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How to Un-Gaslight Yourself as a Domestic Abuse Survivor

Anyone who’s been controlled in any way throughout their domestic violence experience has most likely been gaslighted too. In this type of psychological abuse an abuser will attempt to make you doubt your own perception of reality (a.k.a., sanity). Typically this is done by denying that things have happened, blaming the victim for the abuser's behavior, and making victims feel as if they’re losing their mind. Sometimes the abuser will even go so far as to make others (including friends, family, therapists, police, courts) think that the victim is crazy or even that they’re the aggressor.

Unfortunately, as a domestic violence advocate this is something I know too well because my abuser tried to claim that I had Munchausen By Proxy Syndrome in order to maintain custody over my son whom he was also abusing.

What happens when someone is gaslighted?

When you hear the same lies repeatedly it’s easy to start to believe them yourself. For instance, I was told that I wasn’t a good mother so I didn’t believe that I could be a good mother. Nevertheless, I’ve raised a son who’s a pretty good adult today.

Another thing that domestic violence advocacy training will teach you about gaslighting is that the victim frequently loses touch with who they are. This is what we domestic abuse victim advocates call "perspecticide." It means that we who are victims no longer know who we are. To this day this is something I’m still struggling with. Although I’ve been away from the abuse for around 4 years I’m still trying to figure out who I am. For this to happen I’ve had to learn how to un-gaslight myself.

How do you un-gaslight yourself?

There are several things that we as domestic abuse victim advocates recommend that you do to un-gaslight yourself. However, it’s important to find what works best for you.

Write down the thought traps.

Gaslighters are experts at pushing you to question reality and doubt yourself. Even when the relationship ends, their words may continue to linger in your mind. As a domestic abuse victim advocate I encourage you to write down anything that makes you question your reality. Doing so will help you to notice any patterns of self-doubt. It’ll also help you consider what made you think these things so that you can reshape your thinking.

Speak to yourself positively.

Through practicing continual positive self-talk there will come a time when the abuser’s voice is no longer in your head. This requires a lot of catching, checking, and changing. It isn’t something that’ll happen overnight but it will happen if you remain persistent.

Get connected.

As a survivor and domestic abuse victim advocate I encourage anyone who’s experienced any type of victimization to get in touch with a trauma-based therapist who believes and supports you. Being trauma-based is hugely important because if they’re not they may unknowingly cause more harm.

You also want to make sure you feel comfortable telling them about your gaslighting experiences. Whatever you do I encourage you to not let people who’ve never experienced gaslighting brush it off as “normal couple stuff.”

Examine any habits you’ve acquired.

It’s important that you stop doing those things that the abuser expected you to do but didn’t feel right to you. For instance, my abuser demanded certain types of sexual interaction and how they were to be done. This isn’t something that I’m comfortable with as I’ve now realized that I’m asexual and prefer not to have this type of intimacy. Initially it was hard for me to understand and accept but now I am strong in who I am.

Build protective measures.

Unfortunately, as part of your domestic violence advocacy training you’ll learn that gaslighting will usually continue long past when the relationship ends. This is what’s known as post-separation abuse. Although not entirely in your control, you can somewhat limit its effects. For instance, I had court-mandated custody exchanges. Due to the abuse I found someone to transport my son to and from these meetings. Typically when I was sending my son to be with his dad I’d do self-care so that I could work through my feelings.

Avoid the self-blame cycle.

As a domestic violence advocate one of the most important things I want to encourage you to do is to accept that none of this was your fault.

How do you help others help themselves?

Healing Family Trauma Pittsburgh offers domestic violence advocacy training for anyone who’s interested in becoming a domestic violence advocate. It doesn’t take much time for your voice to be heard and make a difference. And it only takes a few small voices to make a difference. If you’d like to donate to the work that I do here please consider buying a wreath or making a monetary donation.

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