Though it can take many different forms, at its core, gaslighting is a communication technique in which someone causes you to question your own version of past events. Most times, it’s meant to make you feel like you’re losing your grip on reality. In its milder forms, gaslighting creates an unequal power dynamic in a relationship and at its worst, gaslighting can actually be considered a form of mind-control and psychological abuse.
Like other forms of psychological abuse, gaslighting can affect you even after you’ve cut ties from the person responsible. In fact, there are even a few long-term effects of gaslighting, from anxiety and depression to increased feelings of self-doubt and even PTSD. That being said, recovery is possible. For more information, we spoke to Dr. Amelia Kelley, a trauma-informed therapist who’s also the co-author of What I Wish I Knew: Surviving and Thriving After an Abusive Relationship.
What are some of the lasting effects when someone's been gaslit by a partner/friend/relative/etc.?
“Gaslighting is a form of abuse that can negatively impact an individual's sense of self as well as their mental health,” Kelley explains. She tells us that some issues that may arise after experiencing gaslighting include:
- PTSD symptoms
- A negative impact on self-esteem
Can you recover from gaslighting? If so, is it a long, ongoing process?
Luckily, Kelley emphasizes that recovery from gaslighting is absolutely possible. “Practicing self-compassion and patience is essential, as the healing process can take time,” she notes. The tactics used by a gaslighter are meant to deconstruct the victim's sense of self, and it can take time to rebuild and repair. Kelley tells us that while the healing process has no definite timeline, maintaining as little contact as possible with the gaslighter will help to ensure that the journey does not take as long.
How to seek help if someone is gaslighting you
“The most effective way to leave a gaslighter is to practice ‘radio silence,’” Kelley explains. “Cutting off communication with a gaslighter eliminates the attention they are trying to attain from their victim.” She notes that, depending on the situation, it can be more difficult for some people than others to completely cut off the relationship, so the next best thing is to stop engaging in any form of conflict or arguments with the gaslighter. “There is no need to justify your feelings to a gaslighter, as they will most certainly question and belittle any emotions you have that are not aligned with their own. When they deflect blame away from their own actions, they are proving that they are gaslighting you.” She adds that the average gaslighter is incapable of remorse and reflection, so even if you explain why they’re hurting you, they’re unlikely to understand your perspective.
Once you establish some kind of distance from the person gaslighting you, Kelley says that it will be easier to recover from the relationship. “Surrounding yourself with others who care about you and can help reorient your sense of reality and self-worth is important. This sometimes means sharing some of your experience with those you care about so they can help you fact check the situation and act as a sounding board to strengthen your connection with your true self.” If you’re not quite in a place where you feel comfortable sharing your experience with others yet, Kelley recommends journaling or reaching out to anonymous support groups, reading self-help books and listening to podcasts with stories of others who have recovered from gaslighting.
5 ways to cope if someone is gaslighting you
1. Try to Spot the Common Signs of Gaslighting
Gaslighting works best when a victim isn’t aware of what’s going on. Once you understand what’s happening, you’ll be better equipped to prepare to fight back, or at least call the gaslighter out on their behavior, which might throw them off their game, or make them reconsider you as a prime target. If you suspect someone is gaslighting you, educate yourself about what gaslighting is, the tactics a gaslighter uses and ways to handle it. Psychology Today is an excellent resource for articles written by mental health professionals.
2. Compile Proof
Because the main goal of gaslighting is to make you feel like you’ve lost touch with reality, it’s important to keep a record of things as they happen, to return to as proof when you start to doubt your own memory. When it comes to proof, the National Domestic Violence Hotline recommends keeping a journal with dates, times and as many details as possible, in addition to confiding in a trusted family member or friend.
3. Lean on Friends and Family
Though it’s often the goal of a gaslighter to isolate you from the people who care about you, having other people to confide in is crucial. In addition to acting as a sounding board, a friend or family member is an unbiased third party who can reality check the situation and remind you that what you’re feeling isn’t “crazy” or “exaggerated.”
4. Prioritize Self-Care
Worrying about gaslighting can creep into pretty much every area of your life, making it tough to enjoy even your favorite people, places or things. Because it takes such a huge toll on your mental health, self-care is paramount. By focusing on yourself, you’ll feel more capable of standing up for yourself and dealing with all the challenges life is throwing at you. From writing gratitude lists to watching motivational TED Talks, here are dozens of super-simple ways to practice self-care.
5. Seek Professional Help
Some gaslighting situations are easier to leave than others, and romantic relationships are one of the tougher ones. If you suspect there’s gaslighting going on in your relationship, seek out the help of a licensed therapist—specifically someone who specializes in relationship therapy—who can help you define what you’re going through and help you get past it. Depending on the severity of your situation, you can also call the National Abuse Hotline at 800-799-7233 for urgent help.