How to deal with gaslighting: strategies to stop manipulation

How to deal with gaslighting

Expert guide outlines how to deal with gaslighting, tips to recognise emotional manipulation and how to stop it happening to you.

Are you being emotionally manipulated? If you’ve been questioning your perception more often lately, you may have been the victim of gaslighting. This is an emotional manipulation that so unsettled those affected that they constantly question their own memories, perceptions and feelings — or even sanity. This is made possible by a relationship of trust between the perpetrator and the victim, so that the person or persons concerned does not initially feel any suspicions.

What is gaslighting?

How to deal with gaslighting
Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman in the 1944 movie “Gaslight”

The first step in knowing how to deal with gaslighting is to understand exactly what it is. Gaslighting is a type of psychological violence or abuse in which the victim’s self-confidence is destroyed piece by piece. Through clever manipulation over a longer period of time, doubts are sown, so that the victim is at some point completely destabilized psychologically.

This approach is named after the 1938 play “Gaslight” by Patrick Hamilton, which first describes this practice. “Gaslight” became known as a film starring Ingrid Bergman as the victim of a manipulative husband. In it, the husband tries to drive his wife mad by changing little things such as lighting by gas lights in her environment, while constantly denyingthis to her: she doesn’t remember properly, she’s wrong and so on.

Gaslighting nowadays refers to the deliberate deception of a person in order to make them doubt their own perception. This is achieved mainly by…

  • Misleading statements and actions
  • Denial
  • Lies
  • Contradiction

The perpetrators, i.e. the Gaslighters, in turn take advantage of the existing relationship of trust in order to make their increasingly unsettled victims emotionally and emotionally dependent. The goal is to gain complete, manipulative power over the victim.

Gaslighting is not a cavalier offence. Rather, these are particularly serious emotional and emotional abuses. At the extreme, manipulation can lead to systematic destruction of perception, self-confidence and madness.

After such experiences, the victims of gaslighting usually need psychological therapyin order to process the experiences and be stabilized again.

How to deal with gaslighting: recognise the perpetrators

The phenomenon is not new. It is a method long used by narcissists, demagogues and religious leaders, so it is wise to know How to handle a narcissist without becoming their victim. As it happens slowly, sufferers do not notice the brainwashing. The reason that this can happen is because the persons concerned attribute greater competence to the gaslighter than to themselves. As described above, they fall into an emotional dependency.

The perpetrator distorts facts,denies that certain events took place in this way. He spreads lies, behaves contradictoryly and unsettles his victim with phrases like “You’re wrong, that was very different.” Whoever becomes a victim of gaslighting in a relationship lives in a dysfunctional relationship.

It is not uncommon for perpetrators to have a narcissistic personality disorder. Such a partner makes the other emotionally dependent on one another out of a sadistic feeling. He thus exercises power and control over the victim – often out of fear of being abandoned himself.

Consideration is a foreign word for such people. Their own interests are always paramount to those of others, and they are incapable of genuine compassion.

It is impossible to talk to you on a matter-of-fact level, as they are easily sickened and react quickly aggressively or violently. Their approach is extremely skilful, and it is not uncommon for them to try to convince the other that he is crazy.

Gaslighting is usually performed by a person close to the victim. These can be partners, but also work colleagues, friends or even their own family. In other words, people who enjoy our trust,who are important to us and on which we rely.

For example, there are cases of gaslighting in which the gaslighter enters a victim’s home in his absence in order to manipulate objects such as the computer or change the decoration.

Personal items are damaged, work is sabotaged, and those affected can be driven close to madness. This particular expression is especially found in stalking.

How to deal with gaslighting: understand why mainly women are affected

Although in principle, regardless of age, any gender can be a victim of gaslighting, women are conspicuously more often noted as victims of gaslighting. Empirical studies on this, however, are lacking. However, it is thought that this is mainly due to the frequent classical distribution of roles, in which men play the dominant role in the couple relationship and the women make themselves docile – or at least try to do so.

However, this does not mean that only men are eligible as perpetrators. Ultimately, manipulations take place again and again in interpersonal relationships – in different forms: parents make their children have a bad conscienceso that they can clean up their rooms or finally do homework.

A woman flirts with other men to make him jealous and get him to try harder for her; he buys her expensive jewelry to get her to bed. All of these are ultimately attempts at manipulation – albeit at a comparatively harmless level – that continue in the job.

Gaslighting in the workplace

Whoever has someone in his circle of acquaintances, in which tendencies to manipulation can be observed, will automatically go at a distance. This is much more difficult in working life – even in part-time work, 20 hours or more still have to be spent with difficult colleagues.

Gaslighting keeps popping up in connection with bullying and bossing. For no apparent reason, employees are exposed in front of assembled teams, things are twisted. Precisely because there is no objective reason, the victim does not expect such an attack at that time. It is also helpful to know How to deal with a bully at work: the 5 steps.

The reasons for such an approach vary. In some cases, it may serve to maintain its own power. In cases where the manager is bullying in this way, the focus may be on trying to get rid of unwelcome or hard-to-call employees.

Signs of gaslighting: How it manifests itself

Gaslighting often follow a similar pattern, but it takes a certain amount of time as a person concerned to be able to recognize the repetitive patterns of gaslighting. In principle, it is perfectly normal at first for someone to question their opinion and compare it with other people.

However, if you have the impression for some time that something is wrong and someone around you is suggesting that something is wrong with your perception, you should be listening. Typical warning signals and strategies of the gaslighters are them saying, for example:

  • You are not normal.
  • If I wasn’t such a patient person, you wouldn’t have anyone on your side.
  • No one can stand up to you.
  • Be glad that I am still with you.
  • You are just imagining that.
  • Something is wrong with your perception.
  • I never said that.
  • Of course I said that, you just forgot about it.
  • You distort the facts, so that never happened.
  • Your memory probably plays a prank on you.
  • I fear that you are suffering from a loss of reality.
  • You are too sensitive!
  • You are over-reacting.
  • You are unstable.
  • You are neurotic.
  • You should go to the psychologist.

Of course, it can (but does not have to) be true, and those affected actually have a patchy or selective perception of the situation. Often, however, the gut feeling is a good indication, which you should at least pay attention to in order to develop a sense of possible gaslighting.

Leading psychologist Dr. Stephanie Sarkis, for example, warns against typical signs like these:

Question of guilt

No matter what it is, the question of guilt is resolved quite quickly, you are always the culprit. Claims are made so long that you have done this or that wrong, someone would have explained a situation to you before until you believe it yourself. As a result, you begin to bend accordingly.


Someone may have been completely kind to you in one situation and said something, the next moment in front of other people suddenly stubbornly and stiffly claims the opposite. Of course, in this situation, you have a hard time proving the actual version. Also the actions of the gaslighters often do not fit with what they actually say, so it is important for those affected to pay attention to what is actually done and less to give any lip service.

Time factor

The common is, as mentioned, the longer period of time that gaslighting takes. Smaller, sometimes bigger lies are spread here and there, so that it is no longer noticeable. The principle is the same as a frog slowly warming up in cold water – it doesn’t notice the impending danger until eventually the water boils.


Gaslighters are excellent at intrigue. You simply make claims that other people have spoken about you in a certain way, such as: “The colleague knows that you often make mistakes.” A gas lighter is constantly lying. You should be aware that what has been said does not have to correspond to the facts, but is simply intended to unsettle you. Ultimately, this can lead to you being kept away from people who don’t want anything bad for you for fear – you become so isolated, the perpetrator gains more control over you.

Effect of manipulation by gaslighting

The self-doubt caused by the perpetrator means that the victim is completely unsettled and takes a avoidable attitude. Manipulation by gaslighting leads to severe mental illness.

Many victims consider themselves crazy, believing that they are no longer in control of their lives. They fall into depression,but can also develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or a dissociative disorder. Other concomitant diseases, such as psychosomatic diseases, may also occur.

As gaslighting happens over a longer period of time, the victim’s perception also changes slowly. In this way, it is only from a distance that it can be seen what exactly happened. However, this also makes therapy more difficult for those affected, who must learn to understand that they have fallen victim to manipulation. In the respective acute situation, the manipulation can hardly be detected.

How to deal with gaslighting: the best strategies

The first and most important step is to recognize the signs of gaslighting. If feelings such as fear or shame are permanent companions, something may not be right. The following tips will help you fight back against gaslighting:

Contact cut-off

Immediately cut off contact with the person with whom you are constantly being taught these feelings. Only from a distance and without the poisonous input of this person you have the opportunity to think clearly again.


Be sure to get professional help from a therapist. A psychologist is familiar with the various methods of manipulation and, based on his expertise, will be able to follow your remarks and identify the method behind them. It will help you regain damaged self-esteem to see more clearly and survive everyday life.


You should also seek help in the form of friends or family members to whom you will share your observations and support and strengthen your perception. These may also serve you as witnesses in the presence of the manipulative person, or at least prevent the gaslighter from becoming active again – because usually such incidents only happen when the perpetrator is alone with his victim. The decisive step is to break out of the social isolation that the gaslighter usually wants to achieve in order to make you dependent on it. To bring in our own allies and third parties is therefore an often quite effective counter-strategy.


Review the facts and document statements, such as your own conversation logs or a diary. In it, keep a close mind about who did what and when. In this way, you not only regain your self-confidence, but can prove the correctness of your own perception in the event of any doubts that arise. This gives you the opportunity to pass the perpetrator of his own lie (even if he will deny it and go into the forward defense).

In general: It does not make sense to go into the discussion with the gaslighter in order to uncover the truth. This is exhausting and rarely leads to a good result. It is not uncommon for the Gaslighter to even believe in its twisted reality.

Rather avoid the perpetrator or perpetrators, believe in yourself and focus on the future. The best protection against gaslighting is still a strong self-confidence. Mindfulness can also be a good way to consciously perceive changes and review things.