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There is something so toxic that can happen in relationships that, once you recognize it, you realize there's actually no relationship taking place.
It's a behavior, or a series of behaviors, that is so bad that the person on the receiving end of it needs to be prepared to protect themselves.
This behavior is gaslighting.
Whether you think you understand it or not, you need to do more than understand.
If it's happening to you, then you must be prepared to protect yourself.
That's what you're going to learn how to do today, with a methodical process that will put you and your mental health first.
What is Gaslighting? (A Behavior So Toxic)
Gaslighting is so bad, in my opinion, that I'm not going to share a personal story about it.
It's just too raw and emotionally damaging for me.
So, let's go through a hypothetical scenario.
Let's make up two people: Jessica and John.
Jessica and John are in a relationship. They've been dating for about 9 months, and Jessica is wondering where the relationship is going. She's hoping that there is long-term potential.
There's just one problem.
Lately, John has been making comments that have been getting progressively worse.
At first they started as subtle jabs, words that stuck tiny barbs in Jessica's self-esteem.
He made her feel small by telling her she didn't really understand what she thought she did.
Jessica shrugged these initial comments off because the relationship was still new and exciting.
Then, she felt that the words took a more sinister turn.
Each time that she would try to advocate for herself in the relationship, John would call into question if she even knew what she was talking about. It's not like he was being physically aggressive. He just kept saying things like, "You know, that's not really how it works. You actually do all the things you claim, so I don't think you have much ground to argue about this."
He would smirk and laugh a bit as he said these things.
Seeds of doubt were planted in Jessica's mind.
Do I really know what I'm talking about? I think I do...
I gave him clear examples. What's going on here?
Within the last month, month eight of a relationship nine months long, Jessica began to dig deep and really speak her truth to John.
She even used "I statements," something she'd read about in an online article.
"I feel concerned when you tell me that I don't know what I'm talking about," she would tell John.
"Well you don't know what you're talking about. Everyone sees it that way. Even our friends say this to me about you."
Their friends? These friends were my friends before they ever became our friends... What the heck is he talking about?
But it just kept getting worse and worse. Soon, Jessica could not tell what was real and what wasn't. She felt like she was losing her mind.
And she was.
Because she was being gaslit.
How to Protect Yourself From Gaslighting Today
I want to make something abundantly clear.
If you think this is happening to you, you need to protect yourself.
I rarely make things black and white like this when I write about mental health, but this is an exception.
Someone who is knowingly trying to make you question your sanity is not someone you should be around.
Your mental health is everything. It's the foundation from which you approach the world. If your very foundation crumbles, the way you move through your life will suffer.
To protect yourself from gaslighting, you need to remember a few things:
- You deserve love. You deserve to be happy. When you are in the middle of experiencing the toxicity that is gaslighting, it's so easy to forget this.
- And that is because the person attacking you wants you to forget it and will do whatever it takes to control and manipulate you. Gaslighting is not a communication tactic. It's a control tactic. Never forget that.
- Find someone you know you can trust. Seek out a friend or family member who YOU KNOW has your best interests at heart. Ask them to help you determine what is real or not.
- Trust your intuition / gut. This is incredibly important in my experience. People who are in tune with their feelings are especially susceptible to gaslighting attacks. This is not because they are foolish or gullible--it's simply because they feel the world more strongly than most. If you think something is wrong, TRUST yourself.
- If something that seems like gaslighting has happened one time and it gave you a bad feeling, OK, make a mental note and move on. If it happens two or three times, you must start to move into defensive mode.
- Defensive mode means separation from the bad actor. Defensive mode means giving yourself time for peace and reflection. It also means surrounding yourself with people who you know love you and want to see you thrive.
If this is happening to you right now, seek help. Regain your sanity.
If it's happened to you in the past, think about those past interactions and compare them to what I've shared with you here to see if they meet the gaslighting bar.
Because not everything is gaslighting. It's not a term to toss around without thought as some people do on social media.
It's a serious behavioral pattern that can have damaging, even life-long, consequences.
That's why it's so important to educate yourself. And trust yourself.
You know your life best.
You know who you are as a person.
If someone is trying to take that away from you and make you question your reality, that is most likely not a person who should be in your life.
How you see the world is unique.
That's why you need to protect it.
Because in the end, you're protecting your very self, what makes you, you.