How to Stop Gaslighting in a Relationship

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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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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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).

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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.

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Even if the holiday season usually delights you, it’s hard to be cheerful when you’re consumed by painful memories of holidays past. The first year post-breakup, or post-divorce, can be especially traumatic. Everything reminds you of your Ex, and the fact that you are not together anymore. Thinking about the ice skating rink that you held hands at last year, how you’re going to explain this to your anxious Grandma, or even the sight of sparkling lights is enough to throw you into a heavy state of sadness.

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In short: this time of year makes a hard situation feel even harder.

If you’re like most people in this position you probably have lots of questions: “How should I handle myself in certain situations?” “Should I even try to go to parties this year, or should I lay low?” “How do I take care of myself?” and “Will this loneliness and pain ever end?”

Truthfully, the answers to those questions are not always easy or simple. The answers really depend on where you are in the breakup recovery process. On this edition of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast I’m going to walk you through the stages of healing after a breakup, and show you how to actually use the opportunity of this challenging time of year to move your “heartbreak healing process” forward more quickly.

Not only will your “what to do” questions be answered, but you’ll also get a good roadmap for the recovery process ahead. I hope that this information will help you invest in yourself, and make the coming year a fresh, positive new chapter of your life.

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Help is here.

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is a breakup recovery expert, and she has helped countless people all over the world heal their broken hearts. Now her guidance is available to you through an affordable, online class. 

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Decide If You Should Try Again • Release Your Emotional Attachment • Find Forgiveness • Repair Your Self Esteem • Stop Obsessing • Restore Your Inner Peace • Trust Again •  Love After Loss

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Are You an EXaholic?

 When You Can’t Get Over Your Breakup…

Have you been struggling with intense pain over the end of your relationship? Maybe for longer than your friends and family think you ought to? In my experience, many people struggling with heartbreak worry that something is wrong with them for taking it so hard and “not being able to get over it.”  Some breakups are easier to cope with than others. Sometimes, it’s just a break up. Sometimes, you become an “Exaholic.”  Learn the difference and how to help yourself move on from an unwanted attachment to another person…

Why Relationships End

Regrettably, relationships end. Neglected marriages can be overgrown with the relational equivalent of cancer, festering malignant hurts so deep that not even the best marriage counselor in the world can restore the trust and goodwill. (Though like cancer treatment, early detection plus prompt treatment with evidence-based marriage counseling can often blast it into remission). Other times couples with great chemistry, over time, discover insurmountable fractures and persistently grinding fault lines between their personalities and core values. Sometimes, for mysterious reasons, one person is just less “into” the other. They apologetically leave, guilty and relieved, while their blindsided partner is left to cope with the devastation of the rejection, and their suddenly empty life.

The stories and circumstances of everyone’s relationship are unique, but the core cause of breakups is always the same: One person stopped believing that the other can ever be who they need them to be. The rest is details. When hope of improvement is lost, the relationship is over. Even if the couple is still going through the motions of cohabitation and daily life for the time being.

How do I know so much about the anatomy of breakups? As a marriage counselor and relationship coach I’ve helped literally hundreds of people repair and rebuild their relationships. But some couples show up at the door with situations that can’t be repaired. They’ve waited too long, or they are fundamentally incompatible. In these instances, one partner often stays in counseling with me to work through the loss. We walk through their divorce recovery or breakup recovery process together.

Love: The Mother of All Addictions

Through this work I discovered an important concept that has revolutionized the way we think about breakups and their recovery. I’ve written about the science behind relationships and breakups extensively in my award winning book, Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to An Ex Love,”  but here’s the punchline: Love is addictive. (Want more? Read Polly Drew’s article about Exaholics on Recovery.org).

It makes sense, when you think about it. Nature has built us to bond, fiercely, to one “irreplaceable other” just as we must attach deeply to our children. The literal survival of our species depends on the strength of these attachments. This is powerful, primal stuff. We have survival drives that compels us towards love and bonding. And when those bonds are broken against our will, the pain is unlike any other. It’s like every cell in your body is protesting the disconnection, screaming for reunion.

What Are Exaholics?

I think of “Exaholics” as people who have bonded, at a deep chemical and emotional level, with someone in the context of an unsustainable relationship. There is nothing necessarily wrong here, except the circumstance. When two compatible people become fiercely bonded to each other in the context of a healthy, sustainable relationship it is an epic love story that lasts a lifetime. But sometimes people become intensely bonded to people who can’t be good long-term partners. (Read: Are You Addicted to a Toxic Relationship?) When the relationship inevitably ends, they have the harrowing experience of being thrust into a biological / emotional / psychological state that has a lot in common with the withdrawal from other addictive substances: Obsession, craving, and compulsions for a “fix.”

Signs You are an Exaholic:

  1. You cannot stop thinking about your Ex, even though you want to
  2. You fantasize about getting back together, even if you know the relationship was bad for you
  3. You crave their love and approval, even through you know you don’t want to care
  4. You do things you know you shouldn’t to maintain your connection to them (stalking them online, pumping friends for information, accepting “friends with benefits” arrangements).
  5. You have intense and persistent feelings of anger, hurt, regret, guilt that don’t get better with time.
  6. Other relationships, even good ones, don’t feel the Ex-shaped-void in your life
  7. You feel like your friends and family don’t understand why you feel the way you do
  8. Your self-esteem has been damaged, and you feel ashamed that “you can’t just get over it”

But What About “Normal” Breakups?

Here’s the confusing part: Not everyone goes bananas during every break up. Why? What’s the difference between an “Exaholic” and someone going through a “normal” break up? We all know lots of people who rationally decided a relationship was wrong for them, returned the key and went on their way. You’ve probably done that yourself at least once in your life. Yes, you may have spent some time feeling sad, eating too much ice cream, daydreaming about the past, and feeling the absence of your once-present companion. But you also thought about how “it’s better this way,” and knew, in your heart, that this relationship really needed to end. You didn’t feel like you were slowly dying in the flaming pit of unrequited love.

There are lots of reasons why not every one descends into Exaholic madness with every single breakup, but I’ll distill it into the two big ones for you:

  1. You didn’t feel that intense of a connection with that particular person
  2. You came to terms with the need for the split (and grieved the loss) before the relationship ended

Again, neither of these circumstances is better or worse, or more emotionally unhealthy or more virtuous than bonding deeply. It just is what it is. It’s not your fault that you felt that way when you did the breaking up. More so, it doesn’t mean anything terrible about you if your Ex is inhabiting this space either. (Even though I understand that it might feel like it).  Similarly, being an “Exaholic” doesn’t mean anything about you except that you cared deeply about this person. 

You CAN Get Over Your Breakup

The good news is that healing and recovery is possible. You can stop hurting, get your life back, and rebuild your self esteem. While this doesn’t necessarily get better with time (as your well-meaning friends and family tell you earnestly, I’m sure) there is a path through heartbreak and into peace. The first step is establishing connection with a safe person or group to help you process your pain, and support you in the deeper work of healing.

So here’s my question for you? Who are your “safe” people that you can turn to for non-judgmental support? Make your short list, and plan to be in contact with them regularly for the time being. If no one readily comes to mind I sincerely hope that you take positive action on your own behalf and get some. You can try the free online support group available at www.exaholics.com, google “divorce support groups” in your area, or consider getting involved in supportive therapy. Breakups are isolating, and it will be worse for you if you try to go it alone. Be brave, reach out, and let caring people help support you on your journey.

All my best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

For more information and advice on handling your breakup, check out this free Q & A Webinar from exaholics.com:

 

 

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