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How to Recover From Gaslighting

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Seth Gillihgan, PhD - Blogs
By Seth J. Gillihan, PhDClinical psychologistApril 26, 2019

If you’ve experienced gaslighting, you know it can be very emotionally wounding. Gaslighters manipulate you in such a way that you begin to doubt your own reality, and even your own sanity. They commonly use tactics like telling blatant lies, turning others against you, and attacking you to defend their own bad behavior.

It takes time to recover from this type of abuse. Keep these points in mind as you move toward healing.

Call It What It Is

Many people find the label “gaslighting” very useful because it names an experience they felt but couldn’t quite describe. After all, gaslighting is effective because you aren’t aware of what’s really happening, since you’ve been made to doubt your perception of reality. Saying “that’s gaslighting behavior” is an essential step toward breaking free from it.

Get Free

As long as you’re in contact with a gaslighter, you’re susceptible to their manipulation since they know how to push your buttons. If you can, break off contact with the person. Of course, it’s more difficult when the gaslighter is a family member or someone else that’s hard to avoid, in which case you may need to minimize interactions rather than avoid them entirely. Please note that leaving a gaslighting partner can be dangerous in some circumstances; talk with a trusted loved one, and law enforcement if necessary, and take appropriate precautions.

Be Gentle With Yourself

Many people turn against themselves when they realize they’ve been gaslighted, blaming themselves for not recognizing it and breaking away sooner. Keep in mind that this kind of self-criticism is a common result of gaslighting. Try to let go of self-blame, and acknowledge that gaslighters are very skilled at the art of manipulation. The most important thing is that you’ve recognized it, and will learn from this experience.

Surround Yourself With Love

Nothing makes us more miserable than an abusive relationship, and nothing heals like loving relationships. Spend as much time as you can with people who love and appreciate you. Talk with them about the doubts and fears that became a part of your life through the gaslighting relationship. Allow them to validate your reality as you let go of constant self-doubt. Let these connections nourish you.

Learn From Your Experience

After being on the receiving end of gaslighting, you’re better equipped to recognize the warning signs. If your significant other was the gaslighter, be careful as you get into a new relationship. Educate yourself through books (like this one by Dr. Stephanie Sarkis, whose writings helped me understand the scope of gaslighting), podcasts, and other resources so you can avoid likely gaslighters in the future.

Finally, keep in mind that you may see everyone as a potential gaslighter for a while—and for good reason. The trauma of gaslighting can lead to being “once bitten, twice shy,” and can make you highly attuned to possible emotional manipulation. Remember that not every disagreeable behavior is a symptom of gaslighting. Instead, look for a pattern of behavior over time and in different settings.

Balance caution on the one hand with a willingness to trust yourself and your perceptions on the other. Consult with people you trust if you have any suspicion that you’re in a relationship with a gaslighter, and by no means allow yourself to be isolated from other relationships.

It’s not easy to recover from gaslighting, but it’s worth the work it takes as you learn to trust yourself again.

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About the Author
Seth J. Gillihan, PhD

Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Haverford, PA. He is author of The CBT DeckRetrain Your Brain, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple, and co-author with Dr. Aria Campbell-Danesh of A Mindful Year: 365 Ways to Find Connection and the Sacred in Everyday Life. Dr. Gillihan hosts the weekly Think Act Be podcast, which features a wide range of conversation on living more fully.

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