by Keri Forbess-McCorquodale, MS, LPC, LMFT, CEAP
Last month we discussed this term, “gaslighting” that we are hearing more and more. This form of manipulation and control is essentially designed to have you questioning and doubting yourself. The person doing the gaslighting is typically very bright and lures you in with “love bombing” (tons of compliments, wanting to spend a lot of time together, moves very fast in the relationship), then begins the process of lying, accusing you of things they themselves did, calling you overly sensitive, and generally “messing” with your head. Eventually you begin to question your own sanity, and believe the gaslighter’s lies to you and about you.
This month, I want to address how to get out of these very unhealthy, abusive relationships. Sadly, many people will never recognize how they are being manipulated and will ultimately have their sanity compromised. Others will perhaps have a friend or family member who helps them see their situation. The few lucky ones will recognize their gaslighter for what he/she is, and take appropriate actions. I hope you are in one of the latter two categories.
Obviously, the best thing to do is get out of this relationship! Right?! Just leave! Easier said than done, my friend. The gaslighter is so good at reading/manipulating others and at keeping the victim just off balance enough that the victim comes to believe and rely on the gaslighter.
Re-establish reality for yourself. Stop trusting the gaslighter, who has you confused. Your first priority needs to be to eliminate any confusion about you and your surroundings. Begin keeping records of things – events, feelings, memories. Start journaling, take pictures and videos, or create voice memos. You might even want to set up surveillance cameras in your home. Not only is all this for your own edification, but also you can use all of this as proof with law enforcement or an attorney if needed. (Don’t bother trying to show your gaslighter your proof to justify what you are saying to him/her. Remember, she/he is invested in keeping you thinking you are crazy, so there will be no interest.)
Bring your friends and family in. One of the common goals of the gaslighter is to isolate you, so you only listen to him/her. The antidote to that is to surround yourself with people who care about you. Talk to family and friends about the situation. This will help with you re-establishing reality AND contribute to your safety. Also, consider sending a copy of all the records you collected (see above) to family and friends for safe keeping.
Begin taking care of yourself. Whether you stay or go, you’re going to need to be as strong and healthy as possible. Think back to when you were more confident. What kinds of things did you do back then that you have given up? It’s time to get back to them.
If you can’t think of anything, here is a list of suggestions: exercise, meditate, eat healthy, start a hobby, go to lunch with a friend, go to a museum, and/or listen to your favorite music.
Develop a plan. Before you can leave the relationship, you need a safety plan. Where will you go? Where will your stuff go? How much money do you need? Have as much predetermined as possible. Remember to share your plans with someone you trust. Of course, if you feel you are in danger, that’s all out the window. Just get out. After you leave, be sure to change your phone number, alter your routes and routines, and change your “hangout” spots.
Get yourself into therapy. Let’s face it, you are in a tough spot. And you are going to need a lot of support. Emotional abuse (that’s what gaslighting is) is very difficult to recover from. Having a therapist, which means having a safe space to say all the scary things, is extremely helpful. You’ve got to figure out why you were susceptible to the gaslighter and what you need to do for the future. You’ll need support to put yourself and your life back together.
While I hope you are not in a gaslighting, or any other type of abusive, situation, I know you very well might be. If you feel you don’t know who you are anymore and you can’t seem to find your footing, I sincerely want you to consider the information from this month and last month’s articles. You are worth it, I promise!