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Gaslighting: How Not to Get Burned

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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistJune 28, 2017
From the WebMD Archives

Have you grown uncertain of yourself? Confused? Afraid to speak up? Take a look around and consider whether a particular person in your life is encouraging these thoughts and feelings. If so, they might be signs of that person gaslighting you. That is, the person might be purposefully trying to get you to doubt your own sanity by, for example, persistently lying, denying things they’ve said, and acting in ways that contradict what they’ve said. It’s an insidious form of emotional abuse that you don’t need to fall victim to.

The best thing you can do to guard yourself from gaslighting is to pay close attention to your own experience. The clearer you are about your thoughts and feelings, the more you can “own” them. If you are confused, then reflect on the confusion. Consider whether it seems to be happening only with a particular person. If the answer is yes, then you would be wise to think about whether that person is doing something to undermine you. Ask trustworthy people outside of the situation for their opinion. By relying on yourself and trusted others, you will be less susceptible to gaslighting – or any other kind of emotional abuse.

It can also help to be alert for someone who repeatedly gives you feedback that shows little understanding of, or caring for, you. When truly supportive people offer feedback, they generally do so from a perspective of seeing you positively, and also sometimes noting areas where you might improve. So when someone consistently says or does things that emphasize your ignorance, flaws, or difficulties – and especially when they seem to be encouraging you to question your own sanity – there is a serious problem. Maybe the intent is malicious and they are gaslighting you. Maybe not. But the bottom line is that the relationship is destructive for you.

To complicate matters, people who gaslight others will occasionally be kind and supportive. They do this just enough to counter any doubt you have about their motives. But if you pause and think back over your interactions, you will find that they more often say and do things that cause you to question yourself.

Also, be mindful that a group of people can gaslight you. So, if you are feeling worn down by self-doubt in the presence of a group of interconnected people (such as co-workers or a group of “buddies”), check in with people from a different area of your life. Again, it’s important that the person is someone you experience as supportive; someone who usually leaves you feeling good about yourself.

The ultimate defense again someone gaslighting you is to not let any one person hold “the truth” about you. This includes you. Everyone has limitations and gets off balance sometimes. So, while it’s important to feel strongly grounded in your own perception of yourself and life, it’s also important to acknowledge your limitations. Seek out feedback from others to help guide you; but always be sure to assess whether that feedback resonates inside of you as accurate.  This way you are allowing others to help you see what may be in your blind spots while also keeping yourself as the ultimate judge of your own reality.

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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a well-respected psychologist, who is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of the book Insecure in Love.

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