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Lessons From the End of a Marriage

A “How to Thrive” Guide After Divorce

Five Empowering Ways to Recover From Gaslighting

recover gaslighting

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I’ve written about why gaslighting is the worst. Here’s just a snippet:

It’s horrifying when you realize that the person you love, you trust, has been slowly and intentionally lying and manipulating you. It’s like that nightmare you had when you were 5 where Santa Claus suddenly turned into a monster. Only this monster is real and you shared a bed with them

Of course, if you’ve lived it, you already know that.

So here are five things that you can do now to help you recover and to allow YOUR light to shine bright again!

In all of my divorce, the single most painful event was an email, sent to both my mother and to his other wife a mere day after he was arrested for bigamy. In the message, he created and twisted stories that painted me as controlling, greedy and impossible to live with. This was followed by a paragraph about how wonderful his new wife was and how my mother would simply “love to meet her.” And all this from a man that had professed his love to me less than a week earlier.

That letter stung. Badly.

Until I finally recognized it for what it was – a physical manifestation of the gaslighting that I had been subjected to for the past several years.

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse where the abuser manipulates and controls by morphing reality.

It can be …

1) Form of denial:

  • “That didn’t happen.”
  • “You’re remembering that wrong.”
  • “That’s not what you saw.”

2) Providing false and plausible explanations:

  • “The account is overdrawn because the bank messed up.”
  • “The boss needed me to work late and my phone’s battery was dead.”

3) Character assassination:

  • “You are always negative.”
  • “You’re too sensitive.”
  • “My husband is terrible to me and the kids.”

It often involves projection – accusing the victim of what the abuser is actually doing.

Gaslighting is a subtle abuse, existing below the surface of consciousness while it’s happening. But it’s a relentless abuse, persisting and even growing long after the abuser has gone. It impacts your ability to trust – others and even more importantly, yourself and your own perceptions. It encourages obsessive thought about the past, endlessly sorting through memories looking for false facades that you believed were real. Gaslighting often leads to relentless overthinking going forward, a hyperawareness of your surroundings in an attempt to spot any irregularities. It’s a seed of doubt planted deep in your brain that wants to keep growing.

It takes time to recover from gaslighting, to separate the truth from the manufactured and to learn to trust your own judgments. The following strategies can help you move on from your abuser’s influence:

No Contact 

I was lucky, although it felt like anything but at the time. My soon-to-be-ex-husband refused contact. At first, I saw it as an additional layer of cruelty. Later, I realized it was exactly what I needed to begin the healing process.

So often people aren’t even aware that they were gaslighted until they’ve been free of it for several months. If at all possible, institute a no contact policy with your ex. If you have to maintain connection, email is best so that you have an evidence trail of what was said. Create firm boundaries with yourself in regards to communication and be alert to any signs of further manipulation.

Create Distance

I found a note in my mailbox from my former husband’s employer and a mutual friend, asking me to call her. Expecting shock and support, I was caught off guard when she said that she didn’t blame him for leaving after the way I had been acting. Apparently, he had been feeding her stories for years, painting me in a bad light and making him seem like a hapless victim.  Even though she asked me to keep in touch, I never spoke with her again.

Even if you’re not in contact with your ex, their sphere of influence may extend into yours. If they have intentionally attacked your character to others, you may need to refrain from contact with those who believed the fictitious stories. Some may come around in time. Some never will.  The additional fallout is sad, but you need to make yourself the priority right now.  Surround yourself with people that are committed to you.

Reality Anchor

After receiving that letter, I gathered emails and documents that systematically refuted each of his claims about me. They weren’t hard to find. I added to that pile a printout of his mug shot. That stack of paper was then tucked into my purse for the next few months. And every time I felt doubt taking hold, I would pull out those papers and remind myself of the truth.

Find your own reality anchors – tangible and irrefutable reminders of the truth – and keep them close to you. They are a security blanket of reality while you’re dealing with the confusion of gaslighting.

Rebuild Your Self-Image 

I used to think I hated mums, the ubiquitous fall blooms. It was only years after the divorce when I realized that the flowers actually made me smile. I had only claimed to hate them because my ex-husband did. His manipulations and my receptiveness had blurred the line between his thoughts and my beliefs. I had to rebuild my self-image from the ground up, not as he saw me but as I saw myself.

When you’re being gaslighted, you are inadvertently allowing somebody else to tell you who you are and what you believe. It can be scary to begin to voice your opinions and perceptions again. It can be overwhelming to get to know yourself again without outside influence. This is a time to shed all of the assumptions you have about yourself. Be curious. Be open. Try things on. And rebuild yourself one step at a time.

Take Responsibility For You

I am a firm believer in personal responsibility. Even with all that happened to me before and during my divorce, I realized that if I continued to see myself as a victim, I would remain a victim. I began the hard work of learning to trust my intuition again. I made inroads into understanding how my own past and temperament contributed to my situation.  I refused to ever again trust somebody else more than I trusted myself.

And that’s the ultimate freedom from gaslighting – taking back the strings that control your life.

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19 thoughts on “Five Empowering Ways to Recover From Gaslighting

  1. This couldnt have come at a better time for me. Last weekend i mustered the courage to ask for a separation from my husband of 14 years. After being gaslighted for so many years, I was shocked when he willingly agreed. Initial acceptance was followed by couple of days silence, now the gaslighting has begun yet again. Murking the past, making me believe things to have happened that never really did, pushing the blame onto me. I almost changed my mind on the separation believing his version to be true. Then had to go back and think about all the reasons i asked for one in the first place. It takes a lot of strength and will power while dealing in such a situation. Not sure how this will end, but this post was really helpful.

    1. Glad it helped. Stay strong. And hold on tightly to those reality anchors! Have you made a written list (for your eyes) of the reasons you believe ending it is the right call?

  2. Your post accurately describes what happened to me. In the end I had to break off all communications. Even a simple text about my daughter returning from the Peace Corps became an attack. Our ex-spouses live in a very messed up world. As I now say, my divorce gave me my happiness back once I cleared all the legal wrangling.

  3. Perfect timing with this post! I am being gaslighted and starting to rebuild my self esteem and self worth.

    Thank you for shining on a light on a very dark subject.

  4. Great read and gentle reminder that I am NOT crazy. I didn’t realize i had let myself be gaslighted…I thought i was being a super supportive wife. Then one day I had an “epiphany”; I had somehow found myself isolated and alone. Each day I get a little stronger. And I couldn’t agree more-cut ties 100% so that you can heal properly and fully. I’m truly looking forward to the day I no longer second guess myself and trust my instincts again! have a great weekend

  5. Gaslighting is such messy business and especially hard to recover from when you’re still required to have contact with the perpetrator. I’m constantly surprised at the residual effects of it even years after I’ve removed myself as fully as possible from the relationship. For example, I have this one male friend who has some crazy life experiences. Whenever he talks about his past a small part of me thinks he’s lying. I know he’s not…well, I’m 95% sure he’s not, but that kernel of doubt is always there.

    I really liked your suggestion to create a reality anchor. I’m going to try that one.

  6. After 7 years of experiencing Gaslighting from my husband, I finally made him move out. Sad thing is… the process has been really hard and it tugs at my heartstrings to do it. Deep, deep in my soul/gut/innermost being I KNOW I’m being manipulated, though. I’m sticking to my guns through this separation process and I wrote these 5 items down on a post-it note. I have one on my office desk, one in my car, and I’m putting one up on my fridge as a constant reminder that I need to trust myself. Thank you for this list! I’m sorry for how you came to be such an “expert” on the subject, but I’m thankful to have your insight/experience to guide me through my journey…

    1. What a great idea to write them down! It’s SO hard to break away from gaslighting. It’s like gravity though, it’s power lessens the further you get away from it. Keep trusting yourself!

  7. This is the first article I’ve read on gaslighting after finally figuring out that that is what happened in my marriage. So many things resonate – he was a subtle gaslighter, controlling the way i thought about my people and my reality. But especially about how I thought about myself. Ten years on, and in a new lovely relationship, the effects still linger and impact on my ability to have a healthy relationship. The slightest inkling of “I don’t remember that happening” sends me reeling and it will be the undoing of this relationship if it continues. Your article and the comments have helped me identify the areas I need to work through and also, in this relationship, what i need to look out for. Thankyou you all for sharing your knowledge.

    1. It does linger, doesn’t it? I’m at 11 years out and I still have certain things that can trigger it or certain memories surface that in hindsight, reveal more gaslighting. Wishing the best for you!

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