Healthy Mind

8 Gaslighting Tactics To Know About So You Can Protect Yourself From Dangerous Manipulation

Photo: Getty Images / Marko Geber
The experience of gaslighting, or when someone manipulates you into questioning your own reality, can happen at work, in romantic relationships, or in other interpersonal dynamics. Knowing this, it stands to reason that becoming familiar with certain quintessential gaslighting tactics can help you protect yourself from folks who might use them to harm or control you.

Gaslighters will “use what they know about you to make you doubt yourself,” says psychotherapist Keeley Taverner. However, since gaslighting tactics are most effective when the receiver isn’t aware that they’re being used, familiarizing yourself with them is a smart strategy to take. “Once you begin to understand the tactic, you can see how they use [them]—and that's where you have the power to decide to respond differently,” Taverner adds.

Read on to learn about eight gaslighting tactics, according to mental-health experts.

8 gaslighting tactics to be aware of so you can properly protect yourself

1. Reality distortion

Anyone who knows Shaggy’s 2000 song “It Wasn’t Me” is likely familiar with reality distortion, says Taverner. “To me, that song sums up the whole process,” she says, elaborating that it focuses on partner A literally seeing partner B doing something, and then partner B saying that’s not the truth.

To be sure, reality distortion is distinct from a white lie in that "the intention is malicious or controlling," says psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD. "It's a lifestyle as opposed to something you do once in a while in a tight spot." Bad behavior is never good, but frequent issues can be a real cause for concern. If you feel like someone is ever distorting your reality, but especially often, consider putting some space between the two of you.

2. Telling you different things at different times

Let’s say you’re trying to plan a fun outing for someone and remember that they said they loved Italian food, so you choose an Italian restaurant you think they’ll like. But when you're heading to dinner, the person says that they don’t actually like Italian food at all.

The hallmark of making conflicting statements as a gaslighting tactic is that the person tries to make you feel like you’re making things up. According to Dr. Daramus, it’s a clear-cut indicator that someone is gaslighting you when they say something like, “Where did you get that idea?” (You—I got it from you…)

3. Name-calling

If a gaslighter knows the person they’re gaslighting isn’t feeling their best, especially if they’re aware that person has low-self esteem as is, name-calling can be an effective and dangerous gaslighting tactic. People who have low self-esteem, says Taverner, are more likely to take to heart the ugly names their gaslighter calls them.

However, because a gaslighter’s intent is malicious in nature, it’s important to shield yourself from the bad things they’re calling you. “Even if there is a negative truth in the overall place that it comes from, it isn't a good, truthful, or genuine place,” says Taverner. “So it would be correct to say, ‘Even if there is truth in that, ‘I can't internalize this.’”

4. Pitting two people against each other

A gaslighter who pits people against each other will pick two people with very opposite qualities and use those traits to make both feel badly. “A boss, for example, who's gaslighting people at work, might have one person who's the perfect assistant and always does things for them. And they might have somebody else who's kind of the star,” says Dr. Daramus. In this example, the gaslighting manager might tell their assistant that they wish they were more like the star—while telling the star that they should be more like the assistant.

5. Love-bombing

According to Dr. Daramus, love-bombing is a key relationship red flag and also one of the easier-to-spot gaslighting tactics because it gives you the gut feeling that a lot is happening way too quickly.

"The relationship itself—when it's healthy— develops slowly [because] trust develops slowly.” —psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD

“It's natural to feel a connection with somebody, but the relationship itself—when it's healthy— develops slowly [because] trust develops slowly,” Dr. Daramus says. “Love-bombing is different than feeling a little bit of connection and interest in somebody. It is: This person adores you right away,” whether they want to be your best friend, life partner, or boss forever.

Gaslighters might practice love-bombing in material ways, too, says Taverner, like by showering you with your favorite gifts or meals. If you suspect someone is gaslighting you through love-bombing, especially if it doesn’t feel right or the feeling isn’t reciprocated, consider pumping the brakes on the relationship in question.

6. Intentional changes in behavior

Most of us will adjust our behaviors and responses depending on the situation at hand and the people whom we're around. However, when this is a pattern of a gaslighter, and you notice that the individual acts differently with you than they do around others, it's a good sign you're in gaslighting-tactics territory. This might look like having an argument where someone is cruel and rude, and then going to a family party where they’re showering you with affection, says Dr. Daramus. But, more generally, she adds, “even if [gaslighters] are very manipulative and shady with you…they're going to put all the more effort into looking primed, supportive, and generous around other people.”

As far as gaslighting tactics go, intentional changes in behavior can be damaging because other people, in addition to yourself, might start to question what’s real. For instance, if your loved ones only see the gaslighter being supportive, they might not think your situation is all that bad.

7. Deflection

“They’re going to refocus your attention whenever they want, because the ambition is to take you down a rabbit hole so that you lose track of the point you were trying to make,” says Taverner. For instance, let’s say that you ask someone what they’re doing on a given Saturday night. Instead of answering your question openly and honestly, a gaslighter might deflect with a statement like, “Well, why do you care?” Alternatively, they might deflect by making things specifically about you—like by saying that you’re too controlling, too involved, or too emotional.

8. Scapegoating

Scapegoating as a gaslighting tactic is when the other person makes you believe that something that happened is your own fault. Consider this example from Dr. Daramus: “Let's say that you two had plans and they're [really] late…. If you try and set a boundary there, they might be like, ‘Well, if you hadn't taken up my time calling me at work to double check this, I might have been able to get here on time.’” Obviously, you are not at fault, but a gaslighter who is scapegoating you will try to make you feel otherwise.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, please seek help from the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-899-7323 or thehotline.org.

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