Hadley’s Intro: Discover how to identify gaslighting
and stop being a victim of it in a guest article
courtesy of the Washington Post
Gaslighting is emotional abuse. Here’s how to
recognize and stop it.
Many of us struggle to identify gaslighting, let
alone escape it. There are strategies to stop being
subjected to it.
Advice by Robin Stern and Marc Brackett
Gaslighting is an insidious, manipulative and
reality-bending form of emotional abuse. Yet, when
gaslighting is in our own relationships, many of us
struggle to identify it, let alone escape it.
What are the red flags? How do you know if it’s
happening? What does a gaslighting relationship
We hear these questions often. After
working with countless couples across 30 years of
clinical practice, one of us wrote a book and a
recovery guide to offer answers and to help people
navigate the gaslight effect in modern
Here are three examples of gaslighting:
One patient had a boyfriend who told her that she
was responsible for their fights. She often
responded with a hello to people who greeted her on
the street, including men. This bothered her
boyfriend, who asked her to look at the sidewalk
when they took a walk, so she wouldn’t have to
think about looking or not looking when men passed
by. She sought therapy help because she said she
“knew he was right” about this helping to
reduce their fighting, but she wasn’t happy
looking at the sidewalk.
Another patient felt like she couldn’t think
clearly anymore. She loved her relationship with
her girlfriend, but felt she had no personal space.
Her girlfriend said if my patient really loved her,
she would not need space for anything, or anyone
other than her. My patient felt confused and
wondered if this was love or something else.
A colleague said his wife had been criticizing him
for wanting to visit his family in Europe. For the
last few years, she has been saying, “They
don’t take covid seriously. If they loved you,
they would be more considerate. They don’t care
about our health. They don’t really love you.”
He was feeling helpless and belittled. At first, he
thought she was being mean with her comment that
they don’t love him. But, over time, listening to
her certainty, he began to think that maybe she’s
right that his family did not love him and that he
was being selfish for wanting to visit them.
Signs of gaslighting
These scenarios have one thing in common — one
partner knew how they felt but was made to believe
differently. One partner knew something was wrong
but was told they were in the wrong. In each of
these scenarios, there was a gaslightee — the
victim — and the gaslighter — the perpetrator.
When it comes to gaslighting, perpetrators use jabs
of shame, criticism and conversation pivots to
belittle the victim and reinstate their own sense
of power and quest for control. By engaging with
the perpetrator, the victim steps into a
“gaslight tango,” giving over their reality to
the perpetrator’s distortion.
This tango can be characterized by any combination
of gaslighting tactics used by perpetrators, such
as persistent denial, reality-spinning, shaming,
contradiction and outright lying.
These techniques destabilize and undermine the
reality of their targets. Consequently, people who
are victims of gaslighting display any number of
the following thoughts or behaviors:
They second-guess themselves.
They feel confused or crazy.
They know something is wrong but can’t put a name
They feel like they cannot do anything right.
They lie to avoid put-downs or reality twists.
They apologize even when they are not sure they
have done anything wrong.
If you see red flags, can name the gaslighting and
want to stop being subjected to it, consider these
=>Opt out of the power struggle
When conversations become a tug of war, opt out.
=>Write down or record conversations verbatim to
parse truth from distortion. Identify when the
conversation is no longer really about you and your
partner and instead veers into controlling
territory so that you can avoid those triggers.
=>Check in with your feelings often
Emotions are vital pieces of data that guide the
decisions we make or don’t make. Recognize your
emotions and their patterns, and be nuanced in the
words you use to describe them. Guided by the
research we have conducted at the Yale Center for
Emotional Intelligence, we recommend using the How
We Feel app, which will help you build skills to
work with your emotions.
=>Honor your emotions
Welcome all your emotions as a guide. When you’re
experiencing gaslighting, take a deep breath and
remember that “I like the way I feel” or “I
don’t like the way I feel” is reason enough to
stop a conversation. Pause, then act in a way that
honors your emotions and reconnects you with your
and not the perpetrator’s reality.
=> Turn on your decision-making
Trust your voice in rebuilding confidence in your
choices. Be mindful of everyday decisions — for
instance, who you spend time with and what you do
with your time. For each decision, notice if it
boosts your sense of agency; if not, think about
what you may do differently next time. And use that
information to build your self-confidence.
=> Find your support system
A solid support system with an outside perspective
on your relationship can help you cut through the
fog of gaslighting. Get in touch with those who
care about you and knew you before this
relationship left you second-guessing yourself.
Don’t judge your need for others. Lean into the
comfort of a trusted social network that can help
bring the truth to light.
=> Be willing to leave, even if you ultimately don’t
Remind yourself that you do not have to live like
this. If you have tried to make the relationship
work and still find yourself on the end of
emotionally harmful or abusive behaviors, you are
worthy of walking away.
=> Take steps toward self-agency
You have a future beyond this relationship. Walk in
the direction of people and opportunities that
revitalize your sense of self, peace and joy, and
continue investing in them. On your journey —
practice self-compassion and patience. Once freed
from the constraints of an emotionally abusive
relationship, you can make better choices for
yourself, choices that will foster a better you.
Robin Stern is the co-founder and associate
director of the Yale Center for Emotional
Intelligence, a psychoanalyst in private practice,
the author of “The Gaslight Effect Recovery
Guide” and the host of the Gaslight Effect
Marc Brackett is the founding director of the Yale
Center for Emotional Intelligence, a professor in
the Child Study Center at Yale and the author of
“Permission to Feel.”
What healthy steps will you take to avoid being
subjected to gaslighting?