Helplessness, confusion, and a feeling of being trapped are some of the common symptoms of being under the patient yet powerful influence of a gaslighter. For many families entangled in destructive cycles of behavior, what it means to be ‘gaslighted’ can be difficult to identify. It is not something that you can 'snap out of', or just 'put up with' - it requires both identification and active steps on your part to protect yourself and your family from harm.
At first, it typically starts out with minor suspicious behavior: manipulative body language or words, often spoken with gentle tones or sweet smiles. A hidden agenda may lurk underneath the surface. The atmosphere begins to take on an invisible thickness and the family finds themselves wearing down to its power. This effect is often referred to as ‘gaslighting’, a form of psychological abuse inflicted by one person over another - or even a group of people - in order to gain control.
The effects of gaslighting can be hard to break free from. Over time, the signs become more evident. The gaslighting may be so entrenched that the abuser has explanations for their every action and every word, and manipulates the family's reactions to absolve themselves of fault. If you think your family therapist is gaslighting you, there are a few steps you can take to protect yourself and your family.
First of all, consider the source. Is your therapist presenting a one-sided account or are they taking into account both sides? Do they seem overly judgemental or unaware of the damage their actions may be causing? Speaking honestly about how the gaslighting makes you feel and being firm about not allowing it to continue can help set boundaries and start to unravel the situation.
Secondly, talk to other trusted adults. It's important to have open conversations about this kind of manipulation and to seek advice from those who can offer a more balanced point of view. If the gaslighter is a therapist, share your concerns with your family doctor or other mental health professionals who can offer guidance on how to deal with the matter. Asking around for referrals can also be a big help in finding a therapist who will be better suited to helping your family cope in a healthier and more empowering way.
Thirdly, find ways to build self-esteem. Gaslighting often leads to self-doubt and lowered self-esteem. To restore your sense of worth, seek out positive experiences and establish healthy and positive habits like making more time for things you enjoy or exercising. Likewise, seek out support from friends, family members, and organizations such as online forums or support groups. Helping build each other up can be one of the most powerful forms of healing.
Consider whether therapy is really the best option for your family. You may want to consider counseling, or even individual counseling sessions for yourself. Consider reaching out to local resources, such as case managers who can offer resources and connect you with outside support services and event support groups.
Gaslighting can leave your entire family feeling exhausted, threatened, and helpless, but it doesn't have to remain this way. With courage, strength, and support, you can create an environment for all of you that is based on safety, trust, understanding, and positivity. Speak your truth, and don’t let anyone else cloud up your sky.
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