How Deeply Has Gaslighting Affected You?

06 Nov 2018

What part does gaslighting play in your thinking? How often do you stop to to think about how gaslighting affects the way that you show up in the world? Obviously, by gaslighting I don’t mean a means of lighting the darkness that preceded the marvels of electric lighting.  Rather, in this article I want to look at how abusive people cast you into darkness and confusion by using the technique of psychological gaslighting to undermine your sense of reality.

Since my own – emotional – experience of surviving a narcissistic, abusive partner mirrors that of so many others survivors, I hope you will bear with me as I share a little about the manifestation and effects of gaslighting in my own life.   

My fear of Bad Things Happening

When I first left the wasband, I was terrified that Bad Things were bound to happen to me and my daughter, also.  These Bad Things were bound to happen because, as the wasband often said, I could “never manage on my own”.  

The only problem is with Mr. Cassandra’s dire predictions is that I did manage. One year out of the hell that was my marriage, I realized that I was actually managing reasonably well.  Certainly, I was  happier than I had ever been.  So, too, was my daughter.   

That winter we gals trotted off on holiday, excitedly, to my beloved Venice.  However, our first evening did not go too well. By the time we had located our hotel far from the main tourist spots band left our luggage, it was nearly 10pm.  We set out to find something to eat, not  realizing that everywhere around where we were staying was likely to be closed.

As we ventured out into the dark and the silence, that voice in my head kicked in. “How could you be so irresponsible?” it shrieked. “What are you doing? What kind of mother are you anyway? How could you expose your daughter to danger like that? You could get yourselves killed.” 

In case you don’t know Venice, let me say that it is an incredibly safe place to walk, day or night. That was one of the reasons why we had decided to go there in the first place.

So what was actually going on?

Toxic brainwashing

That voice giving me hell inside my own head was the gaslighting voice of the wasband.  He never missed a trick to show me what an incompetent mother I was, together with the how dangerous the world was.  Only he was man enough to navigate life successfully.  Without him at my side (hurling abuse and overreacting to non-events) Bad Things and Dangerous People would surely  befall us.  In fact, we could even get ourselves killed – an interesting form of words if ever there was one. 

With all toxic brainwashing going on, it never struck me that  one of the worst things that could that could happen to me already had.  I had married It and tolerated years and years of that Worst Thing psychologically beating me down. 

The next morning, my daughter and I awoke to the glorious sunshine of La Serenissima, as Venice is – rightly – named.  As my daughter and I wandered through the streets drinking in the enchantment of its sights,  something long forgotten in my brain began to stir.  Gratitude, pure and simple. I realized how blessed we were to enjoy all of this  – specifically, in no particular order, Venice, sunshine, our health, each other, enough money to do this (hardly in style but, no matter).  We were blessed.

Creating a new perspective

From there, my thoughts turned to the wasband.  “What a moron”, I found myself thinking, over and over again.  We had traveled as a family in the past.  We had been very fortunate inasmuch as we had done a lot of great things. But there had been little joy in any of them.  He made an art form out of ruining everything. 

For a toxic person, there is more satisfaction in creating misery than there is enjoying life’s blessings.  Abusers and Narcissists need to create darkness around them so that they can bask in their own feeble (gas)light. 

Over time, I unpicked most of the wasband’s crazy projections and built no “rebuild” about it – my self-esteem.  All of that work and good stuff eventually led to the first truly healthy relationship of my life, with my wonderful partner. 

Still, that is only half the story. 

The other half of the story

I grew up in a toxic family. In fact, mine was the kind of toxic family that stuck together. My parents were smart enough to realize that there is a kind of strength – the strength of codependency – in numbers. 

I had to leave in order to survive.  That is how I walked straight into another abuser’s arms in the first place.  He did me the service of pointing out – correctly – that my family were quite toxic.  Unfortunately, he omitted to mention that he, and his family, were differently but even more gruesome.  

Walking away left me with a mountain of guilt and shame. It  showed me to be an ungrateful, unloving, unnatural daughter.  For a lot of years, I minimized just how toxic my family were.  After all, they functioned well enough in their own environment, they had friends and roots in the community they grew up.  So, how toxic can they be?

The more deeply I thought about gaslighting, the more I realized that my family were quite toxic enough.   Despite their Pillar-of-the-Community public face, they were quite toxic enough to do a lot of damage. The damage that they did is the same damage that I see in my clients wherever they live in the world. 

So, let’s turn our attention now from the phenomenon of gaslighting (undermining your reality and your sanity) to the long-lasting effects of gaslighting. In what follows I use the term “parents” to identify the source of the gaslighting.  In your case that may have been one or both parents,  a sibling or two, or any other person close enough to inflict significant damage on your psyche.

Especially the gaslighting that begins when you are a child teaches you to deny our own experience of reality. 

As a child, I saw that there was plenty wrong with my family – children are not stupid.  However, the rest of the family had a vested interest in making sure that there was no divergence from the family line.  So they bullied, challenged, shamed, guilt-tripped and ridiculed any opposition. 

The lasting effects of gaslighting

What happens to the child in those circumstances?  You end up,

  • Doubting yourself. If family gaslighters tell you often enough that black is white and white is black, you will end up thinking that they couldn’t possibly be lying.  Because they are your parents, after all, and they want the best for you – despite whatever untruths, half-truths and out-and-out lies they tell you. That leaves you o real choice but to doubt your own perceptions.
  • Easily confused. Of course, they bring you up to be truthful. In fact, they probably tell you that they are truthful, too. Yet, their reality – which is The Right One – is SO different from yours.  Small wonder that you end up thinking that these people have something you can never have -the monopoly on reality and wisdom.
  • Knowing that your opinion doesn’t count.  This is what happens when you are repeatedly “shot down in flames” (the wasband’s favorite expression) when you open your mouth to share your thoughts.. 
  • Knowing ahead of time that you will always be wrong, anyway. That leaves you terrified of making decisions – because they will always be bad ones, anyway. 
  • Always apologising. When family members constantly berate you for being stupid and or weird and wrong, you soon learn the benefits of humiliating yourself by apologizing sooner rather than later.  An apology may just reduce the duration of the assault on you.
  • Always anticipating another attack.  You soon learn that an attack can happen at any time, out of a clear blue sky That leaves you very little space for happiness. Besides, you quickly learn that being happy leaves you vulnerable.  You could almost put money on someone or something coming along and bursting your bubble.  So,
  • Your moments of happiness have an undercurrent of dread.
  • Believing that you are not good enough.  After all, if you were good enough, why would all the self-professed wonderful family members treat you the way that they do?
  • Idealizing and making excuses for their bad behavior. Despite all the evidence that you have – in terms of your own pain – you tell yourself that they are “good people, really”. Nobody really wants to think that they came from a nest of vipers – especially if that is the truth. 
  • Feeling undeserving of the good things in life, like love, respect and consideration. All that blaming and shaming teaches you that you are excluded from the charmed circle of those who deserve such blessings.
  • Unlovable.  Your failure to make toxic parents love you confirms your status as an emotional leper.  Whether or not they say it to you in so many words, you come to believe that you will be condemned to live and die alone.
  • Dismissing your own feelings and your own truth.  Consider this for a moment, your parents bully, ridicule, humiliate and neglect you. Then when you articulate your distress, they tell you that that, too, is your fault – because you are “too sensitive”. They should be able to attack you as much as they want, any time that they want, without the inconvenience of hearing either your objections or your pain.
  • Accepting emotional neglect as normal. If that is what passes for acceptable in your family, that is what will feel normal to you.

Your sensitivity is a warning that you are experiencing something that is quite wrong. From now on, you need to cherish that sensitivity and shun anyone who does not respect it.

The point of this long article is to make clear that you may well struggle with quite a few of the effects of long-term gaslighting. Tragic as it is that that happened to you, those wounds are NOT who you are.  They may still be a hindrance for you.  However, they are a hindrance that you can heal to reveal the happier, stronger, more resourceful you that lies beneath them. If you seek help to accelerate the process, then drop me an email. 


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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