How to Respond to Gaslighting at Home, Work & Everywhere in Between

Even if you know how to spot the signs of it, it can be difficult to know how to respond to gaslighting (basically, a manipulation technique wherein a person makes you question your sense of reality). We checked in with Dr. Monica Vermani, clinical psychologist and author of A Deeper Wellness: Conquering Stress, Mood, Anxiety and Traumas, for her take on what gaslighting looks like at home, work and everywhere in between, plus how to respond to different types.

Meet the expert: Dr. Monica Vermani, C. Psych., is a clinical psychologist who treats adolescents and adults suffering from trauma/abuse, mood, anxiety, substance addictions and other related conditions and disorders, as well as family and couples therapy.

What Does Gaslighting in Relationships Actually Look Like?

how to respond to gaslighting cat
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First, what is gaslighting?

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, there are five distinct gaslighting techniques:

  1. Withholding: The abusive partner pretends not to understand or refuses to listen. Ex. “I don’t want to hear this again,” or “You’re trying to confuse me.”
  2. Countering: The abusive partner questions the victim’s memory of events, even when the victim remembers them accurately. Ex. “You’re wrong, you never remember things correctly.”
  3. Blocking/Diverting: The abusive partner changes the subject and/or questions the victim’s thoughts. Ex. “Is that another crazy idea you got from [friend/family member]?” or “You’re imagining things.”
  4. Trivializing: The abusive partner makes the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant. Ex. “You’re going to get angry over a little thing like that?” or “You’re too sensitive.”
  5. Forgetting/Denial: The abusive partner pretends to have forgotten what actually occurred or denies things like promises made to the victim. Ex. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” or “You’re just making stuff up.”

Per Vermani, “Gaslighting is coercive control: a targeted, prolonged and highly effective form of manipulation of one individual by another.” She adds that gaslighting often takes place within close relationships—not between strangers. A gaslighter, she explains, is someone in a position of trust, like an intimate partner, a close friend or family member or someone in a close working relationship. “Gaslighters deliberately undermine, manipulate, destabilize and confuse their target,” she notes. “In turn, the target begins to question their sense of reality, and doubt their perceptions and feelings.”

She tells us that when it comes to protecting ourselves from the harmful and often long-term effects of gaslighting, it’s crucial to be aware of certain warning signs so we can nip the issue in the bud before it gets too out of control. “Understanding and identifying how gaslighting can creep in and play out in our own lives or the lives of people we care about is key to protecting ourselves and those we love from this dangerous form of emotional abuse.”

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What gaslighting can look like at work: Lying about deadlines and responsibilities

Gaslighter: “I see you’re cutting out early. I hope this means your report is done and will be on my desk first thing tomorrow morning.”

Target: “It’s not due until the end of the month. I’ve had it on my schedule for weeks.”

Gaslighter: “We’re delivering the report to the client at the end of the month. I need it first thing tomorrow morning.”

Target: “But I was sure …”

Gaslighter: “Tomorrow. First thing. No excuses.”

How to respond to this type of gaslighting: Keep clear and accurate records of all schedules, communication and correspondences

“It's highly unlikely that your workplace gaslighter will admit you're right, even when you have solid evidence of your version of events, timelines and schedules,” Vermani concedes, adding that arguing your case is a waste of time and may only make things worse. It’s important, if you suspect someone is gaslighting you at work, to keep clear and complete written records—including written affirmations of verbal exchanges and information— so you’ll have a solid timeline supporting your position—not only for your own validation, but as evidence for superiors should you need to defend yourself.

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What gaslighting can look like in a friendship or romantic relationship: Undermining your memory and perceptions

Gaslighter: “I am out of town all day. Why would I agree to pick you up when I’m not even in the city?”

Target: "I remember our conversation clearly. You said would meet me at work. I’ve been waiting for you for half an hour.”

Gaslighter: “You’ve mixed up your days again. I told you I’d meet you tomorrow.”

How to respond to this type of gaslighting: Explain your position calmly, with complete confidence

Vermani tells us that gaslighters often lie about plans or promises they have made—even in the face of hard evidence like text messages or written notes that support your version of events. “They destabilize by making you question your memory, sense of reality and version of events. When this happens, calmly tell them what you remember and make it clear that you do not accept their version of events and that you are confident in your recollections.”

3 general ways to escape a gaslighter

“It is critical for victims of gaslighters to disengage from their abuser and seek the support of friends, family members and professionals,” Vermani says. Here are three steps to breaking free from a gaslighter:

  1. Decide to leave. “The decision to leave a situation where you are controlled is the first step in breaking free.”
  2. Cut off all contact and communication. “Disengaging and blocking communication with a gaslighter is the most effective and efficient means of ending the manipulation.”
  3. Surround yourself with supportive friends and family members. “Seek the help of a therapist to learn skills and strategies to help you avoid falling prey to manipulative people in the future.”

sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...