Years ago, I was stalked at work by a very intelligent sociopath. We were on the same working team. She contacked each person who worked with us telling them a clever lie about me. Each lie was different and created to appeal to the prejudices of that person.
This was gaslighting. Gaslighting involves a mental and emotional attack on your ability to see yourself and the people around you accurately. You stop being able to assess what is actually true or false. You don’t know who you can trust and who is dangerous to your well-being. You feel off balance and wounded inside you. Worse, you cannot tell where to go or what to do to help yourself.
It can be a direct attack where your adversary is speaking directly to you telling you lies about you, others in your life, or your existence itself. They can do things and create situations for you that keep you off balance. Or gaslighting can involve an indirect assault involving gossip and creating rumors about you out of whole cloth.
What I write might work a little bit if you live with them. But really, it will only help you get away from them with a lot of effort on your part. The reason is that as you work on yourself, they will only increase their efforts to harm you emotionally.
Somehow the gossip gets back to you and you hear it in little ongoing pieces. Drip, drip, drip of a poison in your world. I think your gaslighter makes sure you know what is happening. It feels like a runaway train is coming down the track at you. And you think you cannot escape it.
On that job, people began to say awful things to me. Whisper about me in groups. If I walked past a group of people, everyone stopped talking. Others would yell at me. It was a mob of hate.
Needless to say, going to work every single day was a nightmare. I began to doubt myself and question my ability to do my job. I began to critique myself in relationship to other people. I’d ask myself what I was doing to cause these people to actively hate me. Until I learned, by accident, what was happening.
I tried every conceivable different type of reaction to put out the fires of rage at me at work. I was nice and reasonable. I was firm. I tried aggression and confrontation. The more I tried to stop how they were treating me, the crazier I looked. So, my behavior fed her machinations. I gave this woman all my personal power. For a while.
- In gaslighting, you cannot stop the other person.
This is the hard fact about abuse. It’s actually a hard fact about life. You really and truly cannot control other people. Unless you are willing to end up in prison for murder, what bad people do is out of your hands. This truth used to make me furious. Then one day, I realized I could take my power back from abusive people.
- How you act in response to abuse tells the world who you are.
When someone gaslights you, it hurts like mad. And because you hurt, you react. You show your insides to the world. You reveal the hurt. If the gaslighter is very good at it, your hurt insides will look crazy.
Everyone has a bit of crazy inside them. I mean everyone. We’re human with histories made up of good and bad. Hit us hard enough in our hurt places, and we bleed crazy. They get their desired result which is to make you look irrational and out of control. Usually in public view.
No matter how awful, outrageous and ugly the other person acts, how you respond takes the attention off of them and puts it right smack dab on you. As wrong as the other person is, what you do shows people who you are. Unfortunately, the worse they have hurt you, the more you will look like the person they are telling the world that you are.
If you cannot control, stop or change what the other person is doing, what the hell can you do? Here is the answer. You gain control over your own actions. It is a slow and painful process, but it works every single time.
- Deliberately turn your attention away from the chaos.
The desire to stop those involved in what is happening often feels like a compulsion. A compulsion in my own voice. You need something to drown out your own voice and the compulsion to look at what he is doing or saying. In my own life, I imagine it’s similar to what I had to do when I quit smoking. One day at a time. Ignoring the smell of smoke when others continued to smoke. Altering my habits and eliminating those places where there was a lot of smoking. And I simply didn’t buy a new pack of cigarettes or go into a store that sold them.
I see this image in my mind of turning my back on the actions of that person.
Forcing my body and attention to go elsewhere. Shut up. Close your mouth. Put down your pen. Stop looking at them or their friends on the Internet. Give your gaslighter no new information about you to work with. At first, this is very difficult. It requires self-discipline and effort.
I use personal affirmations and self-talk.
Here is an example of an affirmation for this: I fully and freely release you. I completely loose you and let you go. So far as I am concerned you have served your purpose in my life and I no longer need you. All things are over between us. it is done. It is finished forever. I am free.
And I say that over and over and over in my mind. It helps me not give in to the impulse to go back and look, talk about it to others, ask questions and so on.
I also use massive self-care.
When someone gaslights me, they are trying to steal my joy. Instead, I walk in the opposite direction toward the things and people in my life who feed me. This is called self-care.
If you dance, find a dance class. If you paint, pick up your brush. Call people you know who love you AND do not talk about the gaslighting. Talk instead about things that make your heart sing. If you write, write upbeat stuff. Every writer has lists of projects. Pick one that makes you happy. Go places that feed your spirit. Places that don’t involve the one who is gaslighting you. Do the things you usually love even if you are absolutely not in the mood.
Look at pretty things. Listen to music you love that does not remind you of them, but instead of happier times. Read upbeat books and novels with happy endings, preferably not romance novels if this person was a lover. Smells are good too. I bought a comforting scented shower gel to add to my good feelings.
Lastly, there are tasks you can perform in your life that bring you a sense of order. Small cleaning or sorting tasks can be very calming. You pick something small that needs to be organized, like your sock drawer. Or some small area of your home that needs cleaning like one window. And do that. These kinds of tasks take your mind off what’s bothering you and give you a sense or order in your life.
Gaslighters, like all abusers, don’t let go easily. They will continue to send out lures to draw you back in.
When you see the new temptation, name it as soon as possible. Everyone gets tricked once in a while. Once you know, stop responding. Go back to the beginning. Turn your back on the new trickery. Step up your self-care. Increase the things you do to feed yourself so you can continue their invisibility. This is hard to do.
- Dignity wins. It kicks ass.
When you keep your behavior in check, you send out several messages to the world and the gaslighter. One, they are insignificant and do not matter. Two, you are not at all the person they say you are.
This makes them angry and the often escalate their actions. If you hold on to your dignity, they make themselves look bad. Then their actions tell the world who they are.
Dedicated to my friend, you know who you are.
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If you would like to work on practical strategies to handle gaslighting or eliminate abuse from your experience, please contact me to make an appointment.
Telephone: (615) 464-3791
©2016 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D. All rights reserved.