This was it. The moment when I thought I had finally lost it. Gone mad.
It was such a simple email, in reply to my own stating straightforward needs. But it got right under the skin. In its simple words, it denied my experience, ignored my truth.
It wasn’t that the words were hurtful. Maybe someone neutral might even have read it as banal and supportive. But for me it felt like a twist of the knife.
No it wasn’t that simple. It left me confused, foggy. Then I became edgy, tense, irritable. After that I felt myself crumble away, my body a mess of jumbled up feelings and pain.
My thoughts started spinning off. Was I making this a big deal? Was I the one in the wrong? How had I let this happen? What could I do to put it right?
I started to feel my body soaking in shame. It was like poison in my bloodstream.
The following day, X asked me what the hell was wrong with me, after another tetchy exchange where I lashed out irritably. A switch flipped. I floated close to a place of oblivion.
Just then I could have run and not stopped till I was as far away from all of them as I could. This situation. My pain. My despair. My shame.
That was familiar too. Flip out. Shame. Run.
Flip out. Shame. Run. The 'normal' response to #gaslighting and #narcissistic abuse
But no, I couldn’t do that. No way. The other choice. Lash out. Give me a machine gun or flame thrower and my rage would have laid waste. There would be no survivors, me included.
Somehow, I managed to connect to my feet, feel the ground under me.
My nervous system starts to calm and reset. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Finally, I can hear what she’s saying. A switch flicks on. I’m back enough to stay still, listen and speak.
What the hell was happening to me?
Suddenly it flashed brightly in the front of my mind. The big reveal. This email. It was gaslighting. When what is true for you is continually denied by another person.
You start to question yourself. Your thinking becomes clouded and muddied. You struggle to distinguish between what is real and what isn’t.
A controlling or narcissistic parent might use gaslighting as a way to bring back the focus of attention on their needs.
I want to say weapon instead of way. But truthfully I don’t think they’re aware of doing it a lot of the time.
A controlling or narcissistic parent might use gaslighting as a way to bring back the focus of attention on their needs. I want to say weapon instead of way. But truthfully I don’t think they’re aware of doing it a lot of the time. #narcissisticabuse #gaslighting
What does gaslighting mean?
I really dislike the term gaslighting, but I know it’s pretty universal these days when talking about narcissistic abuse. It just sounds old fashioned and unclear.
What do I call it? Unconscious manipulation at best. Emotional abuse and coercion at worst.
So many people I’ve worked with have some experience of this, along a continuum.
Maybe their feelings or needs are never acknowledged. Or sometimes it’s more extreme. Out and out lies that deny a person’s experience or memories as true.
When that happens persistently and consistently when you’re growing up, you start to have a very fragile sense of yourself. You wonder what is real and not real.
It can also leave you feeling like you’re going mad. Not just a little bit, but right on the edge of your sanity.
#Gaslighting can leave you feeling like you’re going mad. Not just a little bit, but right on the edge of your sanity. #narcissisticabuse
Roll back to your childhood. It’s like someone you are wholly dependent on for your safety and wellbeing saying to you continually, the sky is red, not blue. Surely you can see that? You’re bad or faulty if you can’t. We (all the rest of the family) can see it’s red. Why can’t you?
Have that repeated to you again and again, you mind will start to question what your senses receive clearly.
How to deal with gaslighting
The path ahead.
As I walked back down the hill, starting to settle into my body and see more clearly, a forceful No came into my body and formed in my throat. If I’d felt less self-conscious, maybe I would have shouted that at the top of my lungs till my voice was raw.
I was saying no to feeling obliterated, feeling like my reality was faulty, my needs counting for nothing.
Saying no, even if it’s to yourself helps. Even if it’s not safe to say it to the narcissistic parent or controlling parent.
These are other things that can really help too:
1 A trusted ally
Having someone you trust who can be a mirror to you and validate what is true for you. Some of the second guessing can be reduced when you’re more anchored.
2 Awareness of what's happening
Notice, if you can when it’s happening, and pause before you respond: choose to either ignore, challenge or walk away. Above all, do what feels safe for you.
3 Write it down (in secret)
Write. Write. Write. So you have a record of what you thought, said, felt, dreamed, sensed so that you build an archive of your truth.
4 Ground yourself
Feel your feet on the ground and allow that energy of the ground and support to move up into your body.
5 Cultivate self-compassion
Remind yourself you are doing well, your best right now. Still the inner-critic for a moment or two if you can.
6 Educate yourself
Learn about this. Find out all you can. Seek out the stories of others who can validate your own. You are not alone.
7 Respond rather than react
In time, you can respond not react. The response can be a ‘no’; or ‘this isn’t true or ok’ or even the choice to say nothing.
This probably won’t help:
Calling out the narcissistic or controlling parent on their manipulation or gaslighting. They’ll deny it with force. They’re extremely unlikely to change. It’s like asking an addict to give up something in the moment. The reaction is likely to be a massive pull in the opposite direction.
Help to stop gaslighting
in your relationships
Sometimes you just need help with this stuff. A mentor, coach or therapist who can support you step by step. Be alongside you when there are setbacks and difficulties. Because there will be.
This isn't necessarily easy or pain free. But it is the route to greater freedom. Which is priceless.
Why not get in touch to find out how we might work together?
I help people just like you overcome the effects of childhood emotional neglect and narcissistic abuse, so they can reclaim their self-esteem and self confidence.
To make an appointment for a free non-obligation chat about how we might work together, please click the button below.