How to Respond to Gaslighting — In Your Relationship and In Yourself

Can individuals with ADHD be gaslighters? How do you know when love bombing becomes toxic? Uncover the answers to these questions — and others — with the help of ADDitude editors and experts.

A road signpost with warning signs, relationships difficulties, alarming red flags
A road signpost with warning signs, relationships difficulties, alarming red flags

Individuals with ADHD may be more likely to experience emotional abuse, unhealthy relationships, and gaslighting, according to a recent ADDitude webinar titled “How to Recognize (and End) Toxic Relationships with ADHD.” During the live event lead by Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D., we received a staggering number of questions about responding to gaslighting and recognizing the signs of a toxic relationship. Here are some of those questions answered by ADDitude editors — with links to relevant resources.

Q1: “What if I’m only attracted to gaslighters? When a nice guy comes along, I tend to get bored.”

Gaslighters will create an environment full of emotional ups and downs. They’re great at putting their partners on a pedestal; they’re also experts at knocking that pedestal to the ground. While the ADHD brain might feel stimulated by the dopamine hits of tumultuous relationships, rest assured a healthy relationship can be dynamic and rewarding. Start by recognizing the signs of a toxic relationship and treating your ADHD through therapy, medication, and/or coaching, which should help diminish your craving for unhealthy sources of dopamine.

Next Steps:

Q2: “Can people with ADHD also be gaslighters?”

Certain manifestations of ADHD can mimic gaslighting behavior; the difference is willful intent. While gaslighters seek to manipulate others, people with ADHD struggle with symptoms outside of their control. Anyone can be a gaslighter, but this behavior requires purposeful control and abuse by another person. Some individuals with ADHD struggle with telling the truth, however they report that their lies rise from shame, social anxiety, and embarrassment.

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Q3: “Recognizing love bombing when it’s happening is hard to do, especially when dating someone with ADHD. How do you know when it’s intentional and malicious?”

Take the time to learn about the many signs and symptoms of ADHD. People with this disorder feel emotions intensely and might hyperfocus on their partner, especially at the outset of a new, exciting relationship. To understand intentions, try communicating your concerns and setting boundaries. If you find yourself being blamed, dismissed, and devalued, it’s time to consider cutting off contact.

Q4: “I’m like a magnet for gaslighting and abuse in the workplace. What can I do to break this cycle in a professional setting?”

Whether a boss or a coworker, toxic employees should be avoided as much as possible during your workday. Look up your employer’s HR harassment policy, if available, or read the EEOC’s documentation on harassment. Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D., recommends getting a labor attorney, especially if your workplace does not have a human resources department. Make a point to document toxic workplace interactions on your personal device, and always report abusive behavior.

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Q5: “How do I heal after leaving an emotionally abusive relationship?”

Toxic relationships can lead to trauma, anxiety, and emotional withdrawal. Step one: Get help. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and other forms of therapy are highly recommended to help you heal using positive coping mechanisms. Use ADDitude’s guidelines for finding a good therapist or doctor.

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Q6: “What is the difference between a gaslighter and a narcissist?”

According to WebMD, symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) include an inflated ego, need for attention, sense of righteousness, and mood swings. Individuals with NPD are absorbed with meeting self-fulfilling needs. On the other hand, gaslighters are slow and strategic. They will lie, question their partner’s behavior, deny any wrongdoing, and attempt to isolate you. Gaslighting is seen in individuals with NPD but is also present without a diagnosable disorder.

The content for this article was based on questions submitted by live attendees during the ADDitude ADHD Experts webinar titled, “Gaslighting, Love Bombing & Beyond: How to Recognize (and End) Toxic Relationships with ADHD” [Video Replay & Podcast #410] with Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D., which was broadcast live on July 7, 2022.

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