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Turn Off the Gaslight

Have you ever known something down to your bones, but someone's tried to convince you that you don't know what you know you know?

I'm not talking about times when someone's provided additional information that's valid and reliable, which prompts you to reconsider your assumptions or conclusions.

I'm talking about times when someone's invalidated your very reasonable and accurate perceptions about something by pressuring you to believe, or pretend to believe, that you're mistaken. (When you know you're not.)

That's gaslighting.

Questioning What You Know

In my experience, someone can be gaslighted to question their perceptions about both internal and external realities. We see examples of the latter all the time in the news: Donald Trump is a walking gaslighter. (If there were a motto for gaslighting, it would be "fake news.") However, the former is far more insidious: causing someone to question their own internal reality - their memories, feelings and sensations.

We're the ones living our own lives, and only we have access to our five senses (six, if you're into that kind of thing). The gaslighter, however, wants to convince you that they know your internal experience better than you do.

It's so brutal because, unlike external phenomena, which can often be supported through objective evidence (no one is recovering from COVID by drinking bleach), internal experience is one person's word against another. All you can do is say it's true because you're experiencing it as true: the memory of a traumatic childhood event, the feeling of grief after a breakup or the sensation of physical discomfort.

When you're being gaslighted, someone is telling you that you can't trust your own experience: your memories are inaccurate, your emotions are invalid and your discomfort is irrelevant and unimportant.

When you're being gaslighted, someone is trying to make you believe that you're only feeling the way you feel, or remembering what you remember, because you're being (fill in the blank). In my case, it was being "too sensitive."

But here's the thing: one person's being too sensitive is another person's being perceptive about someone who's not being sensitive enough. It's all about who you ask.

For a gaslighter, if there's anyone who's too anything, it's always the one being gaslit.

If you can lead someone to believe that there's nothing wrong with a situation or event, then nothing needs to change. No one needs to change. Except the person being gaslit, of course. The only thing to be done is for them to learn to be "less sensitive."

The reality, however, is that deep down, you still know what you know. And what you know is accurate and valid, despite what they say. Just because you can't provide objective evidence of something doesn't mean it isn't real.

That's what makes gaslighting so hard to live with. It's an ongoing battle to have your own memories, feelings and sensations taken seriously as the truth. Unfortunately, the consequence of this for me has been a lifelong battle with myself in the form of cognitive dissonance. If my own body and mind can't be trusted, yet someone else's interpretations of my reality feel false, then what is real? If something feels wrong, but I've been told that my ideas and perceptions are wrong, where is there to go from there?

Thankfully, there's a saving grace. Something that only you have access to. Something that, while damaged, can still be healed, sharpened and honed over time, if you can find ways to deepen your connection with it.

Your intuition.

You Know What You Know

Gaslighting only happens because the truth puts the gaslighter in a bad light. But reality doesn't change just because a person wants it to. And you certainly can't change the reality of someone else. Their reality is theirs alone, to hold and experience as they walk through life.

We all have blind spots. But if you're seeing something and someone tries to convince you you're blind, that's a red flag.

No one knows us better than we know ourselves, and this is easy to forget sometimes. People may perceive things about us in a different way than we do ourselves, and that's their prerogative. The trouble starts when they are insistent about replacing your reality with theirs. Especially when, in their reality, they're a hero and you're the problem.

They say that there are two sides to every story, and I believe this to be true. It's not about one person being wrong and the other person being right. It's about each of us having authorship of our own experience, and being the greatest expert on ourselves.

I don't care how perceptive or wise someone believes themselves to be - no one but me can feel the gut feeling I have when I'm remembering something that really happened, when I'm feeling depressed and not lazy, when I feel tightness in my stomach because I'm not comfortable being touched a certain way.

Your gut feeling is your greatest ally in recovering from gaslighting.

Another word for it is intuition.

You know what you know, and you also feel what you know. You feel it down to your bones.

You know how it feels when you lie to someone and feel terrible about it. And you know how it feels when someone is lying to you.

The greatest challenge is learning to identify the lies we tell ourselves that were taught to us by the gaslighters of our past. The lies we tell ourselves about ourselves.

Well, I'm here to tell you: your memories are accurate (not unbiased - no one's are - but the memories you feel in your gut and bones - those are real, and those things happened, no matter how unpleasant or inconvenient that may be to anyone else), your feelings are valid (just as valid as anyone else's, no matter how little or how much attention they get) and your discomfort is always extremely important to take into account (and very rarely something you've brought upon yourself out of nowhere, contrary to what a gaslighter might have you believe).

Trust your intuition.

It isn't easy. After years of trying to smother your intuition, because it's been telling you the opposite of what a gaslighter has and cognitive dissonance is excruciating to live with, you may have opted to bend your reality in their direction instead. It's understandable. I've done it. I continue to. Old habits are very hard to break, especially if they've enabled your survival.

But it is possible to learn to trust your intuition. And, eventually, trust it enough to act on what it's telling you.

Intuition and the Unconscious

Eliciting the help of my unconscious has been critical in connecting with my intuition. Your intuition and your unconscious are best friends. If you want to build a bridge to your intuition, do it through activities and practices that drop you below your conscious mind and all of the stories you've been telling yourself that were never yours to begin with.

It's the usual stuff: Meditate. Write. Draw. Go for walks. Pay attention to your dreams. (And your daydreams.) Read Tarot cards. Read books. And make a habit of not doing things your gut tells you not to, even if you're not 100% sure where that gut feeling is coming from.

Trust your gut feelings.

Also: Spend time with people who take your feelings, thoughts and needs seriously. In other words, avoid gaslighters.

For me, more than anything, writing has become the key to understanding and crafting my own reality. Writing taps into memories, feelings and sensations that run deep inside of me. Writing feeds my intuition so it can guide me more clearly.

I do meditate (semi-)regularly, and I try to find the courage to express my honest perceptions of the events in my life to people I trust, even when the truth hurts and I sometimes wish the truth was someone else's version of it.

Once you learn to see gaslighting as it's happening, it gets easier to see it for what it is: namely, someone else's problem that has nothing to do with your essence and your truth.

How do you turn it off? By turning up the light inside of you and letting it burn bright. It will show you where there's smoke and mirrors. Pay attention to the man behind the curtain, especially if he says, "You're being too sensitive."

- M.B.

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