If I had a dollar (not “dime” as to adjust for inflation) every time a client tells me an example of how they had been gaslighted by their parent, manipulative ex, significant other, or friend, I would not be writing this post right now. Instead, I would have already bought myself an island paradise, living large as a rich recluse away from all the rain and snow that plague Vancouver.
One client told me that her ex would take her money and, when she attempted to ask him about it, would try to convince her that she has “bad memories” because of “all the brain damage from the weed [she] smoked” to blame her for being responsible for their financial delinquencies.
Gaslighting Tactics Used: Countering, vilifying the victim, projecting blame, diversion
Another client recalled that their grandfather would slap them behind the ear to get them to behave as they “should not complain” after getting hurt then yelled at them for being a “crybaby” when they started crying from the pain.
Gaslighting Tactics Used: rationalization, trivializing/minimization
A young man bitterly recounted that his mother would explode into a violent rage and accuse him of being “ungrateful” and “attacking” when he told her that he did not have a “pretty good childhood” as she has claimed to have given him. He recalled having his bed taken away and being so hungry as a child that he tried to steal his neighbor’s food because she had gambled away her salary, leaving no money for them to buy food or pay bills.
Gaslighting Tactics Used: Denial, lying, selective inattention, brandishing anger
A brave mother of three shared with me during our trauma work about how her soon-to-be-ex-husband used to remind her about how she got pregnant before marriage (by him) and often forced himself on her, justifying it as a marital obligation/duty according to religious teachings.
Gaslighting Tactics Used: Shaming, guilt tripping, rationalization
I thought I had heard everything under the sun – that is, until this week, when an ICBC agent claimed that, because my BC document “was obtained outside of Canada,” she needed confirmation that it meets the “Canadian Equivalency.”
“BC is a Canadian province. Please check!” I responded confidently.
“As previously requested… I need verification that it meets Canadian equivalency,” She replied continuously, feigning confusion upon being asked.
BC is British Columbia. British Columbia is a part of Canada. I started to repeat in my head.
“Also, if you would like communication to go to your [other] e-mail please update your [new] e-mail in the application form as well.”
The Diversion worked: What new e-mail? WHAT NEW E-MAIL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, LADY?! I refreshed my e-mail to make sure the text loaded properly.
“You’ll risk suspension of your account if I do not receive all documents by June 3rd.”
The verification process takes at least 4 weeks and you tell me now, at the END OF MAY??!! I started panicking upon receiving the covert intimidation.
“I also need your driver’s license because your BC Services card is not a valid piece of ID accepted by ICBC.”
At this point, I had to slap my hand from resisting the urge to Google whether or not BC is truly a part of Canada and whether or not the ICBC office that issued my BC Services Card was real.
BC is British Columbia. British Columbia is a part of Canada. I tried to reassure myself repeatedly that I was right and that I did not fail geography in high school – or did I?
As she had called before and also immediately called me after I asked her to confirm that BC is a part of Canada, I assumed that she would pick up when I called her back almost right away.
She did not.
Also, all of my voicemails went completely ignored.
Praying that there is still logic and reason left in this world, I ended up calling ICBC and waited to be transferred 4 times to the right department, each time only to be met with more confusion when they told me that the previous agent had made a mistaken transfer. Finally, a friendly, gentle voice picked up:
“Oh, that’s so odd!” She exclaimed, upon hearing what has happened to me.
Her simple statement of validation and sympathy saved me – well, at least that day.
Thankfully, this new, kind agent was able to help connect me with the manager, who, after a review of my e-mail chain, was able to confirm that the previous agent had a moment of “confusion.”
Although I was able to call upon a higher power to resolve the comparatively harmless situation, I recognize that many of my clients were not so lucky in that they were often left with deep-seated self-doubt, confusion, pain, and trauma from the psychological/emotional abuse other people had inflicted upon them.
Because of gaslighting, my clients had apologized to their abuser.
Because of gaslighting, my clients had made excuses for their cheating partner.
Because of gaslighting, my clients had doubted their own worth and told themselves that they were “not good enough.”
Because of gaslighting, my clients had lived in fear and continued to question whether or not their feelings will ever be valid or even allowed.
My clients were intelligent and strong, each in their own way, but not even the best of them were completely immune to the psychological manipulation that characterizes an abuser. Even when they came to understand that it was not their fault, their trauma prevented them from reconciling their feelings with their thoughts.
I cannot change the gaslighter nor erase my client’s past, but I am able to help them – at least I hope and to the best of my ability. Often times, a combination of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) supplemented by empathetic understanding and a touch of patience go a long way for the people I have worked with or continue to work with on a regular basis.
If you or anyone else has ever been gaslighted, I want you to know that it is NEVER your fault. Please do not tell yourself that you should have been able to protect yourself or prevent it because of the number of degrees, years of education, life experiences, intelligence level, personality, etc. that you have. Gaslighting is heinous tactic and weapon specifically targeted to destroy your self-worth, to question your sense of identity, competence, and reality, and to control you all for the abuser’s personal gain, and has nothing to do with your worth, merits, and qualities. It could be lifechanging if you have a trusted person – be it a friend, a family, significant other, or even colleague – who could help you do a minor wellness check and, hopefully, encourage and support you to solicit professional help.
Being gaslighted is not your fault nor your choice, but you can choose to reach for help and to start your psychological healing.
Please feel free to contact me if you would like to start your journey with me and may the light return to you without the gas 🙂