How I Got a Grip on My Gaslighter

You have a right to your emotions!

For the first four decades of my life, give or take, someone who was a big part of my world worked quite hard to make me doubt myself. She succeeded. I am still dealing with the aftereffects of that gaslighting to this day.

In my 40’s, I accidentally stumbled upon a way to make the abuse stop, and rather abruptly, too. And I didn’t even have to resort to violence. I’m not a mental health professional, nor can I make you a promise that this particular gambit will work if you have a gaslighter in your life, but hey, it’s worth a try.

Based on the sources I’ll list below, I will discuss gaslighting in detail, but I’ll also draw upon my own personal experience to show you how I coped. (Again, your results may vary.)

Step One: Identify it.

First of all, just because you get into arguments with someone does not mean that that person is gaslighting you. Not all disagreements are gaslighting. Sometimes you’re wrong. Sometimes you’re right. Sometimes you learn something very beneficial from the disagreement and how you handle it.

Second, not all gaslighters are doing it consciously. They may have been taught by someone else that these toxic tactics are how one should behave. If that’s the case, feel sorry for them. They have led a miserable life. But do not use “intention” as your only yardstick to measure this form of emotional abuse. “He didn’t mean anything by it” is not a valid excuse. Especially since the very best gaslighters will convince you that that is the case. Gaslighting is never okay.

So, what makes a gaslighter? Here are some questions to ask yourself.

Is this person invalidating your feelings? Do they say things like, “You are too sensitive.” “You are too insensitive.” “You are overreacting.” “You’re just saying that to get your way.” “You shouldn’t take it personally.” If this person is chipping away at your self-worth, identity, or perceptions, then she/he is very likely a gaslighter.

(Don’t even get me started on the “shouldn’t take it personally” thing. If it’s a criticism of you, it’s personal. If it’s a way to get you to do or think something you don’t want to do or think, it’s personal. If someone is trying to convince you that you don’t have a right to feel the way you feel, it’s personal. YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO YOUR EMOTIONS!!!!)

Does this person act as if she or he knows you better than you do yourself? (For starters, ask yourself how that could even be possible. Then, remind yourself that this person cannot read your mind.)

Does this person try to define “normal” for you? Do they try to tell you how you should feel, react, think, or behave? Do they say things like, “You’re being overly dramatic” in an attempt to make you change your behavior?

Does this person deny the truth? If you are sure that something happened, or that something was said, trust your gut. Gaslighters will try to make you think your memory is unreliable by saying that the thing never happened, or that they never said what you are positive you heard. Occasionally that might be true. We all forget things from time to time, or have different memories of events. But when it seems to come up in every single argument, that’s a pattern with a goal: to cause you to second guess yourself and therefore be more apt to adopt their opinions.

Are you being made to believe that every single problem in your relationship is your fault? What are the odds of that? Do you find yourself apologizing even when you feel you’ve done nothing wrong?

Have you noticed that your self-esteem has lowered and/or your depression has increased since this person entered your life?

If any of the above resonates with you, there’s a good chance that you have got yourself a gaslighter. But just to be sure, perhaps read all the articles listed below.

I could go on for weeks or months, describing what my gaslighter did to me, but really, there’s no point. I’ll just pick one example. Any time I opened my mouth, her favorite response was, “You have really strong opinions.” She also had the condescending tone down pat.

Step Two: Question it.

Once you suspect someone is gaslighting you, the next step is to question what they’re trying to convince you of. Ask a trusted outside source for their perspective. Tell it to them straight. Don’t leave anything out. You’re not trying to “win”. You’re trying to gain insight. This person should be a friend or loved one who won’t just take your side because of your relationship, or perhaps a therapist, or an authority on the subject in question.

An objective person should be able to tell you if they would react or think or behave the way you did, or if they feel that your reaction is plausible. If the thing in question can be verified as a fact, research the subject on line, using well-established, reliable sources. (If you’re not sure if a site is reliable, run it through Scam-detector.com.)

Basically, you should determine if you are, in fact, wrong. All of us are wrong sometimes. It’s a rare person, though, who is wrong all the time (and most of them get into politics).

In my case, it took me decades to even realize I had the right to question what my gaslighter was saying. At some point it occurred to me that it was strange that she took so much joy in saying something that caused me so much confusion and self-doubt. Finally, I realized what was going on. She wanted me to question my opinions. She wanted me to wonder if I was wrong. She wanted me to shut up and let her make all the decisions. She even talked other people in my life into using that phrase with me. After a while, I had three people telling me that I had strong opinions. If three people say it, it must be right, surely? Hmph.

Step Three: Own Your Conclusions.

Once you’ve reached a point where you know the kind of person you’re dealing with, and believe that you have a right to think/act/feel the way you do about something, make sure you feel it right down to the very marrow of your bones, because the next step can be hard, especially if it’s not something you’re well practiced in.

Step Four: Set Firm Boundaries

First of all, don’t waste your time arguing with a gaslighter. They are way too good at it. And there is no point in trying to change their beliefs, because odds are they never believed them in the first place. The only thing that you need to convince them of is that you are standing firm in your convictions.

In my situation, I had been thinking about what I believed for some time, and she just happened to hit me with the “You have very strong opinions” on a day when I had the presence of mind to be unusually quick on the uptake. So I said, “You know what? I’ve given this a lot of thought. I’ve decided that everyone has strong opinions. That’s the very definition of an opinion, isn’t it? You believe it or you don’t. It isn’t as if I expect everyone to share my opinions, but yes, I have them. You don’t have to like my opinions, but I have no intention of checking my brain at the door just because you feel my opinions are too intense for you.”

And just like that, that particular tool was removed from her abusive toolbox. She never said “You have very strong opinions” to me again, ever. I was actually quite startled by how successful that impromptu speech was.

Don’t get me wrong. She didn’t apologize. She didn’t see the errors of her ways and change. She simply realized that that sentence had no control over me anymore, so there was no point in uttering it. I consider this a success because she wasn’t going to change, but I could, and did. I took back control.

You know how bullies seem to deflate when you confront them? My gaslighter ran out of gas when I turned off the supply. It felt as though, in that one particular case, I had thrown water on the Wicked Witch and she melted before my very eyes.

Oh, she went on to abuse me emotionally in many other gassy ways until she passed away, but she found it a lot harder to do. I had my work cut out for me with that one. But learning the coping skills I describe above gave me what felt like superpowers.

The only way a gaslighter holds sway over you is if you buy what they’re selling. So learn to shop elsewhere. You can do it.

Good luck!

Update: I wrote this post just before getting the autism diagnosis that I blogged about on January 2nd. This adds a little more nuance to my situation, because strong opinions is yet another potential symptom of autism. So perhaps my gaslighter was right about that. What she was wrong about was trying to bully me to change, because if these opinions are part of my autism, then that’s most likely not going to change. But I still stand by the (strong) opinion that I don’t expect everyone to agree with my opinions. If that’s the case, what’s the harm? But, yeah, I have a lot of thinking to do.

Sources:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/social-instincts/202210/3-strategies-stop-gaslighter-in-their-tracks

https://www.marriage.com/advice/mental-health/how-to-deal-with-gaslighting/

https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-deal-with-gaslighting

https://positivepsychology.com/gaslighting-emotional-abuse/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-and-sensibility/202110/how-protect-yourself-gaslighters

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-don-t-take-it-so-personally-is-the-ultimate-gaslighting-insult-according-to-psychology-experts?utm_source=pocket-newtab

https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-deal-with-gaslighting

https://positivepsychology.com/gaslighting-emotional-abuse/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-and-sensibility/202110/how-protect-yourself-gaslighters

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-don-t-take-it-so-personally-is-the-ultimate-gaslighting-insult-according-to-psychology-experts?utm_source=pocket-newtab

Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

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