How Highly Sensitives Can Respond To Gaslighting

HSP World
5 min readMay 21, 2023

by HSP World Ambassador Rayne Dowell

“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.

There are common gaslighting tactics, and Highly Sensitives must know about them.

Usually, the people we expect or want to have a close relationship with are the ones who gaslight us.

It could be a family member, a close friend, a partner, or a co-worker.

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

If you aren’t aware of these tactics and how to respond to them, the damaging effects on your self-esteem and self-value will ensue.

This is why Highly Sensitives tend to overthink and be prone to anxiety and depression, in my opinion.

People who exhibit narcissistic behavior are often drawn to Highly Sensitives because Highly Sensitives have a high degree of empathy.

But it’s possible to maintain your high degree of empathy while at the same time setting healthy boundaries for yourself and responding to gaslighting in a way you’ll feel comfortable with.

It’s important to note that in a narcissistic person’s world, everything is a competition to them; their goal is to win and for you to lose.

Here are the eight common ways a person exhibiting narcissistic behavior will use towards a Highly Sensitive person;

  1. They love to bait you into an argument. Narcissists think in black and white, and everything is a competition. When you state your needs, they will 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 try to shame you to 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 will also cause you to 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 blame you 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.

Their goal with the above tactics is to wear you down; they will be dogmatic about it. Again, everything is a competition to them; their goal is to win and for you to lose.

To confuse you further, they may even throw in the odd compliment.

But most importantly, the person who exhibits narcissistic behavior wants you to think they are relevant to you and their opinions matter the most.

How will you know when you’re losing?

When you argue with them, when you find yourself overexplaining yourself, feel shame or guilt after talking with them, and/or feel like you’ve been emotionally and psychologically attacked after spending time with them.

Their goal is for you to become dysregulated, feel helpless and/or hopeless, and go along with them, or give in to their demands.

If you feel these feelings, you may also feel like suppressing what you feel, not wanting to face the truth of this relationship.

Symptoms like anxiety and depression are signs you’re suppressing what you feel.

It’s natural to feel anger, sadness, and frustration when dealing with narcissistic 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 either don’t know how or refuse to deal with their issues, so they project onto you.

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

It isn’t always possible to go no contact with someone who exhibits narcissistic behavior.

For example, there may be individuals at your workplace you have to work with or certain family members you’ll see on special occasions. But you may recognize some of these tactics used by friends you currently have.

First, it’s essential to understand they won’t change; they rarely change.

It’s also important to accept that narcissistic people don’t value character or integrity, and they don’t have empathy.

They need to feel superior, so they will automatically relegate you to the role of being inferior.

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

They will usually be hostile towards you when you spend time with them, and they will speak negatively about you behind your back.

If you aren’t able to go no contact with a person who behaves like this, here are some ways to deal with narcissistic behavior:

Make it clear their opinions are theirs and that you value your opinions and boundaries.

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 say bad 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.”

When you encounter someone who tries any of these of the above tactics, you must understand this is an excellent opportunity for you.

First and foremost, it’s an opportunity for you to grow spiritually. To nurture your compassion for yourself and the person who exhibits this behavior.

After all, it must be a sad world they live in to view themselves and the world around them so negatively.

It’s also an opportunity to strengthen your sense of self, who you are, your beliefs, your ethics, how you feel, your opinions, and likes and dislikes.

It’s an opportunity for you to practice setting healthy boundaries for yourself.

It’s an opportunity to practice strengthening your character, integrity, and beliefs.

It’s an opportunity to practice self-care.

It’s an opportunity to take stock of the positive, supportive relationships you have in your life.

But remember, nurturing your compassionate ability doesn’t mean at the expense of your quality of life.

Your first priority is to yourself, and being compassionate towards yourself means placing your values, ethics, and integrity above any relationship.

After all, your relationship with yourself is your most important one in this lifetime.