What if your perception of reality was in constant jeopardy? How would you react if every single statement was immediately questioned, disregarded, or disputed? What if you constantly felt guilty even if you didn’t know what you did? When would you start to wonder whether your sanity is at stake?
Each and every one of the aforementioned statements are parts of gaslighting. You’ve probably heard this term around the grapevine. On the outside it sounds like manipulation, and when you start putting two and two together, it pretty much spells out abuse. Yet the people who are trapped in this kind of cycle, blame themselves. This occurs, not because they’re masochists, but because the situation has pushed them into a dark room, where their abuser convinces them that they chose to find themselves in that horrible place. They’re told how it’s their fault and are even convinced that they can never leave.
When you Google gaslighting, it’s strange that you’ll find a lot of personal experience writings from people who have left or made it through the abuse. However, there are still many questions left unanswered by the clinical experts. For some reason, this occurrence is barely studied compared to other emotional afflictions. Adding to this, the fact that several victims of gaslighting won’t even admit to anything being wrong, or the fact that the person manipulating their reality actually was doing that, it’s increasingly hard to point out or even diagnose.
But what is gaslighting? It’s the fact that someone uses several methods and tactics to play with your mind and your understanding our yourself and your reality. At first your abuser will give you plenty of affection. They might send a bouquet of roses everyday for a week just because. They could surprise you outside work on a Friday evening with plane tickets to some unexpected place. It’s at this point where you will be so impressed that when the abuser nature rears its ugly head, you’ll be more than willing to blame yourself than this marvelous person.
Slowly the things you say will be questioned. You'll be told you said things you don’t remember saying or doing others you know you didn’t do. It’s then when you’ll start wondering whether what you thought happened was actually real, or if what the person next to you is saying really happened.
You will be pushed to the point where you won’t know where your truth starts and theirs begins. You will blame yourself for everything that goes wrong. You will think that you don’t deserve to be with someone like your partner. Eventually you will begin to break down, unsure if you can keep your head above water.
In a piece written for Medium, titled "10 Things I wish I’d known About Gaslighting," Shea Emma Fett says, “I believe that gaslighting is happening culturally and interpersonally on an unprecedented scale, and that this is the result of a societal framework where we pretend everyone is equal while trying simultaneously to preserve inequality.”
Her experience included resetting different beliefs she had long held on to as being true. Eventually, after breaking free from the cycle, she saw that those were actual impositions from her abusive partner. While each person’s experience will be different, and there’s no one way to abandon this type of abuse, there are a few points that differences sources claim to help rise above gaslighting.
As much as it hurts, the best thing might be for you to walk away.
In the darkest moment you’ll feel like you’re a coward, like you’re missing your chance at love. You’ll cry yourself to sleep because you’ve hurt that person who cared so much and was there during the hard times. But only through letting go can you eventually begin to evaluate your reality. You won’t have someone interpreting the world for you, so you might find it difficult at first having to experience things on your own, and decide whether they’re good or not. You’ll feel tired and you might want to look the other person up. Don’t. Give yourself some real time. No contact: text, email, phone-call, letter, smoke signal, or otherwise. Don’t ask about them with friends in common, don’t let them tell you how they’re doing. You need to discover what your attachment is based on.
Stop believing you could’ve made things better.
Once you’ve said goodbye to this abusive entanglement, there’s a chance you’ll feel resentment, guilt, even embarrassment. You need to let it go in order to move on. You need to put those feelings aside to heal. Once you’re in a better place, you might laugh at these thoughts. But for now, each time someone tells you that you might have overreacted, you’ll immediately believe their statement over yours. In Arabelle Siscardi’s piece, she explains: “My perception of the world while being gaslit was like a gigantic Rubik’s Cube I couldn't figure out. 'Perhaps if I try harder, love more, win this argument, surrender enough, this will work out,' I thought.”
Nothing lasts forever. Love can have a particular expiration date.
There are relationships that overstay their welcome. Both parties know it’s over, but their willingness to try to make it work leads them down a path of negative actions towards each other, one of these could be gaslighting. Instead of seeing life as a Hollywood movie, we need to accept that some cycles end. Some relationships don’t last forever. And yet, with all this, we still try to make it unending. However, if you choose to accept that things could inevitably come to a close, regardless the effort you place on them, you might find yourself happier in the end.
Your abuser may never admit or realize what they were doing.
One thing to let go is the sense of justice. The idea that one day you’ll go up to them, hug it out, sing Kumbaya together, etc, is a myth. Gaslighters suffer from their own slew of demons they’re not willing to address themselves. For them to admit that what they did to you not only happened, but was abuse, is highly unlikely, not to mention self-destructive in their eyes. As reasonable as they appear, their logic does not adhere to any set of rules except their own. This guideline is in constant motion, constantly tailored and amended to suit their purposes. Instead of waiting for that apology, focus on untangling yourself from the mess they’ve made.
One thing nobody tells you when you’re in the process of getting better is that it’s going to suck for a while. You’ll find yourself feeling guilty or wanting to go back. But think of reality as something that is yours and yours alone. It’s the territory of your brain and nobody has the right to claim it as their own and colonize it. Find your own way to get free and protect yourself.
Images by Jonas Hafner
You might be interested in reading:
Why your relationship advice is perpetuating sexism.
The word that takes all the power away from you.