Gaslighting is an extremely common form of emotional abuse and manipulation used to make a survivor second guess their experience and memories. Many tend to feel like they are losing touch with reality when being gaslighted, and believe they can’t rely on their own personal memories. A common phrase an abuser may say is, “Oh no, this is what really happened.” In turn this common statement can actually make a survivor believe that they are forgetful and can become blind to the abuse they’ve endured or are enduring.
So, you may be wondering how sexual violence comes into play with gaslighting. In reality, it’s an extremely common tactic used to invalidate survivors on their experience, making them question reality. While gaslighting can be done by the abuser, it can also be reinforced by a friend or family member who doesn’t believe your story. Survivors of any kind of abuse need support, and without it, they can fall further down a rabbit hole of not seeking guidance and endure the mental effects of gaslighting.
Lets understand how gaslighting can look within these different scenarios:
If you’re in a sexually, emotionally or physically abusive relationship your partner can deny, or downplay abuse that occurred if you confront them. In some cases, they may add details that are false, with the intent of confusing you. This is also common if survivors choose to confront or approach their abuser about what took place even if they are not in a relationship, or have little connection to one another. They may avoid or refuse to have an open discussion about what took place. Here are some common phrases they may say when gaslighting.
- “It was an accident, I would never do that on purpose.”
- “You’re imagining things.”
- “You’re making things up.”
- “You’re a liar.”
- “That never happened.”
- “It’s not that big a deal, my friends said it’s normal to do that.”
- “You’re crazy, that never happened, maybe you should see a doctor for your memory.”
- “It was a joke.”
- “You’re overreacting.”
- “No one will believe.”
Our close family members and friends are meant to be people we can confide in and seek support from in times of need. Individuals often turn to these figures in hopes of having a safe space to vent. It can be extremely upsetting if one of these trusted individuals invalidates your abuse. It can make it far more challenging to seek out help when this occurs and makes survivors choose silence rather than guidance or justice.
Here are some common phrases others may tell you if you’re being gaslighted:
- “Are you sure that happened?”
- “What were you wearing?”
- “Weren’t you drunk? How can you rely on those memories.”
- “Maybe it was a misunderstanding.”
- “You’re a pretty forgetful person. Maybe you should hear their side of the story.”
- “(insert abusers name) would never do that.”
How Gaslighting Can Affect Your Mental Health
1) It can tarnish your self-confidence
Gaslighting is an attack on your memory, your intelligence and ability to convey reliable information. If that’s constantly being questioned, it is bound to have an affect on your self-confidence. This can include fearing making decisions, doubting yourself, or constantly seeking the reassurance of others in order to know that you aren’t imagining something. Constantly apologizing and stepping on eggshells around others, can also happen when you’re questioning your self-confidence.
2) It can create feelings of loneliness and isolation
If you have no one to confide in and are constantly accused of lying, the result can be a very isolating and lonely existence. You may believe you’re going crazy and have no resources besides the individual who has made it a goal to brainwash you.
If you’re in a constant state of self-doubt, you can imagine the anxiety that may play out in day-to-day situations. It can become hard to trust others, and you may come to believe that you’re the bad guy even though that’s not true. Fearing that you’ll upset others or convey invalid information could be extremely stress-inducing.
Gaslighting can create feelings of despair, hopelessness, and low self-confidence which was discussed above. All of these feelings can contribute to developing depression.
Now let’s understand how to stop gaslighting in its tracks.
1) Trust yourself
It’s important for you to learn how to once again follow those gut instincts and inner intuition. Oftentimes, those feelings we get are trying to protect or warn us. Gaslighting tears down your sense of reality, leaving many in a confused like state. When you learn how to trust your memories, your experiences, and not rely on the negative and untrue beliefs others plant in your mind, you will soon rebuild that confidence. A great way to do this is by using mindfulness. This can be done during mindful eating (i.e knowing when you’re full), or mindfully listening to others when they speak and becoming self-aware by acknowledging negative thoughts and letting them pass. This ultimately involves becoming more present in the world around you.
2) Implement positive affirmation daily routines
When someone gaslights you they are tearing down your memory and picking at your flaws, in order to make you as confused and disillusioned as possible. The words we hear around us have a major impact and when you’re constantly told that you’re forgetful or that your memory is tainted, your subconscious mind may soon believe that. Positive affirmations can help reframe those negative thoughts planted in your mind. You can either write your affirmation on paper or say it out loud. Here are some affirmations that could be helpful during your healing process.
- I have trust and confidence in my thoughts, feelings and memories.
- I deserve to be loved and respected
- I know what I experienced and have trust in my reality
- I am worthy, strong, and healing every single day
- No one can invalidate me
- I am in control of my life
- I can overcome anything
- I am loved
- I love myself
- I am surrounded by positive energy
- I am powerful
3) Practice making small decisions
Gaslighting can make it difficult to make even the smallest decisions, as you have this fear of messing up, or that you’ll be wrong. Learn to become decisive as this will not only increase your confidence but will also give you more control over your life. The more you do this, the more you’ll get used to it and eventually trusting yourself to make decisions will become second nature. You can start small by simply ordering dinner, or choosing a new television show to watch and eventually build your way up to more serious decisions.
4) Find a safe place where you can express yourself
While being able to validate and spend time with yourself is crucial, it is just as important to have an outlet or support system where you can express yourself. Bottling emotions up can lead to negative consequences, so finding a friend, a family member or therapist is very beneficial. If none of these things are accessible to you, perhaps trying 24/7 hotlines could be an option. While it may not be a first choice, they are free, anonymous and sometimes you need to speak with someone who is not a part of your immediate family and friends. If you’re not ready to open up, journaling is an excellent way to begin expressing your inner emotions. Check out our blog post on journaling here
I hope this article has helped you even in a small way. If you’re currently in an abusive relationship, we understand how challenging it can be to leave. It can be very scary, and may feel as though staying is the safest possible option. However, you can absolutely reclaim your life and leave this relationship. Below we’ve included some resources that can better guide you during this process. If you’re in immediate danger call 911.
Written by: Taryn Herlich