I have recently had a name put to what I just thought were lies I was believing about who I was and what I was capable of that flowed from my past abuse. It is called gaslighting. It flows from a movie in the 1940’s where a man did something in the attic to the lights in the house so they would dim from time to time. When his wife would ask him if he too saw it when they dimmed, he would tell her she was crazy and that the lights were fine. His agenda was to make her not trust her own interpretation of reality and be dependent on HIM for it. From there he could manipulate and control her and she thought he was telling her truth.
Gaslighting happened to me much over the years and I suspect it did for you too, if you were an abuse survivor of any kind. The grooming process and act of abuse itself is intentionally weaved with the interpretation of the abuser so that you begin to think your interpretation of what is going on is wrong and theirs is right. “This will help you in your exploration of sexuality for when you get married.” When later confronted, they often explain it away with stories of their own confused childhood, as if it is not about what THEY did wrong, but YOUR misinterpretation of their intent and their inability to control what happened. THEY become the victim and YOU need to understand, not hold them accountable. “I am sorry IF what I did hurt you in any way.”
You also have others who you are trying to make aware of the abuser’s actions, and they tell you, “I thought you had dealt with that years ago. Leave me and mine out of it. You are just being selfish. You need to move on and let it go.” This is almost more hurtful. YOU were the one who was abused and they are calling you selfish for wanting to inform and protect and heal yourself and others of the reality of what did happen and could happen again if we don’t remain vigilant.
So what is the overall damage of gaslighting?
It makes you question reality. It causes you to question what actually happened. It makes you unable to trust your instincts, feelings, decisions. Is this as bad as I think it is? Should I have handled that differently? Do I need to move on and get over this? Do I have a right to feel wounded, hurt, and angry? I could be wrong. These others are telling me I am overreacting, dragging this out, seeing it wrong, not handling it well. Are THEY right? I am confused.
This can affect every relationship and situation you find yourself in for years – decades even – after the abuse has stopped. Others can more easily convince you of THEIR perspective on life, getting you to adjust your convictions, intuition, feelings to THEIR reality. You question your sanity, always afraid to make the wrong decision or say the wrong thing. Your reality has been skewed and you find yourself depending on the very ones who had a part in hurting you or those who protected the abuser’s narrative. Your confidence in your ability to know truth, see and speak confidently into troubling situations, and allow yourself to be comfortable in your own skin, are not in alignment with what is ACTUALLY truth.
How do you defeat gaslighting, move forward to find true North, and discover what you actually think and feel about something with assurance?
First you need to become aware of those in your life who do this and who you depend on for truth that are part of the past dysfunction. Knowing will help you begin to question what they say, seek to know if it is true, and not get sucked in. Often removing these people from your life needs to happen – at least until you have begun to more confidently and consistently replace the lies with actual truth.
What helps with this rebuilding of truth where lies once ruled?
You need to have a community of trusted people you can ask to check your feelings and responsibilities – people who have no connection with those who add to the dysfunction. This allows them to clearly tell you how they see it and what they perceive to be the true thing to say and do. They need to be those who are mature and grounded in the Word, who understand where you have been and where you want to grow to in the Lord. They are people who are informed daily by the living Truth of Scripture – the ultimate reality. They can tell you from God’s Word and their healthy view of life, what you should feel and do. They are supportive as you take steps to do that, encouraging, praying, and reinforcing your new perceptions of true reality.
Journaling daily is also important as you work through what was said, what you believed, and what actually took place. This enable you to see and reflect on your life. Let yourself write and write, without editing or evaluating what is on the page. Go back and read it. Take it to the Lord and ask Him for discernment as you weed out lies from truth. You will begin to lean more and more on Him for understanding and let Him define truth. This will strengthen your ability to trust Him and follow His leading daily.
*(NOTE: The “Rebuilding Your Foundation” Journal is a great tool to help with this. Subscribe to my blog and you get it as a free download.)
God has your back. (Exodus 14:19)
He loves you. (John 3:16)
He never leaves/forsakes you. (Hebrews 13:5)
He is TRUTH. (John 14:6)
He can be trusted. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Knowing all this comes from seeking Him and surrendering the past to Him, letting Him redefine who you really are, giving you confidence to move forward in Him. He will be your lie detector as you open up to Him, reading His Word, writing your thoughts, letting Him shine light in dark places for the purpose of healing and growth. (John 1)
I am really hoping this gives you more and more “Aha!” moments in your path to healing and recovery. It has empowered me to seek truth in what people say. I, myself, am taking more and more internal dialogue and external conversations to Him and filtering it through His Word. It is creating courage, joy, and strength to make decisions that are of Him and best for me and in keeping with how He made me to live and serve Him and others best.
I want that for you too!
How can I support you in this seeking of truth, rebuilding the foundations of reality through His lens of grace, not the gaslighting of broken people that want to control you and keep you trapped in the past?
There are so many women I know, including myself, who have a heart to journey with you, tools to aid the discovery, praying for true freedom as you seek to live confidently in Christ without fear. Let me know so I can help make any connections to those women, tools, and support.