How to Handle Gaslighting Friends and Family

We all know at least one person who is not exactly a pleasure to be around. This person could be a family or friend who can leave you feeling drained or hurt after hanging around them. If you feel like someone is manipulating or emotionally abusing you by trying to change your thoughts or feelings. For instance, when someone tries to make you feel bad for not being around when you are busy or have important plans—that’s gaslighting behavior.

The dynamic of gaslighting with friends or relatives might be distinct to a particular relationship or it may just have to do with a particular person’s character, but either way, it creates a dilemma, especially if that person is someone you have to spend time with. Fortunately, it can sometimes be possible to make these relationships work without sacrificing your health or well-being in service to theirs.

1. Don’t Feel Guilty

Understand there is no shame in enjoying the company of every single person you know or are related to. The idea that we must like everyone all in our circle or who we are related to creates psychological abuse because people often feel awful for not liking their family or close friends when, in fact, some people—relatives or not—have characteristics and behaviors that are oftentimes unlikeable.

Understand that some people are toxic and, over time, create circumstances that make ‘zero contact’ the only psychologically secure path.

Others may be complex and challenging yet are manageable as long as the communications are brief and well-handled with firm boundaries.

Overall, though, when it comes to managing gaslighting without jeopardizing your own mental health, it’s important to prepare yourself for the interaction in a similar way as you would with any toxic situation: set realistic expectations, restrict contact, and detox afterward.

2. Prepare for The Interaction

It’s important to have some self-care practices ready to help you prepare for a visit. You can’t pour from an empty cup until you’ve met at least some of your own needs first, you’ll have nothing to give. Before spending time with gaslighting individuals, do something you enjoy to help raise your energy levels.

  • Spend time with people who are genuinely supportive.
  • Try to plan something to care for yourself afterward like mediation or yoga.
  • The key is to take full responsibility for your well-being before and after.

3. Set Boundaries

It’s also important to set boundaries around anyone who gaslights. Keeping interactions short can help. Having a hard stop during interactions or setting a schedule is a good idea. You can plan to do self-care activities that limit the opportunity for gaslighting. Invite them to yoga classes or self-care workshops.

Also set a boundary around how the person can talk to you.

For example, you might say, ‘I love you, and I want to tell you something very important. I feel hurt when you speak to me that way. I want to spend time with you, but your negative comments leave me feeling very sad and hurt. I’m going to have to limit my visits with you unless things shift.

Exercising some restraint and not “taking the bait” by indulging any negativity spirals can also be a helpful strategy for feeling less affected by gaslighting.

That said, it’s always important to put your overall mental health and well-being at the forefront. No relationship is worth sacrificing your sense of self-worth, self-respect, and well-being.