What Happens When You Ignore a Gaslighter? Psychologists Break It All Down

Woman ignoring a gaslighting man

When you were growing up and dealing with a bully, did an adult ever tell you to, “Just ignore them”? It’s common advice when someone is causing us to experience emotional turmoil, since oftentimes, the bully is looking for a rise or a reaction out of you.

Unfortunately, childhood bullies aren’t just limited to childhood—bullies can find their way into adulthood as well, and if you have someone in your life who is being less than kind to you, you may go with the old advice of ignoring them. But is that the best way to go about it? And what about those bullies who are also known as gaslighters?

We've asked the experts exactly what happens when you ignore a gaslighter, and healthy, psychologist-backed ways to handle this type of person.

Related: Do Gaslighters Know What They're Doing? Psychologists Share the Truth

What Is a Gaslighter?

Lilit Ayrapetyan, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist, defines a gaslighter as someone who manipulates another person into questioning their own sanity, memories or perception of reality. “It's a form of emotional abuse that can be very subtle and is often used to gain power and control,” she explains.

According to Dr. Nick Bach, PsyD, gaslighters frequently use various tactics such as denial, lying, blame-shifting, defensiveness and invalidating the victim's feelings and experiences to make them doubt their own reality. Dr. Richard Davis, organizational psychologist and author of GOOD JUDGMENT: Making Better Business Decisions with the Science of Human Personality (HarperCollins, June 11, 2024), also calls this “sowing seeds of doubt in the other person’s mind.” He says that gaslighters can leave you thinking, “Did that happen, or am I crazy?”

Related: 35 Common Gaslighting Phrases in Relationships and How To Respond, According to Therapists

What Are the Negative Outcomes of Being Close to a Gaslighter?

The good news is that you are not crazy. You are being manipulated by someone, and you don’t deserve to be treated that way. If you continue to stay close to someone who is gaslighting you, there are negative outcomes you can expect.

For example, as Dr. Ayrapetyan details, you might constantly feel confused, anxious and unsure of yourself. “It can erode your self-esteem and make it hard to trust your own judgment,” she says. “Imagine constantly being told you misplaced the keys you're holding, making you question your memory and reality. Over time, this can lead to a sense of helplessness, a loss of personal identity and difficulty in trusting your own judgment and the intentions of others.”

Dr. Bach says that gaslighting is a highly damaging form of emotional abuse that can have long-lasting effects on the victim's mental health and well-being.

He adds, “It creates a dynamic where the victim becomes dependent on the gaslighter for validation and approval, further reinforcing the power imbalance in the relationship.”

Gaslighting is never a way to carry out a healthy, harmonious relationship. As Dr. Davis stresses, in any relationship, balance and accountability are critical.

“However, when one person constantly shifts blame to the other, untethered from reality, it is nearly impossible to have a truly healthy relationship,” he explains. “You can’t get close to someone when facts don’t matter and everything is your fault.”

Related: 14 Genius Phrases To Shut Down Gaslighting, According to Psychologists

What Happens When You Ignore a Gaslighter?

It Could Cause Their Behavior to Escalate

When you feel powerless and exasperated by the other person’s behavior, you may think that ignoring them is a solution to their gaslighting. But as Dr. Ayrapetyan says, unfortunately, it often doesn’t deter the gaslighter’s behavior. In fact, it may make things worse. And it doesn’t get down to the root of the problem.

“They may escalate their tactics to regain attention and control, leading to increased stress for the victim,” she says. “Ignoring such behavior doesn’t address the underlying issues of manipulation and control and may inadvertently signal to the gaslighter that their behavior is acceptable or effective.”

This is one probable way it could go, but as Dr. Davis says, when you ignore a gaslighter, a number of outcomes are possible. Actually, Dr. Bach seems to think that ignoring them may work in your favor.

You May Feel More Empowered

He says, “When you do not feed into psychological abuse by adjusting to their manipulative behavior, you strip away their power to control you. You strip away an important tactic for the abuser, which diminishes their ability to exert their dominance over you. By ignoring the abuser, you are likely to protect your mental health and well-being.”

Healthy, Effective Boundaries Could Be Created

Dr. Bach adds that by ignoring their gaslighting comments, you are setting clear boundaries that communicate that you are an independent person and can have thoughts, beliefs and emotions that are your own.

But he goes on to say that while this is a desirable outcome, it depends on your specific situation and whether there will be good or bad consequences.

They Might Cut You Off

For instance, if it goes in a negative direction, the gaslighter may cut you off emotionally as a manipulative way to get you to come back to them.

They Could Try to Turn Others Against You

They may solicit help from others. They might call your family members and ask them to confront you about your unreasonableness. “A person who has a strong pattern of gaslighting will recruit whoever they can, so they maintain control,” Dr. Bach says.

Should You Ignore a Gaslighter?

Dr. Davis breaks it down if you’re torn between ignoring the gaslighter or confronting the situation: he says that if the gaslighting is mild and merely annoying, ignoring it is perfectly fine. If you can’t ignore it because it is either too intense or the gaslighter is someone you simply can’t ignore, you must deal with it more directly. It’s ultimately your choice on whether you ignore the person or not.

Related: 13 Red Flags of Gaslighting at Work and How to Respond, According to Psychologists

What Are Some Healthy Ways to Deal with a Gaslighter?

If ignoring them doesn’t seem like the best way to handle your unique scenario, there are additional, healthy ways to deal with a gaslighter and protect your mental health. As shared by our experts, these approaches include:

  • Seeking support: Talk to friends, family or a mental health professional who can provide perspective and validation of your experiences. Create a support system.

  • Setting clear boundaries: Be clear about what is acceptable behavior and what is not, and enforce these boundaries consistently.

  • Documenting interactions: Keep a written or audio record of interactions that can help maintain your sense of reality and can be useful in therapy or legal settings.

  • Focusing on yourself: Prioritize your mental health and emotional well-being.

  • Distance yourself: Whether it’s temporary or permanent, it might be important to get some distance between you and the gaslighter.

  • Consider confronting: Confront the gaslighter if you believe there is a low risk they will become violent. Be assertive and point out the behaviors that the gaslighter continues to use to manipulate. Express your thoughts and feelings and let them know what consequences they will face given their behavior.

If you are thinking about confronting the gaslighter directly, Dr. Davis says that while you will likely not change them, you may feel better by calling them out on the behavior and explaining exactly what they are doing. And of course, this is only appropriate if you feel it’s safe enough to do so.

“You may protect your self-esteem by standing up to the person or naming the gaslighting when it happens,” Dr. Davis says. “Even better, it would be wise to seriously consider whether you need this person in your life. A friend who constantly gaslights you may not deserve your friendship and a romantic partner who does this may not deserve your love.”

No matter what, keep in mind that your highest priority should be your own mental health. Dr. Ayrapetyan says, “Remember, it’s not your responsibility to change someone who is manipulating you. Focusing on your own well-being and seeking help when needed is crucial. In cases where gaslighting is severe, creating physical and emotional distance or ending the relationship might be necessary.”

Next up, pick up on the subtle signs of gaslighting, according to psychologists.