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Breaking the cycle: recovering from gaslighting

Breaking the cycle: recovering from gaslighting

Nowadays, we are more mindful of any gaslighting behaviour in our daily social interactions. This awareness helps us in seeing how much the experience of gaslighting can influence our way of perceiving identity, trust in social connections, and self-confidence while navigating our lives. However, it is not an isolated incident. We have come across such experiences not just in our family and romantic partnerships but also in our friendships and professional lives. Most of us interact with our gaslighters on an almost daily basis, which puts us in a chaotic position. Understanding different coping tools can help us navigate these tough interactions on a day-to-day basis.

“I’m stepping away from this conversation”
One of the things a gaslighter does is tell you how you should experience an event rather than listening to your experience of it. They will try to exhibit control over your experiences by constantly questioning your memory of events and call out your perception of reality as faulty, untrue or unfair to them. The gaslighter is always trying to have an upper hand over the event by undermining the other individual in the conversation. While it is ideal to cut off your contact with the gaslighter, it is not always probable. It becomes important, then, to step away from the conversation for a while to evaluate your feelings and thoughts.

You can engage with these coping tools

Identify a safe space: 
A safe space is someplace where you can allow yourself to think and feel without any disruption. It can be a specific corner in your home, your favourite café or park, a friend’s place, etc. Observe and identify spaces or activities that help you be yourself without any judgements.

Giving yourself time to process is ok: 
As someone who is on the receiving end of a gaslighting situation, anger, frustration, worry, fear, and sadness are common. Give yourself time and space to feel your emotions rather than the emotions of your gaslighter.

You are not the guilty party: 
You may feel ashamed or even guilty for not being able to handle your emotions and thoughts firmly. Allowing oneself to have an emotional reaction
to a chaotic situation is, therefore, a critical step towards breaking the cycle. Understand that your emotional reactions are as valid as theirs, and it is something you should not feel weird about.

Practice mindfulness: 
Mindfulness for our thoughts is all about going inwards and simply listening to your inner voice. Your thoughts, how you are feeling, and every anticipated action you are motivated to do or are pressured to do can guide you in making your inner voice stronger. This also helps you approach
future chaotic conversations with more groundedness than unprocessed emotions.

Is that what happened? “We remember things differently”:
The gaslighter usually tries to completely deny the truth and will try to put you in a place where you doubt your experiences and memories attached
to it. After understanding your emotional responses to a chaotic situation, you can monitor your emotions in a better way. Collecting and maintaining
evidence helps you approach this situation more tangibly and confidently. We all have different ways of registering our memories: through photographs,
textual conversations, journal writing, and talking to close friends. We tend to touch base with these tools whenever we want to revisit a memory.
Such tools become more important in situations where you are being gaslighted. If a gaslighter blatantly denies an event or act, you can always go back and check the truth for yourself. It is important to remember that evidences are not a way to put someone down but to support yourself. It helps you fact-check your memory. 

There are a few ways to do so

Keep an event journal: 
Maintain a diary where you can track events/actions, including the date, time, and details of what all transpired. Try to write with direct quotes. It can be written or recorded via a voice memo for yourself.

Keep a feelings journal: 
Writing down your thoughts and emotions can help you find your inner voice, identify your pattern of responses. It can help in boosting your confidence. Another trick to build your confidence is by recording things that you like about yourself and by using affirmations.

Collect photographs/screenshots for proof: 
If there has been any property damage during an argument, take photos and save them in a hidden folder on your device. If you are facing a gaslighting experience in your professional life, keep a note of any textual or email conversations with the gaslighter.

“I hear you but this isn’t my experience”:
Another way a gaslighter can try to undermine the credibility of your thoughts and feelings is by stating that you are being brainwashed by your
trusted people. After a chaotic conversation, it is natural for us to reach out to our friends and family to validate our experiences. This is our way of
re-establishing control and confidence in our thoughts when we are feeling anxious. Gaslighters also have the habit of doing occasional smearing campaigns which involve devaluing you in front of family and friends you share. The more people find your version of the story lacking any credibility, the less support you might receive. Some practices that can aid you:

Positive affirmations and self-talk: 
Often in gaslighting relationships, the voice of the gaslighter becomes our own. Even if they are not present, we are stuck in a painful cycle of
self-gaslighting. You are constantly judging your credibility, undervaluing your personal feelings, and excusing the behaviour of your gaslighter.
Positive affirmations and self-talk can help you navigate thoughts that are negative and hurtful. 

First, recognise and write down any such thoughts that make you feel shaky and scared. Second, reason with yourself why these thoughts are untrue by writing down concrete evidence next to them. Lastly, practise replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. For example, replace “Maybe I’m overly sensitive” with “My feelings are valid.” It is a habit that gradually develops with practice. You may disbelieve yourself in the beginning, but with practice, you will start trusting yourself. You can also reach out to your trusted friends to help you out.

Don’t hesitate to reach out for professional support: 
If you constantly find yourself in situations where you are unsure about yourself because of a gaslighter’s comments, it is recommended that you
seek help from a professional mental health therapist or a counsellor. Recovering from such chaotic experiences is painful. Your healing journey
becomes easier when you are actively engaged in a safe therapeutic environment. A therapist can assist you in identifying your thoughts and feelings, develop healthier coping mechanisms, and provide you with therapeutic tools that can be used outside of the session.

In this journey of healing, it is important to remember to be kind to yourself first. Practising self-care as part of your routine will help you keep the most important person at the core of your life: yourself. Surround yourself with people who love and cherish you, do activities that you enjoy and help you remember yourself.

Palak Uppal

Palak Uppal

Palak is a psychologist who specialises in working with children and adults with special needs. She is also an avid reader who loves to engage in creative conversations and activities.