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.   

Invisible Scars

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Last edited: 11th July 2019

*Trigger warning: this post discusses emotional abuse.

Identifying emotional abuse within a relationship is not about blaming, being a victim, and remaining powerless. It’s about empowering those, like myself, that have been in unhealthy/abusive situations and giving them a voice and the tools necessary to heal and move forward. 

This article is a useful starting point in helping people to recognise that they may have experienced emotional abuse within a relationship, and to then seek the assistance needed to recover: https://liveboldandbloom.com/02/relationships/signs-of-emotional-abuse

Speaking to a trained counsellor, like I did, can be invaluable in enabling you to articulate your experiences and then put steps in place to take back control and overcome the abuse/toxicity encountered. Recovery can be a slow process but having fought my way to the good place I am in today, it is definitely possible.

In my relationship with my ex, these were the aspects of the relationship that I identified as being emotionally abusive (comments on the screenshots give some examples of the behaviours I experienced as not every part of the description strictly applies): 

I was shocked when I read through the list to see so many behaviours that I had dismissed, made excuses for, and basically allowed within the relationship because I loved him. I don’t think he realised he was being emotionally abusive – I hope not anyway – so discussing the issue openly, and acknowledging that unhealthy/abusive behaviours have occurred – however difficult that can be – is the first step to healing and to change. Your partner has to be willing to do the work, but if they refuse, then you should put your needs first, protect yourself and leave the relationship.

Help is definitely available – look online for support groups in your area and make an appointment with a doctor/counsellor/therapist (whichever you feel most comfortable with). Many people find talking to friends about their experiences helpful but it can be hard for them to fully understand, particularly if they are friendly with both you and your partner, so a trained professional can be an excellent objective person to speak to whose only goal will be to support you. Don’t feel too ashamed to ask for help when needed.

Good luck on the journey to healing…

Take care, Lisa.     

The Ex Effect

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Last edited: 11th July 2019

Throwback Thursday has got me thinking about an age-old conundrum: can you and should you stay friends with an ex? Staying friends with someone who was for a time significant within your life is often touted as a sign of maturity and, of course, there are circumstances which necessitate a continued involvement, such as co-parenting when two people have to put their possibly acrimonious feelings about each other aside for the sake of the children. Without the bind of offspring, maintaining a relationship with an ex has to be a matter of personal choice and that decision is probably dictated by the nature of the break up itself and the type of people you are.

I’m an all or nothing girl, always have been and always will be. Fiercely independent, I like my single life which allows me to do whatever I want when I want and being an introvert, I need lots of time on my own to recharge and reflect. So I only get involved with someone when my interest has been completely captured on all levels: mentally, emotionally, physically. When I’m in, I’m all in, fully committed. I’ve never really seen the point in doing anything half-arsed, including love.  I give relationships my all until things don’t work out; I don’t like to walk away unless I know I’ve done all I can or a relationship has proved itself unfixable or harmful to my wellbeing. I’ve had my heart broken and I’ve broken hearts. That’s life.

I don’t stay friends with exes. I just can’t do it, regardless of how good or not a person has been to me during the relationship. The boyfriends who cheated on me were easy to walk away from and I would rather rub marmite in my eyes than stay friends with them. I can see merit in staying on friendly terms with good guys though but in my experience, friendship is always way too complicated when feelings are or have been involved. Danger lies in unclear boundaries, false hope and jealousy. Oft-debated, Men and women definitely can be friends, I have several platonic male friends in my life who I truly value, but only if they are not and have never been attracted to each other. Attraction is the minefield.

My ex-husband – Mr DJ – and I had a fairly amicable divorce. We married young, grew up, grew apart and financial issues destroyed the relationship. Dealing with massive debt and bankruptcy in my mid-twenties was not what I had envisaged when I said I do and the relationship was not strong enough to survive when he just buried his head in denial and expected me to deal with it all: the persistent phone calls, the threatening letters, bailiffs at the door etc. An older man came into my life, the first man who just ‘got me’, and made me realise that I was with the wrong person. Telling Mr DJ that I didn’t love him anymore and he deserved to be with someone who did love him was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do but I’ve never regretted it. We were too young to be in a marriage that had no passion, no fire, just companionship and horrendously complicated finances. Leaving the marriage was like grieving for a death in the family but we supported each other through the process and were probably more honest with each other after our marriage ended than we had been during it. He started dating before I did and would often phone me asking for advice about the girls he was seeing. For me it wasn’t weird because I just wanted him to be happy and I didn’t feel anything for him anymore. We even exchanged Christmas presents eight months after we split. When he met someone he was serious about then the contact between us naturally faded and we both moved on. We’ve not spoken since the divorce was finalised years ago and that was best for both of us. I don’t miss him but think of him now and then. It was a different lifetime ago.

Thanks to Facebook I know Mr DJ has remarried and has kids now and I’m pleased for him. I hope the post-divorce years have been kind. Mr Control (who has featured in earlier blog posts) has a gorgeous little boy with his partner. Life has gone on for all of us. The prevalence of social media means it is now easier than ever to look up your ex. Not a good idea immediately after a break up (feels akin to sandpapering your heart) as that can prevent wounds from healing and encourage unhealthy attachments but after time has passed, it can be really quite cathartic to see that their life has continued without you, as yours has without them, and you know you have properly moved on when you can look at their pictures and feel nothing but pleasure to see them happy – or secretly pleased that they don’t look as attractive as they did when they were with you should that be the case ha ha. Apparently this is ‘The Ex Effect’, when you no longer view your ex as desirable without the rose-tinted glasses of lust and love you probably wore during your relationship. It’s just a natural part of the process. A relationship ends, you detach, focus on making yourself fulfilled and in time, new opportunities and new people come along. Staying friends with exes feels counter-intuitive to me. Just say goodbye, have a clean break and send them on their way with gratitude for what was shared and luck for the future. What is meant for you will not pass by you and you can’t make room for the things meant for you whilst still holding on to those that are not. Clear out the ex skeletons, refrain from constantly online stalking your ex (an occasional look up is fine, we all do it ha ha) and nostalgia-bingeing over past photos. Leave the past in the past, fully embrace the present and look forward to future experiences that may be better than those you have already enjoyed. Look after yourself and be happy.    

Take care, Lisa.