Is it Possible to Heal again after Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of mental and emotional abuse often designed to manipulate a person into doubting themselves and their reality.
Gaslighting is not always easy to detect – it is the subtle art of manipulation whereby a person’s reality is re-defined to conform to the perpetrator’s narrative. Gaslighting can create a false sense of belonging: victims of gaslighting are pulled deep into the perpetrator’s world, leaving them consumed with constant self-doubt. Consequently, they may feel like they are unable to connect with their own thoughts, beliefs and memories – and in turn, are less likely to challenge gaslighting behaviours.
Gaslighting can also happen unintentionally – it can be a coping mechanism or a defence mechanism without negative and conscious intent. It can even happen when someone communicates their needs and feelings differently than another person – rather than dig deeper into the root cause of an experience, the other person may underestimate or minimise it.
Gaslighting, whether intentional or not, can be extremely harmful to a person’s identity.
Gaslighting behaviours can occur in any relationship: between couples, colleagues, particular groups, family members and friendships. Gaslighting can also be self-inflicted or self-directed: distorting our own perception of ourselves may be the long-term result of unresolved gaslighting.
Victims of gaslighting may be made to feel like they are unworthy of self and external love – in turn, they may experience lower emotional health, self-esteem and overall well being.
Signs of Gaslighting
Due to its subtle nature, gaslighting can be difficult to detect. Typically, the signs of gaslighting are not always so obvious.
Below we share some signs and examples of gaslighting:
- They deny the reality of your experiences – over time, you may believe that you are exaggerating your experiences and will be less likely to speak up about what you are feeling. “That was slightly hysterical, there was no need to get that upset about a picture I posted of you”
- They can project their own insecurities on you. “Why are you always so loud? You’re embarrassing us.”
- They may throw unnecessary digs at you or make unkind comments in an attempt to boost their ego and lower your self-worth. This technique is designed to deflect blame away from themselves. “Your piece of art won’t end up in the Louvre, but it’s cute.”
- They try to create a false sense of security by isolating you from other people – but they may still be connected to the parts of themselves that feed their ego. A perpetrator may have the subtle ability to erase your reality. “Did you see the way your colleague was looking at you? I think she doesn’t like you… Some people are so fake.”
So, what does gaslighting feel like? How do we know if we are – or have been – victims of gaslighting?
Here are a few signs that you may have been gaslit:
- Your opinion is not an option
A gaslighter does not take accountability and manipulates you into doubting your own thoughts and experiences. Over time, you start to question your worth – and invalidate your own opinions and memories.
- Who you were no longer feels like who you are
Your thoughts, values and interests are characterised by another person’s influence.
- You are afraid to voice your beliefs
You may be afraid of the consequences of losing the other person. So, accepting the other person’s reality may feel like the easy way out of conflict.
- They love you, they don’t? love you
You’re never really sure what to expect. They shower you with love and attention – but they will make you believe that they can take it away at any time, too.
They also make you feel like you are always provoking them – like you’ve constantly triggered their aggression or negative emotions. Unfortunately, you believe it and try to compensate for it.
How Gaslighting can make us Feel
Gaslighting can negatively affect emotional health, mental health and overall wellbeing. It can invalidate a person’s experiences by reducing them to an unrecognisable reflection of their perpetrator.
Unfortunately, we may not always recognise how and how much the effects of gaslighting can affect us.
Here are a few ways that gaslighting can affect how we feel:
- Feeling more depressed and anxious than usual
- Feeling like you’ve lost sight of your own interests to adapt to their interests
- Feeling inauthentic
- Feeling like you can do nothing right no matter how hard you try
- Questioning yourself, your thoughts and behaviours
- Feeling hopeless and helpless
- Forgiving and making excuses for the other person’s behaviour
- Feeling lonely, isolated and passive
Healing after gaslighting may feel impossible. The fear of falling back into old patterns can create a wall of distrust.
But is it possible to believe in ourselves again? And will we be able to form new healthy relationships after gaslighting?
Trusting Yourself after Gaslighting
Trusting again after gaslighting is a long-term process. Believing in ourselves and building confidence in who we are is the first and most essential step in healing after gaslighting.
Here are a few tips on how you can start to rebuild trust in yourself after gaslighting:
- Validate your own feelings and opinions
Remember that you are not the problem. A perpetrator can find anyone to gaslight given the right opportunity.
Practice new ways to believe in yourself. Learn to validate and value your own feelings and opinions.
- Reconnect with yourself
Gaslighting can often make you question your reality.
Take time to reconnect with yourself: your thoughts, feelings, behaviours, interests and relationships.
- Forgive yourself
Forgiving yourself starts with believing that you are enough. When you can forgive yourself, you can start to let go of any self-blame and internalised guilt.
You may never get the closure you want, but you can always give yourself the closure you need.
- Seek professional support
You are not to blame for a gaslighter’s behaviour. A therapist can guide you to identify your thoughts, beliefs and interests again.
A close support system can be beneficial in helping you heal from trauma – but sometimes the right therapist can also help you develop the right tools to boost your emotional health, resilience and confidence.
Trusting Others after Gaslighting
It can be difficult to trust others again after gaslighting – especially when we fear the possibility that it could happen again.
So, is it possible to trust others again after gaslighting?
Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Listen to your gut
Keep an eye out for the feelings of unease or confusion you’ve had with the gaslighter.
But if they give you reasons to stay, try not to look for unwarranted reasons to leave.
- Communication is Key
Try not to project your past on your present.
Communicate your past – do not be ashamed of it. Consistent and healthy communication can help heal old wounds in a healthy way.
- Believe in your worth
After being gaslit for a long period of time, you may feel like you are unworthy of healthy relationships.
But your past does not define you, it builds your experiences. Practice believing in yourself – because you deserve to be happy.
- Meet your own needs
If you are looking for someone to fulfil your needs, look no further.
When you can make yourself happy first, you are less likely to look for external validation and security from others. This can help in preserving your identity in your relationships and boosting emotional health, mental health, resilience and overall wellbeing.
Sending you extra kindness for the week,
MSc Clinical Psychology
Content and Marketing at eQuoo