Gaslighting is a term that has been thrown around a lot on social media lately. But most people don’t really even know what it is or how it compares to other behaviors, so let’s clear things up a little bit.
Let’s start by defining gaslighting. It is “psychological manipulation of a person, usually over an extended period of time, that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality” (Mirriam-Webster.com).
Gaslighting is serious and can have consequences. It’s pretty serious to accuse someone of gaslighting, so you want to make sure you are being mindful in how this word is used.
Let’s define invalidating. If someone is making invalidating statements, those statements are indicating that the situation or your feelings are invalid (without foundation or force in fact, truth, or law). (Mirriam-Wester.com)
When someone is communicating in an invalidating way, it still can be incredibly hurtful, however, it’s not as serious as gaslighting.
When bringing light to a behavior or type of interaction that is hurtful, it’s important to approach it with the intention of working through the situation instead of just cutting someone off because you think they are “toxic”. Let’s actually address that first.
Everyone is capable of being toxic.
If you are engaging with someone you have identified as toxic, it’s important to first take a look and determine if there are some toxic ways you are interacting with them. There is no judgment intended in recommending this exercise, we are human beings and we’re here to learn and grow through our experiences.
Before cutting people off for being “toxic”, let’s engage in a little introspection. It’s always helpful to reflect within and assess what you may be doing to contribute to the negative situation, or what the interaction is activating in you that can be important for your growth and healing to actually see. A therapist can help with this, guiding you to see what you might not yet see.
If your go-to response to a problem with someone (who you think may be toxic) is to just cut them off, then the opportunities to learn relationship skills like communication, conflict resolution, or vulnerability get passed over .
When approaching someone about the way they are communicating with you, you want to create space for the best possible outcome which could include learning and, if it’s safe, repair.
So instead of immediately labeling someone as toxic because they are engaging in gaslighting and/or cutting them off, start by determining whether it’s gaslighting or if it’s actually invalidating communication; then you can figure out what the next step should be.
Unfortunately, invalidating communication is super commonplace in regular conversations. Think: “don’t worry”, “don’t be sad”, “just let it go”. This is shifting, but it’s still very alive. So if someone is making invalidating statements, there’s a lot of room available for growth and repair. And bringing this to each other’s awareness, helps move the narrative forward to being more mindful and inclusive of our human experience.
How to spot the difference between gaslighting and invalidating communication
A key difference between gaslighting and invalidating is that gaslighting intentionally seeks to manipulate or make the other person question themself. Invalidating dismisses or ignores the feelings or experiences of the other person, making them feel like they, or the experience, aren’t important.
Here are a few examples:
*You have a serious conversation about an important topic with someone.
If the person denies that the conversation ever happened and insinuates you made it up, that’s gaslighting.
If the person says they forgot the conversation and indicated it might not have been important to them, that’s invalidating.
*You have a big altercation with someone and now every time you see them they are cold and rude to you despite your efforts to interact with them and move past it.
If the person says there was never a big altercation, you just have a problem with them, and they call you crazy, that’s gaslighting.
If the person says the altercation wasn’t a big deal and you should just get over it, that’s invalidating.
(Priya Harpaul, MHC-LP | Therapist, [@the_therapy_notebook], Invalidation | Gaslighting, Instagram, https://www.instagram.com/p/Cb7f1U_uh-S/, April 4, 2022)
How to approach the situation depending on whether it is gaslighting vs invalidating
First it’s important to determine what is truly going on; are you experiencing gaslighting from an individual or are they just being rude, critical or invalidating. If you do determine that it is gaslighting, then you can make a plan on the best way to approach the situation.
Healthline.com outlines 8 Steps on how to respond which include: Making sure it’s gaslighting, taking some space from the situation, collecting evidence, speaking up about the behavior, remaining confident, focusing on self-care, involving others and seeking professional help. Click here to check out the full article with details on each step.
One important step in responding to someone who is gaslighting you is to remain confident in your version of events. “Everyone remembers things a little differently than how they happened on occasion, and you might wonder, “What if it did happen the way they said?” But don’t give in to the urge to question yourself — they want you to doubt reality.” (Healthline.com, Think You’re Being Gaslit? Here’s How to Respond; Crystal Raypole)
If you have to write things down so that you remember how they happened or what was said, do that. Once you address a situation with someone who has hurt you it’s easy to get flustered so remain calm and confident in what you know is true.
If you determine that the behavior is invalidating (dismissing or ignoring your thoughts or feelings) the best way to address it is to be direct and assertive. Using ‘I’ statements will help you to do this in a calm and kind way. For example you can say, “I feel like you are invalidating my feelings or saying they don’t matter when you do that/say that.”
Sometimes people don’t even realize they are invalidating your feelings, they just say or do things because they haven’t taken the time to really think about what you are saying, or they are preoccupied with their own problems. Even if they do realize it, pointing it out to them and explaining how it affects you may help them stop and think so they don’t continue to do it.
Whether it is gaslighting or invalidating, the main thing is to advocate for yourself and don’t allow it to continue.
Although gaslighting and invalidating are similar, there are some key differences and it’s important to know what to look for. It will take some self-reflection and work on your part to be able to recognize the signs and what you can do to improve the situation.
Working with a therapist can help and if that is something you think you need help with contact us to take that first step.