Manipulation can be so cruel, but sadly so effective.
Arguably one of the most devious and harmful tactics to gain control over someone is through gaslighting.
The idea is to undermine and confuse you to the extent that you question your own sanity and even your very perception of reality itself.
Getting to grips with all the nuances involved in gaslighting is crucial in defending yourself.
So let’s take a look at a range of gaslighting tactics manipulators can use to confuse their victims.
1) Constantly downplaying and dismissing your feelings
Belittling your emotions is one way that a gaslighter will try to keep you and your reactions in check.
They may dismiss them as irrational or unwarranted, creating doubt within your mind.
For example, they may tell you that:
“You’re so sensitive”
“You’re always overreacting”
“You’re super needy”
“You’re being unreasonable”
“You’re being so demanding”
They want to minimize whatever they have done or said that hurt you. The best way to do this is to try to make you feel unreasonable for your response.
This doesn’t just apply to the way you feel, it also applies to your personal experiences too — as we’ll see next.
2) Discrediting your experiences
Gaslighters often attempt to invalidate your experiences and downplay them.
That way, it’s not just the way you feel about something that has happened that’s invalid. They also want you to believe that the whole experience was no big deal.
Here’s the aim:
By repeatedly questioning your perceptions, they aim to undermine your confidence and make you reliant on their version of events for the truth.
A couple of tactics to do this are dismissing your concerns as overreactions or insisting that your memories are faulty.
3) Questioning your memory and recollection of events
Here’s the funny thing about memory:
It’s never 100% objective or 100% precise.
Essentially our memory is a story we tell ourselves about something that has happened.
Rather than capture the event exactly, we tend to repackage it into a version of our recollection.
Now that’s not to say that we don’t remember things accurately. It’s more to highlight how memory can be manipulated.
That story can be twisted. This is exactly what gaslighters try to do.
They will contest things that have been said, or done.
After a while, you may start to confuse their version of events with your version of the truth.
4) Constant denial, even when faced with compelling evidence
I call this the Shaggy defense, because no matter how incredulous things get:
“It wasn’t me”.
But she caught me on the counter (It wasn’t me)
Saw me bangin’ on the sofa (It wasn’t me)
I even had her in the shower (It wasn’t me)
She even caught me on camera (It wasn’t me)
She saw the marks on my shoulder (It wasn’t me)
Heard the words that I told her (It wasn’t me)
Heard the scream get louder (It wasn’t me)
She stayed until it was over
My point is, that they consistently turn to denial no matter what you present them with.
From the outside looking in, it seems ludicrous that they are still maintaining this stance.
But they are so steadfast and persistent with it, that from the inside, it starts to confuse you.
You question yourself and wonder if them sticking to their story means you’re the one who has got it wrong.
5) Lying straight to your face
Sniffing out a lie isn’t easy at the best of times.
But when a gaslighter has already cultivated an environment of confusion, it’s even harder.
Lots of manipulators are seasoned liars and have gotten good at either embellishing the facts or being straight-up deceptive.
6) Stripping away at your self-esteem
In order for gaslighting to work, someone needs to confuse you with smoke and mirrors whilst simultaneously undermining your self-esteem.
They need to make you feel as insecure as possible to take power over you.
That can include:
- Undermining your decisions, ideas, and opinions
- Making passive-aggressive comments
- Giving back-handed compliments
- Giving mean feedback, yet pretending to have your best interests at heart
- Making cruel jokes at your expense
As your confidence fades, their strength grows.
7) Blaming and shifting responsibility back onto you
Manipulators love to play the victim, despite being control freaks.
This is why they frequently shift blame onto their victims, to try to make sure they bear the burden of responsibility for any negativity.
They’re hoping to divert attention away from their own actions so that they can keep control over the situation.
They do this through tactics like:
- Accusing you of causing the problem
- Minimizing their role in conflicts
- Always presenting themself as the victim
8) Planting small seeds of doubt to grow confusion
The truth is that if gaslighting were glaringly obvious, it would be less effective.
It needs to be subtle so that you don’t instantly call it out.
That’s why gaslighters are known for planting little seeds of doubt that they hope will grow out of control.
When that happens, you’re left uncertain about the truth.
The hope is to slowly distort reality, making it difficult for you to differentiate fact from fiction.
- Contradicting themselves to confuse you
- Denying conversations that occurred
- Using gaslighting phrases like “I think you’re just imagining things”
9) Projecting their own sh*t onto you
Projection and deflection are yet more weapons in the arsenal of a gaslighter.
They will frequently project their own behaviors, feelings, and flaws onto their victims.
By doing so, it’s just another way of diverting attention away from themselves and placing the blame on you yet again.
We’re talking about:
- Accusing you of the very behaviors they are exhibiting
- Blaming you for their emotional state — e.g. “You made me feel this way”
- Deflecting criticism by shiting things around to focus on your perceived flaws
This sort of diversion tactic keeps you away from the truth and can be an effective way to disorient you.
10) Isolating and alienating you from support
When you are trying to cloud reality from someone, you have to cut your victim off from outside sources of reason.
That is why gaslighters often isolate people from friends, family, and support networks to gain more control over their lives.
This makes it easier for them to manipulate someone without interference in their actions.
But yet again, it’s usually done in very subtle ways.
- Try to discredit the opinions and advice of others
- Seek to control your access to outside information or resources
- Suggest that others are “interfering” in your relationship
- Imply that you need to distance yourself from certain loved ones who are a “bad influence”
Really, they just want to be the only voice whispering in your ear.
Protect yourself from gaslighting
As we’ve just seen, the gaslighting tactics manipulators use to confuse you are diverse and can often have severe psychological consequences.
It’s important to trust your instincts, seek support from people you trust, and prioritize your well-being in relationships or situations when you sense manipulation is at play.
Here’s a little checklist to bolster you against the threat of gaslighting:
- Take a step back from someone when you start to question their behavior or intentions. Space can help you regain some clarity.
- Don’t be afraid to speak up and use your voice to stand up for yourself. This may demand working on assertiveness skills.
- Focus on self-care, building your self-esteem and boundaries.
- Back yourself and stay true to your own version of events.
- Involve others who can support you. Allies can provide you with an objective viewpoint to point out when gaslighting is taking place.