Self-Care Saturday: Gaslighting & Boundaries in Relationships We Want to Keep

Did you know systemic gaslighting is a thing? Especially in governments, religious bodies, and the medical field.

Did you know there are generations of people and cultures around the world who are predisposed to gaslighting. They are predisposed to thinking they are being encouraging, helpful, corrective or loving when they express sentiments that may actually belittle or gaslight.

Does that excuse the behavior? Of course not. Absolutely not. Just because it’s not intentional, or it’s intentional with the motives of love or protection, does not make the manipulation behavior any more acceptable.

And for those of you who think I don’t know what gaslighting is if I think it can be systemic or cultural or generational and towards whole other groups, let me tell you – I’m a trauma survivor with a BA in Psychology, an MA in Counseling Psychology and I’m a retired Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. I’ve got a pretty good grasp on the subject of gaslighting, and a bit of authority to share about boundaries with those we want to keep relationships with.

So, what exactly is gaslighting? It’s the act of undermining and questioning the other person into making them doubt their sanity. It comes from a 1944 movie in which the husband makes his wife believe she’s literally insane.

How did we get from that to having entire generations and cultures predisposed to gaslighting?
It has to do with generational and cultural expectations and a refusal respect what the other is saying.

However, many of us still want to keep relationships with those of older generations or other cultures, without breaking down ourselves.

So, how do we do that? Strict boundaries. And, that’s not easy to do. As a matter of fact, there are some things we might have to do first to make it easier.

People from older generations or certain other cultures may see boundary setting as someone being “too sensitive” or see it as a personal offense, so we have to prepare ahead of time.

What exactly do we do if we want to keep these relationships without losing ourselves?

  • Recognize the language of gaslighting: “you’re being too sensitive”, “it could be worse”, “that’s not what I meant, you’re twisting my words”, “just get over it/let it go”, “I was just trying to help”. Or, “you need thicker skin,” “you weren’t listening to me,” “don’t read so much into everything,” “don’t take everything so serious,” “you’re so easily confused.”
    Once we recognize the language, it gets easier to stop and assess the situation. We can discover what is actually being said, and what is actually happening, and decide for ourselves if we truly were overreacting, or if they are gaslighting us.
  • Realize the truth of the situation & your own value: did you really “misunderstand” them? Are you really “too sensitive”? Maybe yes, maybe no, only you can know that for sure. We can also recognize the truth of how the older generations communicate, and how the past has created our current situation.
    Gaslighting has a way of making us doubt ourselves, our emotions, and our choices, as well as the other person’s poor behavior. This is especially true when the other person comes from a vastly different time/place/environment than we do (I’ll give you a hint, that’s everyone).
    Be confident in your situation, your choices, your feelings. You get to choose how you respond to your feelings (as in, you choose your behavior, your words), but be confident in how you have felt and how you choose to behave.
  • Set strong boundaries: now that you realize the other person isn’t likely to change their behavior, but you don’t want to be impacted by it as much, set strong boundaries. Boundaries are more than just limits we set, they tell the other person exactly how we will allow them to treat us. They give the bounds of how much or how little we will allow our thoughts and emotions to be manipulated for the other person’s gain. Don’t try to convince the other person of why you need these boundaries, just set them. (This step will be difficult because chances are the other person won’t respond well).
    Let them know how they may or may not speak to you/treat you. Limit the time you spend with them, and the types of situations you will engage with them. Decide which topics of discussion are off limits (ie – your work or school or relationships) if you know they can’t possibly be loving and supportive in these areas.
  • Understand their responses to the new boundaries: Like I said, most of the time, when we set new, strong boundaries, a person predisposed to gaslighting will not take them well. It will be seen as a personal attack or as you being too sensitive or something along these lines. Generally, those who practice this behavior, knowingly or unknowingly, won’t change. They won’t ever be taking accountability for the gaslighting and manipulation.
    Hold strong. Their response is their responsibility, not yours. Your responsibility is to yourself and to respectfully create boundaries for healthier relationships, even with this person.

Once these boundaries are in place, don’t let up on them. Even if the other person “promises to change” or tries their tactics again to have you doubt yourself. Hold strong. You have your own mental health and wellbeing to think about, and that of your immediate family.

There are enough people in this world who will see and recognize your value without having to cater to those who refuse to allow you to be anything other than their desired or remembered version of yourself.

Can people change and grow? Yes. They can. However, this type of behavior, whether intentional or unintentional, is often not the kind of behavior someone grows out of.

So, take care of yourself and create those boundaries. You are allowed to value yourself and your peace of mind. Take it from me, a trauma survivor and retired LMFT mom of 2 who now recognizes the value that boundaries for myself will have for the littles now in my care. Especially when gas lighters in my life from older generations turn their attentions to my littles.

How bout you? Do you completely cut off relationships with people who actively gaslight, or are you pretty good at setting boundaries? Share below.

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