Gaslighting Survival Guide

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Last edited: 16th July 2019

*Trigger warning: this post discusses Gaslighting and emotional abuse. 

As someone who has experienced the detrimental impact of being gaslighted, I would like to give some tips to help those who suspect they are being gaslighted by someone in their life, whether that be by a parent, a colleague, friend or romantic partner.

The psychological term Gaslighting originates from the 1944 film Gaslight in which a husband manipulates his wife into believing she is going insane. It has come to describe psychologically/emotionally abusive behaviour that has the intent to cause the victim to question their memory, their perception, and doubt their sanity. Why would someone want to gaslight someone else? To gain power and control. It tends to happen slowly, over a period of time, and can be absolutely devastating to the victim. It certainly was for me. I felt like a shadow of who I was by the time I found the strength to leave the relationship with my ex. During the relationship I became anxious, needy, snappy, paranoid, couldn’t sleep, and cried all the time. I felt as though I couldn’t think straight which impacted my ability to do my job, made worse by the fact that my ex and I worked together and he was in a position of authority over me. He would only support me professionally if our personal relationship was in a good place and even once admitted that to me. He was a compulsive liar but he insisted he never lies. He could be so convincing he would make me doubt myself. He drove me to a breakdown. Relationships with co-workers and friends were negatively impacted. The blog post I wrote to get him to stop led to me losing my job. This is why gaslighting and emotional abuse need to be taken seriously, with abusers held accountable.  You can read more about what Gaslighting is here http://bit.ly/2LgMHv7 

What should you do if you suspect you are being gaslighted?      

  • Do your research. Read about gaslighting techniques or talk with a trained professional so you are informed about the behaviours to watch out for. Once I knew what to look out for, I was able to keep a record of the things that happened whilst still in the relationship. The record helped to prove that my relationship with my ex was not healthy and was also valuable during counselling sessions.
  • Don’t be naive. Always remember that you are dealing with a very clever individual who is adept at manipulation. Simply talking to them and explaining your concerns is going to be ineffective. They will persuade you that you are wrong, convince you that they’ve done nothing wrong, and possibly say phrases like ‘You know I care about you, how could you think I would do anything to hurt you?’ Or ‘I’m disappointed you think that I am capable of that.’ They know how to turn things on you, to make you feel guilty and question yourself. Many times my ex did things that were unacceptable but after calling him out on his behaviour, I would often end up feeling bad and apologise to keep the peace.
  • Keep a record and collect evidence. An online diary that only you have access to could be safer than a written diary that could be found and read by the abuser. I created a Google Docs online diary and wrote down everything that happened in the relationship that I identified as being a gaslighting technique, or anything that was unacceptable to me – blatant lying, manipulative phrases, when his actions didn’t match his words, things done to deliberately confuse or wound etc. For evidence, I collected emails, regularly saved transcripts of WhatsApp conversations and took screenshots. You are always in a position of strength when you have truth AND evidence on your side – even if no one wants to listen/believe you. Knowing you have proof in black and white will make you feel more certain about what happened and make it easier to explain it to others if necessary.         
  • Share what is happening. If you have other people in your life that you trust, try to tell them about things that happen. For example, I did share some incidents with trusted friends and showed them messages. However, no one knew the full extent of the emotional abuse as I kept so much to myself. When I did eventually speak up, it was hard for people to believe me as they didn’t know everything that had happened and they didn’t get that it wasn’t just one event; gaslighting is a collection of manipulative actions and behaviours over a period of time.
  • Trust the evidence, particularly when dealing with gaslighting within a romantic relationship. When you love someone, it is natural to want to believe them and trust them so when they start to gaslight you, you make excuses for them. This allows them to continue to get away with abusing you. If your gut instinct is telling you something is off and you don’t like how someone is making you feel, pay attention to that and trust the evidence. If you speak up about their abuse, they will discredit you and make you appear crazy – but the evidence will speak for itself, making them look foolish. At the very least, you will know that you are right when others try to tell you you are wrong.      
  • Leave the situation. I stayed far too long in a relationship that I knew was harmful to me because I loved him. Put distance between you and your abuser. With distance from both them and the manipulation, over time you will gain clarity and the strength to fight back/ move on. You have a right to be happy. You have a right to good mental health and healthy relationships. You have a right to remove anyone from your life who harms your wellbeing and negatively impacts your life. Life is too short for such bullsh*t.

Recovery after gaslighting can be slow but you will get there in time, with help. These days I am in a good place mentally and emotionally, unless something triggers me – for example, a phrase that someone says, or a manipulative relationship in a TV show, can take me back to a dark place, but I try to surround myself with positive people and count my blessings. I have a new life now, I’m living in a different country, I’m doing a different job, and I am happy I got away. I hope that my writing encourages someone else to find the courage to positively change their life, as I have.  

Take care,

Lisa.   

Get Lit (Not Gaslighted…)

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Last edited: 14th June 2019

*Trigger warning: this post discusses gaslighting, narcissists, and emotional abuse.

This post links with ‘How To Date An Arsehole’ https://wp.me/p9u5hw-4K, ‘Invisible Scars’ https://wp.me/p9u5hw-Sf, and ‘Gaslighting Survival Guide’ https://wp.me/p9u5hw-1QH

Early in 2018, I was reading an article online about gaslighting when I had a profound realisation. The sense of clarity I experienced was so strong, I felt sick to my stomach. Gaslighting is a tactic people use to gain power over someone and used in romantic relationships, it can be highly effective and completely insidious. The penny finally dropped. My ex was a narcissist and throughout our involvement, he had used a range of gaslighting techniques on me to keep me attached to him and to try to control me. This realisation was an absolute shocker to me and was the catalyst to me fighting my way out of the relationship and finding happiness away from him.

Handsome, clever, charming and witty, we connected immediately. We messaged constantly, always watching out for each other, and it felt like us against the world, with shared jokes and confidences. I would light up with joy whenever I was around him. I could feel when he walked into a room, even if I couldn’t see him. It was like the air changed. I’m very empathic, an ‘emotional sponge’, so I’m sensitive to others’ moods and emotions and I’m an emotional person – I wear my heart on my sleeve and don’t hide my emotions. Apparently empaths and narcissists are frequently drawn to each other and it is not uncommon for relationships between the two to become toxic, as it did in our case. From what I’ve read, the attraction arises because narcissists thrive on being given attention and like to be worshipped whilst the empath loves to give and tends to be too forgiving, letting the narcissist get away with poor behaviour. Narcissists feed off the emotions of empaths and empaths will often give until they have nothing left, leaving the empath drained, which is why such relationships can be very damaging to empaths in particular. As long as the narcissist gets their own way, it’s all good. If you challenge them in any way, point out flaws or try to stand up for yourself, that’s when the trouble starts. He met his match in me.

A few months into the involvement, there had been a couple of red flags, such as hot and cold behaviour (often rapidly changing between the two), his actions not matching his words, and some sharply worded messages (a sudden slap in written form), but he always had an explanation and I was in too deep by then to see that the gaslighting had begun. To me his good qualities outweighed the aspects I didn’t like and I was accepting because I loved him and we are all human, flawed, irrational, and contradictory sometimes. My friends were worried for me and advised me to leave the relationship. However, I can be incredibly stubborn. I will always follow my gut instinct and do what I think is best. Unfortunately, in this situation, I completely ignored my gut instinct and continued with a relationship that was ultimately to prove highly toxic and harmful. In the last year or so I was aware that the situation wasn’t good for me and was negatively impacting my health but I couldn’t seem to break away. This is where the gaslighting had worked its magic.

Abuse in relationships can take many forms. I am fortunate that I have never been in a physically abusive relationship or been called derogatory names by a partner which people typically associate with abusive relationships. However, today there is greater awareness of emotional abuse and the impact that can have. Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse. An insightful article about gaslighting written by Stephanie A. Sarkis can be found here  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-warning-signs-gaslighting I definitely experienced the blatant lies, being told something to appease me that wasn’t true, promises made that he had no intention of keeping, and manipulation. He was also possessive and would watch me when I was chatting to other men; he was prone to jealous sulks if he thought I’d been flirting with them and there would be some sort of retaliation as punishment. When you get involved with someone you make yourself vulnerable and in a healthy relationship, the other person will take care not to hurt you or do things that they know will cause you pain. In my relationship with my ex, there were times when he did things to deliberately hurt me if he was displeased with me. I could also suddenly be ignored either in person or he wouldn’t reply to messages – withholding affection was used to control and assert power over me – as he knew I hated being ignored and that it would drive me nuts if he was cold and distant with me. I would then do the same back to him as I knew he also didn’t like being ignored. I knew exactly what to say or do to provoke him – you get to know each others Achilles heels when intimately involved – though most of the time I tried very hard to please him. I had to take him off my Facebook three times because of things he posted; he removed me once – when I posted I was going on a date to annoy him in response to him going cold on me once again. After the first year I had to block him on Facebook for good. We were always falling out and making up; like trying to stand upright on shifting sand, I felt constantly unbalanced. He never seemed to understand my side and would often emotionally invalidate me, dismissing my feelings and being defensive if I tried to explain how his behaviour impacted me. 

I am an honest, direct, person and I think it’s important in relationships for you to be able to communicate openly and honestly without fear of retribution. When I did call him out on the things he did, he would often turn it back on me, make me feel guilty, telling me it was my fault I had misinterpreted something he said, implying I was over-sensitive. Some of his behaviour just didn’t make sense – once I was sent a sharp email and a sweet WhatsApp message at the same time and another time I was sent a kiss emoji but then blanked by him when he saw me. I was always trying to puzzle him out. At times it wasn’t OK how he treated me but if I complained the situation between us was toxic, a headf*ck, and I wanted out, he would become indignant, calling me nasty and abusive, and sulk. If I asked for space, I wouldn’t get it. Rather than seeing that I was trying to do the right thing for both of us (who wants to be in a miserable relationship with frequent conflict?), it was like he felt how dare I not want to be with him and he had a ‘F*ck her, I’ll do what I want’ attitude. For some reason, he just couldn’t let me go. It changed me as a person over time – I became anxious, needy, snappy, paranoid, couldn’t sleep, and cried all the time. Eventually I had a nervous breakdown. I couldn’t take anymore. My head and heart were totally f*cked by the time I ended the relationship for good.

So many people stay in toxic/emotionally abusive relationships because they think if they just love the other person enough, it will get better – especially if the other person promises that it will, like my ex did with me – and it can be incredibly difficult to leave the relationship. It’s painful to walk away from someone that you still love, even though you know the situation between you is doing neither of you any good. The good news is you can break away if you are strong enough and believe that you deserve better. Of course I had moments of nostalgia after I left when I missed him, especially if I heard songs we shared, but I also felt a lot of anger towards him for everything he had put me through. Toxic relationships can bring euphoric highs and lots and lots of bonecrushing lows. The drama can be addictive and you tell yourself that you must really feel strongly for each other if you keep going back to each other. That’s not true. It’s just a bad habit. An abusive cycle that can be broken. On-and-off relationships are NOT healthy. Can’t-live-with-can’t-live-without relationships are NOT healthy. Relationships are not always easy but they shouldn’t be painful or harmful or bring out the worst in you. No one who really loves you would ever use gaslighting techniques on you to manipulate and control you, to punish you or make you stay in a relationship with them.

If you are in a toxic/abusive relationship, do yourself a favour. Detox your life. Block them, commit to withdrawal from your relationship addiction, focus on self-care and doing the things that you love, and in time you will find that you are so much happier without the relationship in your life. You know you are at that point when you glow – people keep telling me lately that I look happy and I am. No longer gaslighted (or should that be gaslit?), I’m lit on life with my arms open to embrace all the possibilities/opportunities coming my way.      

*Interesting article on dealing with trauma after a toxic relationship https://www.bustle.com/p/11-signs-you-are-experiencing-trauma-after-a-toxic-relationship-8759486  Reach out for help if you need it.

Take care, Lisa.

📧  uncagedartbird@gmail.com