people reclaim their lives through self-compassion, setting righteous boundaries and taking charge of their own happiness. Today we’re going to get into gaslighting. You hear a lot about this topic on the national news and just throughout our national consciousness. It is a ripe, important time to discuss this issue and that’s our topic for today. So here we go. So what is gaslighting? Gaslighting is a form of manipulation and some including myself would argue abuse that occurs in a relationship.
And gaslighting is a systematic effort to cause someone else in a relationship to question their own perceptions, their own sanity, or maybe even their own intelligence. It is a way that one person tries to exert power and manipulation over another person in a relationship. Now, it happens frequently in relationships where there is a sociopath or a narcissist involved, but not exclusively. And so today we’re going to get into what gaslighting looks like, what it’s not, and what to do if you think you might be a victim of this form of manipulation.
So there are several techniques that someone can use in the gaslighting process, and each of these techniques can show up in your relationships anyway. But gaslighting is the systematic and prolonged use of these techniques to really erode someone’s perceptions. One of the most common of which is denial, which is a form of lying.
And often with gaslighting, we just see outright lying. We see patent misrepresentations of the truth. But often we’ll have just denial that things ever happened. So you might say to a partner, “Hey, you said this the other day and it really upset me,” or “I have concerns with your behavior in this instance.” And what we can often hear is “That never happened. I didn’t do that. You’re making that up, why are you telling stories about me?” And that’s just one of the ways that we can experience gaslighting. Someone just tries to change our understanding of what actually happened in our own lives.
Another common technique is projection. And so if someone is doing something or they think they might be accused of doing something, they’ll turn around and accuse you of that. So if they’re cheating on you, they’ll accuse you of cheating on them. If they’re lying to you, they’ll accuse you of lying to them. And so often if you’re in a relationship where you feel like the very thing that you’re concerned about the other person doing, you’re getting called on the carpet on, especially if you haven’t done it, then that is, that is a technique we call projection.
Now, again, we see it in relationships otherwise, but it is one of the key components of gaslighting. And so if you see this in combination with lying and other kinds of manipulation, then it might add up into a broader pattern of manipulation and abuse. Another very common trait is a form of minimizing. And so if you express concerns to your partner and they say things like, “Oh my gosh, you’re such a drama queen. Oh, you are ridiculous. This is just not even a thing. How can you even think this? Why are you so dramatic about everything? You get so upset about every little thing. This is not a big deal.”
And so it’s a form of taking your concerns and just minimizing them and actually almost kind of shaming you for having concerns in your own relationships. And what frequently happens in conjunction with this is roping your existing shared social relationships into that argument. And so they might not only say “You’re being ridiculous, you’re being a drama queen.” They might say something like, “Oh my gosh, all of our friends agree with me on this. Our friends think you’re being ridiculous too.” And so it can leave you in a position of not only questioning your own perceptions, your own sanity. I’ll be honest, when you’re the victim of gaslighting, you feel like you’re nuts. You feel like you’re losing your mind and it, and that’s the point.
The idea is to completely undermine the other person’s perspective on reality. And so any combination of these techniques, and there are some others, but these are the primary ones that we see when you have a lot of these being lobbed at you at once, it can be overwhelming and can just cause the sands beneath your sense of reality to really shift. Now, who does this? I asked myself that a lot! It’s not exclusive to these two groups, but two primary groups who will use gaslighting consistently are sociopaths and narcissists. Now a sociopath and a narcissist has different ways of existing in the world. The sociopath is a rule-breaker and they have no remorse for breaking those rules. So often when a sociopath is using gaslighting in a relationship, it’s to get away with stuff.
However, a narcissist for a narcissist, it’s all about control and manipulation.With a narcissist, everything is a head game. And so the manipulation really becomes one of changing the power dynamic or securing the power dynamic with the narcissist up here, and you down here, dependent on them for so many things. And in this case probably dependent on them for your own sense of reality as well. And so you could experience something like maybe they will do something that upsets you and you’ll have an appropriately strong reaction to that.
And then they’ll say, “Hey, you need to calm down. You’re, you’re just out of control” when it’s the initial behavior that was out of control in the first place and you’re just having an appropriate response to it. And so, again, when we experience this, particularly all of these behaviors kind of lobbed at us consistently or persistently over a period of time, we can really feel like we’re losing our minds.
And you’re really not, your perceptions are probably accurate about this if you observe these behaviors going on in your relationship. Now, if you do observe these behaviors, does that mean that you’re partnered with a sociopath or a narcissist? Well, maybe, but not necessarily, at least not necessarily in the clinical sense. Because we see a lot of this behavior just occurring naturally in our national consciousness right now. It grows out of our relationship with our president. Now, I’m not going to take sides. This is not a political show. But no matter what your belief about our president, the truth is the concept of lying and manipulation and gaslighting is a part of our national conversation right now. And even though it’s not fun to go through, I would argue that in the end, that’s a good thing because we need to bring this issue to light.
And if we see that borne out in the national news and then we can understand how this affects our personal relationships, maybe we can grow from that. So you may not be partnered with a sociopath or a narcissist. You may just be partnered with someone who sees these kinds of behaviors demonstrated and normalized right now in our society, it doesn’t make it okay, but it just doesn’t mean that we necessarily are partnered with someone who has a personality disorder. Now, if we observe that there’s gaslighting going on in our relationship, what do we do about it?
Well, there are several things that we can do to try to help recover and heal, and stop the cycle of manipulation. Now I have to be clear when you are in a relationship with someone who gaslights, you’re probably not going to change their behavior. So even though they’re the one who’s misbehaving, you have to focus on yourself and you are going to have to be the catalyst for change.
And so one of the first things I think we need to do is understand our triggers. This is a form of self-compassion. We need to understand those insecurities that we carry and those things that can push our buttons. And we learned to recognize when someone is pushing our buttons is trying to erode our self-confidence to throw us off balance. When we can approach a situation, whether it’s a conversation and interaction or whatever with just an understanding and a conscious awareness of our own triggers and our own insecurities, then that gives us power over the situation. It lets us identify what’s going on before we kind of spiral down that path too far.
Now when you’re a victim of gaslighting, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. And so one of the first things we can do is when we sense that’s going on in the moment, we just can slow things down. You slow down the conversation, you pause, you take a breath, you don’t have to respond to something immediately and in fact you don’t even have to continue a conversation so you completely within your rights to say, wait, I want to pause for a second and breathe and think about what you just said. Or you can say something like, you know, this conversation is not comfortable for me right now. I’m going to walk away and we’re going to continue this at a time when I feel like I’m in a position to have a meaningful dialogue with you.
Now, if it’s a narcissist or a sociopath, they’re probably never really going to be in a position for a meaningful dialogue with you, but at least you can present yourself to that conversation in a way where you can play self-defense and you can assert yourself and remain confident and focused on what’s real and what’s true.
Now, one of the great ways to debrief after these interactions with we have an interaction or maybe we just notice a pattern and we think I need to really get inside this to find out what I really think. There are several ways we can do that.
One terrific way is just through journaling, writing things down and the great thing about journaling is that you control the flow of information and no matter how how out of focus or off center you think an idea might be, you can put it in your journal and then interrogate that and you can kind of have a conversation with yourself or your journal a different people do that in different ways, but journaling is a way for you to have an internal conversation in a way that you control the flow, you control the pace and so it lets you have a sense of safety as you unpack and sort out these ideas.
Another thing you can do is debrief these situations with a trusted friend. Now we have to take care not to air all of our relationship dirty laundry to all of our friends. And I’m not suggesting you do that. However, if you have a friend that you trust to be completely open and candid with you, the friend who will call you on your stuff, the friend who will say, “No, you’re not – you’re not approaching this right,” the person you trust, to be completely honest with you, then when you bring a situation to them and you say, you know, “Am I looking at this wrong? Do I have a clear sense of this?”
If you know this person will be clear with you when you’re not being rational or clear or honest or… fair, then you know that when they tell you that, “No, you’re being manipulated here, you’re in the right or you’re looking at this right, I think.” Then you know you’re getting good, clear information from that person.
Now, one more way, I’m going to suggest to you whether you have friends that you can do this with or not. A different relationship that can be really important in the healing process from gaslighting and just a relationship with a sociopath or a narcissist is a quality relationship with a skilled therapist. So I want to encourage you in that if you’re not already in one of those, one way that you can help just unpack all of these feelings and all of these misconceptions or conceptions and concerns you have is to sit with the skilled therapist and talk through these things. Probably won’t surprise you to hear me say that because I am a therapist, but it is an important process. It’s different than talking to your friends, but I think healing and important nonetheless.
So there we go. That is gaslighting in a nutshell. It is a systematic means of manipulation, designed to undermine someone’s sense of security and intelligence sometimes and even sanity. And when we sense that we are a victim of gaslighting, what we really want to do is try to get to a safe place. Get with someone that we feel will be honest with us and debrief, unpack these things and try to get some clarity on them. That way you can focus on yourself, even if the other person that you’re partnered with is not really predisposed to change. You can make that change yourself and break the cycle of manipulation.
So thank you for being here at the Resilient Self. I am so grateful for your time and just checking us out. I do have a favorite ask if you would please leave us an honest review in our system. And also please share this show with other people you think would benefit from the information. So until next week, I will see you then. Take care.