Gaslighting: Warning Signs and How To Heal

There are 7 warning signs of gaslighting, some of which include: Withholding information from the victim, countering information to fit the abuser’s perspective, using verbal abuse usually in the form of jokes, and minimising the victim’s worth.

There are 7 warning signs of gaslighting, some of which include: Withholding information from the victim, countering information to fit the abuser’s perspective, using verbal abuse usually in the form of jokes, and minimising the victim’s worth.

You may have heard this term more and more regularly and not know what it means. You may have been or are a victim of gaslighting or be the abuser. It is important for us to educate ourselves and others on the different types of abuse because we have become so accustomed to not recognising abuse if there aren’t any physical evidence or marks on an individual.

Gaslighting is an act of psychological manipulation in which an individual sows seeds of doubt in another. Making them question their thoughts, memories, feelings, and their reality. Evoking in them, low self-esteem and confidence. The individual uses denial, misinformation, contradiction, and misdirection to not only destabilise the victim, but to delegitimise the victim’s beliefs.

If we look into interpersonal relationships, the victimiser needs to be right in order to preserve their own ‘sense of self’, and the victim seeks their approval. The psychological manipulation may include making the victim question their own memory, perception, and most importantly – sanity.

The abuser will invalidate the victim’s experiences using dismissive language such as “You’re mentally unstable. You’re reactive and easily triggered. You enjoy confrontation. Just get over it.” They may also try and gain control by withholding from a partner emotionally and/or physically.

Author and interpersonal communications specialist, Patricia Evans describes 7 warning signs of gaslighting:

  1. Withholding information from the victim
  2. Countering information to fit the abuser’s perspective
  3. Discounting information
  4. Using verbal abuse, usually in the form of jokes
  5. Blocking and diverting the victim’s attention from outside sources
  6. Minimising the victim’s worth
  7. Undermining the victim by gradually weakening them and their thought processes.

Psychologist Elinor Greenberg has described three common methods of gaslighting:

  1. Hiding: The abuser may hide things from the victim and cover up what they have done. Instead of feeling ashamed, the abuser may convince the victim to doubt their own beliefs about the situation and turn the blame on themselves.
  2. Changing: The abuser feels the need to change something about the victim. Whether it be the way they dress, act or their reactions. If the victim does not comply, the abuser may convince the victim that they are not good enough.
  3. Control: The abuser may want to fully control and have power over the victim. In doing so, the abuser will try to seclude them from other friends and family so that only they can influence the victim’s thoughts and actions. The abuser gets pleasure from knowing the victim is being fully controlled by them.

The main purpose of the abuser is to make their victim second-guess their choices and to question their sanity, making them more dependent on the abuser. One of the focal tactics used to degrade a victim’s self-esteem, is the abuser alternating between ignoring and attending to the victim, so that the victim lowers their expectation of what constitutes affection and perceives themselves as less worthy of affection.

When leaving a toxic relationship where you have been the victim of gaslighting, quite often you will continue second-guessing your decisions and feelings, questioning your sanity and reality because that’s what you have been used to. When you are ready to start healing, please remember that ‘healing’ will look very different for everyone. Your healing may not be pretty, but that’s perfectly alright. Take your time, but do take small steps forward because being a victim of psychological abuse takes time to move forward from.

How To Start Healing From Gaslighting

1. Minimise or stop contact

This may be easier said than done as everyone’s circumstances will vary. But it is important to stop or limit contact. Healing is much more challenging when the gaslighting is still happening. If you cannot stop contact completely, try and change how you communicate with them, when and how often etc…

2. Validate your own feelings and thoughts

Say “I know my reality” or “I know what happened” often. Affirm that you know what is happening or happened even if the other person doesn’t agree with you. Practice allowing yourself to feel emotions and think thoughts without questioning them. Remind yourself often that you know what is right for you.

3. Write down the facts and what is coming up for you

If something is confusing or you find yourself experiencing self-doubt, write down what is happening and how you are feeling. Look at the details and use them to reaffirm your reality. You can focus on details like time, place, what was said, who was there etc… to help ground you in your awareness and your ability to detect reality.

4. Be mindful of your own feelings and take care of yourself

If you’ve been gaslit, you may find yourself focusing all your attention outward on others. Try paying attention to things like hunger cues, thirst, your sleep schedule, showering etc…When you feel a need come up, honour it. Respect your needs.

5. When you feel compelled to replay situations over and over, validate yourself

You can say something like, “It makes sense why I am doing this. My reality was denied so often.” or “I get why I feel like I can trust myself. I’m safe and I can trust myself.” Know that this is normal for people who have been gaslit. The more confident you become, the less it happens.

6. Make your own decisions

It can be as simple as deciding what you’re going to eat that night or what time you’re going to go to bed. Follow your own instinct and allow yourself to make decisions. With practice this will get easier.

7. Remind yourself that it’s probably not going to make sense

You may be trying to look back and put the pieces together so that it makes sense. Most relationships where there is gaslighting make absolutely no sense. Remind yourself that it’s okay if it doesn’t make sense. You’re not doing anything wrong.

8. Spend time with people that you trust

It’s important to spend time healing around people who believe you and validate your existence. This may be a friend, family member, or even a professional like a therapist.

I hope this short piece is of assistance to someone out there. Whilst reading this, it is equally important to self-reflect to ensure we aren’t the ones putting others through this torment.

I have often found that helping others is extremely crucial to my own healing. I’ve been trying to heal for the last 6 months and It’s an ongoing process. You’ll have days where you’re doing great and making so much progress, but you’ll also have days where you fall back into old ways. The key isn’t to have a smooth healing journey, because let’s face it healing is not a smooth journey. The key is to recognise when we fall off the path of recovery and to try and get back on.

This article was originally published on the author’s website Safura’s Corner, found here.

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