Scripps Ranch and Bankers Hill Therapist Sara Cole.
Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person, in order to gain more power and control, makes their victim (friend, family, co-worker, cult follower, etc) question their own reality. It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. Addicts also use this technique as a way of maintaining their drug use. The addict will tell those around them that they are imagining things or over reacting when confronted about their use or changes in behavior. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn't realize how much they've been brainwashed. Not all gaslighters know they are doing it. It may be a learned behavior or a way of feeling okay about themselves. Others know exactly what they are doing. The bottom line however, is that it is an abusive behavior and should not be tolerated by others.
If you are at the laundromat and you discover that someone has thrown their laundry in the washer with your clothes, will you wash it for them or will you tell them to do their own laundry? In most cases, you would hand their laundry back to them. Similarly, if someone lets their dog do its business in your yard, would you think "oh gosh I am so messy. I better go clean that up" or would you think "that person needs to clean up after their dog"? Are you seeing a theme in these examples?
Let me take it one step further. Imagine you own a little dog and your neighbor owns a horse. Your dog goes out and does her business in the yard and you, being a responsible pet owner, go out and clean up it's mess. But one day your dog and the neighbors horse are both out in the yard. You come out and see that the dog and the horse have been busy, you know, leaving presents. Well you can look around and you and your neighbor both see that you have some cleaning to do. In this case it's pretty easy for you to tell what work you need to do and they can see where they need to work. Now apply this to issues of self esteem, mood, and other personal sorts of issues or problems. Can you apply the same "sorting" in a personal interactions and relationships?
I saw the same thing this week, from one client to the next. It is a simple concept, but confusing in practice sometimes. The confusion is about what is your own stuff and what is someone else's stuff (issue, insecurity, problem). How do you sort through and decide what to take in or take on and what to give back to the other person or at least let go? Now I am not saying you shouldn't be there for people when they have a problem. Absolutely be there for them if you can, but don't make their problem your problem.
In other words, the struggle is a part of defining your own healthy boundaries. It is important to hear what people have to say and to consider their input. But it is just as important to recognize when a criticism or comment is not really about you and is instead a someone else's issues showing up. For some people, it is easy to just take it all in and believe at face value. For other people, it's hard to hear anything negative or even consider that it may be true. Ideally you can find a place in the middle of these two extremes.
You won't always make the right call, but you have to try.
If you find yourself thinking or talking about someone else's problems a lot or maybe your mood is easily affected by other people's moods, you may be taking on their stuff. This is super obvious but important to remember. You are your own person. You are not your friend. This means that you can feel differently than they do and it's okay. You can be there for them and still be seperate.
If you are a pretty sensitive person like me, you may notice that you easily pick up on other people's mood or energy. That can be a strength or weakness depending on what you do with that info. If you recognize it as what is going on for them, you can use the info to decide how you want to respond. If you recognize and feel their mood or energy and make it yours personally, you have crossed over into the problem zone. Knowing this difference can be helpful as you begin to develop your own boundaries and adjust how you respond to other people. Having this ability will actually allow you to be there for friends or family who are in need. Instead of joining them in their struggle you can be there to help them get out of it. I have written some other blog posts about boundaries. So for some more ideas you can click here or for more ways to take care of yourself, click here to read more.
To find out more about self care or healthy relationships visit www.SaraColeMFT.com. Sara Cole MFT has been providing services in San Diego for 15 years and would be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Sara Cole has been providing mental health services in San Diego for over 15 years. Sara specializes in working with women and teen girls to overcome trauma and major life changes, including postpartum depression, going away to college, marriage, etc. Sara also loves to help people get their anxiety under control. She is also passionate about providing treatment to those whose lives are affected by the addiction of a loved one.