I could easily (and I will one day) record an entire podcast episode on gaslighting and the damage that it does to one’s psyche. However, let’s take a moment to talk about it on the blog.
Gaslighting is one of the number one problems that I see when people come to me for therapy. Those who have been subjected to gaslighting often come into therapy confused, scared, and fairly certain that they are “sick”, “mentally ill”, or “crazy”.
By definition, gaslighting is a type of psychological manipulation that can be very subtle but oh so insidious. It is an attempt to make someone question and doubt their own memories, thoughts, feelings, and their perception of reality as a whole. It is not something that occurs only with romantic partners, but rather, this form of psychological abuse (yes, it IS abuse) can show up in friendships, with family members, and even from colleagues in the workplace.
Metaphorically speaking, gaslighting looks a little bit like the following:
You: I know how to ride a bike, I don’t need help.
Abuser: Okay cool! You’re right. You got this!
Abuser: ~puts a giant rock ahead in your path, watches you hit the rock with your bike and crash~
You: What the heck? That rock wasn’t there before. I take this bike path all the time!
Abuser: Hmmm, maybe your memory isn’t what it used to be. I’ve never seen that rock before. You must be imagining things. I mean, I know you said you knew how to ride a bike but it looks like you really do need my help after all. It looks like you’re not as independent as you thought you were…Come here, let me rescue you. I’ll help you clean yourself up and maybe next time you should listen to me. I only want what is best for you.
You: ~left feeling confused, frustrated, guilty, ashamed for thinking you could do anything on your own, angry but unsure why, lacking in confidence, etc.~
The gaslighters in your life want you to think that they want the best for you. They tell you they love you unconditionally, but believe me you, there are conditions. They tell you they want you to grow and flourish and be the best version of yourself, but as soon as you start to do that, they pull back, throwing in confusing and hurtful comments, insinuating that you don’t really know what you’re doing in life, that you aren’t quite ready to “fly on your own” yet, that maybe you aren’t as great as you thought you were. They may also send you hints that you are too needy, but when you stop needing them, they ice you out or retaliate in ways that leave you feeling hurt beyond your wildest imagination.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, please know you are not alone. More importantly, please know that you have nothing to be ashamed of if you had no idea you were a victim of gaslighting. On a personal note, it took me 4 years to realize I was a victim of gaslighting. I believed wholeheartedly that this person had my best interest at heart, despite being hurt over and over again and despite feeling confused and worthless after every conversation. I was told every single time that my feelings were a result of my own issues – a manifestation in my head (BULLSHIT).
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that is so popular among abusers because it’s nearly impossible to identify and it can cause damage that can take years to recover from. With that being said, recovery IS possible.
So for all of us who have fallen victim to the gaslighters in the world, let’s keep on telling each other:
-It isn’t our fault.
-We have done nothing wrong.
-We have nothing to be ashamed of.
-We have every right to be mad as hell.
-We will survive.
-Joy exists on the other side.
–Abusers never win in the end.