Recognizing Gaslighting and Restoring Sanity Amidst COVID-19

Over the past several weeks, a number of my clients who have been working really hard on their wellness issues began to falter. Of course, as the COVID pandemic rages on with uncertainties around jobs, money, schooling, etc., stress is being compounded. However, I noticed there was something different, something more serious. And then, during an intense session with a remarkable, successful, strong female client, she broke down.

"Holli, I feel so confused. I don't know who or what to believe any more about COVID. I feel like I am living through my childhood again with my narcissistic mother who was constantly gaslighting me. It's scary....I don't like feeling this way. Why is this happening?"

Suddenly, I realized that in the divisive political climate of the United States, many individuals are feeling incredibly distressed by the incessant stream of mixed and conflicted messaging. And with folks who have a history of  psychological abuse, they are being triggered and re-traumatized by them. At the very least, it is chaotic and confusing for everyone. Over time, it weighs on us. It wears us down.
Because my client had done a great deal of work around her relationship with her narcissistic mother prior to our therapy, she was familiar with the term "gaslighting." However, we reviewed its definition:

To manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity,
 reality, memory, or perceptions (truths)

We discussed it further by identifying the numerous warning signs of gaslighting, especially those which were impacting her.
Those who gaslight:
1) Tell blatant lies
2)  Deny they ever said something, even though you have proof
3)  Wear you down over time
4)  Show that their actions do not match their words
5)  Know confusion weakens people
6)  Try to align people against you
7)  Tell you and others you are crazy
8)  Tell you everyone else is a liar

Before we concluded our session, my client and I revisited a few of the strategies required to restore  sanity when living in an environment of "gaslighting."

The most important of these are the following:
1) Set really strong boundaries around the degree of contact, interaction, or involvement with the "gaslighting" source. Limit it as much as you possibly can.
2) Surround yourself with those who care about you, your wellbeing, and who do not question  your reality and your experiences.
3) If you are in conversation or contact with "gaslighters," practice "greyrocking" - respond with short, boring, neutral responses. Do not engage in any way. This is what they want. Do not expend your energy on them. Save your energy for you. 

Lastly, whatever your beliefs and perspectives may be during this time of COVID,  remember the following:
 When the words and actions of someone else do not match the reality you are living in,
 and when you are judged and blamed for wanting to take care of yourself, walk away. 
Save your own sanity.
Believe and Be Well
  For more healing resources,  Holli Kenley, Therapist & Author


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