The term “gaslighting” refers to the crazy feelings victims of subtle relational abuse experience. (See also: Gaslighting Victims Question Their Sanity.) Some regard gaslighting as a manipulation tactic. However, as I assert in my books, while it can indeed be a tactic, it’s more than that. It’s the crazy-making effect of aggression and exploitation that’s hard to clearly see. Therefore, it’s really the effect of any or all of the tactics a skilled manipulator might use. (See: pp. 133-134 In Sheep’s Clothing.) Partners in relationships with covert-aggressors ask themselves questions like:
- “If he (she) is so great and everybody else thinks so too, why do I feel so bad?”
- “Could she (he) be right? Am I the real problem?”
- “How come others don’t see what I see?” Am I just plain crazy?”
Gaslighting victims sustain emotional trauma. And all trauma victims can experience some similar distressing symptoms such as:
- “Flashbacks” or unwanted “reliving” of painful events
- Intrusive memories
- Heightened anxiety
- Hypervigilance (i.e. anxious anticipation of possible further trauma)
- Mental confusion
- Mood instability
Symptoms such as these are as difficult to deal with as they are to overcome.
Overcoming Gaslighting Effects
Recovering from gaslighting effects and regaining one’s sanity isn’t easy. Victims have frequently lost confidence in themselves. They’ve come to doubt their judgment. They wonder how they could have been so blind. Understandably, they also worry about making the same relationship mistake again. So, many have a very difficult time moving on. (See also: Moving On After An Abusive Relationship).
Overcoming gaslighting effects takes not only time but also a special kind of mindfulness. Victims have to accurately sort out what happened to them and why. They have to figure out what were truly their perpetrator’s antics and what were truly their own issues. This can be a painstaking process. And such a process often requires the guidance of a specially trained counselor. Working with a therapist who doesn’t understand the nature of character disturbance and its impact on victims can easily re-traumatize. However, with time and the right help, any victim can restore a solid, healthy sense of self.
I once worked with a woman truly beaten down by gaslighting effects. She doubted everything about herself. She questioned her very perceptions of things. Not only did she question her judgment, she questioned her reasoning ability. She still felt too crazy. It was the lasting legacy of the abuse she had suffered.
Unfortunately, because she mistrusted herself, she looked to me for direction. Now, that’s quite understandable in the beginning. But the main task of recovery counseling is to help a toxic relationship survivor regain a positive sense of self. Accordingly, the first step is to help them sees things for what they truly were. And, as is often the case, it’s knowing and embracing the truth truly sets a person free.
Once a former victim understands what their abuser was really like and how they manipulated, they can stop blaming themselves. Then, they’re truly free to take a mindful look at those aspects of their own character that could place them at future risk.
Last week I wrote about how abuse victims try too hard to understand certain things. (See: Abuse Victims Try Too Hard to Understand.). But when, with proper guidance, a former victim comes to understand what really happened to them and why, they can become truly empowered.
Character Matters will air live Sunday, May 13. So, I can take your calls at (501) 258-8326)
Some new workshop information has been posted on the Seminars page.
Next week I’ll be debuting a series on the interface of psychology and spirituality.