- Gaslighting can be tough to respond to because of the power that the perpetrator holds over the victim.
- Often, the best response to gaslighting is to plainly state your needs and boundaries.
- Sometimes, the safest response to gaslighting can be to leave the situation entirely.
Gaslighting is a common form of manipulation that often occurs when one person tries to control another. It can show up in relationships, friendships, work, or even your doctor's office and is incredibly distressing for the victim because it can cause them to question their sanity.
Regardless of the culprit, if you're constantly being gaslit by someone, it won't just degrade your self-esteem. According to Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Nick Bognar, gaslighting can lead to anxiety, depression, and trauma long-term as well as jeopardize future relationships.
That's why it's so important to know how to respond to a gaslighter to protect your mental health from severe harm.
Here's how (and when) to respond to gaslighting, and how to rebuild your self confidence if you've been gaslit, according to therapists.
How to respond to gaslighting
Ashley McMann, Licensed Professional Counselor at Mindful Living Therapy, says gaslighting often occurs in relationships with a power differential, so in some cases, responding to someone gaslighting you may be unsafe.
Plainly stating your boundaries without an explanation is the safest, often most effective way to advocate to a gaslighter. If you ever feel your safety is in question or even if you're overwhelmed, don't try to communicate — in that case, it's best to leave the conversation.
However, if you decide to respond, McMann generally recommends keeping your response short, to the point, and as direct as possible. And don't reply in the heat of the moment.
Try to take a few deep breaths to compose yourself so you can think through what to say, or what not to say. If the gaslighter has behaved this way toward you before, or they continue to try manipulating you, it may be best to move on without speaking up.
"If you're with someone who's trying to control you and wants to win at any cost, you'll always be at a disadvantage in an argument," says Bognar.
It can also help to have a support system lined up to promote self-confidence both before and after you confront the person gaslighting you, McMann says.
Exactly how you respond depends on the extent of the gaslighting and who is gaslighting you.
Gaslighting in romantic relationships
Bognar says one of the most common contexts for gaslighting is in romantic relationships, when one person wants to control the other. For example, let's say your partner tells you that you're being too dramatic when you say you feel like you're not getting your emotional needs met in the relationship.
How to respond: In that case, you can say something like: "I feel unheard right now, and it's really important for me to feel understood in our relationship."
If the gaslighting continues and you feel like your partner is continuously manipulating you, it may be time to leave the relationship.
Gaslighting by a medical provider
Your medical provider should be concerned about your wellbeing, but it's not uncommon for medical professionals to dismiss or question your symptoms when you share them.
According to Bognar, nonbinary individuals and women — especially trans women or women of color — often feel they're not taken seriously in medical settings, which could pose harm to their health.
For example, one 2019 study found that Black patients were 40% less likely to be prescribed pain medication for acute pain compared to white patients.
It's also common to find doctors who are biased against people who are overweight or obese.
How to respond: McMann suggests sharing that you feel you're not being taken seriously. For example, you could say "Something doesn't feel right in my body, and I don't feel like you believe me. Can we please look more into what might be going on?"
It's probably time to move on if the provider continuously makes light of your experience. You may also want to leave an anonymous negative review online or contact an administrator at the clinic.
You can also file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights if you feel a medical provider treated you unfairly because of your gender, sexual orientation, religion, race, or age.
Gaslighting by a relative
Bognar says that it's also common for relatives to gaslight each other. This is especially true for older relatives or relatives that have trouble understanding your identity.
For example, if you're gay, your relative might try to convince you that you have a mental illness or that you're going through a phase.
How to respond: In this case, you could say something like "I am proud of my sexuality and it is a part of who I am."
Speaking up about your feelings and setting a boundary with the gaslighter can be empowering if you feel safe to do so. For example, you could say, "If you continue to question my experience, I'm going to end the conversation and walk away."
If you continue to feel like your relative is denying your experience, the next step is to be clear that you aren't willing to engage in a conversation about the topic at hand.
Bognar also suggests setting a firmer boundary, like not talking about this topic at all in the future or deciding not to continue a relationship that feels disparaging or toxic to you. If you live with the gaslighter, you may need to set clear limits about conversations you are not willing to have with that person.
Gaslighting at work
Given the power differential between employees and managers, gaslighting may also happen in the workplace. This could take the form of your boss invalidating negative feedback shared about your work life, or questioning your experience when you ask for help with a problematic co-worker.
Maintaining professionalism when you advocate for yourself is imperative in the workplace, so make sure to take time to calm yourself down and gather your thoughts beforehand, McMann says.
How to respond: Once ready, share how you feel in a calm-but-confident manner.
"You could say, 'It seems we see things differently, and I'd like to work on a solution,'" McMann says. "'But if my feelings aren't being heard or validated, I'll have to take this issue to someone further up.'"
You could even role play with a friend or partner beforehand to better prepare.
If you're being gaslit at work, Bognar says documentation is key.
For example, you could email yourself every time your manager invalidates you. That way, you'll have evidence that the behavior is a pattern if you decide to complain to a higher-up.
Gaslighting by a long-term friend
While friends are supposed to support each other, gaslighting can happen in friendships just as easily as in relationships. For example, maybe your friend tells you that you're too sensitive when you say you're going through a difficult time with your partner.
How to respond: If you want to continue a relationship with the person gaslighting you, McMann says it's important to point out what's happening.
You could say, "I've noticed you keep calling me sensitive when I share my feelings. You and I don't have to agree, but I would really like you to listen to me and accept that I have my own experience."
Hopefully, the gaslighting person will learn to show you more empathy and honor your experience, even if they don't agree. However, an unwillingness to budge, Bognar says, is a red flag that you may need to reconsider your relationship.
How to rebuild your self-confidence after being gaslit
Whether you set a boundary or leave a relationship, it's important to rebuild your confidence after being gaslit so you can trust yourself, your emotions, and your experiences. You can do that in a few ways.
Focus on supportive relationships
Take inventory of your relationships and note who validates you and communicates in a gentle, supportive way. Then, focus on processing your feelings and seeking encouragement from these people.
If you've been gaslit for a long period of time or have experienced abuse, Bognar says it may also help to attend a therapy group (a therapist can refer you to one). "That way, you get the consensus of the group about your experience, which can help you trust in yourself," he says.
See a therapist
Another way to instill confidence in your emotions and experiences is to see a professional. McMann says a therapist can help you process your experiences and validate your feelings about them, along with encouraging more practices to help you build trust in yourself.
If you've been gaslit repeatedly, you may have a tendency toward doubtful thoughts about yourself.
Practicing positive affirmations, McMann says, can help you "talk back" to negative thoughts and retrain your mind to see reality in a more confident way.
For example, you could say:
- My feelings are real
- No one is allowed to tell me how I feel
- I deserve to be heard and validated
- I don't deserve to be dismissed
Try keeping a journal to remind yourself of these affirmations, or even saying them out loud to yourself in the mirror when you lack self-confidence. Either way, with time, you can overcome the thoughts that make you doubt yourself.
Be kind to yourself
Try to be compassionate with yourself if you slip back into judging yourself or distrusting people. If you've been gaslit, it may take some time to feel confident again — and that's OK.
Remind yourself that someone manipulated you into a skewed view of reality, and that it's possible to learn how to be more confident in yourself and the people who care about you.
Gaslighting can be a stressful, and at times even dangerous, relational dynamic. If someone is manipulating you or causing you to question your experience, always prioritize your safety.
That may mean making the difficult choice to set a boundary or leave a toxic environment, but remember, your well-being is worthwhile. "At some point you have to be willing to walk away in order to do what's best for yourself," says McMann.
Ashley Abramson is a Minneapolis-based writer. You can find her atashleyabramson.comor connect with her on Twitter@ashleyabrmsn.