What Does Gaslighting Do to a Person & How to Protect Yourself

Learning what does gaslighting do to a person is important. First, when you know the effects of gaslighting on a person, you can validate your…

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Learning what does gaslighting do to a person is important.

First, when you know the effects of gaslighting on a person, you can validate your experience. You know that you’re not alone or “crazy.”

Secondly, when you know what gaslighting does you can better protect yourself – and heal.

What Does Gaslighting Do to a Person

Gaslighting is when a person manipulates another person’s reality. For example, they will tell the other person they are “wrong.” That their perception of reality, thoughts or feelings are “wrong.”

Related: How to Spot the Hidden Signs Someone is Gaslighting You

When a person gaslights another they are aiming to continue to manipulate, abuse, cheat or betray the other person. A common example of gaslighting is the partner who is cheating accusing the other partner of being unfaithful whenever they bring this subject up. This leaves the faithful partner in a position to defend themselves. This manipulation tactic acts to distract from the truth.

what does gaslighting do to a person

Gaslighting is Crazy Making

Gaslighting because it acts to manipulate reality (your thoughts, feelings, and your sense) naturally makes a person feel like they are going crazy. They naturally want to “prove” themselves to the other person to no longer be portrayed as bad, wrong, or crazy for seeing, thinking, or feeling the way they do.

Naturally, this type of manipulation hurts in a person in many ways including:

  • Constant feelings of confusion,
  • Self-doubt and second guessing themselves,
  • They stop trusting themselves including their own thoughts, what they see, hear, or feel
  • A sense that they have lost themselves,
  • Trauma,
  • Fixation on “proving” themselves to the other person,
  • Getting stuck in conflict to defend their thoughts, feelings, etc. to the gaslighter,,
  • Obsession with finding out the truth (can lead to snooping through the person’s phone and other devices or following them),
  • Development of codependency,
  • Attachment issues including developing an insecure attachment style, and
  • Feeling like they are “going crazy”

You are Not Bad, Wrong, or Crazy

When someone is gaslighting you, fundamentally you will feel confused or crazy.

This is the exact purpose of gaslighting. The gaslighter wants you to second-guess yourself. The more you doubt yourself, the more they can manipulate and use you the way they want.

what does gaslighting do to a person

Rather than continuing to doubt yourself, take the feeling of being “crazy” as proof that you are being gaslighted. The most important step you can take for yourself at this point is to honor the fact that you are reliable. You can trust your own senses (what you see, hear) and you can trust your own thoughts and feelings. You have the right to your perspective and emotions even when the gaslighter tells you they are wrong.

Related: Building Self Confidence in Your Relationships: 4 Simple Steps

It’s Not Your Fault

When you are second-guessing yourself because of gaslighting, you may personalize how you’re being treated. A part of you will wonder as stated before if you really are bad, wrong, “crazy,” or “stupid.” You may also wonder if you “deserve” to be treated this way.

And naturally, you will want to prove yourself to the gaslighter (more on this in a moment).

Yet it’s important to know:

It is not your fault that this person hurting you. And it’s not personal in the sense it’s not because you’re bad, crazy, wrong, stupid, etc. or “deserve” to be treated this way. Rather this person is gaslighting you because they are abusive. Period. Full stop.

Related: Am I in an Abusive Relationship? 6 Signs You Are

Being Gaslit is Traumatic

When someone is manipulating your reality and pressuring you, it’s natural to feel scared. It’s quite common actually to be triggered into trauma response (fight or flight) when you’re being gaslighted. This means your primal brain is perceiving a threat to your survival. And naturally you will want to fight (which includes trying to “prove” yourself repeatedly) or run away (flight).

When you can’t fully remove yourself from the abuse of gaslighting say because you’re in a relationship with them, you can get “stuck” in this trauma response. This can lead to the development of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Related: Can You Heal Trauma on Your Own? 4 Clear Steps to Heal

This trauma can also lead a person to develop an insecure attachment style and/or codependency. It then takes time to recover not only from the trauma but the attachment or codependency issues as well.

Protecting Yourself by Honoring What’s Real

Gaslighting is abusive and as a result, it can dramatically hurt a person. It is possible to heal, of course, but at the same time, the sooner you can disengage from gaslighting the better.

You may not be able to – or want to – leave the person who is gaslighting you. And that’s ok. You don’t have to make any big decisions like this right now.

Related: How to Get Over Someone You Love But is Toxic: 5 Steps to Heal

One of the best ways to protect yourself from gaslighting is to honor the truth and your reality:

  • Take time to validate your own thoughts and emotions,
  • Seek support from people who you trust and who know you that can confirm your perceptions,
  • Check the facts of the situation i.e., write down a list of the things you hear, see, and know to be true (“I saw my partner immediately put his phone down when I walked in the room.” “She keeps telling me I must be cheating because I think she’s cheating.”)
  • Keep a list of facts in this situation, and
  • Find a therapist who can validate you and help you trust yourself
what does gaslighting do to a person

Stop Defending Yourself

When you’re interacting with a gaslighter, it’s natural to want to defend yourself. Of course, you want to be understood. This is a natural, healthy desire in relationships when others are safe for us.

Yet a gaslighter is not acting in good faith. They are intentionally lying to protect themselves and continue to do whatever they want such as lie, abuse, or cheat on the person. The person who is gaslighting you is not actually interested in understanding you. Their priority is manipulating and confusing you.

what does gaslighting do to a person
From Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed by Wendy Behary, LCSW

A person who consistently gaslights you is not a safe person. They are not trustworthy. (This is different than someone who occasionally manipulates reality like “I didn’t say that” but then takes accountability and genuinely considers your needs – and makes changes).

Because you are not interacting with a safe or trustworthy person, it genuinely is a waste of your energy to try to “prove” yourself to them. They likely know what reality is – they just don’t care. Remember they are gaslighting you precisely to manipulate you. This is the opposite of seeking to understand you.

Grounding Yourself

Gaslighting is incredibly anxiety inducing. If you are experiencing this type of abuse, you may find yourself struggling with panic attacks and/or being unable to sleep. It’s also common to be filled with obsessive thoughts about proving yourself to the other person or “figuring out” the truth.

To support yourself when you’re being gaslighted, it’s helpful to work to care for your body and emotions. Practicing physical self-care can help you feel more in your body. When you can be more physically present for yourself, you can help interrupt the trauma response.

Getting into nature is also proven to help reduce anxiety and improve overall mood. It also helps you solve your problems better (this of course includes the problem of being in an abusive relationship).

You Can Heal from Gaslighting

Gaslighting negatively impacts a person in a wide range of ways. Yet it is possible to heal. It’s important to know that you are being gaslighted and begin to disengage from proving yourself. Reaffirming your right to your own thoughts and feelings is crucial. Learning to trust yourself is a process but every time you validate “I know what I heard, saw, felt, etc.” you are one step closer to trusting yourself more and trusting the person gaslighting you less!

For more support on the next steps of healing, here’s some recommended reading:

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About The Author

Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist and author with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to find their voice, deepen their ability to self-love, and improve their relationships.

Her newest book, Setting Boundaries: 100 Ways to Protect Yourself, Strengthen Your Relationships and Build the Life You Want…Starting Now! (Therapy Within Reach), gives you the tools necessary to identify, set, and stay firm with your boundaries.

Her other books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many overcome people pleasing, self-neglect, and resentment to have a healthier relationship with themselves and others.

If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to krystal@confidentlyauthentic.com or DM her on Instagram. We will always keep your name and other identifying information confidential.

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