6 Life-Saving Strategies For Surviving An Abusive Gaslighter

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gaslighting, psychological abuse
Heartbreak, Self

Feel like you're losing your mind?

Gaslighting is form of psychological abuse that causes a person to question his or her sanity.

Here’s an example: Your girlfriend promises to be home at 5:30 PM so you can go out with your friends. When she shows up at 6:30 PM, she casually brushes off your exasperation, claiming that 6:30 PM was the plan all along and that your friends won’t mind you being late. If they do, then they (and you!) are way too sensitive about time.  

Boom. In the span of 30 seconds you’ve been lied to, dismissed, and criticized. In other words, you’ve been gaslighted.

Gaslighted once, and you’ll start to feel uneasy. Gaslighted twice, and you’ll start questioning your self-worth. Gaslighted on a regular basis, and you’ll suspect you’re going crazy.

If you’re in a relationship with a gaslighter, your best option may be to get out. But it’s not always that simple. Your boss may be a gaslighter, but you like your job and you need the paycheck. Your spouse may be a gaslighter, but he or she also has many admirable qualities. Plus, you may have kids, and you’re just not ready to walk away.     


RELATED: 18 Signs You’re A Victim Of Gaslighting


In these cases, you need some coping mechanisms. Here are six strategies that will help you not only survive a gaslighter, but hopefully move your relationship to a healthier place.

1. Give the abuse a name.

A gaslighter’s favorite tactic is the lie plus denial plus projection. When this happens (and it will!), don’t get frustrated. Get specific.

In the example above, explain to your girlfriend that what she is doing is called gaslighting and demand she not do it again. Then ask her to call your friends and take responsibility for you being late.

Whether she does or not is irrelevant; the point is that you’ve given a name to the abuse while firmly standing up to it. As with bullying, this is the first step toward ending it.

2. Stand by your convictions and decisions.

A gaslighter shows little interest in your wants and needs, unless they directly support their agenda.

Suppose, for example, you’d like to sign your son up for a yoga class. It’s likely that your gaslighting husband will criticize this decision as foolish (“Yoga is silly. A soccer class would be so much better.”).

In this case, the gaslighter is goading you. Don’t take the bait. You can’t win an argument with a gaslighter, and you don’t need to. Nor do you need to defend your position.

Instead, simply move forward with your decisions, whether than means the yoga class, a night out with friends, or a new restaurant for dinner. If your restaurant suggestion gets ridiculed, go by yourself.

3. Keep a record.

A gaslighter is a master of the false promise plus reverse blame. Your boss at work, for example, has promised a promotion if your new marketing campaign boosts the company’s sales. Your efforts hit the mark, but the promotion doesn’t follow.

When you confront your boss, he conveniently forgets the conversation ever took place. If this "toxic amnesia" isn’t enough to drive you crazy, he then lashes out at you for pestering him during a busy part of the day. Suddenly you’re on the defensive! And you don’t have that raise.   

With this in mind, a strong defense against a gaslighter is written evidence. At work, get that promotion promise in writing. Also, document all meetings with your gaslighting boss; you never know when they will be needed in an HR meeting.


RELATED: If A Guy Does These 16 Things — Sorry, But He's Emotionally Unavailable


With a gaslighting spouse, don’t get stuck in a he-said she-said debate. Plan ahead, share a calendar if needed, and make the effort to get written confirmation of promises. When the time comes, you’ll be glad to have his “I’ll pick up Johnny from soccer” text.  

4. Get your own life — and keep it.

A gaslighter thrives in a one-sided relationship. He wants to talk about his job, his opinions, and his interests — and he expects your life to be lived in service to his. He accomplishes this by trivializing what matters most to you: your job, your hobbies, and your friends.  

It’s up to you to fight this dynamic. Do it by engaging in things that matter to you. Throw yourself into a work project, take an online class, or volunteer at your child’s school. If your partner belittles your enthusiasm, don’t justify it. Embrace it and then get even more committed.

Being engaged in and proud of your own life precludes the gaslighter from demeaning it. Even better, over time the gaslighter may come to accept that your life matters just as much as his.    

5. Protect your children.

If you have children with a gaslighter, your kids will be psychologically abused as well. They will have trips canceled, promises broken, and be made to feel guilty for no reason at all.

When they get gaslighted, call it out immediately. Then demand that your spouse apologize. By doing this, you’re protecting your children and setting an example for how to stand up to future bullies.  

6. Have some empathy.

No one should have to endure gaslighting. But if you’re tied to a gaslighter for the time being, it may help to remember that this type of abuse is usually learned. Gaslighting begets gaslighting, and it’s likely your gaslighter was raised (and abused) by at least one narcissistic parent.

If so, the person probably considers his or her behavior to be perfectly normal (no matter how outlandish it is). And if you’re willing to give the gaslighter in your life the benefit of the doubt, then it’s on you to manage the situation.

Call out the abuse and take control of your own life at the same time. It just may be enough to extinguish the gaslight for good.


RELATED: 12 Subtle (But Scary) Signs You're A Victim Of Gaslighting


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