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How To Heal From A Gaslighting Relationship? 10 Steps To Recover From Gaslighting Effects (& Regain Your Sanity)

How To Heal From A Gaslighting Relationship

Today, you’re going to learn how to heal from a gaslighting relationship using 10 simple, yet effective steps to help you recover from gaslighting effects and regain your sanity.

What Gaslighting Is?

Gaslighting is a form of psychological and emotional abuse that causes victims to doubt their reality and question their own judgment.

In extreme circumstances, victims of gaslighting may begin to question their sanity, believing that they’re “going crazy.”

Gaslighters distort truth to confuse, control, and manipulate their victims. They make their victims feel like what they’re experiencing is not real, that they’re making it up, and that no one will ever believe them. (source)

“The most distinctive feature of gaslighting is that it’s not enough for the gaslighter simply to control his victim or have things go his way: It’s essential to him that the victim herself actually come to agree with him,” writes Andrew D. Spear, an associate professor of philosophy at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, in a 2019 paper on gaslighting in Inquiry.

What Are Examples Of Gaslighting In A Relationship?

Gaslighting may look like:

  • Questioning your judgment,
  • Downplaying or dismissing your achievements,
  • Criticizing your emotional responses and being told that you’re exaggerating or overreacting or being too sensitive?
  • Telling you blatant lies,
  • Denying ever doing or saying things for which you have proof,
  • A cycle of warm-cold behavior (e.g., alternating between verbal abuse and paraise).

The National Domestic Violence Hotline lists five techniques a gaslighter may use against a victim:

  • Withholding. The abusive partner pretends not to understand or refuses to listen.
  • Countering. The abusive partner questions the victim’s memory of events, even when the victim remembers them accurately.
  • Blocking/Diverting. The abusive partner changes the subject and/or questions the victim’s thoughts.
  • Trivializing. The abusive partner makes the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant.
  • Forgetting/Denial. The abusive partner pretends to have forgotten what actually occurred or denies things like promises made to the victim.

Related: Top 10 Signs You’re In A Narcissistic Relationship (And What Can You Do About It)

Who Becomes a Gaslighter?

People with certain personality disorders, such as narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder (includes sociopaths and psychopaths), are more likely to engage in gaslighting to manipulate others.

However, individuals without personality disorders may also engage in gaslighting, even when they do so unintentionally or for reasons other than manipulating.

Related: Can Abusers Change? Top 17 Myths About Abusive Men That Make Women Stay With Abusers

Gaslighting usually involves an imbalance of power between the gaslighter and the gaslightee.

The abuser or the gaslighter exploits vulnerabilities related to age, gender, sexuality, race, etc.

Related: Top 5 Reasons Why Narcissists Target Empaths – & How to Starve The Narcissist of Supply

Why is it difficult to recognize gaslighting?

We expect those closest to care for our well-being and a gaslighter can manipulate you while making you believe that they’re doing so for your own good.

However, with awareness, you can learn to recognize the signs of gaslighting and recover from the damage.

Related: How To Recover From Childhood Emotional Abuse? (& Stop Attracting Abusive Partners)

Am I Being Gaslit? What Does Being Gaslit Feel Like?

Gaslighting can have a ripple effect across your life.

You may find yourself:

  • Feeling confused and disoriented after leaving an interaction,
  • Second-guessing yourself, undermining your sense of self-belief,
  • Feeling silly for feeling hurt and wondering if you’re being too sensitive,
  • Questioning your reaction to things, and telling yourself you’re overreacting,
  • Feeling embarrassed and/or dismissed.

You might also begin to feel like you’ve changed beyond recognition, or become numb and with little energy.

This makes you vulnerable to further abuse and increases your dependence on the gaslighter.

Related: Top 10 Signs of Trauma Bonding That Are Easy To Miss

In extreme circumstance, gaslighting can cause Post-traumatic stress disorder, a hyperbolized fear of danger, known as hypervigilance, and even suicidal thoughts. (*)

Mother Wounds Journaling Prompts

Who Is Vulnerable to Gaslighting?
The Profile of The Gaslightee

Gaslighters look for victims who are vulnerable and willing to overlook poor treatment and abusive behavior.

Their target is usually someone who wants to be perceived as agreeable and a nice person.

But the person being gaslit isn’t someone who wants to be treated poorly.

The gaslighter usually uses manipulative tactics, such as “lovebombing” (showering the victim with affection, praise, and pseudo-intimacy) to draw their victims in.

Once the victim is hooked, the gaslighter starts breaking down their confidence and begins their control and manipulation.

Are you susceptible to being gaslit?

The following are some signs you could be susceptible to being gaslit:

  • You avoid conflict at all costs and disagreeing with someone triggers anxiety for you.
  • You worry you’ll hurt someone’s feeling if you say “no” to them.
  • You respect other people’s needs and opinions more than your own.
  • You feel guilty when you’re doing well in life and your loved ones aren’t.
How To Heal From A Gaslighting Relationship?

How To Heal From A Gaslighting Relationship?

Recovery from gaslighting and emotional abuse is a process.

It begins with awareness and coming to terms with the painful reality that you have experienced emotional abuse. This is followed by developing compassion toward yourself.

#1. Acknowledge Gaslighting And Emotional Abuse

This may bring feelings of shame and cause you to blame and criticize yourself.

It’s important to recognize that you did the best with what knew and allow yourself to feel compassion toward yourself.

What Does Gaslighting Sound Like?

“I am only hard on you because I love you.”

“I wouldn’t have said that if you hadn’t provoked me.”

“You deliberately misinterpreted what I said.” “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“That never happened.”

“You’re remembering it wrong.”

“You’re trying to confuse me.”

 “You are too sensitive. You need to grow a thicker skin.”

“You sound crazy.”

#2. Become Aware of Internalized Gaslighting

Can you unintentionally gaslight yourself?

If you’ve been gaslit for a while, you’ve likely internalized gaslighting and started gaslighting yourself.

This is especially true if you find yourself struggling with excessive negative self-talk and self-blame.

You may find yourself thinking, “I deserve to be gaslit because I was too stupid,” or, “He’s probably right, I am [insert message].”

Leaving an abuser or setting boundaries in your relationship may not be enough when you continue to abuse yourself.

Increase Your Self-Awareness Worksheets

#3. Reframe Your Negative Thoughts

Once you identify negative messages from the gaslighter and even from yourself, try to reframe those messages.

Use the following questions to challenge their validity:

  • Am I confusing a thought with a fact?
  • Am I assuming my view of things is the only one possible?
  • Am I thinking in all-or-nothing terms?
  • Am I condemning myself as a total person on the basis of a single event?
  • Am I concentrating on my weakness and forgetting my strengths?
  • Am I blaming myself for something which is not really my fault?
  • Am I taking something personally which has little or nothing to do with me?
  • Am I using a double standard?

Related: Unhelpful Thinking Styles: Top 10 Common Examples of Cognitive Distortions

#4. Change Your Self-Talk

Our self-talk (the way we think about and talk to ourselves) can be compassionate and loving, or harsh and critical.

If you’ve been gaslit, you may find yourself with a negative self-talk and self-perception.

If you struggle to feel compassion toward yourself, imagine a friend in the same position.

Imagine that they tell you they feel stupid for letting someone manipulate them and that they worry they’ll never gain their confidence back.

What would you tell them?

Say it to yourself!

Related: Reframing Negative Thoughts: How To Stop Overthinking And Relax? (Top 10 Techniques)

#5. Replace The Negative Messages With Positive Ones

To counter those negative messages try replacing them with positive affirmations.

The following are some examples to choose from and you can add some of your own:

  •  “I deserve to be treated with respect.”
  •  “I deserve to set and maintain boundaries.”
  •  “I am able to make decisions on my own.”
  •  “I have compassion for the parts of me that have been hurt.”
  • “I am worthy of love and compassion.”
  •  “I will give myself space to process my painful feelings.”
  •  “I accept myself as I am.”
  •  “I am healing slowly but surely.”

#6. Offer Yourself Compassion

Mindfulness Meditation Practice

1. Sit in a comfortable position. You may close your eyes or keep them open if you wish.

2. Focus your attention on your breath. You may also choose to focus on something else in your body like your heartbeat or the blood flow in your hands and feet.

3. Now think of an incident surrounding gaslighting or any other form of emotions abuse. Choose an incident that feels moderately painful to begin with.

4. Spend a few moments reflecting on what happened.

5. Notice any emotions that may arise and allow yourself to focus on that feeling. Name the feeling by saying something like, “this is sadness,” or, “this is grief,” or, “this is anger.”

6. Notice where you feel the emotion in your body and place your hand gently on that area.

7. Visualize yourself sending a wave of love to that area as you offer your emotion a compassionate statement, such as “I offer myself compassion for my grief.”

8. Notice how you feel right now. If the emotion persists, continue to send love and compassion until you feel it softening.

9. Once you finished, try giving yourself a hug or stretching your arms, or massaging your temples, or any other soothing gesture.

#7. Write a Letter of Self-Forgiveness

If you struggle with self-blame, this exercise will help you let go of blame sooner.

Write a letter of self-forgiveness to yourself.

Be specific about what you forgive yourself for and include things you can do for yourself to prevent this from happening again (such as, increasing your self-awareness, building your self-esteem, recognizing red flags, asserting yourself more, setting healthy boundaries, etc.)

Related: How To Forgive Yourself And Others? Top 9 Practical Steps to Free Yourself From The Past

#8. Release The Past

On a piece of paper, write down a word, a phrase, or a description of a gaslighting experience.

Read your message then fold the paper or tear it and dispose of it.

As you release the words, say to yourself, “I release and free myself from this gaslighting.”

Related: How To Make Peace With Your Past Mistakes Today and Never Repeat Them?

#9. Become More Assertive

If you’ve been gaslit, you might struggle with asserting and standing up for yourself.

The following is an Assertive Bill of Rights, adapted from Manuel J. Smith’s “A Bill of Assertive Rights” (1975). Read aloud and notice how you feel:

  • I have the right to judge my own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, independently of anyone else’s judgment.
  • I have the right to my own thoughts and emotions without having to justify or apologize for them.
  • I have the right to decide whether I share responsibility for finding solutions to someone else’s problems.
  • I have the right to change my mind.
  • I have the right to say “no” without feeling guilty.
  • I have the right to make mistakes, and the responsibility to face the consequences and address them.
  • I have the right to say “I don’t know.”
  • I have the right to say “I don’t care.”
  • I have the right to take up space.
  • I have the right to feel compassion for someone without being responsible for fixing them.
  • I have the right to decide what’s the best choice for me, even someone else doesn’t agree.
  • I have the right to disengage with people who are hurtful to me.
  • I have the right to walk away from a toxic relationship, no matter what kind.
STOP people pleasing Worksheets (1)

#10. Talk to a therapist

Recognizing gaslighting when you’re still in the relationship or even after the relationship has ended can be difficult to do on your own.

If you find yourself feeling traumatized, overwhelmed, or stuck in your healing process, please consider seeking additional help.

A skilled and compassionate therapist can support you through your healing process.

Psychologist Locator and the National Register are two websites for locating psychologists in USA.

Online therapy is also an option. It can be much affordable than in-person therapy, but can be equally effective. (source)

I recommend  Online-Therapy.com for affordable online therapy. 

(Disclaimer: This is an affiliate link. You will get 20% off your first month using this link)

Related: [20% Discount] Best Affordable Cognitive Behavioral Therapy CBT Online

FAQs

1. Where Does The Term Gaslighting Come From?

The term originates from Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play Gas Light, which was subsequently produced as a film, Gaslight, in the United Kingdom (1940) and the United States (1944).

The story features a man who manipulates his wife into believing she is going insane. One of the tactics he uses is to dim the gas lights in the house, making them flicker.

When his wife asks about the lights, he makes her believe that she is imagining the dimming.

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References

Portions of this article were adapted from the book The Gaslighting Recovery Workbook © 2020 by Amy Marlow-MaCoy. All rights reserved.

11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-warning-signs-gaslighting

Gordon, S. (2020, January 21). How to Identify and Cope With Emotional Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/identify-and-cope-with-emotional-abuse-4156673

Legg, T. J. (2019, November 21). What are the effects of emotional abuse? Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327080

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