Have you been gaslighted before? Is it happening to you right now?
If you’re not sure what “Gaslighting” means… It’s when someone manipulates you by psychological means into doubting your own sanity.
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What is gaslighting? Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or group covertly sow seeds of doubt in a target individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes, including low self-esteem.
That sounds bad, doesn’t it? Typically, we’d associate such a horrible thing with the behavior of a narcissist at the extreme end, and of course what makes it so horrible is the intentional sowing seeds of doubt, the willing someone to think that they are crazy, that they’ve lost touch with reality.
It’s humbling, though, to think that we’ve probably all gaslighted someone, on some level, at some point in our lives. We’ve been in an argument with someone and, in the service of winning that argument, we have ignored whatever valid points they’re making because our ego so desperately wants to win, wants to be right.
We see this at every level. This isn’t just in personal, romantic relationships, or friendships, or family dynamics. It happens in politics. We see both sides ignoring what may be rational or reasonable about the other side’s argument because of the fear of ceding any ground whatsoever to the opposition. God forbid, I give up some of my power and get myself off-balance in the process.
I’ve done this before. Got so wrapped up in wanting to be right that even when I see that someone else has a point, I’ve dug my heels into my own logic further to contort the dialectic in my favor. And the result, of course, is that the truth becomes ever more hidden. We get this complete lack of nuance in the information that we’re fed. It becomes caricatured on both sides, doesn’t it? The truth, meanwhile, lurks deep in the sedimentary layer, far below the tempestuous ocean above, where the arguments take place on the surface level.
It’s a horrible thing to experience, because we leave a conversation or an argument not knowing what reality is anymore. It’s like being caught by a wave in the ocean at just the wrong moment, that has us somersaulting toward the sea bed, and by the time we come to our senses, we don’t know which way is up anymore. We know we need to swim, but we don’t even know in what direction.
If you’ve ever been gaslighted, then you know that experience of feeling like you’re going mad, like you’re losing touch with reality. Your trust and confidence in yourself and your own opinions gets eroded to the point of not even wanting to speak anymore. And perhaps one of the worst things about gaslighting is that when it’s being done effectively, we don’t know it’s being done at all. Which brings us to today’s question:
How do you know if you’re being gaslighted, and what can you do about it?
Number one, get some space from the conversation that’s happening. Getting closer and closer to the conversation and chopping it up 1,000 different ways, which you’ve probably done, starts to get diminishing returns. You no longer get any more clarity. It just gets more confusing, and both of you just get more entrenched in your way of thinking. It doesn’t mean going on a break from your partner, it just means getting enough space that you can quiet your mind, quiet it enough to know where I might be being unreasonable or where I might have reacted badly, and where I have a valid point that’s not being acknowledged.
Number two, have conversations with people you trust, who have no agenda. This isn’t about getting a tribunal together of all of your friends, and inviting all of their emotional demons and biases to the table to have a voice on your relationship. That’s dangerous. Instead, pick a couple of strategic conversations with people who are wise, people whose opinions you value, and who you can trust to be impartial. In other words, to not simply tell you what you want to hear. Ideally, people who know a bit about your history, your patterns, your tendencies, that helps, but it’s not absolutely essential. What is essential is you feel like they’re telling you the truth, because although that may not result in things that you want to hear, what it will do, is it will mean that when they tell you, “You have a point, your reasoning is valid, your grievances are valid,” you’ll believe them.
Number three, pay attention to your feelings. Sometimes when we’re obsessing over who’s right or wrong in an argument, we lose sight of an even more important truth: How this person makes us feel. See, sometimes we’re debating with someone who’s a black belt in debating. They know every move. They’ve perfected these moves. With a person like this, it can always feel like we lost the argument, but that doesn’t mean we’re not right. It simply means that this person has linguistic capabilities that we are not used to or practiced enough to deal with.
What helps is to get out of the complexity of the argument itself, and get into the simplicity of certain questions about how you feel. When I honestly, and bravely, and authentically bring up my feelings to this person, does the conversation leave me feeling worse or better, seething or soothed, stupid or seen?
We’re never going to be right all the time. In fact, in our relationships, we’re going to be misguided and wrong a lot of the time. But the right relationship should have a healing property. It should make us feel more confident. It should make us feel safer, more loved. It should engender a style of communication that compassionately helps us understand and navigate where we may be wrong, and lovingly acknowledges where we are right.
If you’re watching this and you’re realizing that you don’t pay enough attention to the things that are making you happy, and you’re not being brave enough right now to let go of certain things, situations, people that are making you unhappy, I would love for you to join us on the Virtual Retreat that is coming up, because I’m going to be spending three days, virtually, live with people, walking them through a kind of reset of their lives, to really look at everything and go, “What is going to make me happy in the next chapter? What do I need to move away from, and what do I need to move towards?”
It’s going to be an amazing time. It is the closest thing that I have to my live Retreat, because we’re actually going to be together, live, virtually, from all over the world, working on our lives. It’s a process that I’m going through for me, to look at what I want out of the next year to five years, and I’m inviting you to join us, to do the same. If you have questions about it, you want to know more, come ask us those questions. I’ve got a team that are ready to speak to you. Go to www.MHVirtualRetreat.com, and as always, I will see you next week.