I Think My Friend Is a Gaslighter

Do you ever walk away from a conversation feeling bad about yourself?

Posted Apr 04, 2021 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma

If you Google gaslighting, the first thing to come up is a definition provided by Wikipedia that reads:

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels
Don't get burned
Source: Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

Although this definition is concise, it doesn’t really provide an all-encompassing look at what deeply entails a gaslighter. To me, it feels it can be multi-layered, complicated, and confusing.

I am going to address one signal: Emotional abuse. When engaging with such a person, I would often feel like I lacked control over a conversation, or questioned myself insofar that the person might say something that is true or as a “joke”, but that doesn’t make it okay when it hurts.

I have a friend who has an occasional nasty side and calling him out on it turned out to be a complete waste of time, it only resulted in a backlash of more nastiness. I decided to take a break from the friendship, then a couple of weeks ago I let him back into my life, hoping I could manage the situation. I sat him down in person and further explained to him when he thinks he is saying something to be funny it can be rude or a dig that is veiled by a “joke.” I communicated that he is not being funny, but making me feel bad about myself. I thought the conversation went well and that he understood what I was saying. Recently I was texting with him and we were talking about funny stories from our 20s, and the end of the text resulted in a bashing comment.

We were discussing over text memories from our past, and he was acutely interested in one of the stories about me having sex with a guy in an outlandish place. He had previously told me he had feelings for me, but that was a long time ago, and over time we’ve remained simply friends. After my anecdote on my sexual encounter, the conversation shifted. Out of nowhere, he wrote, “You save any lives today? How’s that going for ya?”

This was a dig. It was rude, uncalled for, and interesting that he said it. A while back we had a conversation about my work as a family advocate for people with loved ones suffering from mental health issues. On one occasion I was venting to him, and the conversation went something like this:

“I’ve been feeling burned out lately. I like helping people suffering from mental illness and their families, but it’s exhausting.”

“Yeah, I don’t know how you do it.”

“But I know I do good work, and probably have saved a few lives out there.”

“Okayyy.”

That final comment was a mock toward me, along with an eye roll. I let it slide. Keep in mind, he is not a bad guy, so to speak. I think gaslighters tend to be damaged people who might not even know that their hardships in their personal life experience have caused them to become the way they are. This doesn't make their behavior okay, but I do end up feeling empathy, which is another challenge that keeps me engaged. He has good qualities that keep me holding onto the friendship, but at some point, the nasty part in him that hurts me may well eventually and drastically change the relationship.

Fast forward to our texting conversation. Immediately after I mentioned my story about sex he fired back with, “You save any lives today? How’s that going for ya?”

This is a downright classic dig. Mind you our conversation on this matter was months ago, so why now all of a sudden was he bringing it up? Was he trying to be a jerk? Does he think he is being funny poking fun at me? Maybe he doesn’t think he is or realizes it, but it doesn’t matter if you feel hurt anyway. His comment begs the question: Is he perturbed about my story of sex with a guy over a decade ago? Maybe.

Here I am dissecting the text conversation wondering why one conversation pivoted to another one. As I pondered why he would say such a thing, like maybe he still likes me and was annoyed at my story which I thought was harmless, so he lashed out. And now I am beating myself up for even sharing this anecdote, to begin with.

I left the conversation and went for a run and became angry that things made this weird turn and I felt stuck, once again, in a moment which is not so obvious given the criteria of gaslighting, but I think there can be layers of this behavior that are not so easy to spot.

I felt disrespected and it irked me, so now I am left rethinking if this person should be in my life. When you engage with such a person you, are setting yourself up for potential emotional abuse. 

I’m not going to regret sharing that sex story because that was within the context of wild things we all did in our twenties, but part of me did regret it. Now I’m at a place where I don’t want to engage with this person anymore, however, maybe that is the silver lining. Maybe I saved myself from future situations where I can be emotionally abused. Hopefully, I learned my lesson that such a person isn’t worth my time. 

It's simple: My poor feelings, in that moment and regardless of the context, are valid enough to walk away.

I don’t need it.