How to Heal After the Emotional Abuse of Gaslighting
Apparently, gaslighting has become the new “thing” in popular psychology circles. We see article after article warning of the dangers of gaslighting and how to spot a gaslighter. I have written a few such articles myself.
Is it time for another? I think so. Now that more people know about gaslighting, they need to know how to heal after the experience, as they would after any kind of emotional abuse.
Because that’s what gaslighting is — emotional abuse. But it’s a specific kind of emotional abuse. In gaslighting, one person in a relationship (romantic, familial or friendship) denies the other’s perception of reality and works to convince the victim that they are the “crazy” one in the relationship. As in other forms of emotional abuse, the gaslighter may try to isolate the victim from friends and relatives, give intermittent reinforcement (insincere apologies) that draw the victim back into the relationship, or denigrate the person with insults.
But the heart of gaslighting is that denial of the other person’s reality. The abuser says, in effect: “You can’t trust your own feelings. My view of the world is accurate and yours isn’t. You’re ‘crazy.’” Of course, the gaslighter may also use the familiar techniques of emotional abuse as well: isolation, insults, projection and belittling, but gaslighting is unique because the perpetrator distorts a person’s world view, sense of self-worth and belief in themselves.
Healing from gaslighting is not easy, but it can be done. Here is some advice from me, a person who was a victim of gaslighting but is now healing.
1. Get as far away from the gaslighter as you can.
Yes, this may mean cutting off contact with a family member, if that’s who is doing the gaslighting. It may mean leaving town. It does mean making a sincere and lasting emotional break.
2. Do not maintain contact with the gaslighter.
You may think that once you have broken free from the gaslighter, they can do no further harm. This is just an invitation to more emotional battering.
3. Name the abuse.
Say to yourself — and possibly to a trusted person: “This was gaslighting. I was emotionally abused and tricked into thinking I was ‘crazy.’ My worldview was denied and my thoughts and emotions were said to be invalid.”
4. Feel the feelings.
It may be some time before you can admit to or even experience the emotions that gaslighting brings. Your first reaction may be relief (“at least I’m out of that!”), but there may be years of anger, frustration, fear and rage lurking behind that. It may take work to surface those feelings, feel them and recognize they are valid.
5. Get some help.
This can be a therapist who specializes in treating victims of emotional abuse, or it can be a supportive friend, family member or religious counselor. It should be someone who can listen nonjudgmentally, validate your perceptions of reality and sympathize with your situation.
6. Do not try to get revenge.
This is just another way of reconnecting with your gaslighter. It gives the person another opportunity to “prove” you are “crazy.”
7. Develop new relationships.
It may seem like there is no one in your world who will understand and be supportive. For a while, you may not be able to trust enough to have another close friend or lover. You may have a lot of healing to do first. But remember that gaslighters are in the minority; most people don’t do that to people they profess to care about.
8. Give it time.
It may take years to fully get over the experience. I know it did for me. Maybe don’t go directly into a rebound relationship. You need time and space to work through your feelings and rebuild your perception of reality.
Just know that gaslighting doesn’t have to be a way of life. It can end when you gather the strength to break away from it. You can heal and take back what you know to be true — that you are a person who is worthy of love. Your perceptions and feelings are valid. You don’t have to live by someone else’s view of what is real. You are not “crazy.”
Photo by Stanislav Kondratiev on Unsplash