It’s happened to me countless times before: I’d voiced a feeling, an opinion, or a firmly held belief to an ex, only to be told that I was making it up, faking it, or—my favorite—“crazy.” I wish I could say I ran faster out of that relationship than an Olympic track and field champion, but that was far from the case. Instead, I made excuses for his behavior, clinging on to that charming and supportive display that lured me in in the first place. This is what gaslighting is.
What makes gaslighting so dangerous is that we often don’t realize it’s happening to us until years down the road. “It’s a technique used to manipulate and distort. The greater the level of self-doubt, the easier it becomes for the gaslighter to dictate situations to their liking,” explains Sarah Jane Crosby, a Dublin-based psychotherapist. It’s a relief to know I’m not the only one who couldn’t see the signs. Crosby says that since gaslighting is a relatively new term, many of us never had the language to defend ourselves—let alone identify how we felt. “As a collective, it was something we’ve been largely unconscious to.”
But that’s slowly changing. Fortunately, Crosby proves it’s possible to have the foresight and tools to stop a gaslighter in their tracks (so that, unlike me, you don’t spend another moment tethered to an abusive situation you assumed was your fault). In a series of recent Instagram posts, she offers tangible tips on how to identify a gaslighter (“their actions don’t match their words, they lie and deny things even when there is proof, and they attempt to block or are unsupportive of your growth”) followed by common phrases gaslighters use to leverage their power (“Why are you being so sensitive? Can’t you just let that go already? How would you cope without me?”). Finally, she provides a script you can borrow the next time you’re mid-conversation with a gaslighter, and need to put them in their place.
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G A S L I G H T I N G [p a r t 5] [art/words: @themindgeek] —— “Don’t respond. Just walk away. Remove yourself”. I’m right there with you. If + when that’s possible, leaving an emotionally abusive situation is the quickest form of self-protection From the outside looking in, we may find it hard to fathom why someone stays in an environment that negatively effects their mental health. Relationships are complex For anyone who has experienced gaslighting or emotional abuse, we know what the decision to walk away is like. It takes a lot And although we want those we love to leave situations they’re undervalued in, they may not always be emotionally, physically, financially ready. It’s a hard reality, for many In these situations, how might we hold on to our sense of reality, in the interim? —— Ways We Stay Grounded Around Gaslighting: Log Our Reality. Journals, voice-notes, vlogs. Start to notice the discrepancies between what actually happened + what we’re being told If it is accessible to you, seeking an appointment with a mental health professional can provide safety, space + support Form a support network. Reach out to old friends + make new ones. If you’re looking for a sign you should go to the meetup group + class you want to go to- this is it Get savvy. Seek out reliable [emphasis on reliable] sources, podcasts, individuals. Look through the comments section on the posts in this series What validation can we offer each other? Comment below, if you feel safe doing so —— #innerstrength #selfcarematters #anger #stress #anxiety #emotionalabuse #trusttheprocess #gaslighting
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Phrases to shut down a gaslighting in any situation
- “We remember things differently.”
- “If you continue to speak to me like this I’m not engaging.”
- “I hear you and that isn’t my experience.”
- “I am walking away from this conversation.”
- “I am not interested in debating what happened with you.”
- “I will speak to you about [A+B]. I’m not willing to speak to you about [C].”
We often associate gaslighting with romantic relationships, but the office can also be a breeding ground for this insidious form of emotional abuse. If it’s happening to you, Crosby encourages you talk to HR. “When this isn’t possible, we need to work on forming solid boundaries around what we’re willing to give and say to this individual,” she says. Leaving said situation is your most effective form of protection, but it might not always be feasible, especially in an office setting. In that case, Crosby recommends you “log your reality” and chat about your experiences with a therapist every week, and getting your hands on any related reading material (like this or this).
No matter the context, Crosby urges you to remember emotional abuse isn’t your fault, but the choice of the abuser. “With kindness and compassion, take all the energy we’ve been giving these relationships and focus it inward. It’s time to come home to yourself,” she says.