The term “gaslighting” — as in, the psychological manipulation, not the 19th-century profession — has been thrown around a lot over the past decade or so. And while it can be both overused and misused, the awareness of the concept in general has been helpful for many people who experienced this type of behaviour from a partner, colleague, family member or friend, but didn’t have a word for it.
There are plenty of articles out there breaking down gaslighting, its origins, and what it entails, but in short, it involves a person getting another person to question — and doubt — their own memory of something, so that it benefits them in some way. In an article for mindbodygreen, therapist Alyssa Mancao breaks down some of the signs that you’re being gaslit, as well as what to say to the person behind the manipulative behaviour.
How to know if you are being gaslit
First, Mancao says that it’s important to recognise the symptoms of gaslighting, which she explains here:
When a person is being constantly gaslit, they start to show signs of lowered self-esteem and emotional dependence on the abuser. During a conflict where someone is gaslighting you, you may experience a range of emotions from confusion and anger to frustration and finding yourself going in argumentative circles both out loud and in your mind. This type of back-and-forth is exhausting and can affect your self-trust.
Some of the most common gaslighting phrases include:
- “You’re making things up.”
- “That never happened.”
- “You’re being dramatic.”
- “You’re blowing things out of proportion.”
That’s easier said than done when you’re up against someone who is constantly trying to belittle and manipulate you, but Mancao says that it’s important that you believe yourself — even if your gaslighter is trying to distort your own truths, memories and perceptions of past events. It can help to write things down as a record of how you’re feeling while things are happening.
What to say to someone who is gaslighting you
If you’ve been in this situation yourself, then you know how tricky it can be. As Mancao points out, some of the main methods of gaslighting involve blatantly lying, shifting the narrative and trying to minimise your feelings and experiences.
“Entering the conversation knowing your purpose will help you remain centred on a path versus being veered in the different directions that a gaslighting person may take you,” she writes.
Also, don’t be afraid to simply end the conversation and leave — that’s an option, too. “The goal of the person who is gaslighting is to have you doubt your perception, so walking away before the gaslighting gets severe is a way to maintain your perception of events,” Mancao explains.
If having some specific phrases in your pocket helps, Mancao suggests these:
- “My feelings and reality are valid. I don’t appreciate you telling me that I am being too sensitive.”
- “Don’t tell me how to feel; this is how I feel.”
- “I am allowed to explore these topics and conversations with you. Do not tell me I am being dramatic.”
- “I know what I saw.”
- “I will not continue this conversation if you continue to minimise what I am feeling.” (Then, implement the boundary.)
Ultimately, try to be kind to yourself — including if that means walking away.
This article has been updated since its original publish date.