How to empower yourself and develop the necessary skills to combat psychological abuse
On several occasions in my life, I have interacted with people who have gaslighted me in one way or another. At that time, little did I know what was happening and what they were up to. I still vividly remember seriously doubting myself and questioning whether what I was doing was good enough. Since a young age, I was unknowingly developing skills to fight these people off. Whenever I felt disoriented about my thoughts and feelings, I would go to my close family and inner circle of friends to discuss what was racing through my mind and eating me up from the inside. These confidants were, and still are, acting as anchors to my mental wellbeing, and I thank them for this.
The term ‘gaslighting’ emerged from a 1938 play called ‘Gaslight’ by British playwright Patrick Hamilton. In 1944 it was made into a movie starring classic Hollywood star, Ingrid Bergman. The story reveals a man called Jack using various methods to try to convince his wife, Bella, that she is mentally unwell. This is so that he can put her in a mental health hospital in order to find and keep the hidden jewels of the woman he once murdered. Jack continually and methodically plays games to manipulate his wife into thinking she has lost her grasp on reality. He moves things around or loses them and then accuses her of stealing them. He even tells her that she is hallucinating – hearing, seeing and imagining things. Jack makes her completely doubt herself, destabilises her perception of herself and the world around her and ultimately makes himself to be the victim of her supposed madness.
The story is set in Victorian London in the 19th century, so all the streets and buildings are lit by gas. At one point she looks at the ceiling and notices that the light was dimming. This happens when someone is in another part of the house and turns on another light. Yet she is clearly told by her husband there is no-one else in the house. Her husband is secretly switching on another gaslight in the house. Eventually, as he plays more games with her and intensifies his cruel behaviour, she starts to truly believe that she is losing her mind. Poor Bella is slowly and systematically being driven out of her mind, until a stranger comes to her rescue. This person convinces her that she is not mentally unstable, but is being tricked by her husband, who is actually not even the person he says he is. Eventually, the word ‘gaslighting’ became a term used to describe someone who is engaging in psychological abuse by trying to convince the other person that they cannot trust their memory and perception, thus making them question their sanity.
Gaslighting can happen in different contexts (Giammona & Anderson, 2022), whether it is in your working environment, in an intimate relationship with a partner or with your family. Gaslighting can trigger feelings of fear and insecurity, alienate you from your peers or family members, or make you feel like the odd man out.
Here are some tips of how you can deal with gaslighting (Giammona & Anderson, 2022):
The people you connect with need to show you mutual respect, since this is the cornerstone of a healthy relationship. In your gaslighting relationships, you are told that you are not enough. Therefore, I would encourage you to choose connections that are uplifting and help you improve through honest, open and well-meaning feedback.
These connections fill your social calendars and provide you with someone to talk to openly and honestly, about the things that are going on in your life, without fear of judgement.
Find people who listen
A good relationship involves having someone who puts the time and effort into making sure that you are heard and feel understood. They will put energy into talking to you, and they won’t mind if you need to speak about the same thing a few times to process the emotion.
Here are some tips that can help you heal from gaslighting (Giammona & Anderson, 2022):
Remember that you are important and valued
There is a good chance that your self-esteem is at rock bottom. You might feel that you can no longer trust yourself or your own feelings. It’s not your fault that you fell victim to gaslighting, and while you might feel weak and vulnerable after this experience, you need to remember that this person would have found anyone to prey upon. It doesn’t have anything to do with you.
One way to lift yourself up is to write affirmations in a journal or on sticky notes and put them where you can see them. This is a good way to remind yourself of your own value. When you start your morning with positivity, you have a better mindset for the rest of the day. Also, something that can support you is, before you go to sleep, think about the good things that you did and what positive outcomes they brought you. You can remind yourself of things like – ‘I did my best today’ or ‘I believe that I can succeed’.
Reconnect with your identity
Gaslighting may help you lose sight of who you are as a person. The best way to turn this around is to reconnect with the person you were before. You need to get back in touch with those people from whom you were alienated, re-engage with things that made you happy and be comfortable with being alone with your own thoughts. The best way to re-connect with your identity is to take up a hobby that you enjoyed in the past. This may be something simple such as hiking, reading or cooking.
Cut off communication with the gaslighter
Detangle yourself from the web of the gaslighter. If they were your partner, stop giving them a way to contact you. If you are in the workplace and the gaslighter is your colleague, limit how often you need to see them. If it is a friend or family member, avoid them. The longer you are away from them, the more space you have to heal. Remember you have control over who you let and do not let into your life.
Practice forgiving yourself
Because someone has been name-calling you and filled your mind with toxicity and negativity for a period of time, you may start doubting yourself. I would encourage you to list all the things that you experienced and what you went through. By seeing it on a piece of paper, you will find the clarity of mind to realize that none of this is your fault. Don’t forget to practice self-care.
- Morrison, M. (2022). Gaslighting: Empower yourself and develop the necessary skills needed to prevent being manipulated by toxic people (Psychology, Relationships and Self-Improvement). 1st Edition. ISBN-13: 979-8830473422
- Giammona, D.J., & Anderson, T. (2022). The Military Guide to Disarming Deception: Battlefield Tactics to Expose the Enemy’s Lies and Triumph in Truth. 1st Edition. ISBN-10:0800762584