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How to Stop Gaslighting in a Relationship

How to Stop Gaslighting in a Relationship

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Who Do You Trust?

“Gaslighting” is a term that originated from an old movie, where a woman lived with a man in a home with old-fashioned gas lights. The man was trying to drive the woman crazy.

He would consistently turn the lights dimmer and dimmer in their home but denied that it was dimmer and pretended that the light was normal — and the woman began to doubt her own senses. Over time, she went insane.

What is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting, in modern parlance, refers to being made to doubt your own feelings, thoughts, intuition, and judgment when they are, in fact, reliable sources of information that you should trust.

The classic example is in the case of infidelity. One partner will start to become suspicious of their spouse’s late nights working, unavailability during work trips, or odd calls to their phone.

However, when they confront the straying spouse, they’re told things like, “You’re insecure,” or “You’re crazy,” or “Just because your father cheated on your mother you think all men are dogs.”

Or my favorite, the righteously indignant, “How dare you suggest something so horrible, I’m trying to earn a living for our family and working my tail off, and now you come at me with this?!?” 

The net result is that when someone is actually being victimized by their partner, they are made to feel not just that they’re being ridiculous, but wrong. This leads people who are being gaslit not just to doubt themselves, but to feel ashamed of how “crazy” they are. (When, in fact, their own judgment is actually a more reliable source of trustworthy information than their partner is.)

Signs of Gaslighting in a Relationship

1. Feeling like you’re always wrong. The ringer for gaslighting is when you attempt to check something out, (i.e., “Were you drinking tonight?” or “You’re home three hours late, where were you?”) or express your concerns about something, and your partner gets very angry with you and turns things back on you so that you feel ashamed and inappropriate for having asked.

2. The sudden onset of really bad feelings. If you begin feeling uncharacteristically anxious, depressed, ashamed, or stupid after starting a new-ish relationship it’s a big red flag that emotional abuse is happening.

Feeling increasingly bad about yourself, or more doubtful of your own judgment is a sign that you’re in a toxic relationship where gaslighting is happening. Many times, people in these situations feel increasingly anxious, and even become depressed.

They begin to believe that it’s their own mental health issues that are the source of the relationship problems, as opposed to the toxic relationship that they are having bad feelings about. (Pointing out your oh-so-many-and-very-serious “mental health issues” is a go-to weapon of many gaslighters). 

However, once these “mentally unstable” people  they leave these manipulative relationships they often discover that they’re just fine. It was the relationship that was making them feel anxious and terrible about themselves.

3. You’re defending your partner, a lot.  Another important sign that you’re being gaslighted by your partner is when you tell your friends or family about something that you’ve been made to feel is “abnormal” for being concerned about, but they react in the same way that you did originally before you were led to believe your feelings were wrong or disordered in some way. (That your partner is actually in the wrong).

If this is happening and you find yourself frequently defending your partner from family and friends and explaining to them that no, really, you were the one in the wrong (again)… you may be the victim of gaslighting.

 

Gaslighting is a Form of Emotional Abuse

Gaslighting is not a quirk; it’s abusive behavior that cannot continue if the goal is a healthy, sustainable relationship. For example, to the great frustration of domestic violence counselors, victims of domestic violence have a very hard time leaving their abusers. Many times, they go back.

The reason for this is that, as a rule, the victims blame themselves for the abuse they are experiencing because their abuser has made them believe they are at fault.  Their own feelings and judgment about their worth, what love should look like, and how they should be treated has been gaslighted out of existence by their abuser.

Furthermore, the hallmark of abusive relationships is isolation. The reason abusers must isolate their victims is that effective gaslighting requires that the person being made to doubt themselves is looking to their abuser for “the truth.” If independent third parties start weighing in to support the perspective of the gaslight-ee, the abuser loses power and control over their victim.

Gaslighting often commonly happens in situations where one partner is actively abusing a substance or has a behavioral addiction. In addition to hiding and lying about their attachment to unhealthy substances or behaviors, addicts will often counter-attack when confronted. They blame their questioning partner for being out of line to question them or their “lifestyle choices.” This leads their partners to doubt their own judgment and start believing they are “too controlling” or “too uptight,” etc, which allows the addict more freedom.

Stop Gaslighting From Happening in Your Relationship

If you’re in a relationship where you’re being gaslighted it’s critical that you get the support of other people. A great therapist, a supportive friend, or even better, a good support group can help you get the outside perspective you need to reinforce your own good judgment.

The experience of gaslighting is being made to doubt yourself (when you’re actually spot on). The antidote is to have other people around you who can look, with you, at the situation and say, “No, you’re right, it is actually dark in here.” With that outside perspective you can begin to trust yourself again, and also view your partner’s manipulations for what they are: Efforts to mislead and control you, by making you mistrust your own judgment.

The answer is not couples counseling. The path forward is not changing your partner; it’s strengthening yourself.

Trust yourself, and do not make excuses for other people’s bad behavior. Your love and patience will not heal anyone — only they can do that. If you’re in a relationship and feeling bad about what’s happening but being made to feel that you’re wrong for feeling that way, run the situation past some friends or your therapist to get outside perspective.

Remember that you deserve to be treated with love and respect and to surround yourself with people who make you feel better about yourself — not worse.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Dating After Divorce

Dating After Divorce

Markie Keelan, M.A., LPC is a therapist, life coach and dating coach whose mission is to help you create authentic happiness and satisfaction in your life especially when it comes to dating after divorce. She supports you to create a deeper connection with others, as well as actualize your life’s purpose.

 

Ready to find love again?

I often hear the question, “When is someone ready to start dating after divorce?” That’s a hard question to answer, but those who are newly divorced give dating a lot more consideration than the majority of single folks out there.

Their hesitation to jump back into the dating pool makes sense; the reason being is that divorce shakes our confidence in our ability to connect. When you’ve gone through a traumatic relationship loss or breakup it can make you question your ability to trust others but also your ability to trust your decisions on choosing a partner. Dating after a divorce feels much riskier.

So, if you are lost with no idea where to even start with dating after divorce, don’t worry, you are not alone and there are ways in which you can help yourself. Here are some guidelines to help you recover and get back out there.

Tips For Dating After Divorce

  • Revise your self-talk to support your success

Confidence plays a major role in the healing process of divorce. Some relationships can be similar to an addiction to another person. Addicts don’t believe that they’ll ever be able to survive without their drug. Divorcees can sometimes feel like they’ll never be able to find love again.

This is a negative thinking pattern that can lead to more than just lack of confidence but isolation, anxiety, and depression. So be in-tune with what you are telling yourself, and try to create a more empowering narrative. Chances are a good dose of loving self-talk could help your situation. For more on how to do this, check out our Happiness Class.

  • Assess whether you are you really ready

You may not be ready to date if you’re still, in your heart of hearts, privately carrying a torch for your Ex. Like an addiction, when a relationship ends we can be ambivalent and question whether or not we’ll go back into that relationship again. Many people spend months after a breakup or divorce half hoping your partner may change their mind and realize they made a huge mistake. If that’s the case, you then are putting your healing process in their hands. Furthermore, any new relationship you attempt is likely to spin its wheels.

Take back control by committing to moving yourself forward. It may be helpful to get clarity and closure about why your breakup or divorce was a good thing. For example, recognizing that your past relationship wasn’t meeting all of your needs and working on clarity and closure for yourself. This may mean you keep distance from this person and take every precaution not to slip back into the purgatory of waiting and hoping. For many people, getting the support of a great breakup recovery coach or participating in a breakup recovery group can help them heal and grow, as opposed to wallpaper over the pain by dating prematurely.

Only then will you be genuinely emotionally available to begin a healthy new relationship with someone else.

  • Make a needs list

Many times in failed relationships we were not getting our needs met before they ended. Maybe you don’t even know what your needs are in a relationship because they have been on the back burner for so long. Take your time to write out a list of what you NEED in a relationship. This list could include, honesty, trust, quality time, etc. This list will help guide you in the dating process to be honest with you and your future partner of whether or not this relationship will work for you.

I also encourage my dating coaching clients to ask themselves, ‘What do I need to be able to come to a new relationship the way I want to?’ This way you are also looking at what you need to be able to provide in order to connect back to others in a way that isn’t compromised by manipulation or feelings of inadequacy.

  • Let go of the pressure to heal  

Depending on what the reasons were for the divorce, it could take days, or it could take years to grieve this relationship trauma. Don’t let a time frame determine your journey towards love. Feeling pressured by time or other people doesn’t help us grow into the person we want to be. I encourage divorcees who are not ready to enter back into the dating world to engage your support network and surround yourself with people you can rely on.

  • Focus on self-care

Lastly, I’d suggest making time for self-care. Surround yourself with people who support you, do things that are fun, and make sure you invest in rest, nutrition, exercise, and your healing process. When you put energy into your self and your own wellness, you’ll exude the confidence and self respect that’s so attractive to potential new partners.

Dating after divorce can feel challenging, but you have a lot of power. Remind yourself that although your mind may be trying to trick you that the rest of your life is going to be an uphill battle, it doesn’t have to be. Using some of these different approaches I’ve described, like revising your self talk, working through the past before moving forward, prioritizing your needs, honoring your own timeline, and practicing good self care can arm you with a set of tools to help you feel genuinely able to move forward, and challenge yourself to be open to finding love again.

All the best to you,

Markie Keelan, M.A., LPC

Ps: If you’re ready to jump back in the pool, here are more ideas to support you in this podcast: The New Rules of Modern Dating — check it out!

How to Repair Your Self Esteem After a Breakup

How to Repair Your Self Esteem After a Breakup

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Has Your Breakup or Divorce Shattered Your Self Esteem?

Hands down, one of the most horrible parts about going through a bad breakup or divorce is the way it mangles your self esteem. I know, from so many years as a therapist and life coach, that many people experience post-divorce depression (or post-breakup depression). There are many parts to this experience: Grief and loss, or feeling overwhelmed by all the practical aspects of putting your life back together.

However, for most people, the most terrible depression after a breakup comes when it damages your self esteem, and makes you start to feel badly about yourself.

If you’ve been feeling down on yourself since your relationship ended I want you to know something right off the bat, which is that feeling this way does not mean that you’re actually “less than.”

Really: I talk to a LOT of people about the most vulnerable parts of their life. I know for a fact that even the most gorgeous, amazing, successful people second-guess themselves after a divorce or breakup. Even the most naturally confident, strong, and reasonable among us — in the throes of a devastating break up — still have these types of horrible, torturous conversations with themselves in their darkest moments:

  • Anxious Thought: “Why did this relationship fail?” Self-Esteem Crushing Answer: Because of all your personal shortcomings and the mistakes you made in this marriage or relationship.
  • Anxious Thought: “Why doesn’t the person I love more than anything want to be with me anymore?” Self Esteem Crushing Answer: Because you aren’t interesting / fun / sexy / smart / successful enough.
  • Anxious Thought: “Why didn’t my Ex care enough about me to treat me better while we were together?” Self Esteem Crushing Answer: Because you’re just not that worthy or lovable.
  • Anxious Thought: “Why did my Ex cheat on me or get together with someone new?” Self Esteem Crushing Answer: Because that someone new is much more interesting, attractive, worthy of love and respect. Basically, they’re just a better person than you.

If you’re going through a bad breakup, chances are you’re probably nodding to yourself as you see this self-destructive internal dialogue put to paper. You’ve probably been being tortured by these ideas too.

And it’s making you feel terrible about yourself.

But, believe it or not, as bad as that is…. that’s not even the most toxic, ruinous thing that can happen to your already fragile self-esteem in the aftermath of a traumatic break up.

The most terrible thing is not when your Ex betrays you or mistreats you. It’s not even when you blame yourself for why it didn’t work out, or torture yourself with ongoing commentary about all of your shortcomings and failures.

The Most Destructive Part of a Breakup: Breaking Your Trust in Yourself

Yes, your self esteem gets throttled when you feel rejected, or blame yourself for what went wrong. But it gets ground up into sausage and squished into the dirt when you betray or mistreat yourself in the aftermath of a terrible breakup:

  • When you fail to protect yourself from a toxic or abusive Ex.
  • When you do things that you’re ashamed of… all in desperate efforts to even briefly escape the pain of heartbreak, and reconnect with your Ex.
  • When you keep contacting or spying on your Ex through social media, even when you know you shouldn’t.
  • When you are still sleeping or hooking up with your Ex, even when you feel more devastated afterwords.
  • When your mental and emotional energy is still completely focused on your Ex, and your mood for the entire day (not to mention your worth as a person) depends on what they are doing or not doing.
  • When you are compromising your ethics, morals, and self respect in efforts to regain the love and approval of your Ex.

This darkness is not something that usually gets discussed openly. But it’s very real, and very destructive to your long term health, your happiness, and your self worth. And as you know only too well if you’re going through it, you need support and compassion on your path of healing and recovery.

I have spent years helping broken hearted people with divorce and break-up recovery counseling and coaching, and poured through oceans of research to write my book, “Exaholics: Breaking your addiction to an Ex Love.” I’ve spent years helping my private clients heal their self esteem in the aftermath of a bad breakup, and now we’re addressing it today on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

On today’s show I’m going to help you understand how your self esteem was damaged, and how to develop new compassion and empathy for yourself. We’re also going to discuss the five steps to healing your self esteem after a break up, so that you can start putting yourself back together again.

I hope that this helps support you on your journey of growth and healing.

xoxo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

PS: In this podcast, we discuss a number of resources. Here are links to all the breakup recovery resources I shared:

My private Online Breakup Support Group on Facebook. (It’s a hidden group, so you have to request access).
Exaholics.com
Online Breakup Recovery Program: www.breakup-recovery.com
Book: Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to An Ex Love

PJ Harvey: To Bring You My Love, and book (poetry collection) The Hollow Of The Hand

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How To Repair Your Self Esteem After a Breakup

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

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Why You Keep Falling in Love With The Wrong Person

Why You Keep Falling in Love With The Wrong Person

Do you attract the wrong people? Do you keep having toxic relationships?

If so, you’re not alone.

You’d be surprised at how many people come to us for life coaching, breakup recovery, individual therapy, or dating coaching hoping to achieve one goal: Having a healthy relationship. (And how to stop getting involved in unhealthy ones).

They show up to therapy or life coaching because they have, over time (or after the latest heartbreaking breakup) become aware that they are engaging in “non-ideal relationship patterns,” over and over again. They keep getting involved with narcissists, or people who treat them badly. They keep choosing emotionally unavailable men, or aggressive / controlling women. Whatever the sad pattern is, they want it to stop.

Above all else, they want to work on themselves to heal, grow, and ensure that NEXT time they get involved with someone they can love and be loved in a healthy relationship with a good person. And so we dig in.

Identifying Your Blind Spots

The first stop in figuring out why you keep choosing the wrong man or wrong woman is uncovering what unconscious motivations are driving your choices. Getting outside help in understanding your toxic relationship patterns can be a wise move, because of the entirely subconscious nature of the problem.  You don’t consciously choose bad relationships — no one does. You choose what feel  in the moment, are good relationships…. and then wind up having bad experiences. (That are often mysteriously, eerily similar to the past experiences you thought you were trying to avoid).

Unhealthy relationship patterns can happen for many reasons. Sometimes it’s old, unfinished emotional business from the past. Other times, your self-esteem or feelings of self-worth can get in the way. Yet other times, the root of the problem is imbedded in way you communicate or set boundaries with others. Because you are a complex, unique, individual, your truth will not be exactly the same as everyone else’s.

Avoiding Toxic Relationships

However, there is one very common thing that most people have done at least once, and which will almost always lead to heartbreak: Falling victim to “Black Hat Love.” Learning how to spot the one fatal factor that makes you most vulnerable to getting involved in toxic relationships can help you stop the madness, and finally create the happy, healthy relationship you’re longing for.

And that’s what I’ll be teaching you about on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

Have follow up questions for me? Leave them in the comments!

xoxo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Why You Keep Falling in Love With The Wrong Person (And How to Stop)

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

Music Credits: “Bad Love,” by So Brown

Subscribe to the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast on iTunes & Stitcher. (Don’t forget to rate and review!)

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast is Now on Stitcher!

How to Stop Obsessing About Your Ex’s New Relationship

How to Stop Obsessing About Your Ex’s New Relationship

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Until now you’ve been handling your divorce or break-up process well. You’ve gone through the confusion of whether to stay or go, and all the angst and hard decisions that come with leaving. But you’ve been coping.

Then you found out that your Ex is sleeping with someone new.

Now, waves of rage, pain, self-doubt, and resentment are crashing over you. “Coping” has been overwhelmed by a storm of emotion. It feels like your blood has been replaced with Arctic seawater: Frozen and stinging at the same time.

What’s worse? It. Is. All. You. Can. Think. About.

Are they on the motorcycle right now? He’s probably taking her to that restaurant I always wanted to go to that he said was too expensive. Are they holding hands right now? I bet they’re kissing. Maybe they are having sex right this very second. They probably skipped the motorcycle ride and decided to spend the day in bed. We used to do that…

In your mind’s eye you play out scenes from your life together. Except your role is being played by someone who might be sexier, more fun or more interesting. You see your Ex — the happy, sweet, fun one you first fell in love with — sharing the best parts of themselves (and hiding the rest).

It’s worst at night, when there are no distractions. The joy and passion you envision for them is made all the more cruel by the stark contrast to your own silent bed. You lay sleepless, writhing in agony at the injustice. You want to stop thinking about it but you can’t. You feel trapped… in your own head.

Believe it or not, the part of your brain that sees things in your mind’s eye cannot differentiate between something that you’re thinking about and something that is actually happening. So when you’re imagining your Ex and their new sex partner making out on the couch, you react to it emotionally (and physically) like you were seeing it happen right in front of you: Your heart starts racing, you feel nauseous, and you are filled with pain and rage.

Being victimized by these intrusive images is incredibly traumatizing. Ruminating does not bring any value to your healing process. Instead, it keeps you from moving forward.

In order to rescue yourself from the impotent madness of this obsession, you must learn and practice three new skills very deliberately, every day, until you’re in the clear: Self-Awareness, Mindfulness, and Shifting.

1. Self Awareness

Self Awareness is the ability to think about what you’re thinking about, and the fact that you are having an internal experience—not an actual experience. It sounds simple, but it’s very easy to get swept away in our thoughts without even noticing what’s happening.

The practice:

As soon as you become aware that you are thinking about your Ex, say, (out loud, if necessary) “I am thinking about something that is not happening right now.”

2. Mindfulness

Recognize that your vivid thoughts are activating all these scary, painful feelings, but in reality nothing bad is actually happening to you right now. You are sitting at a table, eating a bowl of cereal. You are breathing. Anchoring yourself to the reality of the present moment by using your senses creates a protective barrier between you and intrusive thoughts.

The practice:

Look: Notice what your phone / tablet / laptop looks like right now. Notice the colors, shapes, things you can see in the room around you.

Hear: What are you aware of hearing, right now? Yammering in a coffee shop. Music through your headphones. The hum of the refrigerator in the kitchen.

Feel: The chair under your butt. Your feet on the floor. The breath in your nostrils. The aching feeling of heartbreak in your core. Emotions are really just physical sensations. That’s why they are called feelings. Notice how your body feels, in the present moment, without judgment.

3. Shifting

You’ve broken the obsession, and are in the safe space of reality. The third step to stop intrusive thoughts about your Ex is to intentionally shift your attention to something positive or pleasurable.

For example, you can shift to thinking about going to lunch with a friend this afternoon, or weekend plans. If shifting mentally is too hard you can also shift your attention to something that is happening in the present moment: Watching a movie, listening to music, or petting your dog.

Shifting is important because the thoughts we habitually think about get stronger. When you practice shifting, the intrusive thoughts about your Ex will get weaker.

Putting It All Together

You get stabbed in the brain with the image of your Ex having hot sex with the new person.

  1. Become aware that you are having a thought about something that isn’t happening right now.
  2. Shift your attention to physical reality: The color of the table, the taste of your tea, your heart pounding in your chest.
  3. Then, very deliberately, think about going skiing with your friend this weekend.
  4. Repeat as needed. (And plan on doing this many times a day, at first).

Shifting your awareness or distracting yourself does not mean that you are avoiding or stuffing your feelings. “Obsessing” is not the same thing as “Processing.” It’s mentally picking at a scab that you are not allowing to heal. You have to get unstuck from the obsession phase in order for healthy new growth to occur.

I hope that these techniques are helpful to you. I’d like to hear your thoughts about them. If you have other practices that you’ve used successfully, please share your strategies in the comments so that others who may be hurting can benefit from your wisdom.

— Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Growing Self Counseling & Coaching
Growing Self
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