If you’ve been a victim of crazy-making, you need a good coping strategy. The problem is, it’s hard to identify gaslighting—the name given to the abusive practice of making people doubt their own reality, and therefore their sanity. The key is to catch gaslighting early, when the abuser is just getting started. At first he will hook you in and make you think he cares for you. But then he will employ tactics—very like brainwashing techniques—to put you off balance and under his control.
You should suspect you are being manipulated—gaslighted—when you feel:
Confused. You behave like the rational human being you are, but you are met with criticisms that don’t make sense. You are accused of things that aren’t true. You are made to feel that you are unreasonable or just plain wrong, when you know you are right. Or you used to know you were right.
Memory Loss. You no longer depend on
what you remember because your abuser frequently tells you your memory is false. He says he never did or said something you clearly remember him doing or saying. He tells you that you are imagining things. He makes you doubt what you know to be true.
Automatically Wrong. You used to be confident, self-assured. But now you second-guess yourself. If someone suggests you are mistaken, you assume they are right and you are wrong. You used to be able to think things through logically, and now things don’t make sense. They don’t add up, and the fault must be yours.
What to Do When You’ve Been Gaslighted
The first thing to do is stop. Listen to yourself. You know something is wrong. Trust your instincts. Acknowledge that you feel like you’re a little crazy. You will need to do something about it, like get professional help. Some coping strategies will help, too:
Accept Your Feelings. Take care to really acknowledge what’s going on with you. Is your stomach in a knot? Are you feeling anxious? Are you feeling any of the above symptoms of confusion, memory loss, lack of confidence? Take the time to acknowledge these issues without judgment. Be compassionate with yourself, because being gaslighted is not your fault.
Take Notes. If your abuser insists you are misremembering, you will have your notes to refer to. Memory can be a tricky thing in the best of circumstances, so your notes can supply you with clarity and certainty. You can record how you’re feeling, what your doubts are, and when you look back, you can get an understanding of how the gaslighting process worked on you. And just the act of writing down your concerns and feelings will often make you feel better.
Establish Boundaries. Tell your abuser that you know he’s been manipulating you, and you want this behavior to stop. Of course, you cannot make him change his behavior, but you can change yours. If your abuser says or does something to undermine you, call him on it immediately. You can say, “I know what you’re saying is not true. If you continue to insist it is, I will have to leave the room.” And then do it. You will have to be persistent, because he will try again and again to re-establish control over you. Do not allow it.
Find Help. Good, solid friends can be supportive. They know who you were before you were manipulated and they can help you remember what your reality truly is. But gaslighting is so insidious you may need a professional counselor whom you trust to be straightforward and truthful. She will help you understand the abuse you’ve suffered and repair your self-esteem. She will help you heal emotionally so you can begin to live a positive, confident life again.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact-us.