Nobody deserves this.
Wikipedia defines gaslighting or gas-lighting as "a form of psychological abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting their own memory, perception, and sanity. Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim."
However, in my personal experience, it can also be a lot more subtle.
For instance, for many years, my mother told me told me that my father loved me and didn’t love anyone else in the family. I have no idea if this is true or not — I certainly did feel loved by my father.
When I eventually told my mother, as an adult, how this made me feel, the guilt I carried for being loved, her response first response was to deny that it ever happened. Then that if it did happen, I took it the wrong way.
And, finally, that I was selfish and self-centered to bring these things up with her and that I only ever thought about myself and that it was hurtful to her that I loved my father.
My reaction, as I’m sure you can imagine, for so many years was to make her understand my point of view — I wanted to be listened to. I wanted to be heard. I tried everything over the years to make her understand my viewpoint, until one day I gave up.
I was self-seeking— not selfish and there is a world of difference. I needed to be heard and understood.
I tried to convince my mom to see the effect of her words on me. The more I persisted, the more she resisted. I became incredibly needy, though unaware of it at the time.
It colored and shaded all my other relationships. I didn’t trust what people told me. I was wary of being loved, because I didn’t deserve it and I was incredibly insular in order to protect myself.
I was always waiting to be let down and I’m sure you can imagine the outcome — I got let down a lot by a lot of people.
Those were some of the results of my gaslighting experience, which I can share from a distance of time and healing, but at the time I had no idea of this dynamic — and to be fair either did my mother. She was recreating the same mother/daughter relationship she had with her mother (I believe).
Over recent days, I've been speaking to many women (not to say that men don’t suffer this sort of abuse) and this is a very hot topic. It creates huge emotions from "Am I going mad" to you should pack a bag and leave now, there is no time to waste!
We all have our opinions based on personal experience.
Therefore, I thought that it might be useful to give my take on the subject and, of course, would value your feedback.
I would start by saying that if you are in physical danger or even emotional or mental danger, please reach out to someone and ask for help (if you don’t know where, you can ask me and we will find help for you as soon as possible).
If, however, like me with my mother, you're wondering the following (which yes caused damage but was more confusing than anything else):
- Is this abuse?
- Is she/he aware of it?
- Is it pre-planned?
- How can I make him/her change/understand/admit or ___ (fill in the blank what ever you have the need to achieve.)
- What can I do about it? (The big burning question.)
Here's the thing. I mentioned earlier how needy I got — I needed to prove something to my mother. And that meant I was handing my power away. Neither I was aware that I had handed it over nor my mother that she held this power.
When you're caught up in trying to answer all or some of the questions above and when you spend time trying to obtain certain results from that person, you're trying to fix the situation by "fixing" them.
They hold a position of strength in your life.
So how can you regain your power? Let's go back to these questions: "How can I make him/her change/understand/admit or___?"
The answer lies here.
"Why do I need him or her to change/understand/admit or… Whatever?
Is takes two to tango: When you know your motivation, you can then step outside the current dynamic. You can’t "fix" you partner but you can start to work on you.
For me, it was validation by being heard and understood.
When it comes to gaslighting, we question our intuition, thoughts, memories, and feelings. We may even question our sanity depending on the levels of abuse. This is the first step:
- Accept that you are correct that this is actually happening
- Identify what it is that you "need" from your partner.
- Make a decision to change your approach. Don’t get into the usual dance. Instead of pushing for an admission of guilt, look at why it's important to you and work out a strategy whereby you are your own personal champion. (Mine for instance — I need to be heard— my first step was making a decision to listen to my intuition and just be okay knowing that I now "my truth.")
- If it's because you need to know that you're right, just decide to be right, and go with your feelings. If you feel that non-admission shows a lack of love, then work out where you can shower yourself with love, remember we receive love to the extent we love ourselves.
- Step up and become your own champion. Teach your partner that you're dancing to a different tune now. Lead by example. Many times, I see that perceived gaslighting is nothing more than a defense mechanism by a very unhappy person, teach them there is another way.
- Drop expectations — positive or negative. When you change, your reality changes. It's that simple. However, if you keep expecting the same things to happen, they surely will.
- Ask for help. Whether that be with a coach, counselor or just opening up to friends and sharing the real you. You'll be amazed at the difference this makes in your relationship. No one person can fulfill all our needs and when we look elsewhere for a support network, it lifts a lot of pressure from the relationship.
Who is most susceptible to this sort abuse and how we can protect ourselves? Here is a list of traits that I recognize in myself, which have previously contributed to my part in this abuse system:
- The need to be heard and understood
- The need for love and approval
- The need to be right
Other common traits that may attract gaslighting or other emotional or pathological abuse is the tendency towards people pleasing, being empathic, and always looking for the best possible outcome for all involved. The need to portray/see that person/partner through the veil of positivity and of course.
If you recognize yourself or are currently in a similar situation please reach out. To know more on how Allison Reiner works and how she can help you, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or to get working immediately, why not download her 5 step worksheet to help identify where you can begin to make changes? Click here.
This article was originally published at The Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author.