Are You Being Gas-Lighted?

light at end of tunnel

Have you ever been so sure that something happened, only to turn around and have someone close to you deny it, insist that you are wrong, and spin a web of lies so intricately that you start to wonder if you are losing your mind?

Granted, we aren’t always right. We know this.  I can openly admit that there have been plenty of times where I have thought one thing and was wrong.  But there have also been times when I have been correct, and someone else has vehemently insisted that something I experienced didn’t happen and my reality was false.  Side note…this post isn’t about being right or wrong.  As a therapist, I believe there are always two perspectives, and reality falls somewhere in between.  Just keep reading…

I had this ex who cheated on me.  We dated for a several years, and the last leg of our time together we had a long-distance relationship.  When I found out he had cheated, he then lied, swearing up and down that he would never do such a thing.  He attacked me for questioning his character, then began questioning mine, saying some really hurtful things.  He knew me very well, and therefore used my vulnerabilities against me. Even though I had evidence, he kept denying it, and I wanted to believe him. He helped me through my parents’ divorce, and I wanted to hold on to that. I started questioning myself and felt guilty for accusing him.  After that trust was broken, our relationship couldn’t recover and we eventually broke up.  At that time, even though he had helped me through one of the most challenging times in my life, ending the relationship was the best thing that could have happened to me.

In college, I had this friend who helped me through a difficult time.  I was in-between housing, and she let me stay with her for a while.  I was grateful for the help, but things slowly started to change between us.  I began to notice she would tell different versions of stories.  She embellished quite a bit, and when I questioned her about it, she would get angry.  She would verbally attack me, hitting below the belt when she knew I was down on my luck.  In the same conversation, should would throw in that it was a really good thing I got out of my last housing situation, and she was so happy she could help me, which was extremely confusing.  She also became extremely controlling, and did not like it when I wanted to hang out with other people.  I quickly learned I had exchanged one bad situation for another.  How did I get myself into these messes?  Luckily, with the help of some other friends, I was able to leave that environment. I had to set strict boundaries with the friend whose home I left, and eventually had to cut ties because it was just too toxic.

A recent event in my life has really made me pause, take a step back, and engage in some self-reflection and evaluation of my relationships.  For many years, I wondered if there was something about me that attracted these liars and manipulators (AKA gas-lighters).  What vibes was I putting out there?  Was it my kindness? My willingness to help? My ability to allow myself to be vulnerable with others?  A bit of introspection and evaluation of relationships once in a while is healthy.  Taking a step back for a moment helps us to recognize which relationships we should focus on continuing to nurture.  It allows us to examine those relationships in which we might need to adjust or tighten up our boundaries.  It also gives us the opportunity to consider whether we need to burn a bridge with an unhealthy relationship.  I call this process watering and weeding the relationship garden.

I went to a training a couple years ago facilitated by Alan Godwin, Psy.D., who explained the different types of manipulators: the Master (whose role is to control and who wants submission), the Martyr (whose role is to be victimized and wants to rescued) and the Messiah (whose role is to rescue and demands gratitude).  I realized I have come across each of these at one point or another, and that they aren’t mutually exclusive.  They know how to create drama and push our buttons.  They know our darkest secrets and vulnerabilities, and will willingly exploit them. They want us to react, so our reactions can be used as evidence that WE are “crazy” and they are not.  They will lie and deny they ever said or did something, even though we have evidence.  Their actions don’t match their words. They will often throw in kindness to confuse us and give us false hope that they can change, but shortly revert back to their gas-lighting behavior.  They project-accusing us of doing something that they in fact are doing to us (i.e. cheating).  They will tell others lies about us to isolate us. Or, they will tell us that other people believe what they believe too, that we’re worthless, to keep us questioning ourselves and increase our sense of loneliness.  The impact their behavior also has on us is that it makes us physically sick, drives us bananas, and wears us down.

I was grateful for this training for a few reasons:

1) For the confirmation and validation that this type of behavior exists.

2) Those who have been or are currently in relationships with manipulators are not alone.  Did you read that? YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

3) I also learned strategies to more easily identify gas-lighters and ways to help survivors in these relationships to protect themselves and cope with their antagonists.  This has been extremely helpful in my personal life and in my practice.

If you or someone you know is in a toxic relationship with a gas-lighter and wants help in learning how to navigate through the darkness, there IS a light at the end of the tunnel!  Call 630-797-9192 today to schedule an appointment!

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