How to heal from being gaslit.
This article originally appeared on Thrive Global.
I have something important to say about gaslighting.
Gaslighting is when a person denies the experience you're having or have had.
It's a trait often associated with narcissists and sociopaths.
An extreme example might be a child who witnesses her alcoholic father come home late, drunk, and thrash her mom, goes to sleep deeply disturbed by the experience, and wakes up the next day to everyone acting like she had a nightmare and that it wasn't real.
I call this experiential gaslighting. While no one is explicitly denying her experience of reality, they are in effect acting as though everything is normal and not addressing it.
This sort of behavior exists both in the extreme case mentioned above, and in perfectly "normal" homes.
For example, a more tame version might be that mom and dad are having an intense argument, perhaps about something trivial like taxes or daycare, and their child overhears the argument from upstairs, and is terrified, because it's intense. She comes downstairs and as soon as her parents see her, they act totally normal. But she can FEEL that something is up. What she sees is out of alignment with what she is feeling, and so just like the daughter of the alcoholic, she also begins to question her experience of reality.
In both of these cases, the authority figure in the home effectively determines what is real and what is fake, and their unwillingness to acknowledge the child's experience results in gaslighting, a form of emotional abuse.
A less extreme example that is relatively common in adulthood would be something like remembering clearly that your partner promised to come to your mom's birthday with you, and when you remind him/her, they say "I never said that."
Or perhaps you notice something is wrong with your partner, that he/she doesn't seem to be doing well, and in response to you asking them if something is wrong, they tell you: "I'm fine."
The result in both cases is that you begin to question your experience of reality. In all cases it can be incredibly disorienting.
Like most deeply empathic people, I have been on the receiving end of gaslighting many times in my life. The impact being that for many years I struggled to trust anyone. Because I did not trust myself.
It would be both convenient and easy to make the people who gaslit me wrong and blame them for the suffering I endured, and for the years of healing I underwent to eventually reclaim my sense of self.
But that, my loves, is not healing.
Healing is recognizing how easy it is to gaslight someone. How often we have done it ourselves to people we love and care about. How often we gaslight ourselves by trusting what we see or what we are told over what we feel.
Healing is understanding at your core that all humans are innately good, even if they have bad behavior, and while you may have been negatively impacted, that does not necessarily mean there was ill-intent involved.
Healing is understanding that all bad behavior comes from dysfunction of thought, limiting beliefs, and fear. It stems from trauma and conditioning, and the person behaving badly is most likely unaware of his/her impact at best, or at worst, believes this way of being is the only way for them to stay safe.
Healing is forgiving yourself for the decisions you have made out of fear, and of closing your heart to others in your own attempt to stay safe.
When you believe that your only choice is to be right or wrong, and to be wrong feels life threatening because you have unhealed wounds, you will do whatever it takes to be and feel right. Until that experience takes such power over your life that you struggle to function and decide to heal for yourself.
Contrary to popular belief, healing from past wounds does not require the person who helped create the wound in order to work. It only requires one person: the one who is tired of feeling helpless against outside forces and wants to learn to know and trust themselves.
People who gaslight are usually living in some level of unconscious fear. They may or may not be ready to heal from their own wounds which have them behave that way. Expecting someone else to change in order to rectify your resentment about being hurt will not make them change.
Remember: they are usually living in very deep levels of angst and terror about being wrong.
You making them wrong fuels their fear about who they are. By you making them wrong, you prove their fear right.
So instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater and saying everyone who gaslights is a narcissist or sociopath and a terrible human, what if you loved them, anyway?
Loved their fear.
Loved their bad behavior.
Loved their delusion.
Loved their angst.
Loved their unconsciousness.
(I am not suggesting not having boundaries, Boundaries are incredibly loving. You can love someone in all their places even if you choose to not have them in your life. But boundaries are not walls. Boundaries allow your heart to stay open to love. Walls close it. Walls are a form of self-harm.)
Just because you experience pain does not mean the other person intentionally tried to harm you. In very rare cases (literally 1% of them) this might be true. But most of the time, the harm is caused because of fear and unconsciousness.
On both sides.
So heal the parts of you that operate in fear. Expand your consciousness. Learn to have compassion for people who are on different paths. Practice boundaries. Keep growing and learning every day.