Gaslighting is one of the most insidious forms of psychological abuse I’ve ever encountered… personally and professionally. It’s deliberate. It’s covert and it’s 100% toxic to your mental health. But what actually is it?
Gaslighting comes from the power and control toolbox and is used to destabilise someone in an intimate relationship, a workplace or a family context. Gaslighting is abuse 101… the go-to for abusers the world over. “It didn’t happen like that!” “You’re imagining it!” “That never happened“ “I didn’t say that!” “You must be mentally unstable!”
Sound familiar? If your answer is a big fat YES then you might want to read on!
Essentially gas lighting is brainwashing. Slow and deliberate psychological manipulation that results in the victim questioning their own thoughts, feelings, lived experience, identity and mental health ‘status’, for want of a better word. Narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths will use denial, misrepresentation, lies and contradiction to slowly trap the victim in this distorted reality (aka ‘brain fog’) in order to maintain control over them. By making the victim feel ‘crazy’ the victim is less likely to ask for help, reach out to friends and family for support or, leave the relationship or workplace. Thus the abuse is free to continue.
The long lasting impacts of living this unfortunate, desperately sad and totally chaotic existence are well understood in the therapy world, with survivors often coming out of toxic relationships wondering what on earth they just lived. For me personally, the day I stumbled across the term ‘Narcissist’ was the day my life finally made sense. Maybe you can relate?
What are some of the SIGNS of gaslighting?
- Constantly having your recollection of events challenged, invalided or completely down played
- Being told you are crazy, unstable or mentally ‘sick’
- Blame shifting as a form of deflection used to avoid accountability
- Crazy making behaviours such as excessive denial, even when confronted with evidence
- A perpetual effort to make sense out of nonsense
- Ever moving ‘goal posts’ causing you to question everything
- ‘Topsy-turvy’, circular conversations which go nowhere, despite your best efforts
- Excessive repetition of lies and falsehoods in an attempt to create a new ‘reality’
- Randomised ‘kindness’ and ‘normality’ which provide false hope… right before gaslighting efforts ramp up
- A never ending feeling that you are indeed going CRAZY!
What are some of the SYMPTOMS of gaslighting?
- Lack of confidence
- Excessive self-doubt
- Low self esteem
- Loss of identity
- An unrelenting sense of hopelessness
- Mental exhaustion
- Withdrawal from life
If you think you may be living the gaslighting nightmare, or, if you’ve already ended your relationship with the abuser in your life, here’s what I suggest…
Tips for RECOVERY…
Name the abuse for what it is
What you are living, or what you have lived, is ABUSE. You need to name it and shame it in order to take back your power. By naming it and shaming it you effectively create distance between ‘it’ and ‘you’ which is the first step to healing from trauma.
Show yourself some compassion
You are not “weak”, “dumb” or “hopeless”, you are STRONG and you CAN escape, and heal from, this abuse. You have been traumatised and it’s important that you are gentle with yourself as you find your way forward.
Understand and BELIEVE that there is nothing wrong with you!
Truth. Honest truth from a survivor turned therapist. You are whole. You are capable. You are loved and you do MATTER. Leave the crazy making abuse behind and walk straight towards peace, love and happiness! Haha.. how good is that, getting my 60’s vibe on! But, in all seriousness, those three joys in life are waiting for you on the other side of this experience. Trust me. Your key to freedom is rewriting foundations. Repeat after me... there is nothing wrong with you!
Look for the opportunity for learning
Get reflective. Who were you pre-gaslighting? What strengths did you possess? What can you take away from this life experience that will help you going forward? How can you turn your horror into your healing? No matter who you are or what you have lived there is always the chance to learn something. To draw some meaning or to find some purpose from the suffering. Maybe you found you are more resilient than you ever realised? Maybe you have learnt that your empathy and capacity for love are VIRTUES best bestowed on those who actually deserve them? Look for the learning. This takes time so stay patient and keep your eyes open!
Reconnect with your inner self. (The self that wasn’t gaslit to within an inch of her life). NOW, right NOW is the perfect time to do life your way. On your terms and at your pace. Rebuild your identity. Show up in life until you feel confident again. Hang out with your girlfriends. Look to healthy people as a way of reconnecting with all the good in the world. Do what you loved doing, but stopped doing. And, do MORE of it! Take chances, embrace choice and step forward into inner peace.
Read, listen and write
If there’s one thing I know to be true in this life, it’s that education is POWERFUL. Particularly when It comes to processing our lived experience of abuse. The more we know, the less confused, overwhelmed and trapped by our story we feel. When we experience validation through learning of the experiences of others, we are able to let go of the ‘victim’ mentality and tap into our capacity for healing. Go and buy some great books about narcissism and gaslighting, subscribe to relevant podcasts, write in journals or share your story in some way.
Get on iTunes and download ‘Gaslighter’ by The Dixie Chicks
Turn it on. Turn it UP. Then dance like EVERYONE is watching because YOU ARE AWESOME and you deserve to have a light-hearted laugh at the situation. You are a warrior and you WILL survive this. So dance and laugh. This song is FABULOUS for healing! (She says whilst typing with GASLIGHTER blasting out of the computer!)
So there you have it… Gaslighting | Signs, Symptoms And Recovery
I hope this article helps you get past your experience with gaslighting.
If you’d like to connect with me and find out how I might be able to support you, please feel free to reach out here. During the Covid health crisis I am offering phone and online therapy sessions. These are available to women Australia wide. Face to face sessions are suspended until further notice.
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Until next week…
Yours in better mental health,
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Erica has a passion for Women’s Health. She works with women who want to be heard, supported and empowered! Erica is a survivor of many life experiences. A Mum. A travel lover. A green thumb in training and an eternal optimist!