How to get back in touch with your own Intuition after being in a gaslighting relationship.
This is always a tough thing to talk about but something that I feel has become increasingly necessary. Its no shock to the people that know me that years of living with a malignant narcissist that used gas lighting to hide his own ill deeds (Yes I know I can’t diagnose but all the markers were pretty much there once I came out of it) really messed me up. It messes anyone that goes through it up and I would of course highly suggest seeing a professional to help guide you through it. Unfortunately my own access to mental health care wasn’t wonderful at the time and I didn’t have the money or the health insurance to do it. But it is highly necessary.
One of the hardest things about this was that it happened for so long and I was so young that any sense of an inner voice and trusting myself had basically been eroded away to nothing. I didn’t even want to show my sadness to my parents because I was afraid of any ‘consequences’ (Even though that it something that the gaslighter instills. My parents and family were nothing but helpful. But the lose of trust in myself had happened so gradually and so systematically organically that it became hard to really understand where my voices and my own trust in myself had gone…or remember what it felt like at all. I constantly had to search for affirmation, was afraid of telling the people that I loved what I wanted or needed and the idea of being alone with my own thoughts was suffocating. Combine this pathology with my eating disorder and my mind was constantly in a tail spin, just like my life at the time. Did that really happen? Did he say that? Or did I? Did that really happen at all? He said it did…but I remember something totally different.
Eventually, like so many in this position, I submitted, though not in the way that I thought I would. I was sad yes…but I wasn’t depressed. I decided that the realtiy of it didn’t really fucking matter. I knew where I was now and I knew that dwelling on it right now and trying to sort it out inside my own head was no good, because I didn’t trust myself and that was the key. I was told so many times that I was being nuts, over reacting, being dramatic, asking too much that I didn’t have a sense of what was normal and what wasn’t.
And that was the first step to getting back on track: Being able to trust myself and my own reality again.
If you have ever been in a gaslighting relationship or many kinds of emotionally abusive relationships, you know how this feels. To those who haven’t been in it, it can be hard to understand. But you really start to think that you aren’t remembering things that you KNOW actually happened or were said. Trusting yourself and your own intuition goes out the window as you are broken down. This gives the gaslighter to shape reality the way that suits them.
Once you get out you will often hear people that have known and love you point out things that you don’t even remember about yourself or things that the gaslighter told you were actually flaws but were really part of your own, unique and PERFECTLY FINE personality. Even your own emotions begin to feel irrational (I wasn’t supposed to be mad about his affair since it was my fault after all for wanting too much from him). Finding this trust in yourself and reconnecting with your own emotions, intuition and personality is key to finding any form of functional interaction with others and with yourself in the future.
There are a few things that I have found helped me reconnect with myself over the last two years and I really do want to share them because I feel that they are important and that this sort of emotional abuse isn’t talked about because it doesn’t seem as ‘dire’ as other forms of abuse. But the havoc that it can wreck on an individuals confidence, personality and future life or endeavors is unfathomable.
Learn to sit with yourself
We live in a world of distractions which is kind of funny because people always talk about social media making us super into ourselves and pitfalls of filters and being able to air every complaint we have (Totally different issue that I will not get into right now). But the truth is that we very rarely sit with our own thoughts anymore and just let our mind work. I am a big fan of quiet. That means no tv playing in the background, not always listening to a podcast or Instagram stories or anything else. When you are being gaslight, you are being groomed to not think for yourself. To listen to someone else’s opinion’s and realities at all times and accept this as your own. Because of this, when you come out of it, you have a really hard time thinking for yourself or trusting those thoughts. Hearing them in the confines of your own head is terrifying. When I left my mother and I were driving across the country and she kept asking me what I wanted to eat, what I wanted to watch in the hotel room, if the car was too hot or too cold.
…I couldn’t answer. I was so used to catering to someone else, to try and please him to make him happy, that I didn’t even know what I really wanted anymore or what I was doing just for someone else. The really disturbing feature of this was not knowing what was for him and what was for me.
This is why it is so important at the end of any relationship but most of all in a relationship that involves abuse to take time where you are not with another person; any other person; even the best person. You need to learn how to be yourself again. Not just what you like but what thoughts are yours and really how to sit in silence with them. This gives you more of an idea of what your mind feels like.
I find journaling to be really helpful with this. Journaling is really its own therapy and something that many professionals would recommend, not only because these prompts make you think about things you otherwise might not but also because in the beginning, it is a way to really affirm your own reality when you look back at it. At the start of the New Year I started “Self Therapy” which is a 365 prompt journal for every day of the year that I would highly recommend. Learning how to listen to yourself is one of the hardest parts of recovery but really for me it was the major goal, one which I move closer to every day.
Sorting through your own thoughts can be hard but learning how to sit with them is important and learning how to be back in your own mind, without outside influence is one of the most important things you can do, if you are healthy enough. Of course, this is no substitute for actual therapy and if you are having problems please feel free to reach out and I will do my best to hook you up with any resources you need.
Always with a good support system, be that family, friends and professionals. A mix of these is normally the best as no, not everyone does have a healthy support system in their family (MY family is great and I love them but we tend to push this sort of thing under the rug and just try and ‘move on’). I do find a personal connection to be huge because these people can tell you how you’ve changed. My family did tell me that it almost appeared that I had become more meek over the years, that I almost seemed to be afraid to be as passionate as I used to be. Which was true but the change had been so gradual that I had hardly noticed at all.
While this sounds like a simple thing the truth is that in many ways when you are in one of these kids of relationships, the same steps that a physical abuser takes are taken by the gaslighter. They will separate you from friends and family, keeping you away physically (I was asking too much to fly to see my family once a year) and emotionally, finding fault in the people you would socialize with is a perfect example of this. SO while they might be telling you you should go out with people, somehow there is always something wrong with the people you chose to go out with. Reconnecting with these relationships sounds hard but the truth is that most of your friends and family probably see whats happening to you but have no idea what to do about it. When you decide to move forward, they are more then ready to welcome you back the majority of the time and from the majority of people that I have talked to about this topic.
Finding a good therapist is a huge part of this support system and a key one to really work through what has happened to your mind. For many of us, the idea of gaslighting is something that is new…but also not. It just never had a name. Most professionals know this and know that it is more damaging then the majority of the population think it is. Find someone that you connect with and that you feel like you can trust. It is alright to switch people if you don’t feel comfortable with them.
Pick up old hobbies you’ve disconnected from/ Try something totally new
One of the hardest things in these kind of relationships is remembering that you used to be your own person with your own passions. You forget that you used to do things that made you happy. You forget that experimenting is part of life. Its so important and something that many people forget that you can do in general as an adult. You can always learn. This is especially important for people that have gotten out of any sort of mentally manipulative relationship. Connecting with things that you care about and doing them just because you want to is unbelievably liberating.
I started running before I left my now ex husband and I still love it. But truth be told I started it to lose weight because I thought that he would find me more attractive. Plus it was something that he had done in high school so I thought that maybe we could eventually do it together or connect on it. We never did. I loved it but it did also become sort of a punishment for me for a while. Plus it was something I could do when he didn’t come home from work (now I know affair too) So that I didn’t have to sit at home alone with the dogs in the apartment. It also costed almost no money because we didn’t have the money to spend he said.
When I left I kept running though it got to the point that it was unhealthy how little I was eating in relation to how much I was running. I had to refind my love of it and make it for me now instead of for him, which was a difficult transition. But it did do something else when I got up here and that was connect me to a running group and an amazing group of people.
I also started for the first time ever this year taking ceramics classes and I love it! Its so nice to go into an accepting room of people (Socially distance of course right now) and just have that time. There was also something liberating about deciding to spend the money, my money, and do it myself. One thing I will say was both when I started running and started ceramics, I felt incredibly guilty about it. Not that there was anyone there for feel guilty about leaving but just because I had been groomed to think that doing something for myself, spending money on myself, was something to feel guilty about. Overcoming and sometimes pushing through this guilt is pivotal. We as humans are not made to suffer and should be able to find even the smallest specks of happiness.
These are just two examples and obviously you shouldn’t just do them because I give them. Finding something that brings you joy for no other reason then being joyful is an important and cathartic experience after a life spent trying to please someone else. Pleasing yourself is the healthiest thing that you can do it every sense of the word. It also gives you the ability to be in your own head and build new friendships along with new skills.
There are certain things that I have found were super important to healing; things that for a while I didn’t think were allowed. So many of these things came through hard learning and are still being learned.
- You are allowed to have emotions without apologizing for them.
- You’re passionate and that’s okay.
- You don’t need closure from that person. You have to find it in you.
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean that person needs to be back in your life. If you don’t want to forgive them you don’t have to to move on. Sometimes that gives your abuser the power back.
- They are going to tell their own stories about you to protect themselves but you don’t have to get involved.
- Talk talk talk. If you can talk out loud to someone you trust do it. It helps to verbalize and have someone confirm in the beginning that you aren’t being “Too much”.
- Don’t diminish your trauma.
- Healing is not linear. You might think you are ready and sometimes find out you’re not. That’s okay.
If you or someone you love is being abused people contact the authorities and social programs that will be able to help them. No one should be left alone in their suffering.
If you need help finding resources or would like to talk about your experiences with Gaslighting, please feel free to reach out to me in private or share your story in the comments. Its such an important issue. Gaslighting survives in the dark. You are not crazy, you are not asking too much, your feelings and emotions are valid and you deserve to be told that.