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What is Gaslighting? How Do I Protect Myself From This Abuse?

Someone steps on my foot and I yell “ouch.” The usual response from an empathetic person is, “I’m so sorry I stepped on your foot. “Are you okay? I wasn’t watching my step. Can I get you some ice? Is anything broken?” Now insert what a gaslighter response sounds like. “You’re being overdramatic. You’re in my way. It’s your fault, get out of my way. It didn’t hurt that bad, you are so sensitive. It wasn’t intentional, get over yourself. You’re out of your mind, go see a shrink!” These are examples of gaslighting responses. Sound familiar? So how do we respond to self-protect from this form of emotional abuse?

What is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of emotional manipulation and or emotional abuse. The victim often feels unheard, insecure, isolated, often self-doubting, and left believing they are the problem. Gaslighting is used to belittle, disregard and devalue another in order to elevate themselves. This way they can avoid taking responsibility. I never knew it was happening to me but I always knew how I felt with certain relationships. The typical response is to defend or justify our feelings, but with gaslighting, this response feeds more of the same communication.

How Do I Detect Gaslighting?

Most of the time, gaslighting will come at us when setting up boundaries or within disagreements. When pointing out something that was hurtful or something that bothers me, I would come away feeling unheard and full of self doubt questioning my own sanity. Being aware of what common gaslighting phrases sound like helped me identify it.

You’re so insecure.

I think you are being paranoid.

Aren’t you being a little sensitive and overdramatic?

That never happened.

You are playing the victim.

Why are you always making a big deal out of nothing?

You are crazy, out of your mind, see a shrink.

The common thread in these statements is pointing out the deficiencies in the other person. This helps them completely avoid taking personal responsibility for their own behavior. The typical response to this is to defend or justify our own feelings, however with gaslighting, this type of response fuels more escalation of the same forms of communication.

How Do I Respond to These Statements?

Now that we can identify the statements that help us know we are being gaslighted, how do we diffuse it so things don’t continue to escalate further? Here are several examples of responses to gaslighting blame shame messages:

I feel like I’m not being heard.

This is my decision I’ve made for myself.

I won’t respond to that right now.

Understand this is what’s best for me.

My feelings are my feelings, this is how I feel.

It’s difficult to stay engaged in this conversation.

I would like some space, take a break from this discussion.

It’s helpful to disarm gaslighting using these types of statements. It’s never productive to defend or explain your point of view to someone who begins to devalue your experience. In fact, the more you try, the more escalated the discussion can become. Eventually, it can quickly evolve into harmful verbal abuse. Sometimes these statements and or simply ending the conversation is the best practice to remain calm and emotionally safe.

Seeking Help Through Therapy

While some use gaslighting by saying you are the crazy one or that you are insane, it can be helpful to turn to the advice and support of a mental health professional. They are clinically trained to help especially in relationships with family members or spouse. It’s likely you might be a victim of emotional abuse and need further support. There are some great resources around these forms of manipulation to indicate long-term effects on mental health. If you find yourself feeling confused or struggling with a relationship of this nature, prioritize yourself. Having a professional perspective can help navigate boundary setting as well as preventing further harm to your mental health.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of The We Spot, it’s employees, sponsors, or affiliates.

Teri Clark

Teri is a Boss Babe for 30 years in the hair industry. While owning and running her business in Northern Colorado, she’s most proud of being the CEO of her beautiful family. She has three talented flown and grown daughters, 24 and 20 year old identical twins. Her life experiences have embodied plenty of transitions including marriage, children, and a stay at home mom life. Followed by relocations from VA to TX to CO, working with at risk teens, grieving the heartbreak of divorce and the pivoting struggles of single parenting. While stabilizing life in Colorado as a single working mom for the past 15 years, she never forgets to give back through philanthropy projects. She has a passion for people, reading, dancing, music, connecting with kids and empowering women in all circles of life, especially behind the chair. With empty nesting now at hand, she aspires to add writer, painter, musician, gardener, traveler and stay at home dog mom to her resume. Exploring all that life has to offer in gratitude, is the catalyst for her creativity.

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