How Highly Sensitives Can Respond to Gaslighting

“I can’t go with you to visit them and stay overnight for three days and spend the whole three days at their house.

It’s too noisy, and too much going on for me.

It’s not that I don’t love them, I do, but it’ll drain me and stress me out. It’s no one’s fault. I’m just built this way.

I have the HSP Trait.

I could visit them for an afternoon with you sometime, though.”

My Mom’s eyes squint at me appraisingly, her eyebrows furrow, and the vertical line deepens between her eyes.

After an exasperated huff, she says, “What? HSP? That’s ridiculous. Did you read that on the internet? That’s not a real thing.”

You’ve just read an example of a gaslighting tactic.

Highly Sensitives can tend to experience others trying to use gaslighting tactics on them because often others perceive kindness and empathy as weaknesses. 

While the opposite is true, Highly Sensitives must be aware that gaslighting is used by people who exhibit narcissistic behavior.

So we’re going to cover the following; 

  • where you’ll find narcissistic behavior, 
  • eight common gaslighting tactics, 
  • how to know if you’ve been experiencing gaslighting, 
  • how to tell if you’ve been dealing with gaslighting for an extended period of time, 
  • how to respond to gaslighting, and 
  • the benefits of dealing with narcissistic behavior.  


Where you’ll find narcissistic behavior 

In all relationships, there is a power dynamic.

Typically people who feel inferior attempt to gain power by trying to take power from the other person. 

Gaslighting is a tactic used by people who exhibit narcissistic behavior, and narcissistic behavior is much like the HSP Trait. It lies on a spectrum.

For example, just as some Highly Sensitives have the trait to a high degree, some have the trait to a medium degree and some to a low degree. 

The same can be said about narcissistic behavior.

Some people exhibit it to a high degree, some to a medium degree, and some to a low degree. 

So a Highly Sensitive person can exhibit narcissistic behavior to any degree, just as a non-HSP can.

The HSP Trait is a genetic inherited trait though, narcissistic behavior is not. It’s a choice.

Depending on how accepted narcissistic behavior is will determine how often an individual will use it, whether in a family dynamic, an organization, a company, or a society.

Oddly, we’re seeing an increase in gaslighting behavior in politics now. Perhaps it’s an attempt to try to ‘normalize’ this behavior? 

But there’s nothing normal or natural about it, and it simply detracts from the critical issue(s).

For a Highly Sensitive, it’s often the people we expect or want to have a close relationship with who are the ones who will attempt to gaslight us.

It could be a family member, a close friend, a partner, or a co-worker. In other words, it could be any relationship.

But the damaging effects of gaslighting are the same, no matter what kind of relationship.

If you aren’t aware of these gaslighting tactics and how to respond to them, they can erode your self-esteem and self-value over time.

People who exhibit narcissistic behavior to a high degree are often drawn to Highly Sensitives because Highly Sensitives have a high degree of empathy, so they seem like an easy target.

This is one of the reasons why Highly Sensitives can tend to overthink and be prone to anxiety and depression, in my opinion.

So Highly Sensitives need to be aware of these common gaslighting tactics.


Eight common gaslighting tactics

  1. They love to bait you into an argument. Narcissists think in black and white; everything is a competition where they feel they must win at all costs. When you state your needs, they’ll invalidate you, then an argument ensues. This causes you to become dysregulated because you argue with them.
  2. They try to shame you for your independent thoughts. When you say, “I have my own way of doing things,” they criticize you and try to shame you to change your mind and go along with them.
  3. They insist you have to justify your feelings and actions. They do this to get you to justify/explain yourself and try to get you to keep justifying yourself. This can cause you to second-guess yourself, overthink, and become dysregulated.
  4. They try to make you feel responsible for their moods. E.g., “I was feeling fine before you showed up.” They will try to blame you for their moodiness.
  5. If they admit they were in a bad mood before you arrived, they may offer a lame excuse but then blame you for your reaction to their bad mood or for not understanding them.
  6. They try to intimidate you, and when you enforce a boundary, they call you selfish and not a team player or disruptive.
  7. They accuse you of being narcissistic – when they use this tactic, they’re projecting onto you.
  8. They try to drag you into controversial subjects.

A person who exhibits narcissistic behavior wants you to think they are relevant to you and that their opinions matter the most.

Their goal is to wear you down; they’ll be dogmatic. 

Often if it’s a new friend, co-worker, boss, or potential partner and they usually exhibit selfish behavior, they’ll try to hide it from you for the first while, similar to the ‘honeymoon’ stage of a romantic relationship. 

But they won’t be able to hide it for long. Eventually, they’ll expose themselves.


How to know if you’re experiencing gaslighting behavior 

  • When you often find yourself in an argument with them (balanced relationships are about calm, honest discussions where a win-win solution is the goal),
  • When you often find yourself over-explaining yourself to them, 
  • When they repeatedly ask you the same question (on different days/times), when they do this, they are attempting to invalidate you, your beliefs, and your boundaries.
  • When you feel shame or guilt after talking with them, 
  • When you feel like you’ve been emotionally and psychologically attacked after spending time with them,
  • When you find yourself constantly apologizing to the person exhibiting narcissistic behavior, and
  • When you’re frequently questioned if you’re remembering things correctly.

Narcissistic behavior is basically a head game, albeit a tiresome, time-wasting, and predictable one where the narcissist’s goal is to make you dysregulated so you’ll give in to their demands.

It’s natural to feel anger, frustration, disappointment, and sadness when dealing with selfish behavior.

But it’s important to understand that people who use these tactics have to have an adversary because they are adversarial within themselves.

They refuse to deal with their issues, so they project onto you.

They typically have low self-esteem and a high opinion of themselves.


How to know if you’ve been dealing with gaslighting for a long period of time when

  • you find yourself becoming withdrawn or isolated from others,
  • you feel incompetent, unconfident, or worthless,
  • you feel uncertain of your perceptions,
  • you begin to believe you are irrational or “crazy,”
  • you feel helpless and/or hopeless, 
  • you find yourself defending their narcissistic behavior to others,
  • you feel symptoms of anxiety and depression,
  • you don’t trust your intuition, or you second guess it.

Recognizing if you experience the above can help you make different choices.

It may not always be possible to go no contact with someone who exhibits a high degree of narcissistic behavior.

For example, there may be an individual at your workplace you have to work with or certain family members you’re in the habit of spending time with often. 

First, it’s essential to understand that someone who exhibits a high degree of narcissistic behavior won’t change and will refuse to accept responsibility for their behavior.

It’s also important to accept that people who exhibit a high degree of narcissistic behavior don’t value character or integrity and don’t have empathy.

They need to feel superior, so they will doggedly try to relegate you to being inferior.

People who exhibit narcissistic behavior to a high degree are troubled people. They’re often negative and tend to complain a lot. 

They usually lie often and may even try to get others to side with them against you, hoping to further wear you down.

They’re problem makers, not problem solvers.


How to respond to gaslighting

It’s possible to maintain a high degree of empathy while at the same time setting healthy boundaries while responding to gaslighting.

If you aren’t able to go no contact with a person who often uses gaslighting tactics, here are some ways to respond;

  • Make it clear their opinions are theirs and that you value your opinions and boundaries. For example, you can say, “I understand your opinion.”
  • When they try to drag you into a controversial subject, you can reply, “I’m aware you think like that; I don’t.”
  • When they ask you the same question they asked you the last time you saw them, you can respond, “You already asked me that question.”
  • When they say negative things about people, you can say what you like about that person/people, their good qualities. Or you can say, “I don’t share your thoughts,” or “I don’t think like you.” 
  • Spend less time in their company.


The benefits of dealing with narcissistic behavior

You read that right. 

When you encounter someone who tries or has tried any or all of the above common gaslighting tactics, know this offers you many opportunities

Human beings are social animals. We’re naturally inclined to work and play together, to support and improve one another, not work against each other. 

So it’s important to note that people with a high degree of narcissistic behavior are usually charismatic and good at manipulating people.

Highly Sensitives are usually hard on themselves and could view themselves as not smart enough or too soft when faced with the after-effects of dealing with narcissistic behavior.

This is an excellent opportunity to practice the skill of self-compassion and self-forgiveness

To nurture and grow compassion and forgiveness for yourself and the person who exhibited or exhibits this behavior.

After all, it must be a difficult and lonely world they live in to view themselves and the world around them in such a competitive and negative way. 

So, instead of using their behavior as an excuse to criticize yourself, use it as a springboard to recognize how lucky you are to have a soul built to heal and grow stronger.

It’s also an excellent time to reflect on what need wasn’t being met that caused you to seek it outside of yourself? 

Was or is it validation? Acceptance? Compassion?

And how can you meet those needs within yourself? Can you find ways to nurture more self-acceptance, self-forgiveness, and self-compassion?

It’s also an opportunity for you to focus on and practice; 

  • Engaging in self-care activities like eating healthy, exercising, expressing your feelings through an art form, staying hydrated, meditating, spending time in nature, getting enough rest, and exploring your interests, 
  • Spending time investing in a few supportive high-quality relationships. After all, a Highly Sensitive benefits greatly from the positive benefits of a high-quality connection,
  • Spending less time around people who exhibit narcissistic behavior and more time doing activities that uplift you,
  • Setting healthy boundaries, 
  • Journalling, and
  • Positive affirmations.

Dealing with narcissistic behavior can be challenging. 

But armed with the knowledge of; where you’ll find narcissistic behavior, the eight common gaslighting tactics, how to know if you’ve been experiencing gaslighting, how to tell if you’ve been dealing with gaslighting for an extended period of time, how to respond to gaslighting, and taking advantage of the benefits from dealing with narcissistic behavior can give you a good starting point.  

Remember, your first priority and responsibility is to yourself, and providing yourself with the best environment to grow in, which includes relationships, means placing your relationship with yourself first.

After all, your relationship with yourself is the most important one you’ll have in this lifetime.

Do you have any good tips for responding to gaslighting?

Rayne is one of the Content Creators for HSP World. She's a curious traveler, yup an HSS too, who loves reading, writing, spending time outdoors, and playing in new projects.

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