Now that you’ve read my previous blog, Gaslighting, a Not Uncommon Dynamic, and you’ve determined that you’re being gaslighted, how do you stop it? It’s easy for an outsider to say, “just leave the gaslighter,” but it’s not so easy for the real-life target. The victim of gaslighting often resembles the victim of domestic violence and is sometimes, because s/he also is in an unequal power relationship, a victim of both.
So how does one survive a gaslighting spouse, short of walking out the door?
Tips For Survival
More than anything else, given that the perpetrator’s goal is to convince you to doubt reality and what you thought you knew as true, and to undermine your confidence, you must learn (or relearn) to trust your own perceptions. Here are some tips for taking back control.
- First, make sure you’re being gaslighted. Just because your spouse disagrees with your version of events doesn’t mean he’s trying to gaslight you. Look for a repeated pattern of manipulation. Look for purposeful attempts to make you doubt yourself and your version of reality. What is his intent, and, especially, how does his behavior make you feel? How often does he accuse you of forgetting what someone said or of misremembering what happened?
- Keep a record. Journal your own account of events or of conversations he might describe differently later. If there is any, collect evidence. Save screenshots of texts. Take notes of dialogues in which he accused you of forgetting what was said or of misconstruing him or of losing things. Include quotes when you can. This, at least, will enable you to trust your memory, which is critical to undercutting this behavior.
- Separate yourself. Ideally, you would get away from the situation physically. You might go for a walk or step outside. Or leave the abuser. But that’s not always possible. If it is not, focus on your breathing, and on remaining calm. Change the subject if you can.
- Challenge the gaslighter. His tactics are only successful if he confuses you, demeans you, and undermines your confidence. If his behavior doesn’t bother you, and you remain convinced that what you know is true, the perpetrator may give up his strategy. If he insists that he is correct, and that you are mistaken, agree to disagree and, again, change the subject.
- Seek the insights of others. Remember that the gaslighter will try to isolate you from your support network, so reality checks from family and friends can be very helpful. So, too, are their observations of what’s going on. Remember, it will be harder for him to gaslight more than one person. Especially when the others are not in a dependent relationship with him, as you may be.
- Seek professional support. This is perhaps the most obvious but the most difficult solution. Like domestic violence, gaslighting can be emotional abuse and you may need a therapist to help you meet it head-on.
Ultimately, once you’ve regained control (and peace of mind), you may decide that your relationship with the gaslighter isn’t worth it, especially if his efforts to manipulate you haven’t stopped. But one of the results of successful gaslighting is the victim’s inability to trust herself and therefore to make decisions. So, take these steps to move yourself back into the psychological space necessary to make good decisions.
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About this week’s author, Joryn Jenkins.
Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, two of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed in the United States Supreme Court upon those who have provided exceptional leadership in the American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.