At the end of my post about gaslighting, I mentioned we were going to talk about how to fight this pernicious tactic and we will, but I have good news and bad news….
Remember the slogan prevention is the best medicine? It’s true.
The best way to fight gaslighting is by preventing it in the first place. The problem is if you are already experiencing it, you are past that point. That is the bad news. (I like my bad news first. That way it can only get better right?)
The good news? You can learn to identify it and mitigate its effects, but there is a little bit more bad news. (Ok….a lot) Because this tactic is a form of mental manipulation it will take nothing short of Jedi like mind power and preferably some good support to help you when you’re falling down the rabbit hole.
Here are some things you have to understand about this tactic before you can start fighting it. You cannot fight what you don’t understand. Identification is key. The problem is, the possibilities are endless. (I am just a bundle joy aren’t I?) I will try to identify some here however:
“You shouldn’t feel that way”
Hmmm….why not? This is a common one. If you hear this response, stop and ask yourself that question. Am I wrong for feeling this way? Is there something faulty about my feelings? Remember we are not talking about response here. You can have completely legitimate feelings and respond in a completely wrong way. In fact, this is another point. If you do respond in a bad way (angrily, overly emotional, lashing out…), the gaslighter has you in a perfect spot to work his magic. When you are emotional, you are less likely to think clearly. On top of that, he will use your guilt over your wrong reaction against you (even if you are not ready to own it yet). It will be more difficult to differentiate between being wrong for your reactions and being wrong for your feelings. The gaslighter, or no one for that matter, has the right to determine whether you should or should not be hurt or feel rejected or feel belittled, or *insert your feelings here*.
“You don’t get to say whether I should feel _______ or not. When you said or did _________, I felt ________.” Period.
Assuming they have their emotions under control, the normal and right response should then be any version of, “I didn’t realize that my actions/words made you feel that way. I am sorry for hurting you.” NOTE: It should never be “I am sorry you feel that way.” This again turns your feelings into being wrong or faulty again. They should not be sorry for how you feel but how their actions/words made you feel. While we may all fall into that trap sometimes, what we are looking for is whether this is being used along with other tactics on a regular basis. Using it at some point in your life, while still wrong, does not make you or your loved one a gaslighter.
When you come to this point, the gaslighter has a few choices: keep pushing this tactic, change or mix tactics or admit their guilt. Do not lose sight of the fact that you have a right to be hurt or upset by a wrong. If you have reacted wrongly, then own that and apologize, then try again or step away if you need a minute to get yourself under control. (If you are being physically prevented from stepping away, this becomes a different situation and one I will try to address another time. This should not happen)
**It is important to note there are variations on this like, “how could you feel that way?” or “why would you feel that way?” The idea is that they are questioning the legitimacy of your feelings.
“You don’t understand”
Surely we do not understand all things all the time. We routinely misinterpret people’s words, intentions and body language, but again, we are talking about habitual “misunderstanding.” Do you feel like you have a pretty good grasp of the scenario? Again, stop and think (This will be your lifeline and honestly a good habit to be in anyway). Is there a chance you are misinterpreting? Ask for clarification. “So what did you mean by_______?” Now this gets a little tricky because there are the lies and you may have to make a judgment call here. It is always ok to say that you need to step away and think. In fact, if you feel like there is some crazy making going on, excuse yourself and retrace your steps. The longer you stay engaged the harder this will be to do. Write it out if you need to. Remember your mind has been under assault and may not be able to handle deciphering what just happened. This is ok. You are not dumb. You’ve just been through some serious mental acrobatics. When you are ready, go back, with the paper if you need it, and state the facts.
“You’re just emotional”
Quite possibly you are, but this is a smoke screen. While being “emotional” may obscure your judgment, don’t just automatically jump on that train. The answer to this one is “Yes. I am emotional, but that does not change_______. In fact, I am emotional because of _______.” Remember, it happened. Had it not happened you would not have gotten emotional. Being a human and having a human response to an injury does not mean the injury didn’t happen. It did happen which is why you feel this way. Having emotion over it does not mean you are in the wrong.
“I don’t understand”
This can be tricky because this is a completely legitimate statement. The difference is whether the person is asking for clarification or dismissing you as illogical. Someone who says “I don’t understand, can you explain?” is not trying to delegitimize your feelings. They are trying to understand you and this is positive. If the speaker, however, is dismissal with this statement (tone, stance and facial expression will be telling), the interpretation of this statement is “You’re crazy. Anyone with a brain could see that that is completely irrational.” In fact, in more obvious situations, statements such as these will be verbalized. I was called crazy, amongst other terms, for my viewpoint on things. What you are saying is invalidated in one fell swoop because it’s “crazy”. Body language, facial expressions, and determining whether this person really wants to understand you or not will help you figure out if this tactic is being used.
“I don’t remember doing (or saying) that”
Are there any of these that aren’t tricky? Again a legitimate statement…..possibly. Does their memory seem to be especially faulty when you are remembering something they did wrong? Be careful here because this is an area where they will especially try to manipulate your memory. They “don’t remember,” therefore you don’t either. If you can, write down the facts ahead of time, including dates, times and circumstances that you can remember. This will help your memory recall when your mind starts swimming. If you can familiarize yourself with the details ahead of time and solidify it in your memory this will help.
If you do remember clearly that something happened, don’t let yourself be convinced it didn’t happen. Having said that, many studies have been done about memory recall of events. Just take the assassination of JFK for example. Many people remember many different details, some of which are completely in opposition to one another. Only one of those details can be accurate or possibly neither. Perception influences our memory. While I would suggest you trust your memory of the incident, be willing to consider you don’t remember correctly. Just note if this is taking place all the time, it is not likely you are always forgetting.
*As a side note, I am not advocating keeping a written record of all wrongs. I am only speaking of writing things out for memory recall when you are combatting this tactic. Toss the paper when you’re done.
Now this is something you say, not them. But if you find that you are always saying it after bringing up a concern or problem, stop and take stock. Just as in my example from the last article where I received the response “See? This is why I don’t tell you anything” to my tears over a recent and painful discovery, the blame is being turned back on you. The victimizer is now the victim. Stop and think. Did you bring a legitimate wrong to their attention and are now the one apologizing? What are you apologizing for? If you are apologizing for yelling, screaming, slamming doors, then by all means apologize. If you are apologizing for bringing it up, your feelings, or your “misinterpretation” of the situation (if you really did not misinterpret), then you have probably been gaslighted. I could have easily felt guilty (actually I did) after hearing that said to me. Trust me, it’s not hard. Once you are used to being gaslighted, taking on guilt you shouldn’t own is easy. Before you know it, you start wondering if you really are the hard one to deal with.
And this is where your support comes in. Gaslighting creates this abyss that is very difficult to find your way out of. The gaslighter is a professional at mental manipulation. It is cat and mouse. Often you are in a romantic relationship and your love for that person is what helps you pop right back up after you’ve been punched to the ground (Remember from childhood those oversized punching bags with sand in the bottom that popped back up after you hit them? They usually had creepy clown faces). Unfortunately, this devotion is exactly what the gaslighter needs in order to play this game. Sad, but true.
If your goal is to maintain that relationship, find a professional counselor preferably and write things down. Don’t just trust your memory. You are likely to be befuddled and repeating the details back can cause as much confusion as being in the situation can. This person will, hopefully, help you identify and learn how to respond to these tactics. In fact, if you are reading this, just find a counselor, preferably one who understands what gaslighting is. You will need help out of your mental fog.
If you are no longer in the situation, enact the No Contact Rule. You can read more here: https://songsfromthecage.com/2017/02/04/the-no-contact-rule/ . If you already have, then maintain it. The gaslighter does not just stop gaslighting.
This is by no means comprehensive and probably deserves some more attention. This is intended to be practical help for in the trenches. I know that when I first started looking for counseling, that is what I was looking for. I wanted a simple formula: When he says or does ____ what should I say or do?
If you find this helpful, let me know, I will do a follow-up. There are plenty more tactics to address.