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  • Multiple Reality Disorder – What is gaslighting and what to do about it

    What is gaslighting, anyway?  It’s an interpersonal, psychological tactic of manipulating someone into questioning their own reality, even their sanity.  

    The name comes from a British play of 1938 in which a man repeatedly changes the home environment (including the lighting) and denies it.  His wife notices the changes, but he undermines her, denies anything is changing, and questions her perceptions.  He leads her into questioning herself so completely that she ends up having a nervous breakdown.

    Are you questioning your perceptions when relating to a specific person?

    Are you uncertain about how you feel, confused about what you said, angry at yourself for not thinking straight?

    Is the other person saying things like this? 

    • That’s not what you said.
    • That never happened.
    • Are you crazy?
    • You’re feeling upset over nothing.
    • You don’t really feel that way.
    • You’re not sharing what you’re really feeling.
    • Why do you keep changing your mind?
    • What you said was this… why?
    • You’re not remembering it right.

    When a person is being constantly gaslit, they start to show signs of lowered self-esteem. You may experience a range of emotions from confusion and anger to frustration—finding yourself in argumentative circles both out loud and in your mind. This type of back-and-forth is exhausting and can affect your sense of self.

    What to do about gaslighting

    Slow things down.  Breathe. 

    Don’t let yourself be rushed to respond or make a decision.  Resist being pressured.  If you need to, tell the other person to wait, or even take a physical break from the interaction.

    Stand firm in your truth. 

    While you’re pausing, remind yourself that you’re not making things up.  Practice mindfulness—yes, right in that moment. Notice with your senses what is around you. You are not inventing your surroundings, you are perceiving your environment accurately.  

    Say to yourself “I know what I heard, saw, felt.” “I know how I feel and how I felt, you don’t.” “I don’t remember the situation the way you do, but that doesn’t invalidate my memory.”

    Write your observations.  

    Writing slows things down, too.  Make a note or two in the moment, but don’t pressure yourself to be a news reporter.  Just write down your observations.  You can also keep a journal over time.  And remember that email and text conversations also provide a written record.  

    Keep the conversation simple and on track. 

    Know your purpose when entering the conversation. What would you like to accomplish? Resolve? What are the main points that you would like to get across?

    A person who is gaslighting will lie, shift the narrative, and will minimize how you feel. Entering the conversation knowing your purpose will help you remain centered on a path versus being detoured in some other direction.

    Avoid repeating statements and circular reasoning. 

    If you find yourself having to repeat yourself, or having to respond to the same questions over and over, stop.  You clearly expressed yourself once, you don’t have to remember how to say the same thing again.  You don’t have to stick around if the other person continues to minimize you or your statements.

    Remind yourself that you don’t have to beat the other person at their own game. 

    Gaslighters don’t respond to evidence that they are gaslighting.  In many instances, a person who is gaslighting you may not even be aware of it.  You can present all kinds of evidence, videos, recordings, and more, and they will continue to deflect, minimize, or deny.  They will continue to turn the focus back on you.

    Instead of trying to win the game, stop playing.

    Build your support system, and rely on it. 

    You are most vulnerable to gaslighting if you are alone.  In isolation, it’s easy to question yourself when repeatedly confronted.  

    When you reach out to your friends and colleagues you can do some reality testing about your experience and your own assumptions.  You can get external validation which integrates the truth of your experience in your own mind.