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There was a time I wanted to know how to turn the tables on a gaslighter in my life because I'd had it with them. Now that you've found yourself in that place, I hope I can help.
Writing topics on getting even with a gaslighter, making them fear you, or turning tables is my forte. I've been gaslighted by multiple manipulative narcissists, including an ex-partner who tried to make me think I was going out of my mind.
Since then, I started studying the traits, tactics, and weaknesses of gaslighters and manipulators, so I can help you deal with them accordingly.
Learn what gaslighting means, its effects on your psyche, how to spot it, and 15 strategies for taking back control.
What Is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a term used to define a pattern of using psychological manipulation tactics to make someone question their own memory, reality, and sanity. It can happen in romantic, plutonic, or professional relationships.
The term comes from the 1944 Alfred Hitchcock film “Gaslight.” In the movie, a husband tries to convince his wife that she's going insane. He persuaded her that the dimming of the lights in their home was all in her imagination, when in fact he was causing the lights to dim. She eventually started questioning her own memories and perceptions.
The manipulation technique is used by some narcissists, like covert narcissists, people with antisocial personality disorder, and perpetrators of abuse. The individual can be a romantic partner, friend, family member, boss, or co-worker.
The Impact of Gaslighting on Mental Health
The core issue with gaslighting is that it's a form of emotional and mental abuse commonly seen in romantic relationships. According to Psychology Today, the behavior is harmful to the victim's mental health because it makes them question their own perceptions of reality.
Regardless of the nature of the relationship, being gaslighted can make you feel something is wrong with you. That is precisely how the gaslighter wants to make you feel. Ultimately, they want to diminish your self-esteem in order to subdue you.
The following changes in behavior may indicate that the manipulation and emotional abuse is taken a toll on you:
How to Tell You're Being Gaslighted in a Relationship
To turn the tables on a gaslighter, you need to familiarize yourself with their modus operandi. Gaslighters use the same tactics or pattern of behaviors as if they read the same script. You can tell they're in manipulation mode if you notice these common behaviors:
Below are examples of manipulative statements gaslighters may use:
Reasons Why People Become Gaslighters
Gaslighters have low self-esteem, feel unworthy, love to dodge accountability, and have a persistent need to feel validated. They will use those types of example statements to sow doubt in your mind and create mental confusion.
According to Healthline, the primary goal is to gain power and control, whether it's over your behavior, thoughts, or emotions. Believing their story is more valid than yours and getting you to question your sanity fuels that need for control.
Another reason is to keep you off balance, diminish your self-esteem, and undermine your sense of self-worth. Whether the person is narcissistic or sociopathic, getting control provides the validation needed to feel worthy and superior over you.
People are not born manipulative at birth. Their toxic behavior starts from somewhere. Our core behavioral traits, and personality as a whole, are shaped in early childhood and are typically stable into adulthood. Several key factors influence the consistent behaviors we display as adults. Psychologists refer to those factors as the root causes of why we act how we do.
In the case of gaslighting, the root causes may be childhood trauma or abuse. Gaslighting behaviors are also learned from caregivers or role models. In other cases, the issue can stem from a mental health problem or personality disorder. People with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder display gaslighting traits.
How to Turn the Tables on a Gaslighter Using 15 Tactics
Deciding that you've had enough and are ready to put the gaslighter in their place is a rather bold but necessary move. Taking back control of the situation means you can stop feeling nervous around them and regain your self-confidence. Let's start with 15 strategic ways to become a force of resistance and turn off the gaslighter for good.
#1. Put a stop to their brainwashing
The things they say and do to you are tantamount to brainwashing or mental conditioning. I mean, think about it for a moment. Belittling you in subtle ways, like saying you're overreacting or delusional, is an attempt to persuade you to see yourself in a negative light.
Their intention is also to skillfully, and over time, control your thoughts, behaviors, and self-image. Don't believe it when they call you crazy or tell you that you don't know what you're talking about.
#2. Expose their toxic behavior
Among the effective ways to turn the tables on a gaslighter is to call out their toxic behaviors. They think you're a weak, naive, and unintelligent person who's easy to manipulate. First of all, you're not how they perceive you. Secondly, you're done putting up with the person's attempts to erode your mental health and self-esteem.
One option is to be direct and call them out by saying something like, “I know what you're doing. You're gaslighting me.” Be prepared to see their surprised, OMG-you-caught-me look or confused facial expression.
#3. Resist the urge to defend yourself
The person may intentionally say or do things to spark conflict. In their mind, they're hoping to get you all riled up. They want you to get defensive, so they can turn the conversation into an argument. Then comes the belittling and more gaslighting. “You see, you're overreacting, again.”
From now on, whenever they try to goad you into a toxic exchange with their lies and denials, try the agreement tactic instead. You may say, “Okay, if you say so.” Say nothing at all if the situation warrants silence. Don't give them any more energy than necessary. Staying emotionally engaged will only provide them with the attention and validation they are starved of.
#4. Set boundaries
Healthy boundaries should be in place regardless of if you're dealing with a gaslighter or not. More so, when you're dealing with manipulative people. Setting boundaries gives you a chance to get physical and emotional space away from them. There are fewer opportunities for them to carry out emotional abuse.
Be clear about boundaries relating to their actions towards you and follow through. Boundaries can take the form of conditional statements such as, “I will stop responding to you if you call me “crazy” or other demeaning names.”
#5. Minimize interaction
Reducing interaction is a way to enforce boundaries and put more emotional and physical space between you two. During your encounters, keep things brief. You have to take this approach to protect yourself even if it's someone you love. Let's say the person is actively trying to make you doubt your own memory. Resist the back and forth or trying to prove yourself.
Of late, I quote Queen Elizabeth II by saying, “Recollections may vary,” then carry on without another word. Giving them as little attention and responses as possible is similar to a technique called gray rocking. The tactic is used to divert and reduce toxic behavior by others.
#6. Stop engaging and leave the scene
Practically every verbal interaction with a manipulator can feel like a battle. You may find yourself always needing to defend your truth or call out the same repetitive and toxic behaviors. They, of course, will say, “I don't know what you're talking about.” Yeah, right.
If the person is a narcissist, you can forget trying to win any argument. To them, you're always wrong. They will either try to one-up you or outrightly say you're clueless. It's not worth trying to argue with manipulators and gaslighters.
My favorite way to disengage from them is to say in a calm tone, “I'm not doing this.” If they insist, then I leave the room without warning. End of story.
#7. Keep a journal
Gaslighters are known for telling you you're hearing or seeing things. In other words, paranoid or delusional. They'll also call your memory into question. Keep records by documenting events and conversations in a personal journal.
Of course, you know your memory isn't bad. You know you're not delusional or seeing and imagining things as the gaslighter tries to convince you. Don't try to convince them otherwise. They love to argue and spin things in their favor.
Your journal can function as a weapon to verify your experience and rebut what they say with written proof. If push comes to shove, record them. You don't necessarily have to confront them with the evidence when they lie. Think of journaling as a way to help you recognize the pattern.
#8. Don't show any emotion
Feeling negative emotions is common and normal when dealing with a gaslighting friend, partner, or boss. Getting rattled by the gaslighter and showing emotions, such as anger or sadness, don't make them feel empathy for you. It only motivates them to double down more while you're in a vulnerable state.
Gaslighters like the malignant narcissist or sociopath take pleasure from seeing others in pain. Whatever you do, show absolutely no emotion when they blame you for their actions or accuse you of doing the things they did. Just act like you don't care.
#9. Don't make them change the subject
When a gaslighter is messing with your head, regain the upper hand by preventing them from changing the topic. Psychotherapists call it deflecting and it is a common strategy by gaslighters to regain control of the narrative.
For example, if you start talking about something that they did that you don't like, they'll start talking about something you did.
A now defunct gaslighter in my life loved using this tactic. He'll say, “But you do the same thing.” That's deflection and it's skillfully done to shut you down or cause you to defend yourself. The person also gets to evade accountability for the behavior you called out since you're now busy defending yourself.
#10. Hold them accountable
People who gaslight thrive on being in a constant power struggle with you. Sometimes they do things on purpose to bait you into giving them attention. However, they hate it when you “pull their mask off” and expose them for who they are.
Don't back down if they try to bully their way out of giving you an explanation for misbehaving. They will try to deny, deflect, and distort the truth to evade responsibility. Stand your ground. Brandish your weapon (as in your journal) if necessary and show them you've got dirt on them.
#11. Rebuild your self-esteem
Put the final nail in the coffin by doing things to regain your self-confidence and self-worthiness. For example, talking to supportive family members, joining a support group, using self-help strategies, and getting help from a therapist.
Self-help approaches can take the form of practicing self-compassion, using positive self-talk, and reciting self-affirmations.
Good self-esteem helps you to see yourself in a more positive way. You're more capable of establishing and enforcing boundaries to defend your well-being. You'll become practically untouchable to the person who gaslit and emotionally abused you.
Even more important, the gaslighter will be peeved that you've recovered and are living your best life without them.
#12. Debunk the lies
Manipulators and gaslighters have to tell lies to keep you feeling crazy and in a state of confusion. Little do they know, you’re keeping a bullet journal with a list of all the lies. Rely on the list to shoot down their tall tales. You could say something like, “That’s not what I heard,” if you wish to take a diplomatic approach.
I call them out for what they are—pathological liars! Narcissists, gaslighters, and pathological liars aren’t my cup of tea. Dated one. Married one. There’s never any sugar-coating when I’m turning the tables on gaslighters for their despicable conduct.
Expect them to swing it back to you and accuse you of being the one who’s a bare-faced liar. Dealing with these individuals is like ‘chasing your tail’. They never really own up to anything or show remorse when caught telling little white lies. They’ll more easily justify the behavior or blame you. It’s always you that’s the problem, never them.
#13. Don’t argue back
For heaven’s sake, don’t get sucked into an argument. Arguing is like fuel for narcissistic gaslighters. They thrive on pointless debates and trying to prove everyone wrong. Their arrogance prevents them from considering other people’s perspectives.
As much as it’s important to hold them accountable and prevent them from deflecting, you could easily end up in an argument if you’re not managing the situation. I know you may want to defend yourself, especially if they’re coming at you with lies, denials, and false accusations.
Taking the high road and letting them believe they won the pointless argument seems to be a better strategy. Call it reverse psychology. Otherwise, you’ll be arguing with them into next year. These toxic manipulators are relentless. Winning is another thing that fuels their ego. Don’t underestimate them; they have the time and the emotional energy to go toe-to-toe with you without backing down.
#14. Ignore their tactics
Gaslighting and narcissism go together. If nothing else, the one thing gaslighting narcissists hate is being ignored. Capitalize on their weakness by ignoring them until they give up. To get on their nerves, you’ll need to do more than abruptly end the conversation and walk out of the room.
Don’t respond to their pleas for you to stay and talk. You already know it’s going to be a one-sided conversation riddled with toxic statements to make you feel bad about yourself.
Keep ignoring them. They will boil with anger and will try to do all kinds of things to draw your attention. Expect them to blow up your phone with calls and texts to accuse you of being disrespectful and cold-hearted. Look who’s talking.
Resist feeling sorry for them. Don’t take their calls, and certainly do not waste your time or emotional energy replying to their texts. They want you to open the door to communication, so they could devalue you or try to lovebomb you back into their arms.
#15. End the relationship
Ignoring a gaslighter is an effective strategy if you keep on doing it every single time they try to confuse you with their lies. However, one intent on making you miserable will continue to disregard your boundaries to regain control. Ending the relationship, whether it’s a personal or professional one, might be the next best thing to do in these circumstances.
Parting ways is a justifiable decision if you no longer feel loved, respected, or safe around them.
While they may not physically harm you, the manipulator’s toxic behavior will take a toll on your mental health. Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse and is harmful to your well-being. Ensure you’re closely connected to a support system of trusted people who can provide emotional comfort after ending the relationship.
Therapy is another option to consider if you need professional help to cope and recover from emotional abuse.
Final Thoughts on How to Turn the Tables on a Gaslighter
Let's not sugarcoat this. Gaslighting is abusive and long-term exposure to it can ultimately impact your mental health. While most common in romantic relationships, it can also occur within the family, between friends, and at the workplace. Regardless of the setting, the potential effects remain the same and some people may need therapy to recover from the emotional trauma caused.
Applying the strategies persistently can eventually make the gaslighter think twice about messing with you. For a greater insight into gaslighting, be sure to read 26 Gaslighting Examples & Phrases That Manipulative People Use.