May 7, 2019
Last week, we talked about financial abuse and gaslighting. On this episode of Financially Ever After, we’re diving deeper into the topic of gaslighting with our guest, Meredith Shirey. Meredith is the founder and practice director of her New York-based private practice, and is a psychotherapist who specializes in relationship issues through couples therapy. Today we’re talking about what gaslighting is, what to do to get yourself out of a gaslighting situation, and how to help someone who may be a victim.
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is when somebody makes you question your own reality. This is not a difference of opinion, this is a deliberate and malicious attempt to gain control over you. For example, secretly dimming the lights with their smartphone while acting like they don’t notice anything when you bring it up.
When a gaslighter succeeds in making you question your own judgment, that opens the door to thinking like, if I can’t trust myself, then I must trust you — allowing that person to wield a lot of control and power in the relationship.
Meredith shares some real life examples of gaslighting, and gives insight as to specific reasons abusers may choose to do this.
If you think you’re being gaslighted, do some simple grounding to remind yourself of your reality. Remind yourself you’re in your body. Remind yourself that you know your truth. Meredith shares some exercises you can do, like labeling items in the room out loud (“microphone, coffee cup”), or doing things with your five senses (What can you physically feel right now? What do you hear? What’s something you can smell?).
Narcissism and gaslighting
Narcissism and gaslighting go hand in hand. They like telling themselves they’re better than other people, that they’re superior. So if they’re feeling fragile or terrified, their way of defending against that is to act in ways that are very controlling. They have a need for attention, and sometimes they’re willing to get that attention in terrible ways, like gaslighting.
What to do
If you recognize that this is happening in your relationship, do not confront the perpetrator. Don’t think that you’re going to be able to change them or their behaviors by going toe to toe with them. Find a therapist who can help you work through this, but do not search on your home devices, in case they’re being monitored. Do not go to couples therapy. Go to individual therapy. The way couples therapy is held, it may enable the abuser even more — so this is something you need to do on your own.
As an added note, be sure to go to a therapist instead of friends or family. A narcissist who gaslights will tend to rally people to back them up, and they’re very good at making sure these things happen behind closed doors so it’s your word against theirs.
Helping someone else
If you realize someone else is being gaslighted, be very mindful of not putting them in a situation that’s dangerous. Do not contact, confront, or engage the abuser in any way. When you bring it up, allow for a place of openness and transparency and no judgment. Do not validate the abuse, but validate their feelings and let them know this is safe and you love them unconditionally.