Part 3: Turning Down the Heat
Now that we’ve identified what gaslighting means and what it may feel like to be involved in a gaslighting relationship, we are of course left with the question: “What do I do?” Ideas concerning how to respond to gaslighting are also, perhaps unsurprisingly, often taken to the extreme. Numerous gaslighting articles you can find online suggest things such as: keeping a secret diary to keep track of events, taking pictures frequently to “fact check” your memory, or using voice memos and other recording devices in order to secretly record a conversation to make sure of what was said. Undoubtedly, in the extreme, when a person is suffering from severe abuse and/or questioning their reality to the point it is affecting their daily lives, these tactics may be necessary. However, it is not difficult to also see the impracticality of these drastic measures, and how they can ultimately cause more harm than good. Below are some common tactics that can be taken when you think you are in a “gaslighting” relationship:
- Talk to a trusted family member, friend, or counselor: Speaking to someone outside of the relationship should be first and foremost when you begin to wonder whether you are gaslighting or being gaslit. The key feature of gaslighting is that it occurs in the context of a specific relationship, so asking someone you trust outside of this relationship whether they’ve noticed anything different about you, or if someone in your life has been acting differently lately, can go a long way.
- Forget about who is right or wrong: This can be difficult for anyone, but sometimes it is necessary to take a step back, forget about the content of any singular argument, and consider how you feel. Did the conversation leave you feeling bad or second-guessing yourself? What was happening within your body during the conversation (e.g., heart racing, palms sweating)? Having a sense of your own psychological, emotional and physical well-being in a relationship is exceedingly more important than who is right or wrong in any particular conversation.
- Remember that you can’t control anyone’s opinion: Another thing that can get lost when we are in the midst of a gaslighting relationship is that, regardless of whether or not you are “right,” you can’t control what someone else is going to think, do, or say.Gaslighting occurs because only one of you is listening and considering the other’s perspective, while the other is negating that perception and instead questioning an unrelated emotional or physical reaction. Similar to debates on religion or politics, you may never get a loved one to agree that you aren’t too sensitive or too controlling or too anything. And similar to these types of disagreements, it does not mean you love the person any less. While it may be difficult, letting others think what they want, accepting your difference in opinion, and working toward the common goal of reconciliation can be useful regardless of what side you find yourself on in a potential gaslighting relationship.
As we can see, the features that delineate a gaslighter-gaslightee relationship are exceedingly complex. The frequency with which the word is used casually in conversation only adds to the confusion. It is often much simpler to play along with the rhetoric, calling someone a “gaslighter” for disagreeing with you or attempting to start a fight. I think the most important thing to recognize throughout this guide, is that we are all capable of “gaslighting,” and that’s okay.
As I researched this topic, I found myself thinking of how often I’ve found myself on both sides of these types of disagreements, and of times I may have been gaslighting someone or gaslit myself. I also found myself feeling saddened when I related to some of the “gaslighting behavior” recorded here. But these behaviors do not exist in a vacuum, and identifying with or relating to any piece of this article does not make you an official “gaslighter” or “gaslightee.” People do not fit into categories so easily. We all have trouble understanding a loved one’s point-of-view at times. The gaslighting techniques outlined here are learned behaviors, not traits that are unable to be changed. Relationships are hard…they take work. While extremes exist and should not be ignored, neither should our own human potential to repair a relationship with someone we truly care about. Whether you’re the one who left the stove on, or the one who begins to smell the gas, we can all work together to help keep our relationships (and our kitchens) safe, comforting, and fun!