7 Tips to Un-Gaslight Yourself After Domestic Abuse

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If you have lived through coercive control and domestic abuse, the likelihood is high that you have been gaslighted. Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which the abuser tries to make you doubt your own sanity or perception of reality. Abusers typically gaslight victims by denying things that happened, blaming you for their own behavior, and making you feel like you are losing your mind.

Gaslighting can also involve making others think that you are crazy. This is sometimes called toxic triangulation. Similarly, gaslighting can include making friends, therapists, the police, and even the courts think the domestic violence victim is actually the aggressor.

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If an abuser repeats the above lies often enough, you may even come to believe them. You may lose the sense of who you are. Social worker and sociologist Evan Stark calls this “perspecticide,” defined as “the abuse-induced incapacity to know what you know.”

To become your true self once again, then, you will need to un-gaslight yourself. Recovering from months, years, or decades of harmful messages can take time. The following suggestions can help you undo the negative effects of gaslighting:

  1. Write down the thought traps. Gaslighters expertly push you to question reality and doubt yourself. Even when relationships end, an abuser’s language can linger in your mind. Try keeping a written log of when you question your reality, so you can notice your patterns of self-doubt. Jot down when you think you are being too sensitive, or when you wonder if you are losing your mind. What happened that made you think these things?
  2. Speak to yourself positively. This may help you get the abuser’s voice out of your head. Some people have referred to this as the three C’s: catching, checking, and changing. For example, maybe you forget an appointment and you catch yourself saying, “What a loser!” Think about where that idea came from. Remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Treat yourself kindly, knowing that you have a lot on your mind.
  3. Get connected. Find someone who will believe and support you. Tell that person about a gaslighting experience. An advocate or counselor at your local domestic violence agency is often the best place to start. If you can join a virtual or in-person support group, too, that’s even better. Others who have experienced gaslighting will validate your experiences. People who have never experienced this form of abuse may brush it off as “normal couple stuff.”
  4. Find a therapist. Look for someone who specializes in trauma and who understands domestic abuse. Ask them about gaslighting. If they do not seem to understand it, see if they seem open to learning more about it. If the therapist minimizes the severity or importance of your experiences, call their attention to it. If you do not like their response, find another therapist.
  5. Examine acquired habits. Are you ready to stop doing some things that the abuser expected of you? Gaslighting may involve defining love, marriage, cleanliness, loyalty, and what makes a happy home. For example, maybe the abuser mandated a hot meal for dinner every single night. If you would be alright with an easier dinner sometimes, that’s your choice now.
  6. Build protective measures. Gaslighting often continues long after the relationship ends. This is a form of post-separation abuse. While it is not entirely in your control, you may be able to partially limit its effects. For example, if you are court-mandated to respond to parenting apps, set a cut-off time so these exchanges do not happen late and disrupt your sleep. Do not respond to messages from your ex or your attorney while in bed. Consider going for a walk after responding to difficult emails so you can come home refreshed.
  7. Avoid the self-blame cycle. Accept that none of this was your fault. Believe it.

Gaslighting builds influence over time. Be patient with yourself; the process of un-gaslighting will take time as well.

Co-authored with Julie Nee, advocate, author, and MSW candidate with a focus on helping survivors of intimate partner violence heal and thrive.