In the last article “Gaslighting 1: How do you know?”, I wrote about Gaslighting, its nature, and adverse impact on the victims.
In this instalment, I will address
- what you can do if you suspect your partner is gaslighting you; and
- on the flip side, if your partner alleges you are gaslighting her, how you should respond if you care about your partner and your family.
Please also note that there is a list of Resources & Support in “Musings from Clinical Notebook”.
Gaslighting is confounding
As I have shown in my first article, gaslighting can be very ambiguous and confusing. Sometimes you may feel like you are struggling with shadows.
Women in an ongoing relationship also feel the need to give their partners a chance, and to salvage their relationship.
Further, victims often blame themselves as the cause. Sometimes they labour under the illusion, for instance, if I control myself, if I never get upset and if I become “really really good”, I can turn him around, and maybe he will be kinder to me.
If you suspect you may be a victim of gaslighting, what can you do?
What you can do depends on your situation.
Your options need not be binary, limited to either staying or leaving the relationship. It can be a combination of steps.
You can start with baby steps to clear your mind by say, journaling, seeking support and information, as mentioned in Plan A below.
Or you can combine different steps, for instance, if you feel that is warranted to give the relationship/your partner another chance through counselling and therapy.
But if your situation requires you to take more drastic and assertive action to protect you and your children, you may have to consider Plan B to set up safety plan and exit the relationship to save your sanity.
Use the information and resources as appropriate to your circumstances.
2 Routes: Plan A and Plan B
I set out 2 routes below: Plan A and Plan B.
Plan A is appropriate where you suspect gaslighting, but coercive and controlling behaviour has not surfaced.
Plan B is relevant where you are more certain that your partner is engaged in gaslighting, and you are fearful of his coercive behaviour. You may also be anxious about the potential escalation to physical abuse, or your partner’s behaviour has deteriorated from verbal abuse to physical violence.
Whichever route you take below, there are two things you should guard jealously:
Your self-worth, you core
Do all you can to protect and preserve your self-worth through the steps suggested here. Safeguarding your sense of self will give you the clarity and confidence you will need to assess your relationship, and decide how you want to move forward.
Your financial independence
Where possible, do your utmost to attain and maintain financial independence. Keep your job, invest in your skill set. It is a critical pillar to your self-esteem, and a major lifeline to help you exit the relationship, should you so decide one day.
Look for groups in Resources & Support that could help you to become financially independent.
Plan A: Where you suspect gaslighting, but there is no coercive and controlling behaviour, you could
- Journal to clear your mind, reinforce your sense of reality, track relational development. Please however keep your journal safe and out of reach of the perpetrator.
- Seek support from trusted friends and family, or support group, for emotional and psychological support and a second opinion.
- Seek help from a psychotherapist or psychologist experienced in the field of abuse recovery, to help you get a clearer view of your circumstances.
- Suggest to your partner that you both attend couples therapy to understand the relationship dynamics and to repair your relationship.
- If you have not tried this, have a calm and open discussion with your partner about how you feel and what you sense. Maintaining calm in such conversations can be difficult. If so, seek the help of a neutral forum and facilitator by engaging a couples therapist.
- Without risking physical retaliation, you may, for instance, learn to break the cycle of unproductive conversations and escalating emotions with the following words suggested by Dr Robin Stern:
- “Let’s agree to disagree”
- “You’re distorting what I said. Let’s take a break and talk later”.
- You can also consult the agencies in Resources & Support for more information and help. Join their support group for survivors of marital abuse.
It would be a good idea to set a deadline for these attempts. So that should the situation not improve, or if it deteriorates, or your partner insists there is nothing wrong with him, you may have to look to Plan B.
If the relationship is very tense, and you feel you have passed the stage of engagement and hope for repair, it would be advisable to contain the situation to prevent escalation to physical violence, by
- Minimising confrontation and argument about what’s the truth or who is right,
- Minimising engagement with the perpetrator.
Plan B: Where you know there is gaslighting, realise the perpetrator is coercive and controlling, and you fear potential violence, or have experienced actual physical abuse to you and/or your kids:
- you need to seek help urgently to set up a safety plan for you and your children by contacting any of the agencies in the Resources & Support;
- you may also need their guidance to apply for a Personal Protection Order;
- it would be a good idea to continue with the self-help measures mentioned in Plan A.
Do not compromise on mental wellbeing and physical safety of you and your children.
Staying in abusive relationship will hurt your children’s wellbeing.
On the flip side: If your partner alleges you are gaslighting, what should you do?
If you care about your partner and your relationship, this is an alarm bell for your deep reflection and to take remedial corrections.
Put aside your ego, park your defence at the door, and think sincerely: is there any merit in what my partner said?
If upon reflection, you have searched your conscience, and in all honesty, you did not intend to and do not want to harm or instil fear or insecurity in your partner, or
if you feel you may have unknowingly behaved in a way that unsettled and hurt your partner,
you can take the following steps:
- Individual Psychotherapy: through individual therapy, you will:
- uncover your blind spots, uncover aspects of yourself you did not know
- gain self-awareness
- realise what and who in your growing up years influenced such mindset and behaviour.
Did you also suffer?
Were you also psychologically hurt or brutalised in the process?
- Sincere and authentic conversation with your partner: You will need to start having open, authentic and honest exploratory conversations with your partner. Instead of feeling maligned and defensive, learn to be curious:
- Why does my partner keep raising certain issue?
- Am I missing something?
- Couples therapy: It is challenging to conduct a calm and open conversation with your partner about a tricky subject like gaslighting. It may therefore be a good idea to seek help from a couples therapist to manage this process and to resolve the relational crisis.
But if you know you have deliberately caused psychological harm to your partner, but you don’t want to lose your partner and your family, you should also seek professional help suggested above, so you can rein in your action that hurt your partner and your children.
If you choose to take your partner’s allegation positively as an opportunity to change course, you stand a chance to make amends, and rebuild the relationship and your family.
Otherwise, there is only one certain outcome: your abusive behaviour will continue or deteriorate, your domestic relationship will unravel, your partner and children will be alienated and estranged from you, and the mental health and wellbeing of your family will suffer.
That is a grim prospect nobody wants.
You can take the steps mentioned above to prevent that from becoming your reality.